Hair removal methods are a bit like the seasons—everyone has a favorite. But quite frankly, there is no perfect way to be rid of unwanted hair. Shaving doesn't last quite long enough, depilatories are hit or miss, and waxing can hurt like hell. But if there were anything close to an ideal way to remove hair, sugaring just might be the answer we've been searching for.
A traditional ancient Egyptian method of hair removal, sugaring involves using a 100% natural paste to remove hair from its root. Unlike waxing, it doesn't require strips or cloths for removal, and some even prefer it over other hair removal techniques. "Sugaring is a far superior method of hair removal because when you remove the root, the follicle will have less blood supply to it overtime, which will in turn weaken it," says Alexandra Accardo, esthetician and sugaring expert. "You’ll get less hair growth each time, and the hair that does grow will be finer and sparser." The end result: smooth, hairless skin, which usually lasts for around four to six weeks.
Below, Accardo, board-certified dermatologist Purvisha Patel, and sugaring expert Courtney Claghorn school us on everything there is to know about sugaring. Keep reading to learn about what sugaring is, if it's painful, and how much it costs.
Meet the Expert
What Is Sugaring?
Sugaring hair removal uses a sticky, gel-like paste to remove hair. "The paste—which is made up of lemon, sugar, and water—is safe, natural, and uses no chemical additives," says Accardo. "It's applied to any area that has unwanted hair and is then removed in the direction of the hair growth." What's more, Patel notes that because sugaring doesn't stick to the top layer of the skin, it doesn't pull at live skin cells. Instead, it removes the hair from the root (the bulb at the end of the hair that resembles an onion), making it especially effective for ingrown or curly hair. Do note, however, that it won't remove hair permanently—but it might allow you to go longer between shaves.
How Does Sugaring Work?
It can be hard to believe that what we know and love as our morning coffee's finest accomplice can actually help get rid of unwanted hair. But how? Accardo explains, "First, the area of skin that's going to be sugared is cleansed. Then, powder is applied, which provides some distance between the skin and sugar paste. Once skin is prepped, the sugar paste is molded while it’s slightly warm and is applied to the skin against the hair growth. The dried paste is then flicked off in the same direction of hair growth." Yep, that's it! No cloth strips or sticks needed.
Like with plucking, over time (and with consistent upkeep), damage to the hair follicle can cause a reduction of hair growth. Even better, the hairs that do grow may be thinner, finer, and sparser. One caveat: You'll need about about an eighth to a quarter-inch of hair growth in order for the sugar to be able to catch the hairs. Just like with waxing, you'll have to be OK with a little fuzz in between appointments.
What Body Areas Can Be Sugared?
According to Accardo, sugaring is gentle enough for delicate skin and can be applied on any body part (basically, anywhere you'd wax). For example, the sugaring menu at Daphne Studio includes everything from abdomen and Brazilian to legs and toes. Here are the most common areas.
- Underarms: An experienced esthetician can sugar your underarms in under five minutes.
- Arms: Depending on how long the hair is (and whether or not you shave this area), sugaring the arms can take about 30 minutes.
- Bikini/Brazilian: While sugaring this area can still be done during your monthly cycle, your skin may be more sensitive. This area typically takes between 30 to 45 minutes to sugar.
- Legs: If you're a beginner, start here, says Claghorn: "I recommend sugaring yourself on larger (easier) body parts such as arms or legs." Keep in mind, though, that the sugaring process may take longer for a larger area like the legs—expect the appointment to last about 45 minutes.
One thing to note: Patel advises that if there's an active skin disease on the desired sugaring area—such as folliculitis or eczema—sugaring needs to be avoided, as it can exacerbate the issue. Sugaring can be done on the face, even for those who have sensitive skin. However, if you're new to the technique and are nervous about going near your face, you may want to save this area for a professional.
Is Sugaring Less Painful Than Waxing?
Let's get one thing straight: Sugaring doesn't not hurt. That said, many people do find it less painful than waxing. "Sugaring does not stick to live skin cells—only to the hair and dead skin cells—which means less irritation and discomfort," says Accardo. "There’s still a bit of an ouch factor when sugaring, as it’s still pulling out hair from the root, but the feedback we’ve received from our guests is that most find it less painful than waxing." And because sugaring may thin the hair and damage the hair follicle, over time, the procedure will be less painful.
