The "Brazilian Bikini Wax" (Or, What to Expect When You Book One)

Hot wax on a stick (hair removal)
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Brazilian bikini waxes were introduced to New York in 1987 by the J Sisters, 7 Brazilian-born sisters. The Brazilian remains a popular hair removal method in the United States.

Brazilian waxes differ from regular bikini waxes because hair is removed in the front, back and everything in between. Sometimes a "landing strip" is left in the front, but many clients opt for the "Hollywood Wax," where everything is removed.

We usually recommend a basic bikini wax for waxing newbies because they tend to be less painful and allow you to dip your toe in the water, so to speak. But if you're ready to jump all in and get a Brazilian bikini wax, here's what to expect. 

What Happens When You Arrive

Most waxings occur in a private room with a door and take between 15 and 30 minutes. You'll be left alone to remove everything from the waist down and lie on a table covered in clean paper or sheets. It is possible that you may be provided with a paper thong and if not, you can ask for one.

The paper thong may make you feel more comfortable, but with a Brazilian, your modesty is going to be tested. The waxer is going to see everything, so you may choose to forego the paper thong. We like to think getting a Brazilian can't be any more embarrassing than a typical visit to your gynecologist's office. These technicians have seen it all before.

How Much Hair Should You Have?

A general rule of thumb is that hair needs to be 1/4 inch (about the length of a grain of rice) if it's fine, a half-inch if it's coarse, according to Cindy Barshop, owner of NYC's Completely Bare spas. Any shorter and it's too hard for the wax to grab onto. You'll be sent home if hair isn't long enough.

You can help the waxer out by trimming your pubic hair with an electric razor before you go in. If your hair is much longer than required, your waxer may trim your pubic hair to the correct length.

The Brazilian Waxing Process

Your waxer should wear gloves during the wax and she should never double-dip the wooden waxing stick into the wax. Instead, she should use fresh sticks for each application. Waxing usually starts in the front and moves toward the back. You may be asked to help hold skin taut. Let your waxer know if you want a landing strip or everything off.

Here's how the process using soft, melted wax works (hard wax is a slightly different process):

  1. The waxer will liberally apply talcum powder to the skin. Talcum powder keeps hot wax from sticking to skin. 
  2. The best waxers are fast, which means less discomfort for you. The waxer will dip a wooden waxing stick into a pot of hot wax and then spread it onto your skin and hair in the direction of hair growth.
  3. She will then apply a cloth strip over the still-warm wax, pressing firmly so the cloth, hair and wax adhere to one another.
  4. When the wax has cooled, she will pull the strip off, in the opposite direction of your hair growth, pulling the hairs out by the root. If the waxing at this point is too painful, ask the technician to apply strips to smaller areas at a time.
  1. Since the Brazilian means everything off except for a "landing strip" in the front, don't be surprised when the technician removes the hair between the buttocks. Yes, hair grows there. You may be asked to turn over and lie on your stomach or you may be asked to kneel on the table. The good news is, this part isn't painful for most people.
  2. Once the waxing is complete, the waxer will tweeze any stray hairs and she may trim the remaining landing strip, or even create designs. Some women even opt to dye the remaining pubic hair.
  3. The waxer may spread soothing lotion over the waxed areas.

Just as you would your hairstylist, you'll want to tip your waxer at least 20%, unless, of course, you weren't satisfied with the job she did, in which case, you should speak up or ask to speak to a manager. 

How to Cut Down on the Pain

Waxing, in general, can be very painful, especially your first time.

Be sure your waxer knows to be gentle with you if you are susceptible to pain or if this is your first time.

Here are a few tips to cut down on the pain:

  • If you are new to waxing, we don't recommend starting with a Brazilian. Try a regular or high bikini wax instead. After a few waxes, you'll find the waxings are much less painful. Then you can graduate to a Brazilian.
  • Book the appointment for at least a week after your period. "It's best to wax midcycle, right around the time you're ovulating," says Jodi Shays, owner of Queen Bee Salon & Spa in Los Angeles, in Allure Magazine.
  • Get waxed regularly every 3-4 weeks. If you wait longer or only get waxed a couple times a year, it will be much more painful.
  • Find a salon that uses a "hard wax," which when used correctly can be much less painful than the commonly used soft wax -- the melted kind that's applied and then ripped off with strips of muslin paper. Once applied, hard wax hardens as it cools, shrink-wrapping individual hairs. The wax is then gently pulled off. 
  • You can apply a topical anesthetic, such as "Relax and Wax No-Scream Cream," (buy it from Amazon) 45 minutes before the procedure. But some pros swear numbing creams don't work. We recommend taking 2 ibuprofen or acetaminophen an hour before your wax, instead.

If, after the wax, you later develop bumps, redness or ingrown hairs, gently exfoliate the area with a body scrub and then smooth on a lotion or cleanser with alpha hydroxy acid (the word "acid" makes it sound like it will sting, but it doesn't). We also hear great things about Bliss ingrown hair eliminating pads (buy them online). To keep ingrown hairs at bay, exfoliate the area in the days leading up to your appointment.

The Importance of Regular Waxing

The downside of a Brazilian wax is that while it lasts 3-6 weeks, the hair will grow back -- albeit finer and lighter -- and you'll have to do it again. But veterans of the Brazilian will swear to you that the first time hurts the worse and then the pain dramatically lessens the more waxings you get.

According to Melanie Gilliland, European Waxing Center’s education director, there are few things more important than sticking to a regular waxing schedule. Gilliland suggests you get waxed every 3-4 weeks,

"Getting waxed religiously every three to four weeks — throughout the entire year, not just during the bare-all summer months — is the secret to both less pain and better results,” says Gilliland on the Website Refinery29.

Why every 3-4 weeks? That's typically the exact time it takes for your hair to hit that magical 1/4th inch length. If you have coarser hair, or hair that doesn't grow fast, you may be able to hold off up to 6 weeks.

One last tip: don't forget to get the name of the waxer so when you make another appointment you can get the same person so you don't have to bare all for another complete stranger (wink).

The Future of The Brazilian

As recently as January 2014, the New York Times reported the popularity of the Brazilian may be waning, as more and more urban women adopt an "organic lifestyle of cold-pressed juice and barre classes." This healthful lifestyle, it seems, jibes more with a full bush, then a pulled bush. But an informal survey done by me shows this trend remains as popular as ever, at least in the heart of Brooklyn where I reside.

As for trends, the "Brazilian" has prompted many below-the-belt beauty trends including "Vajazzling," a temporary crystal tattoo placed in the bikini area and Vatooing, temporary ink tattoos for the nether regions. Both of these trends, however, have waned in popularity in recent years.