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Waxing is one of the most popular ways to get rid of body hair. It’s quick, convenient, and — because the hair is pulled out from the root — the results last longer than shaving.

If you want to wax at home, you may be wondering what type of wax to use. There are two different types: soft wax and hard wax.

Although both do a good job of removing hair from the follicle, hard wax is better for smaller, more sensitive areas like your bikini line. Soft wax, on the other hand, is a better option for larger areas like your legs.

This article will highlight the differences between hard wax and soft wax, and also look at the pros and cons of both in an effort to help you choose the right wax for your needs.

When it comes to sensitive spots (hello, Brazilian wax!), hard wax is the way to go. That’s because hard wax adheres to the hairs rather than to the skin, which gives it an advantage in the hair removal process.

“Since hard wax only sticks to the hair, you can treat and retreat areas to make sure all of the hairs are removed without damaging the skin,” explains New York City-based dermatologist Hadley King, MD.

Hard wax is thicker than soft wax and works by hardening on your skin — hence, the name. Once it hardens, you can remove it with your hands, so there’s no need for waxing strips. This makes the process a lot less painful.

According to experts, hard wax is best suited for use on your bikini line, underarms, and face.

Some at-home hard wax products you may want to consider include:

Pros

  • It’s gentler on your skin, especially for areas like your face and bikini line.
  • You don’t need a material strip to remove the wax and hair.
  • It’s less painful to remove, compared to soft wax.
  • There’s typically less residue left behind.

Cons

  • Applying and removing the wax can be time-consuming if you’re using it on larger areas like your legs and arms.
  • Since it hardens and comes off on its own, it can break off easily before it’s ready to come off.
  • You need to warm it up before applying it to the skin.

If you think hard wax is for you, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Clean the area of your skin you want to wax.
  2. Apply a pre-wax oil, like grapeseed oil, to create a barrier between the wax and your skin. This helps protect your skin.
  3. Warm the wax to around 130°F. It should be warm, not hot. The easiest and safest way to warm the wax is in a wax warmer. Try to use one that has a temperature gauge dial so you know when the wax reaches the ideal temperature.
  4. Apply the wax in the direction of hair growth with a waxing spatula.
  5. Wait for it to harden, then pull it off in the opposite direction of hair growth.

Soft wax adheres to your skin as well as to the hair. This means that the outermost top layer of your skin also comes off when the wax is pulled off.

Dr. King explains that this makes the process more painful than waxing with hard wax.

Unlike hard wax that comes off on its own, soft wax requires a waxing strip to remove the wax and hair from your skin. This may leave your skin red and irritated afterward.

Because both the top layer of your skin and hair follicle are removed, King advises that you shouldn’t retreat an area, even if some hairs weren’t removed on the first try.

Soft wax works best on large areas like your back, legs, and arms.

Pros

  • You can use soft wax on larger areas of your body like your legs, back, and arms.
  • It may be more affordable than hard wax.
  • It typically doesn’t break off.
  • You can apply it at lower temperatures.

Cons

  • You need a material strip to remove the wax and hair.
  • It’s more painful to remove, compared with hard wax.
  • There’s a higher risk of skin irritation if you apply the wax to the same area more than once.
  • It may be more likely to cause harm to your skin if applied and removed incorrectly.

If you think soft wax is for you, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Clean the area you want to wax.
  2. If necessary, warm the wax to the temperature suggested by the product you’re using.
  3. Hold your skin while applying the wax.
  4. Apply a thin coat of wax with a waxing spatula. Make sure to apply the wax in the direction of the hair growth and spread it on evenly.
  5. Place a waxing strip on the area and rub it vigorously.
  6. Holding the skin taut, quickly remove the strip in the opposite direction of the hair growth.

Some at-home soft wax products that you may want to consider include:

Regardless of the type of wax you’re using, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions against using wax if you have diabetes or circulatory problems.

According to the FDA, you should also avoid using wax on varicose veins, warts, or moles. It also shouldn’t be applied to eyelashes, nipples, your nose, ears, or sunburned or irritated skin.

Additionally, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says to avoid using retinoid creams at least 2 to 5 days prior to waxing.

If you experience skin redness or swelling that lasts more than 2-3 days after waxing, or have skin irritation that seems to be getting worse, follow up with your healthcare provider.

Both hard wax and soft wax remove hair and are appropriate for home use.

Hard wax is gentler on your skin. It’s better suited for sensitive areas, and is less painful to remove. Soft wax is better suited for large areas, like your legs or back.

If you’re new to waxing, you may want to start off with a waxing session from a licensed esthetician or dermatologist. They can show you the proper way to use soft or hard wax, and provide advice on how to wax safely at home.