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what is brazilian wax

what is a brazilian wax

One of the biggest beauty trends to come from the early aughts was Brazilian waxing. Thanks to the J Sisters who pioneered the hair removal method, gone were the days of balancing one foot on the toilet while the other was firmly pressed on the ground to capture each and every hair in your pube region with a razor or, dare I say it, Nair. Unfortunately, the latter was my history with hair removal until I grew old and brave enough to finally book my very first Brazilian wax appointment. Will I have my leg suspended in the air a la Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and the City episode? Well, I was about to find out.

Conjuring up the courage to get a Brazilian was a challenge in itself. Upon arrival at my local European Wax Center, I immediately switched my initial Brazilian appointment for a bikini line wax and became the laughing stock of my group chat that day. But, I couldn’t go out like that. On a mission to redeem me, I switched back to a Brazilian wax and my wax specialist, Christine, was extremely understanding.

What You Should Know About Getting a Brazilian Wax

what is a brazilian wax

I was instructed to remove my pants and lie down on the red waxing table with my knees bent and legs apart. After applying a cleaning solution to my private area, followed by a pre-wax oil (“It creates a light barrier between the skin and the wax,” she explained), I peered over my bent knee to watch her stir the wax until it was hot and ready to be applied on my skin. “This was a good idea,” I kept reassuring myself, as she gently lathered the hot purple wax on to my skin and boy was it hot. I’m no glutton for pain, so I shrieked and winced when she ripped off the initial glob of melted wax.

Unlike waxing eyebrows, chins, and underarms, Brazilian waxing doesn’t require any paper strips. However, the more she waxed, the easier it was to bear the pain because we developed a little system: inhale as the wax is applied to your skin, exhale when it’s time to remove. Christine then applied European Wax Center’s Smooth Me Ingrown Hair Serum to calm the skin down. What felt like a lifetime of agony only turned out to be a 20-minute session, but I’d be lying if I said I would not return. In fact, I already booked my next appointment.

If you, too, are a wax newbie and curious about the procedure, here’s everything you need to know before getting a Brazilian wax.

What is a Brazilian wax, exactly?

There’s a bikini wax, where the hair on the sides and top area along the bikini line is removed, and then there’s a Brazilian, which leaves your entire pubic area bare (!). A Brazilian wax removes all the hair from your bikini area (top, sides, and front), and those hard-to-reach areas in the back. Simply put: everything goes. You can opt to leave a “landing strip” or a triangle, the choice is up to you.

Does it hurt?

Any procedure that requires removing the hair out of follicles is going to be an unpleasant experience. “The good news is, when you start waxing consistently, what we’re doing is training the hairs to come out at the same time so they can grow in at the same time,” Christine said. “The first time hurts the worst, especially if you’ve been shaving, but once your hair structure starts changing because of waxing, it becomes so much easier and less painful.”

What’s better: Hot wax or strip wax?

“Strip wax adheres to the top layer of the skin as well as the hair. When that comes off, it takes the top layer of skin as well, which is why it’s so painful,” Christie said. “That causes redness, swelling, irritation, etc. Hard wax, which is what we use, only adheres to the hair, so it’s more gentle for sensitive skin.”

How can you prep for a Brazilian wax?

Pop ibuprofen before your arrival, I didn’t and felt every rip! “Wear loose-fitting clothes,” Christie suggested. I didn’t. “Also, bringing a new pair of underwear is better than re-wearing the one you’ve been wearing all day.” Also, don’t shave! “When you’re shaving, the hair is cut down to different levels, which makes it harder for the wax to grip. If you shave even once after getting a wax, it’s like starting all over again,” she adds. After a wax, it takes about three to four weeks for a hair to grow back.

In addition to taking ibuprofen, apply numbing cream or spray. Apply the cream about 30-40 minutes before your appointment to help dull hair removal pain.

Can you wax on your period?

