Before a recent trip to Los Angeles, I decided to embark on a womanhood rite of passage: get my very first bikini wax.
Not knowing that you must grow out your hair beforehand, I shaved two days earlier. The aesthetician (who shall remain nameless) began ripping strips of hot wax over and over from the same areas, like a five-year-old opening presents on Christmas morning. I thought the whole thing was normal—it’s supposed to hurt, right?
Of course, she couldn’t get the hair because it was too short, and so I was left with a red, irritated, inflamed mess—not exactly what you want right before a trip to a sunny place or a ride at an indoor cycling studio. I was doing both.
Once I was informed by friends and co-workers (at a work meeting, no less) about her poor judgement, I thought, “How could the female whisper network have failed to properly educate me on this crucial beauty issue?”
Here, she shares everything you should know before your first bikini wax. Because what doesn’t hurt about a wax is being equipped with a little knowledge (or a little more hair!) before showing up for your appointment.
Originally posted July 20, 2014, updated May 23, 2016.
1. Grow out your hair for four weeks
Yes, four. “As hard as that may be, I wouldn’t come in for a wax unless it’s a quarter of an inch long,” Quintero says. Think about it this way: The shorter the hair, the harder the pull, because short hair is denser.
2. Pop an Advil before your appointment
Or a pain reliever of your choice. “Anything that will make the skin less inflamed,” she advises.
3. Don’t go five days before or five days after your period
“Your body will be more sensitive,” Quintero says. So while a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do—and sometimes that means a tampon string in full view of your waxer (sorry, TMI?)—for first-timers, it’s best to get your wax done outside of this time frame. Which, annoyingly, you’ll notice is about half the month.
4. Exfoliate the night or morning before your wax
Using a sugar scrub will help remove dead skin cells is key to a clean wax and fewer ingrown hairs. “If your skin isn’t doing a great job of shedding on its own, it can trap hairs underneath, so you won’t get as effective of a wax,” Quintero explains. She doesn’t, however, recommend exfoliating until two or three weeks after your bikini wax in the area, as it can irritate skin.
5. Work out before your wax, but not after
6. Get your wax at least three days before you’re slipping into a swimsuit
For seriously sensitive women, it can take this long for redness to go down. “Also, salt water and chlorine will get into your open pores and cause more irritation if you get a bikini wax the day of,” Quintero adds. Women who save their waxing for their hotel spa on vacation can attest to this sad fact.
7. Know what type of wax you’re getting
Here are the basics (to spare you a way-too-graphic Google Image search). “A Brazilian means everything comes off, front to back, and the top area can be styled any way,” she says, i.e., nothing there or a landing strip. “A basic bikini is a clean-up of the sides of the pubic area only and about an inch down from the top of your hairline. There’s also an in between, with more taken off the front or top. And these two don’t include, ahem, backstage.
There are also two kinds of wax. Soft wax, or the wax pulled up with a cloth strip, is used for thinner hair, while hard wax is directly ripped off the skin. “At Bliss, we apply oils to lubricate the skin and use hard wax over it. This way, the wax sticks to the hair and not the skin,” Quintero explains. Many places will use a combination of the two waxes. If you find you prefer one, don’t hesitate to tell your aesthetician.
8. Plan your wax-day outfit
If the aesthetician uses baby powder after your wax, some might find its way to your black top afterward, even if you lift it out of the way. (First-hand experience here.) You also don’t want something super tight or chafing afterward. “Something that’s comfy and easy to pull on and off is more convenient,” Quintero says. “Not a suit and pantyhose.”
9. Take your underwear off
Yes, when your waxer says “get undressed,” she means everything from the waist down. “We have disposable underwear for people who feel more comfortable with it on,” she says. “But you never want to wear your own because you might get wax on it.” And then it’s there for good.
10. Do a sanitation check
If you walk into a place, and your waxer doesn’t have gloves on or you see her double dipping her popsicle-stick-like spatula into a big cauldron of wax, “get out of there immediately,” Quintero warns. “It’s okay to say you changed your mind and you don’t want to do it.” (Note that some places use a private batch of wax in a smaller container that’s exclusive to you; this is the only exception to the double-dip rule.)
11. Know a few things about pain reduction
“A good aesthetician will pull the skin taut right before waxing it and then press the waxed area firmly right after,” she says. These two things can make waxing much less painful, and a good aesthetician will do them for you. Also, take a deep breath—it helps in yoga, it will help here (or try this five-minute meditation). This is also a place where you can “look at your phone—or talk to your waxer,” she adds. You’ll need the distraction.
12. Practice waxing after-care
Some aestheticians recommend witch hazel or other toning or exfoliating wipes to clients who tend to get ingrown hairs, and others may need something to calm redness. (Zinc-based diaper cream works wonders, says Well+Good’s beauty guru, Melisse Gelula.) Also, freshly waxed skin will be more sensitive to sun, since dead skin cells also come off, Quintero explains. So if you’re heading to the beach, take extra care to apply sunscreen on your bikini line. And if you still have hair on top, use conditioner on it while you condition your hair. “It will make your bikini hair much softer,” she adds.
13. It will get better
The more you get a bikini wax, the less it will hurt. “The first time is the most intense,” Quintero promises. “Afterwards, we’re not working with hard, stubbly hair, so it comes up more easily.” That explains why women who’ve been going for years hardly bat an eyelash.
Can’t remember the 13 steps? Save this handy infographic for the next time you take it all (or, okay, some) off.
If you need pointers on removing facial hair, here are five tips you need to know before shaving your face. And to keep your body silky smooth post-wax, try one of these Well+Good-approved all-natural body oils.