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sugaring hair removal treatment

Sugaring hair removal treatment- not as sweet as it sounds

Reviewed by Copley June 14, 2013 37 Comments

My most recent bikini waxing appointment was both painfully long and exceedingly painful. The particular salon that I picked specializes in an all-natural, low-temperature wax that is supposedly favored in Europe. I was intrigued by the benefits of this particular wax for sensitive skin (no burning or irritation) but was unaware of the hour-plus procedure that would be involved (with the esthetician going over each section of skin repeatedly). Maybe that’s acceptable in countries where life moves at a leisurely pace and women are more comfortable with public nudity. But I prefer my waxing appointments short and sweet. And dragging out the excruciating process even a minute longer than absolutely necessary is a deal-breaker in my book.

While on the lookout for a new method of hair removal, I came across sugaring. Unlike waxing, which sticks to any surface where it is applied, sugaring does not adhere to living skin cells and rip them off the body. The sugaring technique minimizes pain by pulling hair in the natural direction of growth, whereas waxing has a high ouch factor in going against the grain. Since wax hardens on the hair, it has the tendency to break it off at the surface, leaving 15-30% breakage behind. Also at odds with wax, sugaring paste is water-soluble and can be easily rinsed off skin or clothes. Though the wax treatment that I most recently tried was composed of all-natural ingredients, most products used for body waxing are made from petroleum-based resins, artificial fragrances, dyes, preservatives, and other potentially allergenic chemicals.

So, what exactly is sugaring? A technique that was established many centuries ago in Egypt, sugaring is quite possibly the oldest and most natural form of hair removal. Today, there are two basic types of sugaring: a paste and a gel. In true sugaring, the paste or gel is made up of only three ingredients: sugar, water, and lemon. I use the term “true” because some salons fool customers with a cheap imitation of the organic sugaring mixture. The service will often be marketed as “sugar waxing” and will incorporate a wax resin product mixed with sugar. A counterfeit can be identified by its reaction to water. Any wax-containing product that is applied to the skin will remain sticky when rinsed with water alone, whereas a true sugaring product will wash right off.

Besides being prepared with ingredients that could produce a delicious dessert, the benefits of sugaring extend beyond its pure formula. During application, the sugar paste or gel seeps into the hair follicle, lubricating the hair root for easier removal. Pulling hair out in the same direction of growth lessens strain on the skin and prevents breakage of the hair follicle above or below the skin’s surface. As a result, ingrown hairs don’t form and the surface stays hairless for as long as possible. Over time, when the hairs grow back, they become finer and softer. The skin also gets a bonus smoothing treatment.

Sounds almost too good to be true, right? Why would anyone ever bother with the short-lived effects of shaving, labor-intensive tweezing, tear-inducing waxing, or high-priced lasers? I thought I had stumbled upon the holy grail of hair removal. As a first-timer, I figured my legs were the safest and least sensitive area to test out a foreign method. So - to the dismay of my fiance - I went without shaving for two full weeks to grow out my leg hair to the requisite length (1/16” for sugaring paste and ¼” for sugaring gel). With my cactus-like skin ready, all I needed to do was decide whether to book an appointment for a sugaring procedure at a salon, buy an at-home sugaring kit, or concoct my own mixture and take care of business myself.

I quickly learned that it isn’t easy to locate a salon offering sugaring services, which require trained practitioners and more time than the average waxing job. Depending on the body part, in-salon sugaring services run from $25 to $95. A full leg treatment typically falls in the range of $50 to $95, which is $50 to $95 more than I spend when I shave. Considering that hair-free results only last roughly two weeks, my cost-benefit analysis did not work out in the salon option’s favor.

At-home hair removal systems are decidedly more economical. The most popular sets, such as Shobha Sugaring Kit for Body and Bikini ($30) and Parissa Chamomile Body Sugar ($12), come with talcum powder, a microwaveable jar of sugaring solution, and reusable fabric strips. But when I read up on the ingredients in the solution and the equipment needed to perform the sugaring treatment, I realized that I had everything I needed already. Recipes and instructions for DIY sugaring are all over the internet. I figured that even I - with my limited supply of kitchen tools and limited patience for DIY projects - could handle it.