That being said, sugaring should only be done on longer hairs, to ensure it's not so painful. "Hair growth needs to be at least one-fourth-of-an-inch long, but if it is any longer, the molding process can be painful (although very experienced sugaristas can learn to mold in small sections to alleviate this pain)," says Claghorn.
The most important thing when trying to lessen the pain is to begin with clean, dry skin, a mirror, and firm or medium sugar paste, says Claghorn, who adds: "the softer the paste the less painful, but also more difficult to maneuver."
While sugaring is a pretty straightforward process, there are some things to bear in mind in terms of aftercare, especially when it comes to your lady bits or man parts. "Post-sugaring, use a wet towel (cold water is ideal to close pores) to remove any excess sugar paste," says Claghorn.
"After a Brazilian, wearing loose clothing is important to let your skin breathe," advises Accardo. "Avoid working out and sitting in a tub, Jacuzzi, sauna, or anything with high heat—the area will be sensitive and is more prone to bacteria." She notes that showering is permitted, but exfoliation should wait an extra 24 hours, as should skin-to-skin contact (yep, that includes sex).
Twenty-four hours post-sugaring, though, it's a different ballgame. "It's crucial to exfoliate your skin every day to avoid ingrown hairs," notes Accardo. "Salicylic acid is a great option for exfoliating, as is vitamin E and aloe for moisturizing the skin following a treatment." Patel agrees, maintaining that keeping the skin hydrated can help decrease inflammation and the chance of infection.
How Long Do Sugaring Results Last?
Sugaring results typically last around three to five weeks depending on the area and the rate at which your hair grows. The beauty of sugaring is that it may reduce hair growth over time, meaning you'll have less hair to sugar each time a new appointment rolls around. Accardo recommends booking your hair removal appointments on a regular maintenance schedule (every four to six weeks) to ensure the smoothest results and most painless service possible.
How Much Does It Cost?
Sugaring tends to be more expensive than waxing. Depending on which salon you visit and the area you're sugaring, the cost will vary. At Daphne Studio in New York, for example, sugaring starts at $13 (for the toes) and goes up to $399 (for full body). At SugaringLA, prices range from $19 for toes/feet to $145 for the full legs.
Risks and Side Effects
The main risk with sugaring is user error. Below, Patel explains them further.
- Burning: Before application, the paste is heated up, and Patel notes that "if the paste is too hot, there could be burning of the skin."
- Bruising: There's a technique to pulling off the paste that if done incorrectly, could lead to bruising (for example, if the skin is not held tightly when stripping the sugar). "While sugaring looks easy, it’s actually quite challenging to execute," Claghorn cautions. "Beginners can easily bruise themselves or get 'stuck,' which thankfully can be removed with water. Going over the same area multiple times also creates a potential for skin irritation."
- Folliculitis: "If the paste is left on for a prolonged amount of time, given that it is sugar (an edible ingredient) there is a risk of folliculitis or hair bumps in the area," says Patel. "Microorganisms on the skin need food, moisture, and heat to grow, and while sugaring can help with ingrown hairs in some people, it can make folliculitis worse in others."
Also, according to our experts, you should not have sugaring done if any of the following apply: you're using retinol or vitamin C on your skin; you're taking steroids; you're on Accutane; you have bruising, swelling, rashes, open sores, a sunburn, or cold sores. These are the key factors to consider, but there are other conditions that would make you a poor candidate for sugaring. As always, consult your dermatologist before trying a new treatment.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient required for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body, including the skin, but we cannot produce it on our own. In skincare, it helps to boost collagen, lighten discoloration, and fight free radicals.
Can Sugaring Be Done at Home?
All experts agree that sugaring should be left to the pros. "Sugaring should always be done to clean skin by a trained professional to minimize any complications or risks," says Patel. Accardo agrees, adding that "mastering the paste will take time and you can end up with hard candy." Not to mention, it can be a messy process if you're not trained.
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Cleveland Clinic. 5 ways to get overplucked eyebrows to grow back. Updated January 23, 2020.
Telang PS. Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013;4(2):143-146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593