Learn from my mistakes (or heck, go to a salon!), but if you do burn your skin from at-home waxing, here's what you should do to prevent permanent skin damage.

By Molly Ritterbeck
December 20, 2019
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Credit: Piotr Marcinski/EyeEm/Getty

As a beauty editor, it's part of my job to lug home a bajillion products and test, try, swipe, soak, spray, spritz, apply, etc. to figure out what works and what doesn't. Although there isn't an inch to spare in my medicine cabinet due to my product hoarding, testing gives us key insight into the user experience. Now trust me; I get it—we're not saving lives here, and there are far more dangerous jobs than that of a beauty-obsessed journalist writing about the mascara she can't live without, but sometimes this testing could be considered, well, an occupational hazard. Take, for instance, the time I tried using an at-home hair-removal kit and suffered second-degree burns from waxing.

To explain: I heated up the wax in my microwave according to the directions, and although the bottom of the pot was thoroughly melted, the top portion never liquefied. This created a hard disk, which misled me to believe the entire pot was still solid. When I went to test this "solid" theory with the wood stick by inserting it into the jar, it pushed one side of the hard disk down into the liquid bottom and created a catapult-like effect that launched lava-level hot wax straight onto my wrist and arm.

Ouch would be an understatement. My reaction involved something more along the lines of a lot of text symbols: $@#!%&@#!!!!!!

My second-degree burn from waxing one day after the incident.
| Credit: Molly Ritterbeck

Turns out, I'm not the only one who's gotten a pretty nasty-looking second degree burn from waxing. Debora Heslin, RPA-C, who treated me along with Neal Schultz, M.D., a dermatologist at Park Avenue Skin Care, let me know that their practice sees many patients who come in with this exact issue, whether it happened at the salon or was self-inflicted at home. However, as a beauty editor experienced with not only using these kits but also writing the directions on how to use them, I felt like a total dope for hurting myself so severely. On the bright side, I now consider myself an expert at all things burn-related (adding that to my resume!). Here's how I got my skin back in tip-top shape.

How to Treat a Second-Degree Burn from Waxing

1. Release the heat. After arriving at my derm's office, Heslin first froze the wax to make it easier to remove. This also helped reduce the heat stuck beneath the skin's surface and it felt insanely blissful on my burn. To keep the skin cool and dull the nagging pain after I left the office, I spent the next two days icing my arm on and off.

2. Keep it moist. When it comes to skin treatments, usually less is more, but not when it comes to burns, says Heslin. She urged me to slather my prescription ointment on excessively multiple times a day, then later, switch a healing balm, like Doctor Rogers Restore Healing Balm (Buy It, $30, dermstore.com)

3. Don't suffer. In an attempt to act all cavalier about my injury, I told everyone I was fine. But the truth is, a second-degree burn from waxing is a very different kind of pain—and it's not like getting a paper cut. It's like a dull, pulsing sensation mixed with a stinging feeling, which is the strongest during the first few days. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, aspirin is a simple and effective treatment for burns, says Heslin.

4. Cover up. Protecting the burn with bandages and changing the dressings two to three times a day is the most annoying part, but it's so important. It not only keeps your ointment in place, but it also protects your burn from dirt and germs that can cause an infection. I went through boxes of Band-Aid First Aid Tru-Absorb Gauze Sponges (Buy It, $6, walmart.com), Band-Aid First Aid Hurt-Free Wrap (Buy It, $8, walgreens.com), and Band-Aid Water Block Plus Adhesive Bandages (Buy It, $5, walmart.com). They might not be the chicest things to wear around for weeks, but bandages can make or break how well your second-degree burn from waxing heals. (BTW, when I had to attend a black-tie wedding, I disguised them with an oversized gold cuff bracelet).

5. Practice hands-off. As your burn starts to heal, it could be tempting to pick the dead, fried skin that is shedding off or mess with the blisters—it's just one of those oddly satisfying activities. But it's crucial not to touch; your skin will heal without your help and you could risk worse scarring if you pick.

6. Keep it clean. I gave myself the second-degree burn from waxing right before I was headed to the beach, so I kept my arm out of the sun, sand, and ocean water, per Heslin's recommendations. Don't worry—shower water is OK, and you can rinse the afflicted area with gentle soap and warm water when showering or bathing.

7. Milk it. No, I don't mean make your S.O. and your mom wait on you hand and foot due to your "very painful, badly burned arm" (though this kind of manipulation will work, and you should use it to your advantage). Once the blisters have emptied, Dr. Schultz recommends soaking the burn in equal parts water and skim milk, which has proteins that can help reduce inflammation and the burning sensation.

8. Avoid the sun. Once the burn is healed enough (meaning no blisters, shedding skin, or scabs), it will just look raw and pink. During this stage, it's crucial to keep it out of the sun, which can turn the pink pigments brown and cause hyperpigmentation that can be difficult to remove. Remember to apply an SPF of at least 30 to the area daily, reapply after swimming or sweating, and cover it with a zinc-based sunscreen if you're outdoors for an extended period of time. Also, don't reach for scar creams or patches right away—those are made for raised scars, which are more common from things like cuts or surgery. Plus, if you take really good care of your burn (like me!) you won't have any scarring.

The progress one month after my #hairremovalfail.
| Credit: Molly Ritterbeck

Listen, accidents happen—even the most skilled person can flub when it comes to hair removal, so closely follow the directions and use caution. If you end up with a second-degree burn from waxing like me, see a medical professional ASAP and reference the tips above. But if you're not willing to risk it, you might just want to leave the tough stuff to the pros. (P.S. here's how to find a professional waxer.)


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