When Brow Wax Meets Retinol: A Horror Story

Photo: Getty Images.
We love a good retinol product — what other magical ingredient fights wrinkles, dark spots, acne, and oily splotches? But using prescription retinol products could have some unexpected consequences, especially when paired with — you guessed it — hot wax.

"I went in to get my eyebrows waxed before a trip to Hawaii, and when they took the wax off, it was noticeably more painful than usual," Refinery29 staffer Victoria recalls. "When I looked afterwards, it was red and raw. Like under-my-skin raw."

Yes, you read that right. Turns out, the hot wax didn't just remove her stray brow hairs; it also ripped off an outer layer of skin, leaving an exposed wound behind. "It was basically the area on the bone of my eye, underneath the eyebrow, and above the actual eyelid," she says. The culprit? Her prescription-strength acne medication.

"I see this so much," dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD, at Wexler Dermatology says. "People aren't aware that if you're using prescription-strength retinol for anti-aging or for acne, even if you're not putting it on your eyebrows, the product will migrate to the area and make the skin super-duper sensitive. And when you wax? Boom. Off comes the skin."

When you wax? Boom. Off comes the skin.

Dr. Francesca Fusco
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So rule No. 1 when going in for a brow wax? Stop using your retinol products seven days before your appointment, Dr. Fusco advises.

If you are unfortunate enough to experience this pain, Fusco recommends pressing a warm compress on your eyes to calm the skin. Then, cover it with some antibiotic ointment. "It's essentially an open wound," optometrist Mika Moy, OD, FAAO at University of California at Berkeley says. "So just like handling any open wound, do so carefully so you don't infect it. Wash your hands and add some antibiotic ointment on top."

This should help soothe your skin and alleviate the pain by the end of the day, both Dr. Moy and Dr. Fusco agree. However, if the pain continues, it's possible that the post-wax rawness is actually a burn. Continue using the antibiotic ointment, Dr. Fusco says, and then call up your physician for a healing cream to help with the pain and healing process.

Unfortunately for all you skin-care obsessives out there, this also means holding off on using normal face-care products that might irritate the area even more. "Face lotions might have something in it that isn't meant for non-intact skin, and that will burn," Fusco says. Wait for it all to heal up, avoid any extra sun (Victoria had to put thick, SPF 100 sunblock on her eyelids in Hawaii), and then go back to business as usual.
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