Wax on, wax off
February 22, 2010 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Which is better to do in between brazilian waxes: shaving or depilatory creams such as Veet? Bonus question: can somebody please explain to me why it is recommended not to shave in between?

I don't understand why it's such a horrible thing to shave a couple of times in between brazilian waxes.

2 weeks after a wax, a few stray hairs begin to come back - is it such a bad thing to shave them to prolong the smoothness? It's only a few hairs so I can't imagine making my next wax more painful by making the overall hair more coarse.

I have only had 2 brazilian waxes so far (I used to shave) and I love it. But in that final 1-2 weeks where I have to regrow... what am I supposed to do? What do most people do? I am thinking using birth control to time my period for that final regrowth week so I can just have a week without sex. Although I accept, love and appreciate pubic hair and natural bushes on others, I don't like to keep it that way myself and prefer to be smooth.

Is it really that bad to shave once or twice? I asked my waxer and she said "it's up to you - but it will make it more coarse and painful to remove". Is that all there is to it? Is that the only reason you shouldn't shave between waxes? Because I don't find it unbearably painful anyway.

Would using Veet be better than shaving, because it won't make my hair as coarse? OR, will it mess up the "regrowth cycle" by reaching as far down as some of the hair follicles rather than skimming the hair from above the skin surface? My waxer told me that if you epilate or pluck hairs in between waxes, you mess up the regrowth cycle and have heaps of short hairs that cannot be removed next time you have your brazilian. Would Veet or other depilatory creams have the same effect?

I'm so confused about this whole thing, as you can tell! Please tell me your habits ladies, and if you're too embarrassed to post here please email me at this throwaway email - dontunderstandwaxing@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The hair needs to be long enough for the wax to grip.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:03 PM on February 22, 2010

Also the idea is to get all the hair on the same growth cycle so that eventually, you won't have the too-short-at-waxing hairs that end up being the strays, etc.

If you want to be hairless, 24x7, get laser hair removal. Otherwise, it's just part and parcel of the waxing experience and pretty much you just need to deal.
posted by mckenney at 7:12 PM on February 22, 2010

The claims of depilatory creams, that they get at the hair deeper than shaving, is complete BS. They usually get as close as shaving, if not less so, because when you shave (if you're shaving in the opposite direction as growth), your stretching taut your skin a little bit and pulling open the hair follicles, so you actually often can shave below the epidermis level.

The claim that shaving makes your hair coarser is also BS. What happens is that shaving makes a blunt cut across the hair. Hair naturally has a tapered tip, so it feels coarser because of that sharp cut. Depilatory creams also leave a tapered tip, which is why hair feels smoother. Shaving won't make hair grow in thicker or faster, either. Hair is not like plants -- cutting the top doesn't affect what the root decides to do or produce.

That being said, hair has to be a certain length in order to wax it. Let's say your pubic hair is 2" long -- you wax it. Depending on how blessed or cursed you are, it'll take two-four weeks for hair to be long enough to wax again. It's not all the same hair -- different hair follicles have hairs at different stages of growth (just coming from the root, just emerging through the skin, etc.). The traumatic act of waxing will damage the hair follicles, the goal being that some will be damaged beyond repair and hair will never grow from those follicles again.

Anyway, let's say while you're waiting two-four weeks, you get some stubble, let's say at week 2.5. So you shave it. Well, you're just going to have to wait again for the hair to reach 2" (or however long). You'll always have to wait for the hair to reach the right length -- it's not time between waxes, it's the time it takes for your hair to reach the proper length. So there's not really a benefit to shaving except if you have an "emergency" where you want it smooth. Otherwise, shaving will not affect the growth cycle or any other aspect of your hair growth except for a superficial feeling of "less smooth."

I think depilatory creams are a complete waste of time and money. They won't give you any benefits over shaving except a less noticeable feeling of stubble for about a day. I'd either shave, if you need to extend time between waxes, or tweeze if you have a few hairs that maybe weren't pulled out fully with the wax but were instead broken off just below the skin -- these will come back faster than the rest.

BTW, "Hard wax," wax that goes on thick and dries (relatively) stiff, "shrink-wrapping" around the hairs, and peels off like candle wax on its own instead of with cloth strips, can grip hairs that are shorter than "soft wax," which is pulled off with cloth strips (and hurts more).
posted by thebazilist at 7:30 PM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Piping in to suggest letting it be, or pluck 'em. You're just making the process less efficient. Thebazilist nails it.
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 8:26 PM on February 22, 2010

Everyone is right. It's about length of the hair, not coarseness when it comes to waxing ease. I'm not sure why a professional waxer of all people would say it was that your hair will be coarser. It will just have a blunt end, which makes it look coarser than if it grew out with a tapered end.

