A Dermatologist Says It’s ‘Mandatory’ to Do One Thing Before Your Brow Wax

Photo: Getty Images/ OpenmindedE
Going to get your eyebrows waxed is a fairly mindless experience. All you've gotta do is tell your waxer what you want, then sit back, relax, and muscle through the pain for like, six minutes, before the entire thing is over and you're on your merry way.  There's literally nothing to think about except whether you want to opt for an additional lip wax, and what kind of snack you're going to treat yourself to after the appointment...right? Well, not exactly. There is actually one thing that should be top of mind that you probably haven't considered, and that's your retinol routine.

"Many people make the mistake of not thinking about how their skin type and skin-care regimen can affect their brow-shaping experience," says celebrity eyebrow artist Robin Evans. One ingredient that raises a major red flag? Retinoids, which can make skin more sensitive and change the way it reacts to the wax (alpha-hydroxy acids, like glycolic, and any other harsh actives can also have similar effects). "I do a verbal consultation with my new clients, to see if they’re using Retin-A or Differin (both are retinoids), AHAs, or have recently had peels, so I can decide if I need to be more careful with the waxing—or not wax at all," says Evans.

Experts In This Article

Keep reading for everything you need to know so that your next wax appointment doesn't rip off a layer of skin along with that unwanted hair.

Can you wax if you use retinol?

The answer here is a very clear "yes, but:" Yes, you can wax if you use retinol, but you want to make sure you're not using it in the days leading up to your appointment to avoid damage to your complexion.

"Retinoids decrease the thickness of the stratum corneum which is the outermost layer of the skin," explains board-certified dermatologist Tiffany L. Clay, MD. "If you are missing some of this protective layer, your skin may be damaged by the waxing process. You may get a burn or the wax may tear some of the skin off, which can lead to scarring."

With that in mind, she says that stopping retinoids before having facial hair waxed is "mandatory"—so you'll want to time things up accordingly.

How long can you wax after using retinol?

Dr. Clay suggests laying off the retinoids seven days before your appointment. "There is a chance that you may be safe if you stop using the retinoid two to five days prior but I don’t think it’s worth taking that risk," she adds. She also recommends laying off of glycolic acid and lactic acid two to five days before waxing, too.

That being said, any potential reaction you might have depends on the strength of the actives you're using and how sensitive your skin is, so always make sure to discuss your routine with your waxer—or better yet, ask them for a patch test—before they go all in with their wares. If all looks good after the fact, you should be fine to go back to using your full skin care regimen, until seven days before your next appointment, that is.

Retinol and laser hair removal don't mix well, either. And while you can technically wear retinol during the day, it's important to be cautious and follow the instructions of your dermatologist.

What happens if you wax after retinol?

Because retinol inherently makes the skin thinner, waxing while using it comes with the risk of ripping off a layer of skin along with the unwanted hair you intend to remove.

"The skin can experience severe irritation and may be more susceptible to burns, discoloration, or scarring," says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. She reiterates that, "Using a retinol makes the skin more sensitive so it is important to avoid waxing. "

What should I do if I have a reaction to waxing after using retinol?

"If a reaction develops after using a retinol, it is best to stick with gentle products and avoid harsh ingredients," says Dr. Garshick. She recommends opting for thick moisturizing creams or ointments (think: Vaseline) to protect the skin and stimulate healing and repair, and trading your usual active cleansers for gentle ones (like CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser or Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Gentle Cleansing Foam). "It's also important to wear sunscreen to help prevent any post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and since the skin tends to be more sensitive during this time, it’s best to stick with a mineral sunscreen like Colorescience Total." 

And, of course, you'll want to stop using the retinoid while your skin is recovering. "In general, it can help to see a board-certified dermatologist to determine if any other treatment is needed," says Dr. Garshick.

Final takeaways

For the sake of keeping your skin safe from irritation, it's best to lay off the retinol for a week before your waxing appointment. If you do wind up with any sort of a reaction, be sure to be extra gentle with your skin—skip out on retinoids and any other harsh actives, double down on soothing and calming ingredients, and moisturize with vigor. Then, you can continue with your regularly scheduled (skin-care) programming.

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