When it comes to body-hair removal, there's no single, universally effective, painless, cheap, and generally enjoyable way to go about it. Still, if you're looking to get rid of stubble on your legs, arms, or bikini line before a week at the beach, there are definitely ways to do it — shaving, waxing, and laser treatments are among the most popular methods — but there's another hair-removal treatment in town that many women are turning to this summer: sugaring.
If you haven't heard of sugaring, it's a method of hair removal that typically keeps skin smooth for up to a month and has become popular as a more natural, often less-painful alternative to waxing. For everything you want to know, Courtney Claghorn, the CEO and founder of Sugared+Bronzed, a boutique sugaring and airbrush tanning salon, answers the most common questions, ahead.
The following interview was told to Megan Decker and edited for length and clarity.
What is sugaring?
Sugaring is an ancient tradition of hair removal that is believed to have originated in Egypt. The treatment starts with a paste made from three ingredients: sugar, lemon, and water. That sugar paste is then applied to the skin at a lukewarm temperature and folded against the natural grain of the hair. Then, to remove the hair, the paste is pulled away from the skin directly, in the opposite direction in which it was applied — now with the grain — and with that, it removes the hair in the natural direction of growth. Similar to waxing, sugaring will generally leave the treated skin free of hair regrowth for up to a month.
How is sugaring different than waxing?
The first difference is the formulation. Wax can be made with synthetic ingredients, but sugar paste is normally made with only three, naturally-derived ingredients, which makes it hypoallergenic and safe on most skin types. The hair removal process also looks a bit different. Waxing uses a strip that removes the hair against the grain, but sugaring pulls the hair in the direction of natural hair growth. Because of this, most people find that sugaring is less painful than waxing.
Many people turn to sugaring if sensitivity is a concern. The temperature is a big selling point because the sugar paste is applied to the skin lukewarm, so you can never be burned with sugar paste as you can with wax. For that reason, sugaring is less irritating on the skin. Some people may experience redness or get bumps or ingrown hairs after waxing, but with sugaring you're unlikely to get that reaction.
How does the pain level differ?
Everyone has a different pain tolerance and sensitivity in different parts of their body, so it's difficult to generalise. I usually say that a regular waxing client or regular shaver trying sugaring for the first time will find the pain level pretty much the same as a wax. That's because, with the first sugaring treatment, you may have ingrown hairs trapped below the surface of the skin from previous removal done against the grain. But as you start sugaring regularly, the second or third time will get easier and less painful, because the sugaring has effectively removed those trapped ingrown hairs. Plus, if you're diligent about at-home care, especially exfoliating, the pain will also become less and less over time.
What parts of the body can be sugared?
You can sugar any part of the body, but the large majority of clients go in for Brazilians. I think the bikini line area is a place where people are most sensitive and sugaring presents a less painful alternative to waxing, with longer results than shaving. For most people who shave their bikini line regularly, we ask that they wait two weeks from their last shave to get sugared — we use a grain of rice as the reference length. As you sugar regularly, it's usually a once-a-month service.
People will also sugar larger areas of the body, like arms and legs. I will say, sugaring is a little tougher on the face because it's hard to get super precise and specific with the shaping. Also, for safety reasons, wherever you're sugaring, you should not treat areas where you're using Accutane or topical tretinoin for risk of skin irritation.
How much does sugaring cost?
Prices usually range from $15 for underarms, legs range from $40 and bikini line, which is the most popular place to get sugared, ranges from upwards of $30, depending on which salon you choose to go to. This is about the same if not lower than the average safe and reputable waxing service.
Who is the ideal candidate for sugaring?
Anyone can get sugared; there's no one who would be a better candidate for waxing over sugaring. Of course, most clients like sugaring because you can be sugared right before a spray tan, which is not the case with waxing. In general, for people who are sensitive to pain, prone to ingrown hairs, or a routine spray tanner, sugaring is ideal.
Can you sugar wax at home?
In short, sugaring is absolutely not a DIY treatment for hair removal. Yes, the sugar wax is made from ingredients you probably have in your kitchen — sugar, lemon, and water — but the technique requires professional training. Because there's no paper strip like with waxing, even if you were to create the ball of sugar, a non-pro wouldn't know how to use it properly. The application process is called folding, where the sugar paste is applied to the skin against the natural grain of the hair growth, then pulled against the grain with the learned wrist-flicking motion.