How To Use Wax Strips, According to A Dermatologist

Your step-by-step guide.

Woman using wax strips
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Let’s talk about body hair. While you should only remove it if you want to, there are plenty of hair removal options if you do. Some of the most popular ones, like at-home laser hair removal, come with a learning curve and require you to invest in an expensive new device. Other options, like at-home waxing kits, require less of a learning curve but can still be painful and messy if you don’t use them correctly. If you’ve been thinking about removing your hair using wax strips, consider this your official guide, no matter where you're planning to use them on your body. Ahead, dermatologists and experts in the field answer all of your most important wax strip questions and recommend their favorite products so that you have a smooth experience—pun intended. 

Where Can You Use Wax Strips?

Dr. Kenneth Howe, a dermatologist at UnionDerm in New York City, says that wax strips can be used almost anywhere on the body, including your bikini line, your armpits, your legs, or your face. That said, you should look for wax strips that are specifically designed for the areas you're going to use them on.

He also says that most problems arise from using them “around the mouth and eyes, where the skin is thinner and more prone to tearing."

How Long Should Your Hair Be for Wax Strips to Be Effective?

Unlike a razor, which can catch many lengths of hair, wax strips require hair to be a certain length so they can be effective. “This sweet spot is six millimeters, or about the length of a grain of rice,” says Dr. Howe. If the hair is shorter than that, he says, the “wax fails to grab the hair. If the hair is longer than six millimeters, the hair shafts often break instead of being pulled out at the root.” 

While he notes that everyone’s hair grows at different rates, it generally takes about two weeks for your hair to get to the correct length. 

How To Use Wax Strips

While every set of wax strips is different and comes with its own set of directions (which you should most definitely follow to a T), Maria Desmarais, co-founder and co-CEO of Athena Club, and Dr. Howe outlined some easy-to-follow steps.

Step 1: Prepare Your Skin

Your skin should be clean, fully dry (emphasis on fully), and free of sweat or other products like body lotions before you start. Desmarais recommends doing a patch test and “waiting 24 hours to just make sure you don’t experience any irritation before waxing a larger area.” 

Step 2: Prepare Your Wax Strips

This is the easiest (and most painless) part of the waxing process. Desmarais says that the wax should be “even on both sides” before you begin applying it to the skin. Look for wax kits that don't require you to heat up your own wax. 

Step 3: Apply the Wax Strip To The Skin

Desmarais says that you should apply the wax strips in the “same direction as hair growth and smooth the wax strip with your hand to ensure it’s sticking to the skin.” Smooth the wax strip out with your hand to make sure that it’s applied properly and that all of the wax is in direct contact with your skin. 

Step 4: Remove The Wax Strip (And The Hair)

Just like pulling off a Band-Aid, it’s important to remove the strip in one go. While one hand keeps the skin taut, Desmarais says that you should use your dominant hand to “pull the strip in the opposite direction of hair growth.” For the cleanest results, keep your hand close to the root of your hair. If you don’t move fast enough, the wax may stay on the skin and your hair won’t be removed properly. Skin tears are often caused when you wax the same section of hair more than once, so making sure you get the majority of your hair with one go is imperative. 

The Best Wax Strips

Are Wax Strips Safe?

The wax strip kits that come with wax already on them are safe to use at home. Other wax kits that require you to heat up your own wax, however, might not be as safe and should be left to a properly trained esthetician. Be sure to look for strips that don't require heat or that have "soft gel" formulas on the label. 

With that in mind, using wax strips comes with a few risks that you should know about before you get started. “Tearing the skin is the most common problem,” says Dr. Howe. “People with sensitive skin are more prone to this issue, but it can happen with a disturbing randomness—as in, after you've used it several times without problems, you suddenly get unsightly skin stripping just before a vacation.” 

