It might sound like baking, but sugaring is actually a method of hair removal.
Similar to waxing, sugaring removes body hair by quickly pulling the hair from the root.
The name for this method comes from the paste itself, which consists of lemon, water, and sugar.
The ingredients are all heated together until it reaches a candy-like consistency. Once it cools it’s applied directly to the skin.
This mixture is much more natural and environmentally-friendly than wax, making it a desirable method of hair removal.
Sugaring may sound similar to waxing, but there’s a key difference: the direction in which hair is pulled.
With waxing, the mixture is applied in the same direction as hair growth and then removed in the opposite direction of hair growth.
With sugaring, it’s the exact opposite. The cooled sugar paste is applied against the direction of hair growth and removed in the direction of hair growth with quick, small yanks.
This difference in application can make a big difference in whether there’s any hair breakage.
Because waxing pulls hair out in the opposite direction of growth, hair follicles can easily break in half.
It’s also worth noting that sugaring paste doesn’t adhere to the skin, so it only removes hair. Waxing, on the other hand, adheres to the skin and can cause more irritation.
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Is it only used on your bikini area?
Nope. Because sugaring doesn’t adhere to the skin’s surface, it’s a preferred method of hair removal for many parts of the body.
This includes the:
- “happy trail”
Some people find that there’s also less irritation with sugaring, so those who get red from waxing might prefer sugaring.
In addition to a softer, hair-free appearance, sugaring offers other benefits.
First, sugaring provides light exfoliation. The paste adheres to the dead skin cells sitting on the surface of the skin, removing them with the hair to reveal a smoother surface.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, this exfoliation helps renew the appearance of the skin.
As with waxing, sugaring may cause hair to grow back softer and thinner through continued upkeep.
You may experience temporary redness, irritation, and itching immediately after your sugaring session.
These side effects are pretty common, but remember to resist the temptation to itch. This could create tears or scarring in the skin.
If your skin is very sensitive, you may also develop bumps or rashes wherever the paste was applied.
All that said, sugaring typically produces fewer side effects than waxing.
Although sugaring is a fairly safe method of hair removal, it’s not for everyone. It’s important to consider the following situations.
You’re on your period
Technically, you can still get sugared on your period.
However, skin can feel more sensitive during that time of the month. You may experience bumps or pimples, dryness, itching, or redness as a result of your body’s hormonal fluctuations.
Hair removal could further aggravate the skin, so you may want to consider rescheduling for the following week.
If you’re expecting, it’s always best to check with a doctor first.
Your skin can change in many ways — such as increased sensitivity — during pregnancy.
If your doctor gives you the green light, just remember to tell your sugaring technician so they can tailor your treatment, if necessary.
You have genital piercings or tattoos
It’s best to remove any genital jewelry before your appointment so that it doesn’t interfere with the sugaring process.
If you can’t remove your jewelry, tell your technician. They’ll likely be able to work around it — just know that there might be a few stray hairs where they’re unable to apply the paste.
If you have genital tattoos, sugaring might help exfoliate the area and make your ink look brighter.
Consider sunburned skin in the same way you would an open wound.
With that said, it’s best to not sugar any sunburned areas. The exfoliation can irritate the burn.
If you can, wait a week or so for the sunburn to heal completely before sugaring.
Sugaring is fairly safe, but there are a few people who should consult a doctor first.
If you’re taking antibiotics, hormone replacement medication, hormonal birth control, Accutane, or retinoids, talk to your doctor.
Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can also make skin more sensitive, so sugaring might not be the most comfortable form of hair removal.
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This entirely depends on your personal pain tolerance.
For some people, all types of hair removal can be painful. For others, sugaring might not be painful at all.
Sugaring is usually considered less painful than waxing because the mixture doesn’t adhere to the skin.
Do your research! Read the reviews for salons to make sure that they’re using safe and sanitary practices. Look for images of the salon to ensure that it’s clean and the technicians wear gloves.