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To whip up a homemade sugaring solution, all you really need is sugar and a lemon (or lemon concentrate). Combine 2 cups white sugar, ¼ cup lemon juice, and ¼ cup water in a sauce pan over medium-high heat and stir while the mixture comes to a boil. Then, turn the heat down to low-medium and allow the solution to simmer for about 25 minutes until it turns a dark shade of amber. It is critical to allow the solution to reach this dark color because if it doesn’t cook long enough, the consistency won’t be pliable enough for sugaring to work. After the sugaring solution has cooled off, pour it into an airtight container to prevent contamination.

I decided to first try the sugaring paste method, which doesn’t require any additional equipment beyond baby powder to prep the skin. I allowed the solution to sit for a few hours until it cooled to room temperature and hardened to a thick, moldable paste. Tipping the container to the side should make the mixture flow very slowly like molasses. If the consistency is more honey-like, then it didn’t cook long enough. Before putting the sugaring paste anywhere near my skin, I scrubbed and exfoliated my legs in the shower and then applied a layer of baby powder to my first test subject: my shin.

Now, for the moment of truth. I stuck my fingers into the mixture and scooped out a sticky blob. Unfortunately I didn’t have latex gloves, which are recommended to cut down on mess. The next step was to roll the syrupy blob into a ball between my palms. I then pressed the ball of sugaring paste onto my shin and spread it in the opposite direction of hair growth. After being warmed by the spreading motion, a good amount of the solution clung to my fingers so I rinsed it off in the sink. Then, I pressed down on one end of the sugaring smear with one hand, held my skin taut with the other hand, and quickly pulled upward in the same direction of hair growth.

Instead of pulling out the hairs in one clean flick of the paste, the skin lifted a little and the sugaring solution did not budge. After being warmed by my hand, the sticky paste clung to my palm. I tried the flicking motion at least ten more times before giving up on the paste method. My entire shin was coated in a layer of syrup and my hands were glistening with a gooey mess. Yet, I rinsed off and soldiered on with the sugaring gel technique, which is said to be easier for amateurs.

Performing the sugaring process with the gel method starts by warming the mixture in the microwave for about 30-60 seconds to liquefy it. I don’t own those wooden applicators that the professionals use, so I stirred the mixture with a butter knife and tested the temperature with my finger. This time I prepped my calf skin with baby powder. Using the butter knife, I then smeared a healthy dose of the syrup on my leg. I laid a thin rag (shredded cotton shirt) over the gel, patted it a few times, and yanked the cloth upward in the opposite direction of hair growth. What happened next can be described in a nutshell as all pain, no gain.

Unlike my results with the sugaring paste, the gel method actually removed some of the sugaring solution from my leg,
along with a few hairs. But in the meantime, it stung the surface of my skin and left the bulk of my leg hair behind. I have a fairly high threshold for pain, so I repeated the process with five more rags until my entire calf had been coated with the syrup and irritated beyond belief. In spite of the throbbing pain, I might have been satisfied with my experiment if my calf emerged smooth and hairless. Rather, it was left with awkward patches of hair and covered in red bumps. The rash did not subside until 24 hours later.

What I learned from this trial and error is that sugaring is best left to the pros, whether in the form of an at-home kit or a salon visit. Many sugaring solutions marketed for home use contain ingredients such as citric acid and Arabic gum, which tighten the skin and improve the consistency of the paste. Some are even enhanced with vitamins and essential oils to nourish the skin post-treatment. In my humble opinion, the basic recipe for DIY sugaring is flawed. After following the instructions to a T, I accomplished no more than a few bare patches of leg hair and tender, raw skin. Clearly, the sugaring technique is not as simple or effective as it sounds.

Have you ever tried a professional sugaring treatment or packaged kit?

See also:

Persian Cold Wax - too cold to wax


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  • December 5, 2015

    by Stephanie

    I agree with the first comment. It takes practice and watching demos to do this. Also, immediately afterwards, I splash on a water-aspirin solution (DIY Tendskin) if I'm doing a sensitive area such as the bikini line. Would not attempt it without the wooden sticks, which are readily available at beauty supply stores and online. That's where I buy the paper strips, too.

  • September 21, 2015

    by Mika

    "In my humble opinion, the basic recipe for DIY sugaring is flawed."

    DIY sugaring is not flawed. Your method is, which is understandable because this is not something you made multiple attempts to at. Women in Turkey, Greece, Egypt, etc., have been making their own wax for centuries and they accomplish what 'professionals' do in less time and with less effort, so there is no flaw. What you need is a good recipe and to develop your skill over a period of time.

    If you go to any waxing professional in Turkey, you don't overpay and they get everything done in 10 minutes.

