In the world of hair removal, waxing and shaving are entirely different.
Wax swiftly pulls hair from the root through repetitive tugs. Shaving is more of a trim, only removing hair from the surface of the skin and leaving the root intact.
Wondering which method will work best for you? Read on.
|soft or hard wax and cloth or paper strips
|uses wax and strips to remove hair from the root
|uses razors to remove the top layer of hair
|Potential side effects
|irritation, ingrown hairs, pain, redness, rashes, bumps, sun sensitivity, allergic reaction, infection, scarring
|itching, nicks or cuts, razor burn, folliculitis, ingrown hairs
|$50–$70 for an appointment,
$20–$30 for at-home kits
|$10 or less for disposable razors,
$50+ for electric razors
|most skin types
|all, including sensitive skin
Waxing involves a warm mixture that’s applied to the skin and removed quickly once it cools. There are two different types of wax: soft and hard wax.
Soft wax requires strips to remove and is made with rosin, oils, and other additives. The wax is applied, and the strip is placed on top to remove the hair against the direction of growth.
Hard waxes firm up on their own and are made from beeswax, resin, and oils. Unlike soft waxes, hard waxes remove hair without strips.
Shaving, however, is much more simplistic in nature and only requires a razor.
There are several types of razors, mainly safety razors, straight edges, and electric shavers.
Straight edge razors were the most popular before the 20th century and look like an exposed blade.
Safety razors are typically disposable and look like the ones you might find in the grocery store.
Electric shavers are slightly more expensive, but can provide a closer shave.
Each type of razor uses the same method, where the razor scrapes the top edge of the skin to remove the hair. Some prefer to use shaving cream or gel along with the razor.
This depends on preference, but some find that shaving is much easier to perform on a day-to-day basis for the underarms, legs, and bikini area.
Others prefer the long-term effects of waxing for legs, underarms, and bikini areas.
For bikini areas, waxing is more precise and can result in less razor bumps because of the delicate skin area.
There are a few benefits outside of aesthetic appearance to consider.
With waxing, there’s the added benefit of light exfoliation. Because the substance adheres to the top layer of skin, it can remove dead skin cells to reveal a softer underlying layer.
Another added bonus of both waxing and shaving is the DIY element.
Unlike laser hair removal, which can typically only be performed by professionals, both waxing and shaving can be done at home.
Shaving, as opposed to waxing, is usually a more accessible and affordable means of hair removal.
As with any kind of hair removal, there are a few risks to consider.
With waxing, there’s always a chance of side effects, including:
- sun sensitivity
- allergic reaction
- ingrown hairs
Your individual risk of side effects depends on skin sensitivity, as well as who performs the waxing and how experienced they are.
With shaving, potential side effects include:
- nicks or cuts
- razor burn
- ingrown hairs
These side effects ultimately depend on your individual skin sensitivity, how sharp the razor is, and how wet your skin is, as well as overall experience.
Your skin might be more sensitive to waxing if you’re taking the following medications:
- hormone replacement therapy
- hormonal birth control
- Retin-A or other retinol-based creams
If you think your skin might be too sensitive for waxing, shaving might be a better option.
This definitely depends on your pain tolerance. However, because the hair is removed at the root, people tend to report more pain with waxing than shaving.
Waxing can only be done when the hair is between 1/4- to 1/2-inch long. This means you should usually wax once every 3 to 4 weeks.
Shaving can be done as often as necessary, but keep in mind that more frequent shaving may cause irritation in sensitive skin.
Waxing is slightly more costly than shaving. That’s because waxing is usually performed by trained technicians and provides longer lasting results.
On average, you can expect to pay around $50 to $70 for a waxing appointment. It all depends on the area you want to get waxed.
You can expect to pay much less for smaller areas, such as your eyebrows or underarms.
If you decide to wax on your own, you can expect to pay around $20 to $30. Bear in mind that home waxing may not produce the same results as a professional wax.
With shaving, razors can cost anywhere from a few dollars for a single-blade disposable razor to $50 for an electric razor. However, unlike waxing, razors should last much longer than just one use.
Prep tips for waxing and shaving are pretty different.
Before a waxing appointment, grow your hair out to at least 1/4-inch long. If it’s longer than 1/2 inch, you might have to trim it.
The day before, make sure you don’t exfoliate, tan, or dry out your skin with swimming. The day of, avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol and wearing lotions or creams.
To decrease pain, take an over-the-counter pain medication 30 minutes before your appointment.
With shaving, grow out your hair to your desired length. Wet the area to soften your skin and hair.
You can gently exfoliate beforehand for a closer shave — just be sure to apply a soothing shaving cream before removing the hair.
Although hair removal is the end goal of both methods, waxing and shaving have very different processes.
For waxing, here’s what to expect:
- First, your technician will clean the area and apply a pre-wax treatment to prevent irritation.
- Then, they’ll use a clean application tool — usually a popsicle stick — to apply a thin layer of wax in the same direction of your hair growth.
- If it’s a soft wax, they’ll then apply a paper or cloth strip to remove the wax. If it’s a hard wax, they’ll remove the hard wax strip itself. Both methods will be removed against the direction of your hair growth.
- Once waxing is complete, the technician will apply a serum or lotion to calm the area and prevents ingrown hairs.
For shaving, here’s what to expect:
- After you’ve prepped with water and shaving cream, use your razor to glide against your skin in a long stroke against the direction of hair growth.
- Rinse your razor after each time you glide against the skin to remove hair from the razor’s surface.
- After all the hair is removed, rinse with warm water to remove the leftover foam. Then close your pores with a rinse of cool water.
- To finish, moisturize with a hypoallergenic lotion or cream.
You can return to exfoliating 24 hours after shaving and waxing. Keep the area moisturized in order to prevent itching and irritation.
With both methods, there’s a chance for ingrown hairs and temporary bumps. To minimize, make sure to exfoliate beforehand.
If you get an ingrown hair, don’t worry. It happens. Make sure to not pick and prod at the hair, and apply a soothing oil to calm the area.
Although the results are fairly similar, there’s one key difference: how long they last.
On average, waxing lasts around 3 or 4 weeks because the hair is removed at the root.
Hair grows back much faster with shaving, though — within 3 days to a week. This is because shaving only removes the top layer of the hair.
Try experimenting with both waxing and shaving to determine which method best suits your specific hair and skin type.
If you want a second opinion, ask a waxing technician at your next appointment. They’ve seen plenty of hair types and can give fairly unbiased advice.
Jen Anderson 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.