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The Complete 101 on Sugaring, Waxing's All-Natural Superior Cousin

The 12 most crucial things to know about sugaring before you book your next bikini wax.


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Waxing is a terribly personal process, particularly when you’re talking about a bikini wax. Is there any grooming procedure that leaves you feel more vulnerable? More exposed? The waxing industry is in a state of flux as women are shying away from the completely bare look of a Brazilian and revisiting the land of the landing strip. But that’s not the only change in the world of intimate grooming: There’s also a growing number of aestheticians who are offering sugaring as an alternative to waxing.

If you turn to Google for an explanation, you’ll discover that sugaring is "a method of removing unwanted hair by applying a mixture of lemon juice, sugar, and water to the skin and then peeling it off together with the hair." But that's a polite definition. Racked quizzed "Waxing and Sugaring Queen" Eboni Colbert of Glamour Puss in San Francisco about the dirty details of sugaring, and why it might be a better hair removal option for certain clients.

What is the sugar product? Is it sugar straight from the grocery store?
Technically, it is. It’s basically a combination of sugar —like the kind you get from the grocery store— lemon juice, and purified water. You can add xanthan gum if you want. That just gives it a little more elasticity and helps preserve it a little bit longer.

Is sugar heated like wax?

It’s heated, but it’s not heated as high. If you actually heat sugar to the temperature you heat wax, you’ll burn it. You’ve got to remember, sugar, lemon juice, and water is like the base ingredient for hard candy. Sugar’s not supposed to be soupy; it actually needs to be a little bit firm, so it’s better if it’s cool.

How do you prep skin for sugaring?

When applying sugar, you put powder down because it absorbs body oils and works as a binding agent. Talcum powder makes the hair stand out and separate from the skin. An aesthetician will apply the sugar in the opposite direction of the hair. You can apply it in any direction, but applying it [against the grain of the hair] grips the hair better and gets it at the root.

Let’s talk about the gloop. How does sugar differ from wax?

Sugar is water-soluble, unlike wax. Wax shrink-wraps the hair, and —when you pull it— you’re hoping that it pulls from the root. And most of the time it does, if it’s a good, quality hard wax. With sugar, because it’s water-soluble, it’s actually able to get into the follicle a little better. Sugar is a natural exfoliant and provides a little moisture to the skin… so it actually leaves the skin nice and soft. Wax can be drying to the skin, so you have to apply oil to create a base between wax and skin. You don’t have to do that with sugar because it’s not going to irritate the skin. It’s hypoallergenic— unless you’re allergic to lemon juice, then you’re fine.

Which is more painful: sugaring or waxing?

I think it’s a case-by-case basis. Sugaring isn’t for everybody. If you have very dense, coarse hair, sugaring might not be for you. For some people who have very fine hair, sugaring is better. When you wax really fine, sparse hair, you’re going to get broken hairs. As far as pain levels, it varies. If your hair is on the shorter end, it’s tolerable. You’re used to it. It’s much easier to transition from wax to sugar than from sugar to wax. What we try to do is wax people initially, and then we might convert them to sugar if we feel like it will be better for their skin.

The standard amount of hair for waxing seems to be one-quarter inch. Is the minimum the same for sugaring?

If you waxed at least two weeks ago, I can sugar you. I would rather sugar than wax [in that situation] because sugar doesn’t irritate the skin like wax does when the hair is shorter. When your hair is shorter and you wax —particularly with hard wax— if it can’t grab enough of the hair, it’s going to grab the skin. It will be uncomfortable. When you’re applying sugar, it’s not that same level of irritation.

Which is better for sensitive skin: waxing or sugaring?

I feel like sugar is way better just because you’re not going to get the same level of inflammation as you would with wax.

About that plucked chicken look that happens after hair removal… Which process offers the quicker recovery time?

When you wax, it’s very abrupt. You’re just yanking that hair out, and the follicle is like, "What the hell!" So it raises; it’s a form of protection for the skin. With sugar, it’s not all at once. It’s a little more subtle. If I have a patch of 50 hairs, I’ll probably only get half of those hairs the first time I sugar the area. Then I’m going to go to another area, so the skin has a chance to recover. With wax, it’s all at once, so you get that plucked chicken look where the follicle is raised. The follicle will raise a little bit with sugar, but because it’s a more subtle form of hair removal, it’s not as blunt.

Hair regrowth varies person to person. Is there a difference between sugaring and waxing when it comes to regrowth?

I think the growth process is probably a little bit slower with sugar because it’s water soluble. You’re able to get into the follicle better, so you really clean it out. Do I think it’s that much of a difference? It depends on the person. For people who have finer or sparser hair, grow-back will be a lot slower with sugar than with wax.

Other than allergies, is there anyone who shouldn’t try sugaring?

Even with coarse hair, as long as it’s trimmed, I can sugar. It’s just a matter of gauging how comfortable you are. With wax, it’s a controlled temperature. Sugar is more of a cool-lukewarm temperature. My hand and your body temperature warm it up. Once the body gets super-warm, the sugar turns to mush, and I can’t really use it anymore. When you’re sugaring somebody who has a lot of hair or very dense hair, their body is going to warm up because it’s uncomfortable and the adrenaline rush is pumping. For [those clients], I’ll do waxing because once the sugar melts to the skin it doesn’t work.

Is there anything a client can do to prep to minimize that body heat?

Definitely trim if you can. Be prepared that there might be some areas where it’s easier to use hard wax. Generally on the [vaginal] lips it’s easier to use hard wax for the first time or if the hair is really dense because it’s quicker and it’s not as uncomfortable. When you’re sugaring the lip, you have to work fast; that’s a very sensitive area and your body temperature is going to warm up like crazy. Once you get in the habit of sugaring on a regular basis, you can sugar pretty much the entire bikini area. You can do an entire Brazilian sugar if you just do it consistently.

For someone who is trying a bikini wax or Brazilian for the first time, which medium would you recommend?

Do a gentle hard wax first. Then you can transition into sugar, just so you understand and know how it feels.