Cuts and nicks are always painful, but when it comes to ones near your bikini line, they’re downright excruciating. And they’re more common than you think: The number of women who visited an emergency room for down-there injuries jumped almost six-fold over an eight-year period, according to a 2012 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

“The majority of these cases involved people who had gotten lacerations, rashes or skin infections as a result of shaving in the shower or waxing at a salon,” says study author Benjamin Breyer, M.D., assistant professor of urology at UCSF. “These days, having less pubic hair is the standard, so more women are grooming and the contours of the female anatomy make it difficult to see where the razor is going,” explains Breyer.Follow these tips to make your hair-removal experience safe and pain-free.

Own the right toolkit. When shaving, choose a gel or cream to lessen skin irritation and a multi-blade razor for a closer shave. Then, shave in the direction the hair grows in, suggests Tiana Brandon, lead esthetician at Bliss Spa in Los Angeles. When you go over the area a second time, run the razor in the opposite direction.

Plan your wax around your period. The best time to book an appointment is the midway point between the beginning and end of your menstrual cycle, because hormonal changes that occur right before or after a period can make many women more sensitive to pain, notes Brandon. Another tip: If you’re comfortable with your waxer, tell a joke or two during the appointment. One study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that laughing triggers the release of endorphins—feel-good chemicals that also act as pain-relievers.

Make sure there’s no double dipping. “Each time your waxer dips into the pot of wax, she should be using a new stick to prevent the spread of everything from vaginal warts to bacterial infections, such as folliculitis,” says Kristen Haines, licensed esthetician and owner of Euphoria Spa in New York City. “Often times, the same pot of wax is used on multiple clients, but it’s safe as long as a new stick is used with each application.”

Ask for hard wax. “Although the name sounds painful, hard wax is actually the best wax for bikini lines,” says Haines. Soft wax is harder to remove so the process is more painful and it can irritate delicate skin. Conversely, hard wax is gentler and peels off on its own without needing to use cloth strips.

Exfoliate. Nothing ruins a smooth bikini line like an ingrown hair (when hair curls around and grows back into the skin instead of rising up from the root). But using a gentle exfoliator can prevent them, according to Brandon. “Wait 24 hours after shaving or 48 hours after waxing to exfoliate,” she suggests. If an ingrown hair is visible, you can remove it with tweezers. Just don’t squeeze the inflamed area thinking you can cajole the trapped hair out. “It can cause further trauma to the follicle resulting in an infection—swelling, redness and painful to the touch.” You can also apply a dab of cortisone cream to the area to prevent inflammation after waxing or shaving.

Don’t stress about trimming. It may seem like a courteous gesture to do a quick trim before a waxing appointment but try to leave the area in its natural state. “Hair should be about a quarter of an inch thick in order for the wax to latch on properly,” says Haines. “If you accidentally trim it too short, your waxer may need to use tweezers to pull out the hair, which is painful and time-consuming.”

Try laser treatments. If you’re not up for the maintenance of hair removal, you may want to consider laser treatments, which kill the bulbs that produce hair. But laser treatments aren’t for everyone. “The best candidates are people with light skin and coarse dark hair,” says Haines. The reason: Lasers are attracted to color (such as black body hair on light skin) so if hair color matches skintone, the laser has a harder time knowing where to target its beam.

Skip waxing before your laser appointment. “Wax pulls out hair by the root and when it’s entirely gone, it’s impossible for the laser to know where to target,” says Haines. “It’s better to come in with some hair, but if you’re uncomfortable with that, you can always shave. The razor cuts hair off at the surface so the light will still be able to see the root.”