As great as waxing is, it has one important downside – it is common for the skin to turn red for a while after the service. We call this inflammation and it eventually resolves itself, but we can help it along. This article will explain what the sources of the redness are and how you can speed up your recovery time.
heat causes redness
Since the wax needs to be warm in order to flow onto your skin properly, the heat of the wax will cause a certain amount of redness. Heat causes the blood vessels to dilate and more blood to flow into that area. The increased blood flow causes your skin to turn red. The body does this because increasing the blood flow is a way of dissipating heat. Cooling down your skin will cause the blood vessels to shrink, thereby removing some of the redness.
If heat were the only source of redness from waxing, then putting a cool cloth over the area would be enough to solve the problem. But it doesn’t work that way, because a more important source of the redness comes from our own immune system.
histamines cause redness
When hair is removed from the root during waxing, your body views this as an assault. In response, your body’s immune system kicks in and you start producing histamine. Histamine is produced within the cells at the site of the trauma. The effect of histamine is to cause the blood vessels to dilate and the skin to turn red. We call this inflammation.
The job of histamine is to make the walls of the blood vessels thinner and wider so that white blood cells can more easily enter the blood stream and fight off the cause of the perceived assault. The redness that histamine produces is a direct result of this action.
I say “perceived assault” because a variety of irritants can cause this sense of assault that triggers your immune system. Pollen certainly does it for some people, and dogs or cats do it to some people, but most people will have some level of histamine response to the process of waxing. It is common, therefore, to expect a certain amount of redness immediately following waxing from the histamines you produce.
If you’ve never given much thought to histamines, you are probably more familiar with ANTI-histamines. These are the medicines we use to treat allergies, itches, rashes, nasal congestion, and hives. Histamines are the compounds that cause the symptoms and anti-histamines are the compounds that stop them.
In our bodies, we have a natural compound that stops the action of histamines. It is called cortisol. It is produced by the adrenal glands, which are activated by stress. If your body perceives that pulling out the hair is stressful, it will first produce histamines within the cells of the affected area, and then produce cortisol in the adrenal glands to counteract it. Obviously, the cortisol production will lag behind the histamine production since the body wants to give the histamines a chance to do their job before they are sent home, so to speak.
how red will my skin get?
How much histamine you produce, how much cortisol you produce, and how quickly you produce the cortisol all work together to determine how long your skin will stay red after waxing. Everybody’s got their own schedule for that sort of thing and making a prediction of how you will react is very difficult.
However, there are some general guidelines that I have observed over my years of practice. These are generalizations, which means they are often true but occasionally false. In general, the darker your skin color, the less histamine reaction your skin will register. The darker your hair color, the less histamine reaction you will have. Those who have light skin and light hair will register the greatest histamine reaction. Redheads will have the highest response of all. Don’t ask me why this should be the case. I’m only telling you what I observe.
how can I treat it?
Some people will not have to do anything to bring the redness down after waxing. Within a few hours their body will have done all the work for them. With rare exceptions, everyone’s body will do the work within 24 to 48 hours without any assistance. But that is too long for some people and there will be a need to bring down the redness faster than our bodies can do naturally.
Since cortisol is our body’s natural response to histamine, it makes sense that we would look to medicines that contain cortisone to reduce the redness of histamines. A hydrocortisone cream, such as Cortaid, is very good for this purpose and is the easiest home remedy for most people.
I don’t recommend applying hydrocortisone creams repeatedly because that creates excess cortisone in the area and can cause problems of its own. But applying hydrocortisone two or three times during a 24 hour period should not be a problem. If you are allergic to cortisones, of course, you would not use this remedy.
In a few cases people will have such a strong histamine reaction that they break out in welts or hives. Each follicle will swell like it was a mosquito bite (which itself is nothing more than a strong histamine response to the mosquito venom). If this happens to you, I recommend a stronger anti-histamine in the form of Benadryl cream. It can be purchased at most larger drug stores.
The active drug in Benadryl, diphenhydramine hydrochloride, is one of the most effective on the market for fast and effective reversal of massive histamine response. The worst side effect is that it makes most people very sleepy, so I don’t recommend taking it orally for this purpose. The cream is a much more direct method of treating the problem.
For those who want to be more homeopathic with their skin care treatment, lavender essential oil has strong anti-inflammatory properties. That means it reduces redness, swelling and heat in the skin.
You can purchase lavender essential oil at most health food stores and it is an excellent home remedy to keep handy for a variety of skin irritations, including burns and insect bites.
Lavender can be applied directly to the skin without dilution. This is very different from all the other essential oils which must be diluted or they will burn your skin. I want to make it very clear that even though you can apply lavender without dilution, you can not do this with other essential oils. Applying 5 or 6 drops of lavender oil to your skin will help calm it down and make you smell good, too!
Another way you can reduce your histamine levels is to increase the blood flow and essentially flush them out of your system. This is why I often apply a heated washcloth to the area that I have just waxed.
The heat dilates the blood vessels and washes away the histamines and white blood cells that have accumulated. While it may seem like I should be applying a cool cloth to reduce the heat, the increased blood flow is what I am after. When your skin cools down naturally, it will be in better condition than when we started because of this flushing.
why do I break out in pimples along my lip?
Sometimes people complain that they get little whitehead pimples at the site of waxing. This is especially common for women who get their lip waxed by the “old fashioned” method of applying sticky wax and then a muslin strip. I’m going to explain to you why this happens and how you can prevent it.
The muslin strip method of waxing is the most traumatic of all the techniques because it pulls on the skin along with pulling on the hair.
Your body registers this trauma and what does it do? It produces histamines. The histamines thin the walls of the blood vessels so the white blood cells can enter. So what else do we have at the site? White blood cells, which is what the pustules are made of. (Yes, pus is white because it is made up of white blood cells. Did you know that?)
Histamines cause the redness, and white blood cells cause the pustules. So what can you do?
Flush out the skin! Apply heat so that those little buggers are flushed away and don’t hang around looking for something to do! Warm a washcloth by running hot tap water over it and apply to your skin for a few minutes.
Of course, a better solution is to only get your lip waxed using hard wax (as opposed to muslin strips). There is so much less trauma with hard wax that most people will not break out in little pimples because there isn’t such a build-up of white blood cells.
I hope this article has helped you feel a bit smarter about why your skin turns red after waxing.
JUDY ZIFKA, ESTHETICIAN
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