Dealing With the Side Effects of Waxing

How to prevent pain, breakouts, ingrown hairs, and more

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

Woman looking at herself in the mirror
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Despite these benefits, waxing has some drawbacks. It can be painful and may lead to breakouts or ingrown hairs. Although rare, it may also contribute to bruising or skin infections in susceptible people. That said, most potential ill effects that result from waxing can be prevented—or at least alleviated.

Choosing an Esthetician

Because hair waxing is a procedure, safety and hygiene are essential. Check references, ask about experience, and confirm that the esthetician and the facility are adequately accredited based on your state's regulations. All states except for Connecticut require esthetician licensing.

This article explains some common waxing side effects and how you can deal with them if they happen to you.

Pain

Yanking hairs out from the root can hurt. But, there are some things you can do before, during, and after waxing to alleviate the discomfort.

Before

To mitigate pain before you wax, try the following:

  • Discontinue retinoids (acne medication) to reduce the risk of skin damage.
  • Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication an hour or two beforehand.
  • Trim hair to half-inch to make it easier for the wax to adhere.
  • Apply a warm compress to allow hairs to come out more easily.

If you will be waxing facial hair and regularly use an OTC retinol or prescription retinoid product, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises stopping for two to five days before waxing so that skin is not removed along with the hair.

During

When you anticipate pain, you may unintentionally hold your breath. Unfortunately, holding your breath can make the pain worse. So, practice deep breathing. Simple breathing techniques can decrease anxiety and pain.

After

Afterward, applying cold packs to painful areas and keeping bath and shower temperatures lukewarm can help alleviate discomfort.

In addition, friction from tight fabrics can exacerbate post-wax pain. Tight clothing is also a risk factor for folliculitis (see below for information on this condition). So, keep clothing loose.

Many people find that the more frequently and regularly they wax, the less uncomfortable the process becomes. However, if this isn't the case for you, or you find the pain unbearable, consider alternative hair removal methods.

Recap

To reduce the pain from waxing, take preventative measures beforehand, like discontinuing retinol, taking pain relievers, trimming hair, and applying a warm compress. During the process, remember to take deep breaths to encourage relaxation. Afterward, apply ice, keep showers lukewarm, and keep clothing loose.

Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a bacterial skin infection that can result from hair follicle damage. Shaving can also cause it. One study found that folliculitis from waxing occurs most often on the arms.

According to the AAD, folliculitis will usually resolve on its own. So, to help it along and to ease discomfort, apply a warm compress to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes, three or more times per day. You also should not wax, shave, or pluck hair for at least 30 days.

Stubborn folliculitis may require antibiotics.

Ingrown Hairs

Ingrown hairs are a common side effect of almost all hair removal methods. These are tiny hairs that, when not entirely removed, coil back into the skin and continue to grow. This process results in tiny bumps that can resemble pimples.

Infection is a possible side effect of ingrown hairs. To prevent them, exfoliate skin before and after waxing. Exfoliation removes dead skin and debris and helps keep hairs pointing in the right direction.

When waxing yourself, pull the cloth strip off in the opposite direction of how the hair grows. Doing so will help ensure you get all the hair, leaving none behind that can become ingrown.

Sunburn

Because waxing removes a very thin layer of skin along with hair, waxed areas tend to be more susceptible to sun exposure—what's known as photosensitivity. This sensitivity is especially likely to happen if you take a hormonal contraceptive, like birth control pills.

To prevent the ill effects of the sun on waxed skin, be especially vigilant about using sunscreen on exposed areas or wearing protective clothing outside—even on cloudy days.

Bruising and Bleeding

Although it happens rarely, waxing can cause trauma to the skin. The risk is higher for some people, including:

  • Those who've recently spent a lot of time in the sun
  • People who have had a cosmetic procedure (such as dermabrasion)
  • Those taking medications associated with bruising (like aspirin, blood thinners, or hormonal birth control)
  • People with certain medical conditions such as rosacea or phlebitis (inflammation of a vein)

If your skin is already damaged or inflamed, wait until it has healed before waxing.

Infection

Infection is not a usual side effect of waxing. However, if a salon or esthetician isn't diligent about hygiene—such as not changing the wax or cleaning equipment between appointments—waxing can transfer bacteria from one client to the next.

Symptoms of a skin infection include:

  • Fever
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Warmth
  • 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, you can treat it with an antibacterial cream or ointment, or oral antibiotics.

Summary

People with PCOS often have excessive hair growth. Waxing can be an excellent option for managing unwanted hair. However, it can result in side effects, like pain, infections, and ingrown hairs. To prevent or reduce the risk of side effects, be sure to choose an esthetician carefully, prepare your skin beforehand, and soothe it afterward.

A Word From Verywell

Some pain with waxing is expected. However, waxing should never result in skin trauma. If you notice injury or signs of infection after waxing, talk to a healthcare provider right away. Often, you can manage skin infections with at-home care. However, getting medical advice early on can help speed the recovery process.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long should hair be to wax?

    Hair length should be between one-fourth to three-fourths of an inch in order to wax. If needed, you can use safety scissors to trim the hair to this length. There isn't a way to fully prevent pain from waxing, but shorter hair is less painful to remove than longer hair.

  • How do I prevent ingrown hairs after waxing?

    To prevent ingrown hairs after waxing, be sure to exfoliate your skin before and after the hair removal. If you are seeing an esthetician, ask them how long you should wait after the hair removal to exfoliate. The best time to exfoliate after waxing may depend on the type of wax that is used. If you choose to wax yourself, remove hair from the opposite direction of its growth.

  • What kind of post-wax care should be taken?

    Post-wax care can involve pain management and moisturizer to soothe the skin. Wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply it to waxed areas for 15 minute intervals. Afterward, use an oil-free or non-comedogenic moisturizer and gently apply it to the waxed skin.

  • Can you have an allergic reaction to waxing?

    Yes, some people can have an allergic reaction to waxing. This may take shape in the form of allergic contact dermatitis caused by rosin (colophony), an ingredient used in many different medicines, toiletries, and household items. You can perform a series of allergy tests to determine an allergic reaction to rosin.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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