Experts weigh in on the most common hair removal mistakes to help in your quest for soft, smooth skin.

By Melanie Rud
Updated: July 17, 2019
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It’s admittedly easy to not put too much thought into hair removal, particularly if you’ve been doing it for years. But here’s the thing: No matter your preferred method of de-fuzzing, you may be making a few mistakes—without even realizing it. Ahead, experts weigh in on how to avoid seven of the most common hair removal snafus. Get ready to bare your smoothest skin ever.

SHAVING

The Mistake: Dry Shaving

We’ve all been there: Those times in the shower when you quickly run a razor over a few stray hairs on your legs or under your arms, sans shaving cream. But spending those few extra seconds lathering up is essential for preventing irritation and razor burns, says Deanne Robinson, MD, a dermatologist based in Westport, Conn. Taking a razor blade to “dry” skin (yes, even if it’s wet, it’s still considered “dry” shaving) is a recipe for excessive friction, the culprit behind unsightly redness and bumps. Lubing up with a shaving cream creates slip and helps the razor glide seamlessly along your skin. Dr. Robinson suggests looking for the most hydrating formula possible. Ingredients like shea butter and vitamin E are choice; you can find both of these in Eos Ultra Moisturizing Vanilla Bliss Shave Cream ($3; target.com).

The Mistake: Using an Old Razor

Quick, when was the last time you replaced your razor? Yeah, we know, us too. But the older the razor the higher the likelihood of nicks and cuts. As the blade dulls, you have to push harder against your skin to remove the hair. One telltale sign it’s time for a new razor: Feeling your hairs catch in the blade, or like the blade isn’t moving smoothly on your skin (even with shaving cream involved). The super-affordable Billie razor comes with two cartridges, plus four extra replacements sent to you whenever you need them ($9; billie.com).

WAXING

The Mistake: Not Exfoliating

If you’re dealing with ingrown hairs, it’s probably because you’re not exfoliating, says Dr. Robinson. Dead skin cells can build up around the hair follicle, making it harder for the hair to grow up and out and causing it to curl instead. And yep, that leads to an ingrown. For a quick fix, she suggests exfoliating the day before waxing (avoid doing it the day of, since you don’t want to risk over-irritating your skin) to help prevent those annoying bumps from cropping up. Still, it’s best to make exfoliating—and moisturizing—a regular habit in between waxing. Try a multi-tasking exfoliating body lotion like AmLactin Alpha-Hydroxy Therapy Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion ($18; cvs.com).

The Mistake: Waxing Hair That’s the Wrong Length

Whether you’re seeing a pro or taking the DIY route, waxing will be most effective—not to mention the most comfortable—when your hair is the correct length The sweet spot: a quarter inch or about the length of a grain of rice, says Helene Marie, a waxing expert at European Wax Center. Any shorter or longer and it’s going to be more painful, not to mention less effective. But if you’re going to see a pro and it is a bit longer, avoid trimming it and let them take care of it. “More often than not, people end up trimming more than needed and then it’s too short for waxing,” she says.

The Mistake: Not Being Gentle With Your Skin After

Waxing is effective but can also take a toll on your skin, which is why it’s important to give any waxed areas a little extra TLC afterwards. It can be tempting to touch your newly smooth skin, but adopt a hands-off approach. “Touching it will only clog pores and transfer bacteria from your hands onto the waxed area, and your skin is extra susceptible to bacteria immediately after waxing,” Marie says. Similarly, skip working out (and sitting around in sweaty workout clothes) afterward, and avoid both overly hot showers and sun exposure for at least 24 hours.

LASER HAIR REMOVAL

The Mistake: Removing Hair Beforehand

Waxing or tweezing before a laser hair removal treatment is a no-no, Dr. Robinson says.  “The target of a laser is the root or bulb of the hair. If you remove it, then the laser no longer has a target and the treatment ultimately won’t be effective,” she explains. That being said, it’s OK to shave the day prior since you’re simply removing the hair that’s on the surface and leaving the root untouched, she adds.

DEPILATORY

The Mistake: Not Taking It for a Test Run

Depilatories work by dissolving the hair just below the surface of the skin. They use chemicals, which have the potential for irritating your skin, particularly if used on sensitive area like your face and bikini line. Your best bet: “Try a test spot to make sure the formula you’re using agrees with your skin before you apply it on a larger area,” Dr. Robinson says. The inside of your arm or back of your neck are both good areas to try test out your depilatory formula.

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