This article originally appeared on Health.
Having wax strips placed on your skin and letting a stranger rip off some of the most sensitive hair of your body doesn’t sounds like an ideal way to spend an afternoon. But with beach season about to hit and the thought of stubble or razor burn making you cringe, you might be considering a bikini wax for the first time.
Plenty of women say a professional wax is worth it for the super smooth results. You can tell the waxer how much or how little you want taken off, from just a tidying up to a more thorough job on top and past your thigh creases. (A bikini wax generally means neatening things down there, not a total mow job, aka a Brazilian wax.)
And honestly, the pain probably isn’t as excruciating as you think. "The anticipation is the worst part," says Keiann Roberts, lead specialist for New York hair-removal studio Spruce & Bond. "Usually as soon as the wax is done, [clients] say it isn’t as bad as they thought it would be." Ready to give it a go? Prepare yourself with our first-time bikini wax guide.
Make sure your hair is the right length
"Your hair should be about a quarter of an inch long—or what we say is a grain of rice," says Roberts. If your hair is longer, waxing will be more painful. If it's shorter, the wax won't have enough to grab onto, so it may not come off at all or could lead to pesky ingrown hairs. If you're not sure about the length, lean on the longer side and request that the studio trims it down for you.
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Consider going when you don't have your period
You can get a wax when you have your period. (Just make sure to use a tampon and give your waxer a heads up!) But most experts advise against it, especially if it's your first time. Three days leading up to your period and the days of your period, most people have a lower pain threshold, so the wax could hurt more, says Whitney Bowe, MD, a dermatologist in NYC and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical School.
Do your research and find a reputable salon
Of course, the salon you go to should be completely professional, sanitary, and doesn't double dip. Word of mouth and referrals are often the best way to find the right studio. If a friend has had a good experience somewhere, chances are you will too. And if all else fails, there's Google. When you arrive, trust your instincts. "You get that gut feeling when you walk in whether it’s a place that you feel comfortable going to or not," says Bowe.
Skip the exfoliants a few days before
Keep your skincare regime gentle in the days leading up to your wax. At most, do a very lightexfoliation a couple of days before, says Roberts. Anything too harsh will irritate the skin, causing more redness and irritation after the wax.
Take a painkiller the day of your wax
Pain is the number one (and totally legit) concern most first time bikini-waxers have. And though it's unlikely to be as bad as you might imagine, the fact is, it can hurt or cause discomfort to varying degrees. To take the edge off, pop an ibuprofen or aspirin an hour or so before your appointment. "That sort of dials down the amount of inflammation you have on your skin," says Bowe. "You’re less likely to get red and inflamed and you’re more likely to tolerate it from a pain perspective."
Hit the salon in loose clothing
Leave your leggings and light skinny jeans at home and hit the salon in something a little lighter and looser."You don’t want to wear any really tight clothing or leggings that could cause any friction in the area," says Roberts, which can increase you odds of developing wax burn afterward.
Warn your waxer about any skin issues
If you have a mole or a skin tag, give your waxer a heads up. "Usually we see it, but it’s great if our client mentions it first," says Marta Grochowska, Haven Spa senior esthetician. This way, your waxer can wax around the mole or tag, tweezing any hair out of it while preventing extra irritation and inflammation. Have a sunburn or other skin irritation on the day of your appointment? Reschedule and wait for it to clear up so you avoid extra pain or irritation during and after the wax.
Be prepared for redness and bumps
Your post-wax bikini area won't look perfect straight away. "Right afterward, it doesn’t look smooth and beautiful. In fact, it looks a little bit like chicken skin," says Bowe. "It’s red and bumpy, and that’s normal." Don't worry: the chicken skin should disappear in hours.
Stock up on hydrocortisone
Usually your waxer will apply a soothing cream to calm the area post-wax. But it can't hurt to have some hydrocortisone on hand as well. Dabbing your just-waxed skin will dramatically reduce redness and discomfort. Also, ask your waxer what post-wax products they suggest, says Grochowska. She can advise you on what would be best for your skin type. For anyone keen on their home remedies, cold milk is a natural irritated skin soother, says Bowe.
"The last thing I would recommend is taking a spin class right afterward," says Roberts. "I always say, 'I’m your excuse to skip the gym today,' because you want to make sure you don’t irritate the area any more." If you really can't go without your daily workout, do it beforehand. Just make sure to take a shower when you're done—your waxer will appreciate it!