Downtime

“The First Thing They’ll Say Is ‘I’m So Sorry’ ”

A wax esthetician on what she’s seeing after a year of lockdown—and the rush before hot vax summer.

A pair of legs get waxed by a professional.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Strelciuc Dumitru/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Normform/Getty Images Plus.

Are you ready for “vaxxed and waxed” summer? Recent viral rumblings from a woman who, indeed, is vaxxed, waxed, and very ready got me wondering if one solid predictor of how wild we’re all prepared to get in the coming months may lie with our local hair technicians. To get a sense of whether all of America is truly in the midst of a body-hair-removal frenzy—and just how furry people got during a year without access to professional grooming services—Slate spoke to veteran esthetician Kimberly Murray. Murray currently works at Kari Skin, a luxury spa in Philadelphia, splitting her time between facials and waxing. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Heather Schwedel: You’ve been reopened for a while. How has business been?

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Kimberly Murray: Initially, it was slow. People were really slowly starting to trickle in, because I think everyone was still nervous about going out and getting services. But over the last couple months, people have been coming in. They have been excited about getting back out into the world and resuming self-care practices that they did before all of this. Whenever I’m at work, I’m booked.

Do you think there’s been an uptick in appointments since the vaccine was introduced?

Yeah, I have noticed that. Over the last maybe month or two, whenever somebody comes in, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been vaccinated, I’ve been vaccinated.” We don’t even ask. They just volunteer it themselves. I’ve been vaccinated also.

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Probably a lot of your clients haven’t experienced being touched, either by someone who isn’t an immediate family member or anyone at all, in a while. What is that like?

I would say more so with doing facials, they have just been so happy to have someone perform a service on them just to feel cared for. That’s been, oh my gosh, that’s been very humbling to me to be able to provide that type of service for them. And just to help people feel good, just have a human connection.

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Have your clients been apologetic about the state of their brows or body hair?

Some people, yeah, the first thing they’ll say is “I’m so sorry.” I’m like, “You have nothing to be sorry about.” Please don’t apologize. That’s why you’re here. Let’s take care of it.

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Are you seeing a lot of unkempt nether regions?

A lot of my clients, they’ve been just kind of taking care of the actual bikini area, the part that you would see outside of your bathing suit and just letting everything else go. But since they’ve been coming back, it’s like they’re ready to take everything off like they were previously.

Have you noticed any trends in what people are asking for these days?

A lot of my clients are liking to leave a little something in the middle just to say, “Hey, you know what, I am an adult woman,” but then get rid of everything else like on the labia and the butt area.

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The butt can definitely be tricky to deal with on your own.

The best part of the wax. You can’t do it yourself. You can’t see. And after you get it done, you can walk faster and you can run faster because all that’s gone! I’m joking when I say that.

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Do you have any male clients or is it primarily women?

I do have some male clients. I don’t do Brazilian waxing on men. I’m not trained on it currently, and I’m not sure if I want to learn right now, I guess because I am more afraid of hurting them. They’re a little bit more delicate. But I’ll do some male waxing. Especially since it’s getting warmer, they’ll come in for back waxing.

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I had one guy, he had a house in New Jersey, and they’re about to start going down to wherever it is, the Jersey Shore, and he was ready to start his whole beach time. So they’ve started to trickle in. I’ve had a couple guys coming so far for the season.

Are you hearing a lot about your clients’ summer plans? One phrase that I’ve heard is “hot vax summer,” like “vax” for “vaccinated.”

That is my first time hearing that.

Oh, really? If you’ve heard the phrase “hot girl summer” …

Yes, I know that one.

It’s a play on that, “hot vax summer.” The idea is that everyone’s going to go wild.

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OK! I hope they aren’t going too wild. I think people just need a little bit of a release. I like to keep the client engaged in some conversation, especially like when I do Brazilian waxes, so one of my favorite questions to ask is, “Do you have any plans for the summer? Are you doing anything?” We just get to talking. And everybody that I’ve been waxing, they’re doing something, they’re going somewhere.

Does anyone talk about their dating lives?

Some people do. I try not to go there because some people will give you a little bit too much detail about that kind of stuff. Sometimes you’ll have ladies that’ll come in and they’re telling you why they’re getting their wax and who they’re going to see. And I’m just like, “Yeah, no, let’s talk about something else.”

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Has the small talk changed in general?

