Waxing and Retinol Are a Recipe for Irritated Skin—Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Photo: Getty Images/ OpenmindedE

Going to get your eyebrows waxed is a fairly mindless experience. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and muscle through the pain for 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 one thing that should be at the top of your mind that you probably still need to consider: if you're using retinol and waxing.

Retinoids are powerful, and help resurface the skin's outer layer, making it more susceptible to irritation from services like waxing. Actively using retinol before your wax appointment makes you prone to redness, irritation, or even some of your skin ripping off (ouch, we know). But you don't necessarily have to sacrifice your beloved retinol formula in the name of groomed eyebrows. Ahead, we spoke to dermatologists Tiffany L. Clay, MD, and Marisa Garshick, MD, on the best way to tweak your retinol routine if you're booking a brow wax so you don't tip a layer of skin off along with your unwanted hair.

Experts In This Article

Can you wax and use retinol?

The answer here is a very clear "yes, but:" Yes, you can wax if you use retinol, but you want to ensure you're not using it in the days leading up to your appointment to avoid damage to your skin. "Retinoids decrease the thickness of the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the skin," Dr. Clay explains. "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 stopping retinoids before having facial hair waxed is highly encouraged, so you'll want to time things 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 avoiding glycolic and lactic acids up to five days before waxing, as they can also make your skin more touchy to hot wax.

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 wax. If all looks good after the fact, you should be good to go back to using your complete skin care regimen (with retinol and acids) until seven days before your next appointment.

What happens if you wax after using retinol?

Because retinol inherently thins the skin, waxing can ripple 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," Dr. Garshick says. Ultimately, she doubles down, saying that retinol will make you more sensitive to waxing, so cut it off a few days before your service.

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

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

To keep your skin safe from irritation, it's best to lay off the retinol for a week before your waxing appointment. If you wind up with any reaction, 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 (skincare) programming.

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