So you want to wax your own legs. It’s a good idea—mostly. Overall, it’s one of those good ideas that seems like a terrible idea when you’re actually doing it. Like a marathon. Or a flight to Hawaii. Know that I do not recommend the DIY approach for everything. I have ruined too many cropped jeans and razor haircuts trying to “edit” them myself.
With waxing, I’ve come to a happy arrangement: Anyone looking to remove hair from their armpits, “bikini line,” or, God, face, I would encourage to see a professional. But legs are fair game. The area is easily accessible, with none of those tricky nooks and crannies of the aforementioned zones. You can sit on the ground with your legs in front of you, and boom—there’s your working area right there, no contortions or mirrors required. Plus, the skin is a bit tougher and a little less sensitive, so you can be trusted with it.
You’ve probably seen this whole waxing thing go down a zillion times in movies and/or real life. You’re familiar with the technique (rip and cry), the apparatus (hot wax, muslin strips, tongue depressors), and the screaming clients in the next room. Let’s edit that list down for home use.
The easiest way to get into the wax game is to not fool with strips. Strips require deft and sure timing—the wax, the strip, and the removal all happen in quick succession. It can be tricky; there’s a reason there’s a school for this stuff. Hard wax goes at a mellower pace. Strips don’t come into it. You spread on the wax, wait for it to harden, and then pull the wax off yourself. It should come off in one big piece, with dozens of little hairs stuck in it. It’s kinda like a pore strip for leg hair. It’s less of a headache to manage, although it’s no less of a leg-ache to pull off.
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Here’s what you need: One of those Bella Verde Hard Wax Kits you see in the back room of salons. Should be around $36 for a starter kit—ultimately less than the price of an actual wax—and you’ll get plenty out of this little guy. If you get a whole kit and caboodle, it’ll come with little tongue depressors. These are still non-negotiable, necessary for spreading on wax.
To set the mood, I recommend putting on a Netflix show you don’t really care about (because you don’t want to get distracted from the task at hand) but will also be a comforting presence in the background—something you can glance up at for a moment’s relief in between sets. I also like to pour myself a drink. I’m not sure what the surgeon general has to say about waxing and drinking. But she should at least try it first before casting judgment.
Warm the wax up, but not to its hottest setting. Here’s the thing: If the wax is too hot, not only will it feel like it’s burning on the skin, but it will go on in too thin a layer. This means the wax gets a poor grip on your hair, and you’ll get a poor grip when you try to pull it off. It should go on thick, like honey. When it flakes instead of peels off, you know you’ve messed up.
So, a nice warm temperature will render the wax gooey and malleable but still thick. Stick in your tongue depressor and smooth the wax onto your legs. I go against the direction of hair growth, so I spread the wax up, not down, the leg. You can experiment with this too. Cover a pretty wide area, at least a couple inches. A big, thick strip will actually be easier to pull off. Let it set and cool for just a minute. But not too long—it shouldn’t be cracking.
Now comes the part that no online article can prepare you for: removal.
At the very bottom of the wax mass, pull a corner open with a fingernail. It should give up relatively easily (if not, let it set a little longer). Do this to the whole bottom edge until you can get a firm thumb-and-forefinger grip on the piece. OK. Now, I know you want this to go the way you see it in movies and salons, but don’t just yank. Not at least your first time.
Pull up slowly, to make sure you’ve got a grip, and to see how the wax is going to release. This strip is going to be the most painful one, because you’re not used to it, and you’re going slow, feeling acutely Every. Single. Hair. that’s pulled out. It’s not fun, but it’s essential for you to familiarize yourself with the material and the process, centimeter by centimeter. (N.B.: The ankle area hurts the worst.)
After that one’s over, go about laying more wax. Sometimes I get both legs going at once, alternating between setting and removing two pieces at a time. As you get the hang of it, and have a few more sips of your drink, it’ll get easier. OK, I lied. It won’t get easier, but it’ll get more routine. After a little hair grows in, sometimes I’ll go back to shaving for a month. But, strangely enough, I get this persistent urge to wax again—it’s beyond just results; the idea of the process, the whole solitary ritual, becomes irresistible.
You probably won’t get perfect results the first time. You might miss a few spots (that you only discover later), and the whole ordeal might be a trying, drying experience. You can use olive oil to help dislodge any errant wax bits.
Bare doesn’t automatically equal sexy. If your newly hairless, fresh-from-a-long-dry-winter legs are left exposed in something less than a Gisele-on-the-beach type way, there’s an instant fix—some flattering filtering for your legs. It’s This Works Perfect Legs Skin Miracle, a light lotion that smells like a spa, with a sheer bronze tint to blur any of those unsightly bruises or scuffs that just show up unannounced (it’s also got vitamin C to actually get rid of spots, too). The results are gleaming, healthy-looking, beachy legs that look like you either are on your way to or just returned from a warm, sandy weekend.
These results are what it’s all about. My legs stay hairless for weeks, and after months of self-waxing, I swear I’ve seen less regrowth overall. As the weather warms up, it’s the easiest way to keep abreast of impulsive urges and rising hemlines.
Sure, today it’s just your once-rolled boyfriend jean. But any day now it could be those suddenly-very-cool, ankle-baring cropped flares. And the day after that, you might feel the urge to break out those Japanese-artist wide-leg culottes. Then it’s rolled chino shorts with a sweater. And before you know it, you’re full-on cutoffs and tank top. Your razor can’t keep up with that. Hard wax is the easy answer.
But nobody said it was actually going to be easy.
A version of this story was originally published in March 2016.