The problem with doing anything in between is that when you wax, some of the hairs you shaved, naired, or plucked, will be too short to be removed in waxing. Then, while the waxed hairs are still gone, these other hairs will start to grow in sooner. Basically it will throw your schedule out of whack. (I don't wax because I also don't like to wait, I just shave when I know I have to wear a swimsuit or whatever, then try to let it grow a little between so it doesn't get too irritated.)
posted by ishotjr at 8:36 PM on February 22, 2010

Echoing that shaving hair doesn't make it grow back thicker; that's an old wives tale. It's all about the tip being tapered or not.

Also the idea is to get all the hair on the same growth cycle...

Is this possible?

Is hair (head or otherwise) ever all on the same growth cycle? If it were, wouldn't it all fall out at the same time once it reached maximum length (or end of the cycle)? I don't think this happens to long term waxees who give up the waxing for a while...

People who use epilators often find that after the initial removal of all the hair, it's easier and less painful to maintain because a smaller subset of the hair begins to emerge a few weeks later, and this hair is all that needs to be removed. (Though the same thing happens again in another few weeks. Which is still easier and less painful because it's still a small subset of all of the hair.) So there's that.

Perhaps this would be a good piggyback question: If you have two hairs, one falls out on its own because it's ready to, and the other isn't ready to fall out but you pluck it, does it take the same amount of time for the two hairs to begin to grow back in? Will they both fall out (naturally) again at the same time? Alternatively: do two hairs in different growth stages take the same amount of time to re-emerge after being plucked?

I imagine that plucking might "restart" the cycle depending on what stage the plucked hair is in, but I really have no idea. I've never found a satisfactory answer about how plucking hair (via whatever means) affects the hair growth cycle. Any science or anecdata?

To the OP: If hairs that are plucked at the same time all re-emerge at the same time, then it makes sense not to pluck hair in between waxing, so that eventually you'll never have off-(waxing)cycle hairs. In this case, shaving should be fine as long as you leave enough time for the shaved hairs to get long enough to be waxed when you next go in. But if plucking doesn't synchronize the hair growth cycle, then go for it and pluck them -- you have nothing to lose since you'd get random regrowth between waxing anyway.
posted by sentient at 9:33 PM on February 22, 2010

Ok, hair grows in 3 cycles, so the what stage it was in when you removed it determines when it grows back in. That first bit of re-growth is from hair follicles that were already preparing to shed hairs and re-grow new ones.

Hair has to be 1/4 inch long to wax. So, depending on how long you're going between sessions, it could be ok to shave that first growth.

Also let me heartily recommend Laser Hair Removal. They can do it all, you can shave as much as you want between sessions, it's permanent, and it's not going to cost you more than $1000 (which, based on my calculation, is about 25 waxing sessions?) and if you can't come up with $1000 on the spot, you can use interest free care credit at American Laser Center. I'm currently having my legs done and it stings, but the pain is different, not more intense than waxing. Lasering the bikini area is super successful because it works best on dark coarse hair.
posted by RMQ at 1:52 AM on February 23, 2010

"I think depilatory creams are a complete waste of time and money. They won't give you any benefits over shaving except a less noticeable feeling of stubble for about a day."

I disagree. They won't give you razor burn; the hair feels less coarse as it grows out; if your hair is very thick, you'll go through razors faster and the costs even out. For me, they also result in fewer ingrown hairs.
posted by soelo at 9:20 AM on February 23, 2010

So, um, I found a study. It's from 1964 and on rats, but hey. It's been cited a lot, and we don't have model organisms for nothing.

Anyway, they compared plucked hairs and control hairs that were at the same point (to the day) in the growth cycle. They found that, indeed, the effects of plucking varied by phase.

Here's their terminology for the phases:
"growing phase", "resting phase" (telogen), "activity before eruption" (early anagen)


-They found that hair that was plucked in at any point in the growing phase was replaced sooner (by about 4 days) than the control hair. [Control hair = equivalent growth-stage hair that was left alone rather than plucked].

-They found that hair that was plucked in the resting phase always grew back about 12 days later, regardless of where in the resting phase the hair was. (So it grew back earlier than normal for the early-resting-stage hairs, later than normal for the late-resting-stage hairs.)

