By Emily Rekstis – Self
Many women consider a bikini wax an essential part of summer vacation prep—but not me! Sure, waxing is an effective way to get rid of those stray hairs that might peek out of my string bikini bottoms, but there’s only so much pain I’m willing to put up with. After hearing horror stories about waxing I avoided it for years—until I finally gave it a try and learned the horror stories are true! Fortunately, I’ve found an alternative that gets me the results of waxing without the trauma.
A few months ago, my friend started raving about sugaring, telling me how she gets everything from her armpits to her legs sugared regularly. So, I psyched myself up to try this alternative to waxing that is supposedly far less painful. Although the technique is very similar to waxing, sugaring uses a more gentle mix of sugar, lemon, and water to remove hair. And once I tried sugaring my bikini area, I was officially hooked.
But then I got overconfident. Thinking I was a waxing pro, I booked a traditional wax—a full-on Brazilian—when a company asked me to check out their new studio. After my appointment, waddling to the subway like a slow duck and regretting my hubris, I swore off traditional waxing. One strike and I was out; it was sugaring only from here on out.
So this bathing suit season I’m sticking to sugaring. I recently got a Brazilian from Daphne Studio: The results were so clean, and the process was much, much less painful. I’ve never felt so comfortable in my itty-bitty bikini bottom.
If you’re thinking about making the switch from waxing to sugaring—a change I highly condone—or if you’re trying hair removal for the first time, here’s what you need to know about sugaring.
Sugaring is a hair removal technique that uses an all-natural paste to pull off body hair.
The paste consists of only three ingredients: lemon, sugar, and water. That’s it! There are no additives or cloth strips involved, making it a natural alternative and more environmentally conscious alternative to traditional wax. Sugaring has actually been used for centuries for hair removal, and it has roots in ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures.
Sugaring paste is soft enough to penetrate into the pores, where it adheres to individual hairs, and pulls them out from the roots. The technician starts the treatment by cleaning the skin with a gentle cleanser made of ingredients like aloe, witch hazel, and tea tree oil. Then, powder is put on the area to provide a protective barrier between the skin and the paste. The technician molds the paste in their hands to warm it up and make it easier to work with. Then they smooth the warm (not hot) paste on, rubbing it on against the hair growth. To remove, they then flick the hand back, going with the growth, pulling up hairs with the paste.
They use the same ball of paste throughout the treatment—molding the paste in their hands repeatedly between applications—repeating this process until each area is clean.
Overall, sugaring is a gentler experience than traditional waxing.
Unlike waxing, sugaring only pulls out the hairs and doesn’t disturb the surface of the skin. “Hot wax attaches to the hair and the skin, pulling skin cells with it as it is removed. This is not only painful, but can cause redness, swelling, inflammation, and even bruising,” says dermatologist Howard Sobel, M.D. “If the wax is too hot, it can also burn your skin, especially in sensitive areas. Sugaring is a more gentle method of hair removal as the paste does not stick to your skin—it only attaches to the hair.” This minimizes the amount of irritation to the area and pain during the process. The sugar paste is also more malleable than hard wax, which allows it to get all the way down to the root. This makes it less likely to break off hairs at the surface.
I can speak from my first-hand experience that irritation is far less with sugaring. After my Brazilian wax, my skin immediately broke out in red patches which is not what you want when you’re getting something done for cosmetic reasons. By the time the patches cleared, my hair started growing back, leaving me with no time to enjoy a full, clean wax. On the other hand, when I got sugared, there was no redness, even immediately after. “Sugaring does not stick to live skin cells,” Gunna Covert, master esthetician at Daphne Studio and Penelope & The Beauty Bar, tells SELF. “Only to the hair and dead skin cells which means less irritation and discomfort.” For my sensitive skin, a gentler approach like this is necessary.
As far as the pain level, sugaring is more like tweezing on the ouch scale—not pain-free but not waddle-to-the-subway painful.
Then there’s the issues of ingrown hairs. Even though I’ve never really had a problem with ingrown hairs, this technique does often benefit those who do. “This method of hair removal is especially beneficial for those who suffer from frequent ingrown hairs,” explains Dr. Sobel. “There is no way to 100 percent prevent ingrown hairs, as they are a natural side effect of hair removal, but sugaring removes dead skin cells and residue that clogs hair follicles. By sugaring, you are basically cleaning out any dirt or skin cells that prevent your hair from growing normally, which helps keep away ingrown hairs.”
Covert explains another benefit of sugaring: “When you remove the root, the follicle will have less blood supply to it overtime which will in turn weaken it. You’ll get less hair growth each time and the hair that does grow will be finer and sparser.” Something I definitely noticed after my most recent appointment because my hairs came in light and feathery instead of coarse and full.
To get these ideal results, there are a few things you can do pre and post appointment.
Make sure your hair is long enough. According to Covert, ⅛ inch to ¼ inch is best. “The hair is in an active growing cycle (anagen phase) of hair growth, and you’re most likely to get the root which will help in slowing down the regrowth.” This means you would want to schedule your sugaring appointments every four to five weeks. After you’ve been sugaring for a while and your hair starts coming in sparser, you can go longer between appointments.
Wear loose-fitting clothes to the appointment. “I tell people to find their ‘sugaring underwear’—something made from cotton that’s loose,” says Covert. Wearing tight clothing after a sugaring session could cause sweat and bacteria to get trapped near the hair-free follicles. This could lead to inflamed bumps and irritation.
Post-appointment you should avoid things that might irritate the area. That includes sex (for 48 hours), hot baths, working out, and using hot water. These things can cause ingrown hairs, pimples, and rashes. For the next couple of days, you want to keep the area cool and clean, says Covert.
If you’re interested in checking this out but are too nervous to start with a bikini or Brazilian, you can get anything from your eyebrows to your armpits and even your legs sugared. Wax and sugaring cost just about the same (between $60 and $100 depending on location and how much hair you get removed), so it’s just a matter of finding someone who knows how to do it. But once you do, I promise you’ll never go back to waxing.