A Totally Surprising New Use for Sugar

It's the main ingredient in the trendiest new hair removal technique. 

sugaring
Photo by Elysia Berman

This article originally appeared on MIMI.

When I first heard the term "sugaring," my mind went straight to unicorns prancing on clouds of cotton candy—not a method of hair removal. But with the influx of people looking for less painful and more effective options, its no surprise this ancient practice is quickly gaining popularity.

After polling friends, I was surprised to discover a few of them were familiar with sugaring (which quickly turned to mild rage because they hadn't filled me in, but that's a separate story). But most of them hadn't ever heard of it, and were skeptical—with good reason. Women have been painfully waxing or annoyingly shaving their bodies for what feels like forever, dismissing and accepting the acts as a daily, weekly, or monthly chore.

But if you do prefer to live the hairless life, there is hope. While sugaring has been around for thousands of years, originating in what is believed to be ancient Egypt, it's recently been touted as the ultimate replacement to waxing.

To get the scoop on everything sugaring, we spoke with Jane MacColla, founder of HORTŪS Nailworks (formerly Lushlife Nailworks) in New York's Lower East Side, whose salon offers sugaring services.

The first thing you need to understand is that sugaring isn't actually waxing. Like waxing, it pulls hair from the root, but that is where the commonalities end.

Instead of using hot wax to remove hair, sugaring is an all-natural, food-grade product that is more or less a mix of sugar, lemon juice, and water. This not only means it should be the method of choice for people with sensitive skin, but for everyone. See, the mixture is never heated above body temperature, so there is zero chance of getting burned.

Still not convinced?

"The sugar paste only adheres to dead skin, so it's an amazing exfoliant," says MacColla.

Another plus: There is very little carbon footprint from the service, which is something that is very important to MacColla, whose salon champions organic products and a non-toxic environment.

"I love the fact that sugaring paste is completely natural, it's sustainable, it's biodegradable," she said. "We're not using strips so were not generating as much waste, and that was really attractive to me. And it's just efficient. It's really just a nicer method."

After hearing about the service and researching it heavily, MacColla said she was fascinated and started to ask, "Why are we not doing this all the time rather than waxing?"

That's a good question, and one I would continue to ask myself after getting both my arms and underarms sugared, rather painlessly I might add.

When asked why she thinks sugaring is gaining popularity, MacColla said, "People are so much more educated and informed and they want healthier, safer alternatives." And we couldn't agree more. Consumers today are more empowered to make their decisions based on what is important to them, and recently that has been a refocus on what is healthy.

But what about the nitty-gritty? You know, the important stuff, like how much it actually hurts, costs, and arguably most important, the wait-time between appointments. If you're thinking, "this is where it gets bad"—you could not be more wrong. The sugar paste is able to grab shorter hairs, so you don't have to wait until your fuzz is full-grown before your next session. After getting my armpits sugared, they were completely hair-free for ten days before stubble started to grow, and I only refrained from shaving them for five days before my first appointment. MacColla says after getting sugared, the majority of people come back around three weeks later for another session, but it really depends on the individual and how coarse and quickly their hair grows.

Sugaring can be done on any part of your body, including brows, the upper lip, arms, underarms, legs, and the bikini area. Basically, anywhere you want hair removed, sugarists can do it.

For the sake of cost comparison, let's look at the difference in price between the European Wax Center located around the country;Spruce & Bond, a hair removal boutique located in New York City; and HORTŪS Nailworks. Brow shaping costs $18 at European Wax Center, $50 at Spruce & Bond, and $20-45 at HORTŪS Nailworks. Bikini services cost anywhere from $20-47 at European Wax Center, $75 at Spruce & Bond, and $50-85 at HORTŪS Nailworks. So the cost of sugaring is not far off from the cost of your average wax.

Unfortunately, there are some people who should avoid getting sugared. If you have broken skin, like a cut or ingrown hair, you should wait until your skin is healed before sugaring. And much like waxing, if you're on Accutane or are using a retin-a, you should definitely avoid the service. Obviously, getting sugared while you are sunburnt is also a big no-no.

On the other hand, people who should definitely try sugaring include even those with highly sensitive skin (sugaring is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic) AND first-time waxers. MacColla warned the first visit is usually the most uncomfortable, but after that, the level of discomfort is reduced considerably with each visit. Of course, it is hair removal, so it can be a bit painful at times, but I can report firsthand that it does hurt much less the second time around.

Obviously, pain levels differ with location. I could have slept through the fine hairs being sugared off my arms, while I would rate the sugaring of my underarms as mildly uncomfortable. I can assume getting my bikini area could be categorized as uncomfortable and accompanied by a few twitches.

MacColla reported that her clients—across the board—say it hurts much less. She added that it's a different method, so naturally it is a different sensation, which I can attest to. Explaining it is hard, but getting sugared is like getting a wax, but different. Sugaring also tends to leave the skin without irritation, which means you won't leave the salon with those red patches of skin that have you reaching for your sunglasses or running for your front door.

So that's sugaring. A few important takeaways: Hair removal doesn't have to be as painful as you thought. And—of course—that sugar can be used as a verb.

For more information on HORTŪS Nailworks and pricing, visit hortusnailworks.com.