There are plenty of steps you can take to avoid this from happening to you. Dr. Howe recommends that you “do not re-wax if a first stripping leaves behind a few stray hairs.” Yes, being completely hairless is always the goal, but do not repeatedly run the same wax strip over the same section of your body. “Having already done one wax stripping, the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of your epidermis) is already temporarily thinned—because waxing exfoliates off some stratum corneum along with the hairs—so you’re too vulnerable at that point to risk a second stripping,” he says.

How to Take Care of Your Skin After You Wax

Some waxing kits, like Athena Club On The Spot Wax Strip Kit for Face, come with products that can be applied to the skin after you’re done to soothe redness or irritation. However, there are other steps that you can take if your kits don’t have a dedicated calming wipe or serum. Desmarais recommends avoiding washing the area with soap and water to remove any wax that gets left behind because scrubbing or touching the area can “cause irritation.” Also, she notes that any redness that pops up after you finish is “absolutely normal and may last for a few hours.” 

However, if you do experience lasting pain or discomfort, she recommends applying “a cold compress to the area.Finally, she recommends not exposing the skin to “deodorants or alcohol-based products,” and says that you should stay out of the sun for at 24 hours after you wax. 

When Should You Not Use Wax Strips?

Dr. Howe says that you should never use wax strips on any area that has any form of active infection, either bacterial (think: a staph infection), or viral (like a cold sore) because waxing can spread infections in some cases. Finally, Dr. Howe says that you should never wax if you’re using medications like Accutane. “The medication leaves the stratum corneum temporarily thinner, and so waxing while you're on the medication can cause large, deep skin tears,” he says, noting that “skin remains fragile for a month after stopping the medicine.” Similar tears can occur on skin that’s being treated by a topical retinol or retinoid.

Meet The Experts

Kenneth Howe
Dr. Kenneth Howe

As a cosmetic dermatologist, Dr. Howe is known for his light touch.  He believes that smaller, earlier interventions allow patients to maintain a youthful appearance while at the same time preventing or slowing further aging. Calm and reassuring in manner, Dr. Howe is an expert in guiding patients through the variety of available options, from the simplest topical agents to cutting edge procedures. He values maintaining an open dialogue between doctor and patient throughout this process.

The goal of all aesthetic treatments, in Dr. Howe’s view, is to achieve and maintain a completely natural look. What is done must be dictated in each case by careful study of the anatomy and structure of the individual face.  This approach is particularly noteworthy in Dr. Howe’s use of injectable fillers and toxins, of which he is a recognized expert.

Maria Desmarais
Maria Desmarais

Maria Desmarais is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Athena Club. Prior to co-founding the company in 2018, she worked for management and strategy consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, where she served as a Business Analyst. After spending two years in the corporate world, she left to follow her dream of transforming the personal care industry and created Athena Club, the first modern CPG company which offers consumers a way to get better quality self-care essentials more conveniently. Maria earned her B.A in Political Science from Columbia University. Since launching Athena Club, she has received a number of accolades including being named a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient in retail and ecommerce (2019). 

Julia Marzovilla
Fashion E-Commerce Editor

Julia Marzovilla is the Fashion E-Commerce Editor at Marie Claire, where she reviews the latest launches from fashion and beauty brands, finds the best on-sale items around the internet, and interviews experts to find the best products in any category to share with her readers. She also creates shopping guides that span every vertical on the site as an expert in everything from the best laptop bags to the best laser hair removal devices.

In her near decade of experience, Julia has both written for several top outlets in the E-Commerce space and worked at major fashion labels. Prior to joining the Marie Claire team, she contributed similar shopping stories to sites such as Bustle, InStyle, The Zoe Report, Who What Wear, and worked as the Trending Fashion and News Writer STYLECASTER. You can find her across the internet at @JuliaMarzovilla. In real life, you can find her creating shopping guides for her friends, cooking or baking in her too-small kitchen, or buying tickets for the next time Harry Styles is in town.

Julia has a Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Journalism from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. She lives in New York City, her hometown.