I am very, very particular about my eyebrows. I never let anyone touch them. Not makeup artists (I always ask to do my own). Not threaders. Not waxers. I tweeze them myself with a light hand. When a renowned celebrity brow shaper from LA was coming to New York recently, however, I decided to break my rule because her Instagram photos showed off incredibly thick, precise, arches and deeply satisfying befores and afters.
All was going well until we did the area between my brows and a thin layer of skin ripped off, causing stinging, swelling, and redness. It was my fault, not hers—my guess was that it happened because I was using retinol (more on that later) and I also didn’t disclose I was using any retinol products (rookie mistake). I left loving the new shape of my brows but with two small, raw patches of skin at the top of my nose and under my right brow. I panicked, wondering if I’d scar or if everyone would be staring at the glaring wounds on my face.
The happy ending here is that it healed up in just four days and left zero marks. My skin is even-toned and good as new. But, I made sure to take every measure I possibly could to ensure I didn’t damage my skin. Ahead, I break down everything I did—and add in advice from two experts, dermatologist Dr. Melissa K. Levin, founder of Entiere Dermatology, and dermatologic surgeon, Dr. Dendy Engelman, in case you find yourself in the same unfortunate position.
The mistake: Using Retinol Products Before My Wax
What I did: Keep applying prescription-strength retinol even up to the night before my wax appointment instead of taking a break.
What the experts say: “Topicals that thin out the skin should be absolutely avoided before a wax. That includes any strong acids and topical retinols/retinoids one to two weeks before” Levin says. Engelman agrees, suggesting against using not only prescription retinoids, but also over the counter products with retinol. “If you are just starting a retinoid or retinol, I recommend avoiding waxing for the first two weeks as the skin acclimates.”
“If you are receiving in-office treatments like microdermabrasion, acid peels – you should also let your aesthetician know,” Levin adds.
Immediately after the wax: Protect the skin
What I did: Right after my appointment, I cleansed the area with just water and rushed to a drugstore to get Neosporin (it is an open wound, after all). I wanted to avoid infection, first and foremost, so I coated the problem areas with a thin layer of an antibiotic. Then, I made sure to avoid applying makeup—which was so hard for me! I felt self-conscious about the redness, but I cared more about my longterm skin goals instead of covering it up right away.
On top of the antibiotic, which I applied in the morning and at night, I also made sure to use ample sunscreen on the affected areas (and all over, of course). My current favorite is Supergoop’s Superscreen Daily Moisturizer, which feels creamy and super hydrating and not like a chalky, white sunblock at all.
What the experts say: “Immediately cleanse the affected area with Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser and apply an antibacterial cream (bacitracin or mupirocin), oral NSAIDs for pain, a topical barrier like Aquaphor,” Levin suggests. She also warns against using any scented products which could further irritate the skin. Engelman adds that you should layer on a moisturizing salve like Vaseline Petrolatum or Cerave Healing Ointment.
As expected, both derms stressed the importance of sunscreen. Engelman says strict sunscreen use and avoiding the sun will “prevent scarring and post-inflammatory discoloration.”
Days 1-3 after the wax: Keep the skin moisturized
What I did: I relied heavily on a facial mist and kept spritzing the waxed areas throughout the day. I used Avéne Thermal Spring Water, in particular, which is known to not only be refreshing but have incredible healing properties. My coworker Angel has waxed poetic about the way it simmers down hives, itch, and flare-ups at the onset, and there’s been studies that show how the water helps speed up skin repair for burns and eczema. I decided adding it to the routine didn’t hurt, and it provided much relief when the scabbed-over skin started itching.
What the experts say: Turns out, I was right to think keeping the skin moist was a key step. “Keep the area moist and as new skin starts to come out, you can apply Bio Oil to help prevent scarring,” Levin suggests.
Days 1-3 after the wax: Avoid makeup
What I did: As I mentioned above, I hated this, but I was sure to avoid using any makeup on the raw skin. Over three days, the skin started scabbing and I applied a little bit of concealer with clean hands but, honestly, it would’ve looked better without it. The concealer caked on a scab (ew) wasn’t a cute look, and I ended up removing it mid-day.
At every meeting or encounter I’d always say, “I ripped off my skin during a wax, that’s why my face looks like this,” but everyone told me they didn’t notice anything. Maybe they were just being nice. Either way, for the sake of your skin. you must adopt a DGAF attitude.
What the experts say: “I would avoid makeup to prevent any infection or inflammation until the skin is fully healed,” Engelman says. Levin echoed her statement, saying that the ingredients could be irritating and “your makeup tools and brushes can potentially harbor bacteria which can infect the area,” she adds. “If you must, then apply mineral concealer with clean fingertips.”
After following these steps, here is how my skin looked all healed up one week later, without makeup. As for the brows, well, they still look on point if I say so myself: