After you visit the esthetician or wax body hair yourself, you may notice red bumps where the hair was removed. This is a common reaction to waxing, but it can be embarrassing if the bumps are located in visible areas. The bumps might be uncomfortable or itch as well. Post-waxing bumps are usually due to a short-term reaction of the hair follicles, but may be due to other causes.
Each hair is attached to living tissue within the hair follicle beneath the skin surface. When you remove hair with waxing, the tissue within the follicle is traumatized when the hair is pulled out. As with any type of skin injury, the body respond with an inflammatory reaction. So the pinkish bumps you see after waxing are simply your hair follicles responding to the minor trauma of having the hairs pulled out. This short-term irritation typically appears almost immediately after waxing and usually goes away within a day or two.
Folliculitis refers to a pimple-like rash involving the hair follicles. Each tender pink bump has a small fluid-filled head at the skin surface with folliculitis. If the waxing was done on the face or chest, folliculitis can be easily confused with an acne breakout. In most cases, folliculitis after waxing represents a minor infection of the hair follicles that have been left open to bacteria on the skin surface due to pulling out the hair. In some people, there is no infection of the hair follicles and folliculitis develops due to the irritation alone. Friction caused by wearing tighten clothes can contribute to the development of folliculitis after body or bikini waxing.
Bumps that develop a week or more after waxing are likely due to ingrown hairs. This condition, known medically as pseudofolliculitis, is most likely when the waxing treatment involves removal of coarse, curly hairs. Therefore, ingrown hairs are more likely to develop with pubic or chest waxing than with brow or upper lip waxing. As the name implies, an ingrown hair occurs when the removed hair regrows but curls back into the skin as it emerges at the skin surface. This causes bumps that are often tender, inflamed and pimple-like. In contrast to the irritant bumps that appear immediately after waxing, late bumps due to ingrown hairs are usually less numerous.
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The likelihood of developing skin bumps after waxing differs depending on how sensitive your skin is, the area being waxed, the product being used and the waxing technique. Although there is no guarantee that you'll be able to completely avoid this common problem, there are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood or severity of post-waxing skin bumps. -- Clean the skin before waxing. -- Be sure the wax and spatula are clean and new. -- If your waxing is done professionally, check to be sure the salon and esthetician are using proper techniques to avoid possible infection.
Post-Wax Care and Precautions
A cool compress or shower after waxing may help reduce immediate, post-waxing irritation. Using an over-the-counter cortisone cream on the involved area for a day or two might also reduce inflammation and any itching that may be present. A soothing, moisturizing lotion can also be helpful. It's best to avoid swimming in unchlorinated water or using a hot tub for 24 to 48 hours after body or bikini waxing to avoid folliculitis.
Superficial folliculitis typically doesn't require topical or oral antibiotics, and will go away on its own. You'll need to keep the area clean, and avoid sharing towels or clothing with others until the infection clears. See your doctor if you develop large or growing bumps, especially if you experience a fever, the redness appears to be spreading or you experience other symptoms.
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- The V Book: A Doctor's Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health; Elizabeth G. Stewart, M.D. and Paula Spencer
- Genital Dermatology Atlas, 2nd Edition; Libby Edwards, M.D. and Peter J. Lynch, M.D.
- DermNet NZ: Folliculitis
- Dermatology, 3rd Edition; Jean L. Bolognia, et al.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.