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Created for Greatist by the experts at Healthline. Read more
Keeping on top of unwanted underarm hair can be the pits. While shaving may offer a pain-free option (most of the time), it requires a fair amount of diligence.
If that kind of time investment just isn’t your bag, waxing may be a better option. But there are some things to consider before taking the plunge — or pulling that strip!
Either hard or soft wax will have an exfoliating effect on your skin and leave it feeling silky-smooth and hair-free.
Soft wax is the kind that requires paper strips to remove, whereas hard wax solidifies on your body and you remove it by tugging on the hardened wax itself.
Since waxing pulls out hair from the root, some say it makes the hair grow back softer, thinner, and more slowly.
Waxing is certainly not for everyone or every part of your body, and there are some side effects.
However, more serious side effects like bleeding, burns, and infections can happen. A little bit of bleeding is common for first-timers and isn’t usually something to worry about. Just keep the area clean to prevent infection.
Wax is, by definition, hot, so at-home waxers beware: Burns do happen when you accidentally remove the top layer of skin. They can also happen in a salon if your technician is inexperienced.
If you do get a burn, make sure to apply ice for at least a few minutes and steer clear of deodorant.
If you develop pus-filled blisters and have tender, painful skin after a waxing session, it could be a sign of an infection. See your healthcare provider right away if you notice anything funky like that.
Consider the ouch factor if you’re thinking about waxing your underarms. Waxing is by no means pain-free, and some people are more tolerant than others of this kind of discomfort.
How painful it is can also depend on the thickness of your hair and the skill level of the person doing the waxing.
If you’re feeling sassy and want to wax your underarms at home instead of going to a salon, make sure to prepare appropriately.
Pick a product
Start your DIY journey with the right product. Whether you opt for hard or soft wax, make sure to check the ingredient list for any ingredients you might be sensitive to.
Get some recommendations
As with most things, a little research and word of mouth go a long way. Get online to scope out products or salons, and don’t be ashamed of tapping friends for advice or recommendations.
Easy does it
Waxing isn’t as simple as wax on, hair off. Make sure to follow these steps for the best and safest results at home:
- Make sure your skin is well exfoliated a day or two beforehand. You can use a mild scrub or a loofah to scrub away dead skin around the hair follicles — just don’t go at it too hard.
- Clean and dry your skin thoroughly before waxing to avoid infection and to ensure maximum stickiness. Grime, residue, and moisture will prevent the wax from sticking.
- Trim your hair a bit if necessary. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a hair length of ¼ inch to ¾ inch for waxing.
- Test the temperature of the wax before applying a full patch — it should be hot but not scalding.
- Apply the wax in the same direction of the hair growth, and avoid double-dipping your applicator (ew).
- Pull the strip (if using soft wax) or wax in the opposite direction of the hair growth. Deep breaths help with the pain, as does pressing on the area with your other hand once the wax is removed.
The wonderful world of wax
Not sure where to start on your waxing adventure? Here are a few kits and products for a smooth first-time experience:
- The ILansley Waxing Kit comes with every bell and whistle for soft waxing, including a warmer, applicators, and pre- and post-wax skin care.
- For those who want a comprehensive kit with hard wax, the KoluaWax kit is a great option.
- For a heat-free option, Reejoys offers waxing strips with an all-natural formulation, and they include wipes for cleaning up any residue afterward.
- If you don’t want to invest in a heater but like hard wax, Waxup is a microwaveable hard wax that comes with applicators.
- Waxup also makes a soft wax kit with an easy roll-on formula to cut down on the mess. Plus, the heating dock is a lot less bulky than those of other brands.
If you don’t want to chance it at home, seeking the services of an experienced professional is usually a good idea.
Know where to go
Your relationship with a waxing technician can get pretty intimate, so it’s worth making sure you’re going to someone reputable.
Look around and make sure their operation is sanitary. They should be wearing gloves, and you should never see a technician double-dipping with an applicator. Also, keep an eye out for accreditation and don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t see a certificate hanging somewhere.
Lastly, most reputable salons will ask you to fill out a questionnaire before your session to avoid any potential irritation or injury.
Preparation is key
The same prep rules apply to a salon wax as to a home session. Give yourself a little trim if necessary, and make sure the area is clean and exfoliated.
It’s also best to limit your alcohol and caffeine consumption the day you intend to get waxed. The diuretic effect of these substances can make your pores tighten and make waxing more painful.
Make sure to skip deodorant that day to avoid clogging your pores, and feel free to take an over-the-counter pain reliever 30 minutes before your appointment.
During the appointment
If you choose to go to a salon, here’s what to expect:
- If your underarms are covered by your shirt, your technician will probably ask you to remove it. (Don’t worry — it’s for your shirt’s sake.)
- Your technician will cleanse the area to remove any dirt or oil.
- Your technician will apply a pre-wax powder or oil to make the hairs more pronounced and easy to remove.
- Bring on the wax! If it’s hard wax, your technician will wait a bit for it to solidify before removing it. If it’s soft, they’ll remove it with paper strips.
- Your technician will clean up any stray hairs with tweezers, but they’ll probably ask your permission first, since tweezing this area can be painful.
- Your technician will apply an aftercare lotion or oil to calm your skin and prevent ingrown hairs.
Don’t skimp on aftercare
Avoid sun exposure and any potentially irritating activity — i.e., soaking in a bath or strenuous exercise — for 24 hours after an appointment.
If you’re really feeling the burn (not a literal one), apply a cool compress or some hydrocortisone cream.
Whether you wax at home or in a salon, ingrown hairs and bumps are par for the course.
Regular exfoliation between waxes can really make a difference. Just make sure not to exfoliate for 3 or 4 days after you wax, and follow up with your preferred aftercare oil or product.
Some people just aren’t ideal candidates for waxing. You should opt for a different method if any of the following apply to you:
- You’re pregnant. It’s safe, but pregnancy hormones can make you and your skin more sensitive.
- You have ingrown hairs or cuts. They can increase sensitivity and the likelihood of an infection.
- You’re on your period. Your skin tends to be way more sensitive during menstruation.
- You’re on certain medications. This includes hormonal meds (like birth control), antibiotics, oral acne medications, and topical retinoids (like Retin-A and Differin). Talk to your doctor first, since all these medications can make the side effects of waxing worse.
How you deal with unwanted hair is your business. If waxing isn’t a good option for you, there’s always shaving, electrolysis, laser removal, and sugaring to consider.
It may take some trial and error and some talking to people with more experience, but you’ll find your smooth silver lining eventually.