If you’re looking to remove hair from the root, you’ve probably heard waxing and using an epilator grouped together. While they do both lift hair from the root, there are a few differences between the two methods.
Epilation involves an electronic machine called an epilator, whereas waxing involves strips of warmed-up wax that are pulled off rapidly by hand.
To learn more about their similarities and differences — and figure out which one is best for you — keep reading.
|Tools needed||epilator||soft or hard wax, paper or cloth strips|
|Process||device plucks hair in direction of hair growth while an electric current zaps hair to remove||wax hardens to skin and is pulled against the direction of hair growth|
|Best for||large areas, such as arms and legs||arms, legs, torso, face, underarms, bikini area|
|Pain level||moderate to intense||moderate to intense|
|Potential side effects||tenderness, redness, irritation, and ingrown hairs||redness, irritation, rashes, bumps, sun sensitivity, allergic reaction, infection, scarring, and ingrown hairs|
|Results last||3 to 4 weeks||3 to 4 weeks|
|Average cost||$20 to $100||$50 to $70 for professional service; $20 to $30 for at-home kit|
|Skin type||all||most, but may not be suitable for sensitive skin|
|Hair length||1/8 inch to 1/4 inch||1/4 inch to 1/2 inch|
Epilation uses a mechanical device called an epilator. The device removes hair by plucking it by the root as you glide it along in the direction of hair growth.
Unlike waxing, epilation can be done wet or dry and doesn’t involve a wax-like substance.
Waxing removes hair manually with heated-up wax that’s applied in the same direction of hair growth.
If you’re using a soft wax, cloth or paper strips get laid on top and removed quickly against the direction of hair growth.
If you’re using a hard wax, the technician will wait for the wax to harden before removing the strip of wax itself against the direction of hair growth.
Epilators are best for larger areas with tough skin, such as the arms and legs.
Technically, it can be used on more sensitive areas of the body, such as the bikini area, face, and underarms, but it might hurt a little more, depending on your pain tolerance.
Because waxing can be applied more precisely, it generally works anywhere on the body, from the arms and legs to the torso, face, and bikini area.
Some prefer waxing the bikini area, as opposed to other hair removal methods, because of its longer-lasting results.
With epilation, you’ll be able to remove the shorter hairs that waxing might not be able to reach, which means smoother skin.
With waxing, the wax adheres to the top layer of the skin, so the removal process provides light exfoliation to remove dead skin cells.
With both methods, the results are longer lasting than some hair removal methods, such as shaving.
There’s also the added benefit of being able to DIY both epilation and waxing. As opposed to in-office treatments like laser hair removal, both epilation and waxing can be done at home with the right tools.
With both methods, it’s important to note that there might be irritation and pain — a lot more pain than with shaving.
We like to think of epilation the same we think of tweezing, so it can leave the skin feeling tender to the touch. Other side effects include:
- ingrown hairs
However, there are fewer risks associated with epilation than with waxing. Depending on the skill level of the person waxing, side effects can include:
- sun sensitivity
- allergic reaction
- ingrown hairs
Waxing might not be the best option if you’re taking the following medications:
- certain antibiotics
- hormone replacement therapy
- hormonal birth control
- Retin-A or other retinol-based creams
In the case that you’re taking the medications above, or you’re currently going through cancer treatments like radiation or chemotherapy, you might want to opt for epilation.
If you’re still too sensitive for either hair removal method, you might want to try shaving.
Let’s be honest, neither of these methods is the most comfortable way to remove hair out there. Both can be fairly painful, depending on your pain tolerance and how many times you’ve used the method.
There’s good news for those who frequently use epilators or wax: The pain level might decrease over time.
But for those who haven’t done either method before, know that because your hair is getting removed at the root, there will likely be more pain than if you just shaved.
Because both methods provide long-lasting results, you probably won’t want to (or need to) perform them that often.
With epilation, the results will last around 3 to 4 weeks. And the longer you do it, some believe the slower you might notice your hair grows back.
Unlike waxing, your hair can be fairly short in order to epilate successfully, around 1/8-inch long.
With waxing, the results will last around 3 to 4 weeks as well. However, if your hair grows back slowly, it could last longer. Again, some believe that with consistency, you might notice your hair grows back slower and less dense.
Before you can wax again, you’ll want to grow your hair out to be between 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch long.
An epilator will cost you anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the quality of the machine.
Unlike razors, epilators aren’t disposable, so you can continue to use your machine time after time. Just keep up with cleaning it and storing it properly to ensure it lasts.
Typically, your machine will come with a warranty and multiple heads to change between.
For waxing, the cost really depends on whether you’re getting your hair removed by a professional, or doing a little DIY treatment.
