If you've ever experimented with hair removal sans a razor blade, then you're likely familiar with the many different hair-removal options at our disposal. There's traditional waxing (ouch), hair removal creams and mousses (somewhat reliable), laser hair removal (brilliant, but expensive), threading (great for small areas), and then there's sugaring.
As its name implies, sugaring literally involves using sugar to remove unwanted body hair — and it's also said to be much less uncomfortable than waxing. But how, exactly, does a pantry staple remove unwanted stubble from head-to-toe? Here, we asked the experts to explain everything about this sweet-sounding hair-removal technique.
What is sugaring?
Sugaring, as it turns out, has actually been around since ancient Egyptian and Grecian times, according to New York City-based dermatologist Michelle Henry. And yes, sugaring does involve the use of real sugar. Specifically, "a mixture of sugar, lemon, and water are mixed to create a sticky paste that clings to [the] hair, effectively removing them without the skin," says Henry. "It is similar to waxing but many report that it is less uncomfortable and gentler on the skin."
Why is it considered to be a bit less painful than waxing? Unlike waxing, "sugaring works to remove the actual hair by the root without disturbing the surrounding skin," explains Sapna Palep, a dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. "So, it tends to be gentler than waxing with less irritation."
Because it is made from sugar, lemon, and water, sugaring (unlike the wax typically used for waxing) is also biodegradable, hypoallergenic, and can also be made using organic ingredients. Aside from the less painful components, sugaring also offers another benefit. "Compared to waxing, it's faster, because you can cover a larger surface area," Palep says. "It's easier to clean off because it's water-soluble, unlike wax."
How does sugaring work, exactly?
You might still be wondering how rubbing actual sugar on your legs can result in the removal of hair. First off, for sugaring to work, the hair needs to be grown out —ideally, "one-eighth or one-fourth inch of stubble for the sugary paste to adhere to," Palep says.
Additionally, the method of applying and removing the sugar paste is crucial to ensuring proper hair removal. When done correctly, sugaring works to pull hair out at the root.
Here's how it should go, according to Sugared + Bronzed founder Courtney Claghorn: "A licensed aesthetician applies the sugar paste in the opposite direction of the hair growth, which allows the paste to seep into the follicle and wrap around each hair shaft. They then use a flicking motion to remove the paste, along with the hair, in the natural direction of hair growth. This technique is extremely effective."
The aesthetician won't have to use a strip of paper to remove the sugar. Instead, they simply pull on the sugar paste itself (for reference, the paste has kind of a gel-like consistency).
In other words, the sugar paste itself grabs onto the hair and yanks it out of its follicle completely (much like waxing or using an epilator) when it is removed from the skin correctly. Because the hair gets removed in its entirety (i.e. from the root), "the hair can grow back thinner over time," Palep says.
One sugaring treatment won't produce these results, but if you book repeated sugaring sessions it can also help to discourage hair growth altogether (again, much like waxing or using an epilator). "Regular usage will noticeably reduce hair growth, and the re-growth takes longer to appear and is considerably finer," Palep says.
Which areas of the body can be sugared?
Again similar to waxing, when it comes to sugaring, Palep and Henry say that everywhere is pretty much fair game. "It can be done anywhere from your eyebrows to your bikini area to your legs," Palep explains. At Sugared + Bronzed, for example, sugaring is available for the bikini area (including Brazilian), upper lips, legs, arms, back, and chest.
Out of all the treatment areas on the menu, Claghorn says that "the Brazilian is by far the most popular service."
How long do results from sugaring last?
"Hair is removed temporarily after just one session and typically, results last three to five weeks," Palep says. If you want to commit to a regular sugaring schedule, accounting for that extra week or so of additional growth (since you need some stubble for the sugar to adhere to), that works out to booking an appointment about once per month, or stretching it to six weeks if you're lucky.
The tiny hairs themselves typically start to grow back at the two-week mark, and depending on the body area you're having sugared, one session can last anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, Palep says.
How much does sugaring cost?
The cost will vary depending on where you seek out the treatment, and also the body area that you are having treated (larger areas, like the legs, will usually be more costly than, say, your eyebrows). For one sugaring treatment session, prices can range anywhere between $10 to $60 or more.
On average, in a New York City salon, for example, a bikini area sugar will set you back $39, while the lips, chin, or stomach area cost just $9. Keep in mind, though, that the results aren't permanent, so in order to maintain hair-free results you'll need to book consistent appointments. For this reason, some aestheticians and sugaring spas also offer packages and monthly membership options.
Bottom line: "It's more comfortable than waxing or tweezing," Henry says. "It's also cheaper than laser hair removal, although it is not permanent."
Are there any risks?
The sugar paste is heated up prior to application, and "if the mixture is too hot, one could sustain a burn," Henry explains. "This is why it is important to have this done by a trained aesthetician."
"Avoid sugaring if you have bruising, swelling, rashes, open sores, sunburn, or cold sores," she says. "Possible side effects are ingrown hairs, folliculitis, irritation, burns, and rashes."
More on hair removal:
- The Best Hair Removal Tips for Your Face and Body
- Watch as an Allure Editor Tries Every Method of Leg Hair Removal
- Thinking About Laser Hair Removal? Read This First
Now, see how skin care has evolved within the last 100 years:
Originally Appeared on Allure