    You don't need a professional. You just need more practice and a better recipe.

  • October 31, 2014

    by aguy

    Hi, i'm a guy.

    I have thick dark hair. I was able to play around with sugaring over the last few months with great results. I tried the sugaring paste, and it seemed to work ok, but what really worked was when i used it as a gel

    Before i get to that, i should tell you that through all my months of testing, i found out that the best way for me was to mix the ingredients in a saucepan on high, and keep churning it until it started the rolling boil. Then i put the tempature on 1/4 and keep churning it till the bubbles die down to a controllable level, and it's a clear golden color. Then i stop churning it and let it sit on the stove at 1/4 temp. The trick at this point, is to get it to an amber color, but to catch it just as it's about to burn. As soon as i smell the solution gives off a slight burnt sugar smell, i remove it from the heat and pour it into a clean bowl.

    After a few hours that solution is cooled, and it's like rock candy. Basically what i mean by that is that i could take that bowl, turn it upside down and the block of dark amber sugaring will hit the floor and shatter into millions of pieces. when i tap it, it doesn't move at all. When i store the bowl on the side, that sugar doesn't budge at all.

    Now you might not need to make the sugaring like rock candy, and i'm realizing that i don't need to make it that extreme, but am trying to find the right spot just below the approaching burning stage (so i don't have to heat it so much when i want to use it), but one thing for sure if its too runny it won't work at all.

    Ok, so that is how i make the stuff. Now, this is how i apply it.

    So, this is rock candy, and there's no way it's going to go on my skin in it's current form. What i need to do is put it in the microwave for 30s at a time, then take it out and chrun it up to get it moving again. I keep microwaving for 30s at a time until it's easy to move. Ok, one thing i should warn you about this is that if you have it in there for 2+ minutes, that paste is going to be hot. So you need to make sure that you give it some time to cool. There is a small window to apply the sugaring to your hair: after it's cooled down to be safely applied to the skin, but before the sugaring paste gets to thick to work with. I can't stress this part enough, i got burnt (not badly) by some pretty hot sugaring before. So be sure to test it on your skin while standing next to running cold water, so you can put your finger, or whatever, under it ASAP! Also when it gets too thick to work with it hurts applying it (pulled hair feeling), so i have to heat it up for 30s every 10-15m.

    Ok, after it's moving, i apply the paste with a butter knife: AGAINST THE DIRECTION MY HAIR IS GROWING. Then i lay a strip of a cotton work shirt i don't wear any more, which was upgraded to strips for this procedure. I rub the strip into the sugar on my skin real good. This helps to take away some of the heat too, making the gel become stronger. Then i prepare for the rip. Basically i need to make sure that my hand doesn't bash anything on the rip, so like a pro golfer taking a few practice strokes before the swing. I line my practice stroke up so that i'm pulling the cotton off IN THE DIRECTION MY HAIR IS GROWING, all the while trying to build up the courage (it's kind of scary). When i'm ready, i pull it off in one quick motion. This is often hard, because sometimes i might not be lined up properly and the quick swift motion might get messed up, or i'm just fearing it will hurt. Normally i rip it off within 1m of applying the cotton.

    So the results are fantastic. There is hardly any pain. The closest i can explain the pain is that it feels like i'm ripping a piece of tape off my bare skin. I've done my arms and legs and chest this way. I'm about to try it on my beard. Normally after i do my legs and arms i don't do it again for about 6-12 months. During that time, the first 2 weeks is completely hair-free, and then it slowly grows back in. After about 2 months it's starting to look normal again. After 6-8 months it's fully grown back.

  • October 7, 2014

    by rosarosa

    Like blow drying, braiding hair or applying makeup, sugaring is something that you are not going to get perfect the first or maybe even the second or third time around. Skill at it simply gets better at it over a period of time. The good thing is that hair will continue to grow. A lot has to do with how motivated you are, your own genetic makeup and also your cash flow. I have had tremendous success at sugaring, which I started when I was a college girl in the '70's. For the past 20 years, I rarely had to remove the hair on my legs (as it became extremely sparse) and I do my underarms maybe once a month. Many women should learn that we are not going to get that "Total" effect immediately, that beauty (whatever we consider it to be) is not going to happen overnight or often be "easy". It does not have to be painful.

  • September 5, 2014

    by Jenn

    Hi I'm looking for a salon that does sugaring, I live in south west sydney.

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