Waxing is a preferred hair removal method for everyone who doesn’t want to be bothered with shaving everyday. The results are amazing and can keep hair away for weeks at a time. However, it can also be painful because you are literally getting the hair ripped out of your skin from the root. It sounds brutal but, trust me, this is better than burning the hair or plucking every single hair out like they did in ancient Greece. TBH, there is no such thing as a truly painless waxing experience for most people (sorry!) unless you’ve built up a tolerance. You might be disappointed to hear this but what can I say my fairy glow children? Beauty is pain. You can, however, follow a few simple guidelines to minimize the pain. But before I give you all the secrets of (almost) ouch-free hair removal, I first have to teach you about hair and the hair growth cycle. Sit back, relax, and learn everything you need to know about a successful wax!
Types of Hair on the Body
We have three different types of hair on our bodies throughout our lifetimes: lanugo, vellus, and terminal. All humans develop lanugo hair in utero and it is the first hair developed by the follicles that is typically shed before birth (or shed within the first few weeks of life). This hair is replaced by vellus hair which we lovingly refer to as peach fuzz. Vellus hairs are short, thin, barely there hairs that develop throughout childhood. Some of us (mainly women) might be tempted to remove our peach fuzz but we shouldn’t because they serve a purpose. These hairs help thermoregulation in the body. Also, peach fuzz can become terminal and then you’ll really be mad. Terminal hair is the thick, dark, long hair on our bodies that we are most likely wanting to remove. This type of hair is directly related to the level of androgens in the body–it is hormonal hair growth. Men tend to have more androgens in their body, hence the prevalence of longer, thicker hair that is seemingly everywhere. In either sex, a hormone imbalance can be the cause for more or less hair on the body.
The Hair Growth Cycle*
There are three phases in the hair growth cycle for all hair types: anagen, catagen and telogen. This is where you want to pay attention because knowing these three phases is essential to (almost) painless hair removal by waxing. The anagen phase is the active growth phase of hair follicles and lasts anywhere between 4-7 months on the body. When your hair is in this stage, it grows about 1cm every 28 days. For optimal waxing results, hair should be removed in the anagen phase. Your best chance of removing hair while it is still in this phase is to wax every 4 weeks whether you seem hairy or not. The catagen phase is also known as the transitional phase of hair growth. During this phase, the blood supply is cut off from the hair and a club hair is formed. If you’ve ever tweezed your brows and noticed it was rounded (or rounding) at the bottom, that’s the club hair you’re seeing. This phase lasts anywhere between 2-4 weeks. Waxing the hair during this phase is also effective as it is still damaging the root. Once the club hair is fully formed, it enters the telogen phase. When the hair has reached this phase, it is essentially a dead hair as nutrients are no longer supplied to it and it is resting within the hair follicle. This hair will remain there until it is: pushed up and out by new hair coming in, removed by waxing or plucking, or shed naturally. The telogen phase can last up to nine months. Waxing hair in the telogen phase may result in your hair growing back “faster”, however, it’s not. That is just newer hair that was already in the follicle arriving at the surface.
A common complaint you’ll see in waxing reviews is that the waxer did not “get all the hair” because “it came back the next day”. While it is true that some waxers might miss a few spots, the reality is that if you have ingrown hairs or if the majority of the hair growth was in the telogen cycle, the desired waxing results are harder to achieve.
*It’s important to note that the timeframes associated here are for hair on the body only. The hair on your head grows at a different rate. Also important: the hair on your body does not grow in an uniform cycle. One hair can be in the anagen phase and the hair next to it can be in telogen phase. Every hair is different.
10 Tips to Make Waxing Less Painful
- Take an ibuprofen 30-45 minutes before your appointment. It will help ease the pain.
- If you can, shower before your appointment. The steam and warmth helps to relax the follicles which make it easier for the hair to be removed.
- Avoid consuming anything that will tighten the follicles as it can lead to a much more painful waxing experience. So that means no caffeine or alcohol before your appointment.
- Exfoliate! While waxing in itself is a form of exfoliation, you can ease the pain of your waxing experience by manually exfoliating in the area beforehand. This helps the hair stick out from the skin making it easier for the wax to adhere to (and with a skilled esthetician this also means less pulls).
- Laugh a little. I usually tell my clients jokes during brazilians because that service seems to be the one they are most uncomfortable with and it distracts them from the fact that I’m ripping hair from their precious vaginas. You need a good distraction. Other forms of distractions include turning your head and coughing with each pull or listening to music.
- Trim. If the hair in the area you’re getting waxed is particularly long, trim beforehand (or inquire to make sure your esthetician will trim before beginning the service). Longer hair means harder pressure and more pulls that pack a punch.
- Skip it if you’re on your cycle. Even the most seasoned warrior women experience heightened sensitivity when their menstrual cycle comes to town. However, our pain tolerance tends to be highest about 3-4 days right after our cycle ends. Plan your appointments around then.
- Avoid working out, excessively hot showers, and sun exposure for the first 24 hours after your waxing service. While this won’t help during the service, this does prevent scarring and irritation immediately following.
- Help your esthetician. Don’t be afraid to help your esthetician in holding your skin taut. The tighter the skin, the more efficient the pull with be. More efficient pulls = less time on the table.
- Only use a numbing cream if you absolutely have to. The main reason I discourage numbing creams is because when they work, they numb everything! Your esthetician needs to know if the wax feels too hot or if something feels wrong to you. If the wax is too hot and you don’t feel it, you can walk away with burns. But most OTC numbing creams don’t even work, so I try to save clients from spending money they don’t have to.
Other Waxing Wisdom
- If you are super sensitive, use a hard wax at all times. Hard wax only adheres to the hair and not to your skin. When it is applied, it shrink wraps around the hairs individually and pulls each hair from the root when removed.
- Consistency is key. Get on a consistent waxing schedule. For facial waxing, I usually recommend 2-3 weeks. For the underarms and legs areas (and if you’re a former shaver), I recommend every two weeks for the first 2-3 months. After that we can evaluate the necessary frequency. Most other body areas can be done once a month.
- If you notice small breakouts immediately following any waxing procedure, take an oral antihistamine like Benadryl and apply hydrocortisone to the affected area.