If you’re going to a technician, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $70. If you’re getting a smaller area waxed, like your upper lip or underarms, it’ll probably cost much less.
If you’re DIYing your wax treatment at home, it’ll probably cost you around $20 to $30 per single-use kit.
Before either removal, make sure that you gently exfoliate the area. Do this a few days before your waxing appointment and any time leading up to your epilation.
If you’re using an epilator, you’ll want to shave 3 to 4 days prior or grow out your hair to 1/8 inch.
If you’re waxing, grow your hair to 1/4-inch long. You might have to trim it down slightly if it’s longer than ½ inch. One day before, don’t exfoliate, tan, or go swimming, as these activities could dry out your skin.
Neither process is super comfortable, so you might want to take an over-the-counter pain medication about 30 minutes beforehand. It also helps to avoid consuming alcohol or caffeine the day of your treatment.
With epilation, you might also want to wait until nighttime because there’s a chance your skin will be red afterwards.
So, you’ve prepped the area and you’re ready to remove some hair. Here’s what you can expect with each removal method.
For epilation, here’s what to expect:
- First, you’ll want to decide whether you’re using your epilator on wet or dry skin. If you’re using it on wet skin, you’ll want to dampen the skin with warm water for at least 10 minutes, either in the shower or a bath. If you’re using your epilator on dry skin, take a shower to remove oils and weaken the hair strands. Then dry off with a towel, brushing against the direction of hair growth to stand up the hairs.
- Next, plug in your epilator and turn it on the lowest setting. You can increase the power as you go on, depending on your pain tolerance.
- Then, use one hand to pull your skin taught.
- Gently glide the epilator loosely against the skin at a 90-degree angle, slowly sweeping it along the direction of hair growth.
For waxing, here’s what to expect:
- If you’re going to a professional, the technician will have you fill out a form to understand your needs. Then, they’ll take you to a private waxing room where they’ll ask you to remove your clothing and hop up on the table (don’t worry, they’ve seen it all before).
- To start out, the technician will cleanse your skin and apply a pre-wax treatment to prevent irritation.
- They’ll then apply a thin layer of warmed wax with an applicator tool, brushing it on in the same direction of your hair growth.
- If it’s a soft wax, they’ll use paper or cloth strips to remove the wax. If it’s a hard wax, they’ll wait for the wax to harden before removing the entire wax strip. With both methods, the wax gets removed against the direction of hair growth.
- Once the entire area is waxed, your technician will apply a post-treatment lotion or oil to prevent ingrown hairs.
After using an epilator, make sure to remove any lingering hairs to prevent infection. Moisturize the area to minimize irritation. Then, before putting your device away, clean it with alcohol.
After waxing, keep the area moisturized to prevent irritation or any itching. You can return to exfoliation 24 hours after your appointment.
Before the 24 hours, your skin might still be too sensitive or prone to ingrown hairs so be careful not to pick, exfoliate, or otherwise aggravate the skin.
Ingrown hairs and bumps are fairly common with both epilation and waxing.
While it’s impossible to guarantee a bump-free removal, there are a few things you can do to minimize your chances.
Most importantly: exfoliate. For epilation, you can exfoliate at any point before you use the epilator. For waxing, exfoliate a few days before your appointment. This way, you’ll be able to remove dead skin cells without irritating your skin.
If ingrown hairs happen, don’t worry and definitely don’t pick at them. Use an ingrown hair treatment or oil on the area to soothe and heal. If your ingrown hairs don’t go away, it might be time to see a doctor to have them remove the hair safely.
On average, both methods produce fairly similar and consistent results.
If your waxing technician isn’t as experienced or if it’s your first time DIYing either treatment, you might see more inconsistent results.
Given that the results are fairly similar, you can also expect results to last around the same length of time: 3 to 4 weeks. However, epilation might be able to pick up more of the finer, smaller hairs that waxing leaves behind.
Both epilation and waxing are great hair removal methods for long-lasting effects. To find the method that’s best for you, it might take a little experimentation.
If you’re more sensitive or prone to pain, epilation might not be the best for you. On the other hand, if you’re willing to stand some pain for less side effects, epilation might be better than waxing for you.
Remember that what works best for your friends or family might not necessarily work best for you. Just be safe with your hair removal, and the rest is up to you!
Jen is a wellness contributor at Healthline. She writes and edits for various lifestyle and beauty publications, with bylines at Refinery29, Byrdie, MyDomaine, and bareMinerals. When not typing away, you can find Jen practicing yoga, diffusing essential oils, watching Food Network, or guzzling a cup of coffee. You can follow her NYC adventures on Twitter and Instagram.