I got my first Brazilian ever at age 40. Who waits until 40 to find out the answer to the question: what is a Brazilian wax like? Me—because until then, I thought getting a regular wax on any other part of my body was painful enough. No one had ever commented on my pubic hair, so I didn’t see a need to take my regular shaving routine any further.

Then, right before a beach vacation I booked with a friend, I did it on a whim. My plan was to request a regular bikini wax—you know, just an extra vigorous one to clean up the sides? But when my waxer asked, “Brazilian?” I weirdly heard myself replying, “Yeah, sure.” And before I knew it, everything just started happening (and there was definitely no going back).

As you may have guessed, I didn’t exactly read up on Brazilian wax tips before showing up that day. Now that I’ve ripped the bandage off, I feel like none of my friends that have been doing this for decades warned me properly about what to expect. If you’ve never dabbed in Brazilian waxes before, you can decide for yourself if you want to go for it or not. After all, pubic hair removal is a personal choice, and there’s no right or wrong method. For those that do decide to remove it all, here’s everything you need to know before going in—so you won’t walk out saying, “Why did no one tell me that?”

What is a Brazilian wax?

Think of a Brazilian wax as a step beyond a bikini wax. “It removes all the hair from your bikini area: top, sides, front, and back,” says European Wax Center’s education manager, Gina Petak. While some clients opt to remove every single strand, Petak says that the term Brazilian covers everything from a “completely nude look” to one that leaves “a neat triangle, strip, or square on the front.” (I happened to go all out and choose the former.) Talk with your waxer about the exact style you want—and make sure to be vocal and communicative here.

Does a Brazilian wax hurt?

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: During my first Brazilian, there were moments of ripping and burning. There was also one panic-inducing moment when there was so much wax in my butt crack that I thought it was going to get sealed shut. But overall, the initial panic was worse than the actual experience.

“Waxing such a sensitive area can be uncomfortable, especially for first-timers,” concedes Petak. “However, since waxing removes the hair from the root, it makes it grow in softer and finer, resulting in each wax becoming less painful.” She recommends that you go to a reputable salon that uses high-quality wax to make the experience more comfortable. There’s also debate over what kind of wax is more comfortable; some people prefer soft wax and strips, while others recommend hard wax (without strips). Petak likes the latter, which EWC uses. “It removes hair effectively with minimal pain, while also being gentle on your skin,” she says.

How should you prepare for your appointment?

There’s honestly not much you have to do to prepare, but waxers generally give the same few tips to reduce pain: Avoid the time around your period, don’t drink beforehand, and maybe take a painkiller half an hour before if you’re especially sensitive.

By far the most important step is to leave enough hair for the wax to grip and remove. “We recommend hair be at least 1/4″ long—about the size of a sprinkle,” says Petak. Stop shaving at least five days prior to your appointment to ensure your waxer has enough to work with.

What should you expect during the appointment?

On one hand, the process is pretty straightforward. Your waxer will first cleanse your bikini area with a wipe and apply wax section by section. Then, pressing your skin down to keep it taut, she peels the wax away from your skin, which pulls the hair out by the root. You might also get a soothing gel patted on afterward to soothe inflammation.

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