Dealing With the Side Effects of Waxing

How to Prevent Pain, Breakouts, Ingrown Hairs, and More

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Waxing is one of several options that women use for dealing with excess hair growth (hirsutism), a common symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome PCOS. Typically, waxing is fairly inexpensive, can be done at home or at a salon by an esthetician, and the results can last for up to several weeks.

Despite these pluses, waxing has some drawbacks. It can be painful, may cause breakouts or ingrown hairs, and can rarely cause skin infections or traumatic wounds. Most of the side effects that result from waxing can be prevented—or at least alleviated— whether you do it yourself or go to a professional esthetician.

Choosing an Esthetician

Because hair waxing is a procedure, safety and hygiene are important. Be sure to check references, ask about experience, and confirm that your esthetician and the facility where you are getting your procedure done are properly accredited based on your state regulations. In all states except Connecticut, estheticians must be licensed.


Yanking hairs out from the root can hurt, but there are ways to alleviate the discomfort. Ask your esthetician for their tips on dealing with the pain—as a professional, they may have some effective solutions.

An hour or two before your appointment, take a pain reliever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen). If your hair is particularly long, shave or trim the hair so that it is around half an inch long. This makes it easier for the wax to grab the hair, which can equal less pain for you.

Deep breathing during the actual waxing procedure may calm you down. Some estheticians apply a warm compress right before applying the wax to prepare the skin by opening the pores to loosen up the hair follicles before pulling them out.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, icing the area after your procedure can help prevent pain, redness, and inflammation.

You might notice that your pain decreases as you become accustomed to the procedure, especially if you get waxed regularly. However, if you continue to experience pain as a result of waxing, you may need to look for alternative methods of hair removal.


After waxing, you may experience folliculitis, which is a skin reaction characterized by small red bumps on the skin. This is an inflammatory reaction that develops due to the skin trauma that occurs during waxing, and it may cause itching as well.

If you tend to develop folliculitis when you wax, your dermatologist may recommend preventative measures such as exfoliating gently before your wax to remove dirt and debris that can increase inflammation.

To reduce bothersome folliculitis, your doctor may suggest that you use a gentle over-the-counter cream, such as hydrocortisone cream, to reduce inflammation, swelling, and redness. Additionally, The American Academy of Dermatology suggests using non-comedogenic moisturizers, which won't clog pores after waxing.


Skin discoloration after waxing is not usually caused by the waxing process itself, but it can result from increased sun sensitivity after waxing. This is because the top layers of skin are removed during the wax, which exposes the more sensitive skin underneath.

If you're taking birth control pills or certain antibiotics (read the insert on your medication to be sure), you are more likely to experience discoloration or sun sensitivity after waxing. So take precautions to avoid the sun for a few days after a wax, and wear sunscreen every time you go outside.

If the problem persists, you may want to consider an alternative form of hair removal, like laser hair removal, electrolysis, or sugaring.

Ingrown Hairs

Ingrown hairs are a common side effect of almost all hair methods of hair removal. Ingrown hairs are tiny hairs that become stuck underneath the skin, often creating small bumps. They can form when a hair is cut or torn instead of being completely removed—the sharp end of an individual hair may coil and start growing into and under the skin.

To prevent ingrown hairs, exfoliate both before and after your treatment. This removes excess dead skin and can help keep hair pointing in the right direction.

Skin Trauma

While rare, the skin can actually bruise, tear, or rip from a waxing treatment. Be sure to check with your doctor to see if it is safe for you to wax. If you’ve recently spent a lot of time in the sun or had a cosmetic procedure (like Botox or dermabrasion) you should avoid waxing until your doctor tells you that it is safe.

Also, if you are taking any medications that increase the risk of bleeding or bruising (examples include prescription acne medication like Retin-A, blood thinners, antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy, or birth control) or if you have certain medical conditions (pregnancy, diabetes, phlebitis, rosacea, cancer, or AIDS) you may be more likely to experience bruising or other skin trauma. When in doubt, check with a doctor.

Finally, if your skin is already inflamed, sunburned, cut, or irritated, or if the area to be waxed contains warts, pimples, or a rash, wait to wax until your skin has healed before waxing.


Infection is not a normal side effect of waxing, but there are risk factors that make an infection more likely. For example, if a salon or esthetician isn't diligent about hygiene—such as not changing the wax or cleaning equipment between appointments—bacteria can be transferred from one client to the next.

Symptoms of a skin infection include fever, redness, swelling, itching, warmth, or excessive pain. If you experience any of these after being waxed, see your healthcare provider right away. If it turns out you do have an infection, it can be treated with an anti-bacterial cream or ointment or oral antibiotics, depending on how severe it is.

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