Dealing With the Side Effects of Waxing

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

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Waxing is one of the options women have for dealing with excess hair growth (hirsutism), a common symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome PCOS. 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 lead to breakouts or ingrown hairs, and although rare, contribute to bruising or skin infections in susceptible people. That said, most potential ill effects that can result from waxing can be prevented—or at least alleviated—whether you wax yourself or go to a professional esthetician.

Choosing an Esthetician

Because hair waxing is a procedure, safety and hygiene are important. Check references, ask about experience, and confirm that the esthetician and the facility are properly accredited based on your state's regulations. In all states except Connecticut, estheticians must be licensed.

Pain

Yanking hairs out from the root can hurt, but there are ways to alleviate the discomfort throughout the process of waxing.

Before

  • Suspend retinoid use: If you will be waxing facial hair and regularly use an over-the-counter 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 hair.
  • Pre-medicate: An hour or two before you wax or head to your appointment, take a pain reliever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen).
  • Trim hair: If the hair to be removed is long, shave or trim it to around half an inch. This will make it easier for the wax to grab on.
  • Apply a warm compress: The gentle heat will temporarily dilate hair follicles (pores) so that individual hairs come out more easily.

During

After

  • Add ice: Applying cold packs to painful areas can help alleviate discomfort, according to the AAD.
  • Stay out of hot water: Keep bath or shower temperatures lukewarm after waxing.
  • Wear loose clothing: Friction from tight fabrics can exacerbate post-wax pain. Tight clothing also is a risk factor for folliculitis (see below).

Many women find that the more frequently and regularly they wax, the less uncomfortable the process is.

If this isn't the case for you or you find the pain to be unbearable, consider alternative methods of hair removal.

Folliculitis

Folliculitis is a bacterial skin infection that can result from damage to hair follicles. It's often caused by shaving as well. One study found that folliculitis due to waxing occurs most often on the arms.

According to the AAD, folliculitis usually will resolve on its own. 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 (or shave or pluck) hair for at least 30 days.

Stubborn folliculitis may need to be treated with an antibiotic.

Ingrown Hairs

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

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

When waxing yourself, pull the cloth strip off in the opposite direction of the way hair is growing. This will help ensure you get all of the hairs, leaving none behind that can become ingrown.

Sunburn

Because it 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 is especially likely to happen if you're taking a hormonal contraceptive, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Birth control pills often are prescribed to help treat PCOS.

To prevent the ill effects of the sun on waxed skin, be especially vigilant about using sunscreen on exposed areas and/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 people who've recently spent a lot of time in the sun, had a cosmetic procedure (such as dermabrasion), are taking medications associated with bruising, like aspirin, blood thinners, or hormonal birth control, or have certain medical conditions such as rosacea or phlebitis.

If the skin in an area to be waxed is already damaged or inflamed, wait until it has healed before waxing.

Infection

Infection is not a normal side effect of waxing, but 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 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.

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