Waxing is a popular, cost-effective option for hair removal. In addition to lasting 2-8 weeks, it's a method that you can even do yourself. But it does pose risks for skin damage, irritation, and infection. Here's an overview of waxing and some suggestions for avoiding complications.

Types of Waxing

Most salons use hot waxing, where they spread warmed wax over the hairy area, apply a paper or cloth strip on top and allow it to cool, and then rip it off to remove hair.  Cool waxing is a popular at-home choice. You apply pre-waxed plastic strips to the area and quickly yank them against the direction of the hair growth. While not quite as effective as hot waxing, this can be a good alternative for sensitive skin. "Sugaring" is similar to hot waxing, but instead of a rosin wax it consists of a sugar-based gel.

How It Affects Your Skin

Waxing removes not only unwanted hair, but also pulls away dead skin cells, so your skin feels like you've just exfoliated. While most of the dangers of waxing are a result of misapplication or skin sensitivity, there is a concern that frequent waxing can cause skin to lose elasticity over time and make that skin more prone to wrinkles.

Potential Side Effects

  • Pain. Yanking hair out from its root can hurt. A lot. However, the pain is temporary and becomes less painful each time you wax that area. Be sure to not wax right before or during menstruation, since the pain is more acute during this time.
  • Redness, Bumps, and Inflamed Skin. These are the most frequent side effects from waxing, though they rarely last more than 24 hours and a cooling cream can soothe irritated skin.
  • Ingrown Hairs. Because waxing rips hair out directly from the follicle, it's possible to damage the follicle lining which guides new hair growth to the skin surface. This can result in hair that grows inwards with a painful bump. Exfoliating before and after waxing, plus applying astringent or tea tree oil can help prevent ingrown hairs.
  • Breakouts. Removing the hair can leave the follicle open for bacteria to enter, so some people, especially those prone to acne, can end up with breakouts. Careful cleansing after waxing can help prevent these.
  • Allergic Reaction. Waxes contain various ingredients including rosin. It's a good idea to patch test wax 24 hours before waxing.
  • Sun Sensitivity. The waxed area is especially UV sensitive for up to 48 hours after waxing. Take extra care to cover and protect the area with sunscreen.
  • Skin Burns, Darkening, and Scarring. If the wax is too hot, it can leave a mark on your skin that could take up to a year to fade.
  • Folliculitis. This bacterial infection of the hair follicles can occur after waxing. Cleansing can help reduce your chances of this occuring. In rare cases, bacterial infections like cellulitis can even occur. If any inflammation or redness gets worse, or if you develop flu-like symptoms after waxing you should seek medical attention immediately.

Taking Precautions

  • Patch-test the area to be waxed if waxing for the first time
  • Keep the area out of the sun for at least a day after waxing
  • Apply a cold compress to the waxed area if redness occurs
  • Never wax irritated skin that is sunburned, contains acne, or any other kind of rash
  • Exfoliate skin a day or two before waxing.
  • Wear loose clothes after waxing
  • NEVER wax if you're taking any Vitamin A products, Accutane, or Retin-A or have recently done so. If you have been on these products, talk to your doctor about when it's safe to wax again
  • NEVER wax an area with varicose veins or moles
  • TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR before waxing if you're diabetic or have circulation problems.


New Zealand Dermatological Society

Mayo Clinic