-Hair that was plucked in the last phase was replaced pretty much as if it hadn't been plucked.

So there's that.

Here's a link to a pdf of the study: link.

So, it makes sense that human hair might grow back the same way (though the lengths of the phases, and thus actual number of days, isn't so relevant, I imagine).

If our hair is the same as rats' hair, then plucking unsynchronized resting stage hairs would synchronize them. Plucking unsynchronized growing-stage hairs wouldn't synchronize them, but would make them grow back earlier than they would have if left untouched. Plucking final stage hairs wouldn't have much of an effect on synchronization or advancing/delaying regrowth.

To synchronize hair, you'd just need to pluck it all at any point during the resting stage. How to tell if it's in the resting stage is the hard part, though.

At the very least, plucking the hair now will mean that it's not going to be synchronized with resting-stage hair that's removed during waxing, whereas waiting means that it's possible that the hair will enter the resting stage by the time you wax, and will then be synchronized with the rest of the waxed resting stage hair.
posted by sentient at 5:52 PM on February 23, 2010


I think hair in a resting phase means that it's stopped growing, right?

When you wax, you are waxing way before hair has reached its final length (at least in the bikini-area region).

So I don't think any of the hair will be in the resting phase at waxing time; it'll all always be in the growth stage, unless it's been three months since you waxed and all your hair is too long and the waxer has to trim it so that it isn't too long.

And I could also see rat hair being different from human hair, since rat hair or "fur" is meant to maintain itself as a full coat. Also maybe, like with dogs, there are different types of hairs/coats/furs, like an undercoat or something. And also, I know on my own body, hairs in different areas, bikini vs arms vs face, behave differently.

So in conclusion I think one old study on rats is not enough evidence for me either way.
posted by thebazilist at 11:22 AM on February 26, 2010

When you wax, you are waxing way before hair has reached its final length (at least in the bikini-area region)...it'll all always be in the growth stage.

Hmm, that is a really good point, thebazilist. Of course you know it's not in the resting phase if it's recently emerged pubic hair and it's not that long yet! It's in the active growth phase essentially until it's reached its maximum length. It would only be ambiguous if you keep it all trimmed or shaved or something, like you said.

Relatedly, very true about the rat hair. According to that study, it had a really short (less than 1 month) total cycle length. And, if I'm remembering correctly, the resting phase was quite long -- like 75% of the total cycle length. Not to mention that the properties of the follicle could be different in a variety of ways. Out of curiosity, I looked around to see how long the stages are for pubic hair. I found a sample textbook chapter (PDF here), and it lists the phases for pubic hair as follows:
  • Anagen [active growth] duration : 3 months. (70% of the hair @ any given time)
  • Telogen [resting] duration : 4 months (30% of the hair @ any given time)
Seems to corroborate other sources that say 6-7 months total, and that the hair is resting for ~half its life, etc.

But yeah, in conclusion, you're totally right -- as long as you see it emerge, you'll have a pretty good idea of whether it's in the growth stage or not, based on hair length and time since it emerged. And six weeks after a wax, all the new hair is going to be in active growth, unless you have a wildly different hair cycle length than most people.

I still wonder about the effects of plucking on the duration and synchronization of the stages. I wouldn't be surprised if plucking during resting synchronized, and plucking during active growth makes the follicle grow a new hair sooner than, er, "scheduled," like with the rats. But really, who knows. There's gotta be a study on this somewhere. In humans.

Also, it's interesting that waxes are scheduled every six weeks. I guess that's about half the length of the active growth stage. It does kind of make sense though -- it's probably always a different subset of hair that grows in between two consecutive waxes. It would be nice if the hair were (or could be) synchronized; then waxes would last much, much longer.
posted by sentient at 1:02 PM on March 2, 2010

Just to clarify, waxes are not scheduled every six weeks. Waxes are scheduled as soon as possible—meaning as soon as the hair has reached the required length and enough individual hairs have grown in to make a wax worthwhile (eg, if only two hairs are the right length, not really worth the money/trouble). I usually hear three weeks as an average when you’re just starting (the more often you wax, the more follicles are damaged and the longer it takes hair to grow back and/or fewer hairs grow back). Six weeks sounds like the promises they make for why you should wax (you’ll be hair free for up to six weeks!).
posted by thebazilist at 8:02 AM on March 4, 2010

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