The Ultimate Guide to Waxing Hair Removal at Home
Why Wax at Home?
There are a number of reasons why you would choose to wax at home:
The first and most obvious is to save money - DIY waxing kits are available at anything from a few dollars upwards to suit all pockets.
Then there is the convenience - no need to make appointments and perhaps not get the time or day that you really want. Also, there are some side effects from waxing e.g. redness and irritation which, although transient, make it advisable to wax in evening when you are not going anywhere.
The comfort and privacy of home is another reason why at home waxing is so popular, you can relax afterwards and there is no need to bare all to a stranger.
When is a Salon Best?
There are going to be occasions when, no matter what you prefer, you are going to need to bite the bullet and visit a salon.
One obvious reason for this is if the area is very difficult or impossible to reach, such as the back. Unless you have someone at home to help you, there really is no other choice.
Another time when it may be advisable is for first time waxers, especially for the more sensitive and difficult to manage areas such as underarms, for example.
It is important to keep the skin as taut as possible, and this can be tricky until you have mastered the technique.
As the skin becomes used to being waxed it builds up a tolerance to the process and most people report that the pain becomes less and more easy to bear.
If you want to use wax for your eyebrows at home, initially the trickiest part is achieving the correct shape.
Therefore, it is a good idea to have that done professionally at a salon in the first instance, and then just maintain them at home.
Why Choose to Wax - Pros and Cons
Here, we have looked at the relative merits of each versus waxing:
The difference between shaving and waxing is that shaving simply cuts the hair at the skin's surface, whereas waxing removes it from the root.
Obviously therefore, the advantage of shaving is that there is no pain involved, but the downside is that the results do not last nearly as long.
Shaving has to be repeated regularly, often even daily, whereas the results of waxing can last for several weeks, depending on the area and individual regrowth rates.
The other advantage that shaving has is that you can repeat it as soon as there is any regrowth at all, whereas you need hair to be around 5 mm minimum in length for wax to be effective.
Having said that, with regular use the regrowth from waxing will appear finer and lighter but shaving makes no difference at all and often a stubbly effect is experienced, so that the hair actually appears to be darker.
Depilatory creams are similar to shaving in that hair is removed at or just below the skin's surface, so that the results are almost as short-lived.
Assuming you have no allergies, depilatories are also a pain-free option.
However, whilst you will not experience the stubbly effect of shaving, depilatory creams will not have the lessening effect on regrowth that waxing does.
The process of tweezing removes hair in exactly the same way as waxing i.e. it pulls the hair out at the root, however you remove one hair at a time.
The obvious advantage of waxing is that it can cover large areas quickly and will tackle parts of the body that you simply could not practically use tweezers for.
However, tweezers are handy to keep for use in conjunction with waxing, just to remove any odd strays that you may have missed.
Vary basically, epilators consist of a set of mechanical tweezers that pluck multiple hairs from the root simultaneously.
The results are similar to waxing and they can cover large areas effectively, the main advantage that waxing has is that it is quicker. It will likely take around 30 minutes to treat both legs with an epilator.
Of course, with waxing there is an ongoing cost, whereas an epilator is a one-off initial outlay and should last for many years.
Pain levels are similar as is the effect on regrowth, and epilating does not involve the use of chemicals on the skin.
Epilators can remove very short hairs, the optimum length being 2 - 3 mm, so less unsightly regrowth than with waxing.
Unlike waxing, you cannot use an epilator for eyebrows.
What is Wax Best For?
Waxing or sugaring is easily best for covering large areas quickly such as the chest, back, legs and arms.
Other common areas for waxing include underarms, upper lip and chin, bikini-line and eyebrows, especially the area between brows (monobrow).
Often tweezers can be used in conjunction with waxing to remove any odd strays left behind.
Waxing or Sugaring?
Although there are some differences in technique, which are explained more fully further on, waxing and sugaring are the same in as much as they adhere to the hair and pull it out at the root.
This is why waxing and sugaring are usually categorized together.
The major difference is in the ingredients; unlike waxing, sugaring consists of all pure, natural products; basically sugar, lemon and water with perhaps the addition of honey, salt and/or essential oils.
Choosing the Best Products - What are the Options?
Hot or Cold Wax
There are two basic waxing options i.e. hot or cold, each of which has advantages and disadvantages:
- Hot wax needs to be melted - usually nowadays, this can be simply achieved in the microwave. Cold wax is either soft at room temperature or, in the case of pre-waxed strips, can be just warmed between the hands.
- Hot wax is applied to the skin and a strip is placed over the top to remove it. Usually cold wax is supplied on ready to use strips.
- Hot wax is more efficient at removing hair than cold wax, as it adheres more strongly to the hair.
- Cold wax is less messy than hot wax and is much easier to use anywhere e.g. great for travelling.
