Waxing is a convenient and easy way to remove hair. But it’s important to properly prep for a wax, be it a Brazilian or a brow wax, to ensure easy hair removal and irritation-free skin. Preparing the skin for a wax can help reduce the risk of nasty potential side effects that can leave the skin looking raw and red.
Whenever you go in for a wax, you’re making your skin vulnerable to two issues. “There’s the risk of infection and the risk of irritation or inflammation,” says Dr. Deirdre O’Boyle Hooper, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Audubon Dermatology. When you’re stripping away hair, you’re also removing the top layer of skin and that removes the skin barrier making the skin more susceptible to everything outside.”
So how can you make sure your skin is properly prepped for a wax, and what should you do following your appointment? Hooper and Brooke Fossett, an esthetician and owner of Brow House in Charlottesville, Virginia, say good hygiene before and after a treatment is the most important step to a successful, irritation-free wax service.
Choose the right products or provider
To ensure a safe and successful wax treatment, it’s critical that you choose your products or provider carefully. “Make sure to do your research and book with a licensed, experienced esthetician,” says Fossett. Check reviews online or ask about an esthetician’s credentials to ensure they’re not only properly trained but using good products, tools, and sterilization methods for a clean and safe wax experience.
How to prep your skin for a wax
Whether you’re doing a DIY wax at home or visiting a waxing salon, make sure your skin is as clean as possible.
“Take a shower, soap up the area you’re going to have waxed, rinse thoroughly, don’t apply any lotion and head into your wax with freshly cleansed skin,” says Hooper. But and this is a big but, don’t over cleanse. “That might backfire on you,” she says. “Rubbing your skin a lot will mess with your skin barrier even more. So gently clean your skin, especially body folds, before you go into the wax.”
Fossett recommends exfoliating and moisturizing the day before, not the day of the treatment. This way you won’t have any residual lotions or oils on your skin that may prevent hair removal.
Another factor to consider both before and after a wax treatment is the sun. Fossett says that if you have a sunburn or have spent too much time in a tanning bed, go ahead and cancel your appointment as your skin will likely be too sensitive for a wax treatment.
How to prep your hair before a wax
You also need to consider the length of your hair as that will influence the outcome of the treatment as well. If the hair is too short, say less than a 1/4 inch long, the wax can’t adhere properly which could result in irritation if the provider has to reapply the wax again and again.
A good rule of thumb? “When you’re preparing the skin for body/bikini waxing,” says Fossett, “make sure you have at least two weeks of hair growth.”
As for facial waxing, similar rules apply. “Stop tweezing/shaving at least two weeks before or longer if growing brows for reshaping,” says Fossett.
Give your face a gentle wash beforehand otherwise your esthetician will have to wipe off all of your makeup for you.
Pause skin medications
For individuals with sensitive skin or those taking an over-the-counter or prescription medicine for skin, you may want to do consider a) not getting a wax, as your skin might just be too sensitive or b) pausing your medication so it doesn’t interfere or exacerbate irritation from a wax treatment, says Fossett.
Retinol and Accutane are some of the medicines Fossett says people have trouble with. These medications are designed to treat acne. But she adds, “I encourage everyone to do their research on the products they are using. Especially if it says anti-aging, exfoliating, peels, brightening etc. Waxing on these ingredients can cause a ‘skin lift’ often mistaken for a burn. It’s the worst and no esthetician wants this to happen — trust me!”
Hooper agrees. “I've seen terrible, completely raw skin after waxing, and this usually happens to people on Retinol or Accutane,” she says. “If you're using topical retinol, even over-the-counter prescription retinoid, or any kind of hydroxy acids, everyone likes to ask me how long they have to stop, and the answer is, it varies.” This applies to both topical and oral versions of these medications, says Hooper who adds that each patient is different and pausing these medications will depend on how sensitive your skin is. “Check with your prescribing dermatologist for specific recommendations,” says Hooper.
“If you have really sensitive skin and you use Retinol, you should probably just pluck,” says Hooper. But if you just want to pause these medications, here’s some good news: pausing a topical medication is only necessary for the areas being waxed. If you use it on your face, but you’re getting a bikini wax, no problem. If not, “I would encourage holding off for a minimum of a week before getting the wax,” says Hooper.
How to treat the skin post-wax
Taking good care of your skin after a wax treatment is just as important as how to prep for a wax.
Like Hooper said, when you walk out of a wax appointment, you’ve shed a significant barrier of skin and that means that area is more susceptible to irritation, inflammation, or even infection if you don’t care for the area properly. So here’s how to take care of your skin after waxing.
Exfoliate & don’t pluck or shave between sessions
“If you're looking to calm a bit of pinkness after your wax, a cool clean compress is OK,” says Fossett. Otherwise, follow your esthetician’s home care advice, which will likely include guidance to exfoliate three to four times a week between appointments. And whether you’re a bikini wax regular or like to get your full face done, she says, “No plucking and shaving in-between wax appointments for best results.”
Apply a post-treatment product
“Most waxing places have some formulation that they apply after the wax,” adds Hooper. “Some sort of moisturizer or anti-inflammatory and it’s usually not a problem.” But, she says, people with particularly sensitive skin should bring their own gentle emollient. “I would suggest plain Vaseline — just a tiny thin layer right after being waxed,” she says.
And if you do notice any itchiness or irritation immediately following a wax, go ahead and wash off any product applications. If the irritation persists, Hooper says people should contact a general doctor or dermatologist.
Perfumed products or botanical oils can often be a risk factor for sensitive skin, so go ahead and ask your esthetician what they plan to use post-wax to ensure it won’t result in any kind of flare up.
Waxing will increase your sensitivity to sunburn too, says Hooper. “But, you’re probably just as sensitive to sunscreen as well,” she says. That said, since you should always wear sunscreen to protect the skin, the best advice is after a wax treatment, rub just a little sunscreen into the skin first to test for sensitivity before applying it to your entire body, then follow best practices for keeping sun exposure to a safe level after a wax treatment.
How to prep for a wax comes down to two things, says Hooper: clean skin and if you notice anything abnormal (before or after treatment), contact your doctor.
Keep in mind, the skin rejuvenates itself within 10 days, “then it’s totally repaired,” says Hooper. So, if you’re still experiencing any irritation that long after a wax treatment, seeking a doctor’s input is your best bet.
Dr. Deirdre O’Boyle Hooper, board-certified dermatologist with Audubon Dermatology
Brooke Fossett, esthetician and owner of Brow House