While your skin may be super sensitive during this time, you can absolutely wax on your period. “As long as you’re wearing a tampon in because there is more blood flow to that area of your body, the skin will be extremely sensitive, as everything is during your menstrual cycle.

How long does a wax last?

It takes about three to four weeks for your hair to start growing back (this can be longer or shorter, depending on the person). Christine also suggests allowing your hair to grow as least as long as the length of a rice grain before scheduling an appointment.

How do you care for your freshly-shaven skin afterwards?

“It’s important to exfoliate every other day because you need to get that dead skin off the surface or it will get trapped into the hair follicles and block the hair from growing out. This is how ingrown hairs are created,” she said as she applied an ingrown hair serum to my skin. “Avoid any sweaty activities, sun exposure, public pools, or jacuzzi, having sex, and showering with very hot water [immediately] after getting a wax.”

Brazilian wax benefits

There’s nothing unhealthy or unsanitary about going au naturel (read: hairy). But if you prefer a more groomed look, waxing has some benefits, notes Dr. Khetarpal.

  • Less irritation: If you prep well, waxing may be less likely than shaving to cause rashes and bumps.
  • Long lasting: Wax pulls hair out from the root, so you’ll stay smooth for longer than you would with a razor. Eventually, the hair grows back — but a Brazilian wax can keep you hair-free for three or four weeks. (At that point, it’ll be time for a repeat visit to your waxer.)
  • Less hair over the long term: If you wax repeatedly, the hair often starts to grow back softer and thinner. Over time, waxing will be easier and less painful, and you may be able to go longer between sessions.

Brazilian wax side effects

No pain, no gain. Waxing does have some risks:

  • Pain: How bad is a Brazilian wax? It ranges from pretty uncomfortable to OMG on the pain scale. But the first time is usually the worst. 
  • Rash: It’s common to experience bumps and redness, especially right after waxing. This is temporary and typically resolves on its own.
  • Itchiness: Your waxed skin might feel itchy as it heals. “Try not to scratch since that can irritate the skin,” says Dr. Khetarpal.
  • Vulvodynia: Though it’s not super common, research shows that removing pubic hair increases the risk of developing vulvodynia, chronic pain of the vulva.

What to do before a Brazilian wax

If you want to try a Brazilian wax, these tips can help you prep for the best results.

Know when to say no

Skip waxing if you:

  • Are sunburned. (Ouch!)
  • Have very sensitive skin.
  • Have taken the acne medication isotretinoin in the last six months. “Waxing while taking isotretinoin can cause permanent scars. And that goes for both hot and cold wax,” says Dr. Khetarpal.

Do your research

“Hair removal does have a risk of infection or injury if it’s not done correctly. Read reviews and ask for recommendations to find a trustworthy salon,” says Dr. Khetarpal. Most waxers in the U.S. need to have a license to perform the procedure.

And waxers should wear gloves and never “double-dip.” In other words, they should use a new stick each time they scoop wax from the pot, rather than re-dipping the same stick they used to apply the wax to your skin.

Brazilian wax prep

To get the best results, you can take some simple steps to prepare before your appointment:

  • Trim: Hair should be between one-quarter and three-quarters of an inch long for the wax to do its job. If it’s longer, you might want to trim before you go.
  • Scrub: Exfoliating the area before a wax can prevent ingrown hairs.  
  • Prevent pain: Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen about a half hour before your appointment. 

Plan for after-wax care

After hair removal, your skin might be a little tender. Wear loose, comfortable clothes to avoid discomfort. “Applying a cool compress can help ease the pain and reduce redness,” Dr. Khetarpal says.  ​

Consider washing with a mild cleanser to soothe the skin and remove any residual wax, too. You might also want to skip soaking in the bath or having sex for a day or so until your skin has gotten over the shock.

A Brazilian wax may not be the most relaxing salon treatment you can get. But if you’re curious about going hair-free, it might be the fastest route to a smooth city.

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