- Cold wax is therefore simpler to use than hot wax and there is no danger of overheating and burning the skin.
- Hot wax is generally more painful than cold wax, but as it is more effective, it will not require repeated application whereas cold wax most likely will.
The other option you have is sugaring which, as previously explained, works in the same way as hot wax, however these are the fundamental differences:
- Sugar paste consists of purely natural ingredients, unlike wax, which includes resin, other chemicals and often artificial colours and fragrances
- Sugar paste is less painful than wax - this is because, unlike waxing, it is applied in the opposite direction to hair growth and then removed in the same direction as hair growth.
- Sugar paste is applied lukewarm, whereas the temperature of the wax needs to be warmer to be effective. Therefore you are much less likely to make a mistake and burn the skin with sugar paste.
- Any sugar paste residue can be easily removed with water, whereas wax is more difficult and requires an oil-based product.
Making Sugar Paste at Home
Sugar paste takes a little time but is pretty easy to make at home, works out very cheap and is quite satisfying once perfected.
There are several variations, but the video below demonstrates exactly how to make a basic paste and how to use it:
- 1 Cup of sugar (white)
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice (can be bottled or fresh)
- 2 tbsp water
- Place the ingredients in a heavy-based non stick saucepan and heat over a low-medium heat, stirring constantly
- As the sugar melts it will become transparent and once in bubbles to a boil, lower the heat to a rolling simmer
- Continue to stir as the mixture bubbles until it reaches a dark golden brown colour and becomes thicker and sticky
- Dampen a plate with water and place over a bowl of cold water, then pour the mixture onto the plate
- Agitate the sugar paste with a spoon as it cools - for approximately 45 seconds
- Dip your fingers into cold water and then pick up the sugar paste (it should be cooled enough to be held comfortably without burning, and form into a ball
- Knead the ball until it is firm and sticky, and lightens in colour, then store in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm until you are ready to use it.
- Once fully kneaded the sugar paste is ready to use, but if using from the fridge, remove clingfilm and warm in the microwave for 10 seconds
- Press the paste firmly on to the area being treated, against the direction of the hair's growth
- Remove using one firm, quick pull in the direction of the hairs' growth
- Continue until the area is clear of hair, and dispose of the paste by simply throwing in the bin
- You can use an organic oil, as advised in the video, to remove any residue paste from the area, which will also soothe the skin and leave it feeling soft and moisturised. However if you prefer, you can also easily remove residue with plain water
How to Wax for Best Results
Each product will come with its own set of instructions and precautions, and you should always make sure that you read them thoroughly and follow them to the letter, especially any warnings.
Below we have broadly outlined our recommendations, based on our experiences, for best practice when waxing at home to achieve good results.
As with all hair removal methods, good preparation is key and a little time taken in advance should help avoid disappointing results.
We would advise you to pick a time for waxing in the evening, when you are not going out, so that you can relax afterwards and allow any adverse skin irritation to disappear overnight.
- Clean/Exfoliated Skin - Unless specifically instructed not to, skin should always be cleaned thoroughly in advance to make sure that it is free from make-up, oils and other products. Regular exfoliation between waxing treatments is an important part of this and is explained further in the section on minimizing pain.
- Patch Test - without exception you should always carry out a patch test on a small area to be treated 24 hours beforehand, following the manufacturers instructions. You should do this, even if you have previously had no adverse effects from a product, as allergies can still develop to an ingredient.
- Correct Hair Length - the hair you wish to remove should usually be a minimum of 1/4" in length for waxing to be effective. It should not be longer than recommended as it will drag on the skin, be painful and largely ineffective, increasing the risk of hair breaking off rather than being pulled out at the root. Trim any extra long hair back to the correct length prior to treating.
- Avoid Shower - or bath for at least an hour before waxing. A hot bath or shower may seem like a good idea to open the pores, but it also softens the skin and may lead to increased irritation.
- Baby Powder - a little rubbed into the skin prior to treatment will help ensure that it is dry and moisture-free so that the wax adheres better to the hair and less to the skin.
- Heating - if using hot wax warm in the microwave, or wax warmer, as per instructions, until the wax is soft and pliable. Make sure that it is not too hot and test on the back of your hand to avoid burning the skin. If using pre-waxed cold strips, warm between the hands or use a hairdryer to soften the wax.
- To Apply - whether hot or cold, the principle is the same - you should always apply in the direction of the hair's growth and smooth down several times in the same direction. If using hot wax, make sure you spread it in a thin layer- if it is too thick it will not be effective.
- Taut Skin - you should always hold the skin as taut as possible with your spare hand to avoid pulling and bruising and to minimize the pain. This is especially important for the more sensitive areas such as underarms and bikini-line were the skin is looser.
- To Remove - this needs to be done as quickly as possible in one firm, smooth movement against the direction of the hairs' growth. You need to pull the strip back across itself as close to the skin as possible and not upwards at 90 degrees to the skin.