Reputable salons typically require you to fill out a questionnaire before your appointment to verify that you’re not taking any contraindicated medications or have a medical history that could result in complications.
To make sure that your appointment runs smoothly, there are a few things you can do in preparation:
- Make sure your hair is at least ¼-inch long — above the size of grain of rice. If it isn’t, you won’t be able to get sugared and you’ll have to reschedule.If it’s on the longer side — 3/4 inch or more — you might consider trimming it shorter, though your technician can also do this.
- A few days before your appointment, lightly exfoliate with a buffing mitt or washcloth to get some dead skin cells out of the way. This will help prevent stray hairs from getting left behind.
- Avoid tanning or applying retinoid creams for at least 24 to 48 hours before your appointment.
- The day of, minimize your caffeine and alcohol intake to prevent your pores from tightening.
- Prior to the appointment, dress in loose, cotton clothing for maximum comfort.
- To minimize pain, take an over-the-counter pain reliever about 30 minutes before your appointment.
Arrive early to your appointment so you can check in, fill out a questionnaire, and use the restroom if needed.
Your technician should make you feel comfortable during the process. Here’s what you can expect:
- Undress and get on the table. If you’re wearing a dress, they might just ask you to lift it up. Don’t be shy, your technician is a professional, and they’ve seen it all before!
- Prior to the sugaring, communicate any preferences on what you do or do not want sugared. This is especially true if you’re looking for a Brazilian style.
- To start, the technician will cleanse the area.
- Before applying the paste, they’ll usually apply powder to protect and make hairs stand out.
- To apply the sugaring paste, the technician will use a single ball of paste, applying it against the grain of hair growth and then lightly tugging in the opposite direction.
- After the sugaring is complete, the technician will apply a serum or rejuvenating oil to hydrate, soothe, and help prevent ingrown hairs.
Remember: Tip at least 20 percent. Most technicians live off their tips!
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What should you keep in mind immediately after your appointment?
There are a few things you can do at home to help prevent irritation after your appointment:
- If the sugared area is feeling tender, apply hydrocortisone cream or a cool compress. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce any swelling.
- If the sugaring was done on your genitals, try to avoid sexual activity for at least 24 hours so as not to rub or irritate the area.
- Avoid any activity that could cause sweating, such as working out, and soaking or swimming in water for at least 24 hours.
- Avoid direct sunlight, including tanning, for at least 24 hours.
- Don’t shave or otherwise remove stray hairs.
Ingrown hairs happen. Luckily, there are a few ways to prevent these uncomfortable bumps from popping up.
Stop exfoliating the area 2 to 3 days before your appointment. This includes both physical and chemical exfoliation. Exfoliating the day before or the day of can actually cause sugaring to over exfoliate the skin.
After your appointment, avoid shaving, tweezing, or picking at stray hairs or stubble to reduce ingrown hairs.
To further prevent ingrown hairs, try using an oil or concentrate.
If your ingrown hair gets worse, talk to a doctor about using a stronger topical cream containing benzoyl peroxide or exfoliating ingredients like glycolic or salicylic acid.
It really depends on how fast and thick your hair grows back.
After your first appointment, sugaring will last around 3 weeks.
If you keep regular appointments, you may find that the process becomes less painful and that your hair grows back slower over time.
If you don’t keep up with your appointment schedule, though, the hair growth cycle will get disrupted and you’ll have to start from scratch. When this happens, removal may be more painful when you start over again.
Some people prefer sugaring to other hair removal methods because it’s less painful, better for the environment, and lasts fairly long.
Ultimately, it’s up to personal preference. If you find that sugaring isn’t for you, you can always explore other methods such as waxing, shaving, laser hair removal, or electrolysis.
Jen is a wellness contributor at Healthline. She writes and edits for various lifestyle and beauty publications, with bylines at Refinery29, Byrdie, MyDomaine, and bareMinerals. When not typing away, you can find Jen practicing yoga, diffusing essential oils, watching Food Network or guzzling a cup of coffee. You can follow her NYC adventures on Twitter and Instagram.