It has. A lot of my clients are talking about the changes that they’ve had to make with their schedules as far as having small children, whether they feel comfortable about them going back to school and just COVID stuff in general. I try to keep it light, but if that’s what they want to talk about, I don’t mind chatting about that.

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Are people tipping any better these days?

It’s been about the same. Usually they do, like, 20 percent.

All the spas were closed for a while, right?

All of the nail salons and spas, everything was shut down. There was no work for anybody in the industry. I was out of work for about eight months.

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That sounds hard. What were you doing during that time?

During this, luckily I was able to collect unemployment, but I found some new hobbies that I love. I realized that I enjoy baking and gardening and I even took the time to start a lifestyle blog.

Did you keep in touch with clients?

Absolutely. I’ve been a resource for my clients and new internet friends alike. They will hit my Instagram DMs, or if I made a particular post, I would get questions on the page or in my DMs. I would recommend different products to help.

Do you feel like all the estheticians are on Instagram now?

I feel like it is a big thing, so clients can stay in contact. A lot of my co-workers, they’ll have a personal one and then more of a professional one that they have for clients. What I’ve included on mine is that whenever my clients will do a selfie after a facial, they’ll tag me, and then I’ll put it in my stories and I highlight it.

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You’re not going to get as much of that for bikini lines.

No, not at all. Like, “Look what Kim did.” Please don’t!

To talk about facials a little bit, have you noticed if mask wearing has affected people’s skin?

Oh, yes, yes, yes. That’s like the main complaint of my guests that come in is maskne. Luckily I’ve been pretty familiar with it because over my years of being an esthetician, I have worked with a lot of nurses who would work in operating rooms and people that were in pharmaceutical sales that would wear masks for a long time. If you want to wear makeup, I’ve been encouraging eye products, that kind of thing, maybe a little bit of concealer, but not wearing makeup underneath of the mask just because you’re already creating an environment for bacteria to grow and thrive.

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What’s the state of your clients’ eyebrows right now? Have a lot of them grown out?

They have. It’s actually been really nice because I had clients who’ve been wanting to grow their brows out for years and they just were able to let them go. So they’re coming back with these full, beautiful brows. Then I’m able to just clean up. People are going more so toward a more natural look, not as snatched and polished. They’re not going for these diva brows anymore. It’s a much softer look.

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While the spas were closed, did you hear about any disasters, like clients really messing up any attempted DIY maintenance?

That mainly happened with brows. People getting hold of tweezers and some people just overtweezing. So now with that handful of people, we’re working on helping them grow them back and we’re doing almost like a brow boot camp.

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What does a brow boot camp entail?

Just pretty much them staying away from tweezers and scissors, coming once every four to six weeks, and then using a brow growth serum of some sort to help that grow in. It mainly consists of them not touching their brows on their own.

Do you think generally people will want to get back to the routines that they had before, or do you think some feel like, “Oh, maybe I’ll be a little more casual now?”

It’s mixed because I feel like some people have been empowered by being able to maintain their beauty themselves, by doing their own manicures and that kind of thing. But I do think people still do want to be pampered and have that self-care and have somebody else do it. I think now they may not come as often, again, because I think they now know how to do things themselves.

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For anyone considering a wax for the first time in a while, will it hurt more since it’s been so long?

Yeah, it will.

Oh no.

I’m sorry. The beauty of getting wax on a regular basis is that over time, the hair gets thinner and finer and it’s easier for it to come out. If you’ve been shaving or just letting it go, it’s just been able to really get stronger and kind of, like, want to stay in the root. So it’ll feel like you’re getting waxed for the first time again because it’s been so long.

Is there anything you can do in advance that might make that better?

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No, you’re just going to have to power through. I’ve been seeing some TikTok videos of people using an over-the-counter spray to numb the area. It doesn’t work. I’m sorry. You just got to go and power through it, and the next wax that you get will be better. And just make sure that it’s all the way grown out. If you have been shaving or anything, just let it grow out. You want it to be about the length of a grain of rice, so about a fourth of an inch. If it’s too short, the wax won’t pick it up, and you’ll have a patchy wax. I’d rather trim somebody’s hair than for them to come in with it too short.

That’s good to know. I wasn’t sure if it was gross for you to have to trim someone’s hair, like, “Ugh, this person should have done it themselves.”

No, I promise, nothing is gross. Estheticians, we see everything. Nothing is weird or gross or strange to us.

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