- Pressure - apply pressure to the area briefly with your hand to help relieve stinging and minimise swelling
- Avoid Re-Treating - do not re-treat the same area more than once in a single session, especially if using hot wax. If there are stray hairs left, either use tweezers to remove them or leave for the next session.
- Remove Residue - this can be done using oil, often provided with the wax product. If the product is natural, sugar based then it will come off easily just with water.
- Avoid Cosmetics - do not use any deodorant, alcohol-based product or astringent for 12 hours post-treatment. The skin can be soothed with a gentle moisturizer such as Aloe.
- Avoid Direct Sunlight - protect skin from direct sunlight and do not sunbathe or go swimming for at least 12 hours after waxing.
- Avoid Showering - or bathing immediately after waxing to reduce risk of further irritation or possible infection.
There is no doubt that waxing is painful, as pulling out hair from the root is bound to be. However it does vary from person to person and depends on a number of factors including an individual's personal pain threshold.
Over time, with regular treatments, the skin builds up a tolerance to the process and the pain diminishes.
This may also be helped by the fact that plucking the hair causes some damage to the follicle and hair regrowth becomes lighter and finer. In fact with repeated use, some individuals even report that the hair ceases to grow back at all.
Here are a few tips to help reduce the pain to manageable levels until you reach this stage:
Regular Exfoliation - this is important as it removes dead skin cells and other debris that clogs the pores around the hair, making it harder to remove and therefore more painful. Ideally, this shouldn't be immediately prior to waxing, but the idea is to exfoliate regularly between treatments and about 12 hours prior to waxing.
Avoid Alcohol - tempting as it may be to have a stiff drink to dull the pain, it will actually achieve the exact opposite. Not only does alcohol have the effect of contracting the skin's pores, it also increases acidity in the body which causes it to be more receptive to pain.
Avoid Coffee - caffeine in coffee has a similar acidity increasing effect as alcohol, so giving up your caffeine fix for the day prior to waxing can help lessen the pain. Smoking is another stimulant which is best avoided for the same reason, but as an ex-smoker myself, I realise that for hardened smokers this is likely to be a step too far and more painful than the wax!
Baby Powder - rubbing some baby powder into the skin prior to waxing can help prevent the wax from adhering to the skin around the hair. It will also have the added effect of soaking up any moisture in the skin so that the wax adheres better to the hair, making it more efficient.
Timing - just prior to and during your period your skin is more sensitive to pain, and therefore it is sensible to avoid waxing during this time.
Relaxing - this may sound really difficult, but it is important to try to relax and not tighten your muscles in anticipation of the pain, as it will make it worse. In a way, this is easier if you are waxing at home and in control yourself, rather than in a salon waiting for someone else to rip the strip off!
Pain Reducing Products
The techniques outlined above are all easily achieved without the aid of pain relief products, but if you are happy with artificial pain relievers there are products on the market:
These are creams that are rubbed into the skin anything from 25 - 45 minutes prior to treatment (following instructions)
Oral Pain Relief
It is best not to use any oral relief that thins the blood, e.g. aspirin based products.
Ideal are paracetamol or ibuprofen based oral tablets:
Side Effects of Waxing
The good news is that most side effects from waxing are mild and transient; it is not uncommon to experience some irritation, redness and slight puffiness after waxing, but these usually clear up within a few hours.
By following good hygiene practices and observing after care instructions, you will likely never experience anything more problematic than this.
The more serious risk, that of infection, is rare with good care.
A more common, and tedious side effect is ingrown hairs, which is the most general side effect from many hair removal methods.
Tips to Minimise Side Effects
When waxing at home, the main thing is to master the correct method, so that the hair is removed cleanly and effectively.
The immediate after effects of waxing can be reduced and soothed by applying ice or a cold compress to the skin.
Use of a mild oil or cream gently applied can further soothe the area and leave it feeling soft and moisturized.
Avoiding the use of any perfumes or astringents and deodorant will avoid exacerbating irritation, as will not swimming or sunbathing.
Exfoliating regularly between treatments is the best way to lessen the risk of ingrown hairs.
Above all, always remember to carry out a patch test to ensure that you are not prone to adverse reactions.
When Not to Use Wax
Whilst waxing is a very popular form of hair removal and eminently suitable for many individuals, it is not right for everyone.
If you have any of the following medical conditions, you need to look at other options:
- Eczema, acne or any other skin disorder
- If you are using Retin-A, Accutane, Alpha Hydroxy treatments, Glycolic Acid or steroids
Waxing is not suitable for use on warts, moles, irritated, broken or sunburned skin or on varicose veins.
It is also not a suitable method of hair removal on the scalp or for inner ear and nose hair.
If you are in any doubt whatsoever after reading the instructions provided, you should seek medical advice before use.