People tend to associate sugaring with waxing because they’re both hair removal techniques that lift hair from the root, as opposed to shaving, which only removes hair from the surface layer of the skin.
Despite their similarities, there are some key differences between sugaring and waxing: the direction they are applied and removed.
With sugaring, the sugar is applied in the opposite direction of hair growth and then removed the same direction as hair growth. With waxing, the wax is applied in the same direction of hair growth and removed in the opposite direction. Because of this, the results can differ greatly.
|sugar, lemon, and water
|beeswax, resin, oils, and other additives
|applied against hair growth and removed with hair growth
|applied with hair growth and removed against hair growth
|moderate to severe
|Potential side effects
|minimal bumps and irritation
|some irritation, bumps and potential ingrown hairs
|3 to 4 weeks
|3 to 4 weeks
|from $15 for facial to $100 for full legs
|from $10 for facial to around $70 for full legs
|best for sensitive skin types
|all skin types
|all hair types
|all hair types
|1/4″ – 1/2″
|1/4″ – 1/2″
Sugaring paste is made with a simple mixture of lemon, water, and sugar. The ingredients are heated together to form a candy-like consistency and applied in this form to the skin.
Wax mixtures are slightly different. Hard waxes, which are applied to the skin and removed after cooling, are usually made from a mixture of beeswax, resin and oils. Soft wax, which requires cloth or strips to remove, is made with rosin, oils, and other additives.
Some people favor sugar pastes because they’re made with fewer, more transparent ingredients, whereas wax can contain additives that upset more sensitive skin types.
The process differs greatly between sugaring and waxing.
With sugaring, the cooled paste is applied to the skin in the opposite direction of hair growth. It’s then removed in the direction of hair growth in quick, small pulls.
Because the sugar only exfoliates the surface of skin, it can be reapplied multiple times to the same area of skin.
Waxing is much more methodical. Both hard and soft wax mixtures are applied in the same direction as hair growth. Once the substance cools and slightly hardens, it’s removed in the opposite direction of hair growth.
Due to how it’s removed, some waxes can be harsh on skin and break shorter hairs instead of removing them from the root. To help prevent this, wax should only be applied to the same area once or twice.
Outside of smooth, hairless skin, there are several long-term benefits for both sugaring and waxing.
For starters, both sugaring and waxing are a form of exfoliation. The process removes dead skin cells from the surface while smoothing skin.
Both waxing and sugaring remove hair from the root, and with continued upkeep the hair will grow back thinner and softer.
With both sugaring and waxing, there’s always a potential for increased sensitivity following your appointment.
Sometimes, there might be slight redness and bumps. This will usually subside within a few days.
With waxing, there’s more potential for ingrown hairs because the wax mixture can lead to hair breakage.
Sugaring and waxing might not be for everyone, and there are several limitations to consider.
You’re on your period
Technically, yes you still can. But you might want to reconsider your appointment. When you’re menstruating, the skin around your pubic bone becomes more sensitive and prone to cramping. Both sugaring and waxing can aggravate the area, so it’s best to reschedule if you can.
This depends. It’s always best to check with your doctor before sugaring or waxing, particularly during the last trimester when you might be most sensitive. But if your doctor is fine with it, you’re free to do what you want.
In this case, sugaring might be your best option as some people report it to be less invasive and not as painful as waxing.
You have genital piercings or tattoos
If you have a tattoo, both sugaring and waxing can help lightly exfoliate the dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin.
On the other hand, if you have genital piercings, your sugaring or wax technician might ask for you to remove your jewelry prior to your appointment. If you can’t remove the jewelry, they may not be able to remove the hair closest to the piercing.
Your skin might be more sensitive to waxing if you’re taking:
- certain antibiotics
- hormone replacements
- hormonal birth control
- Retin-A or other topical creams
It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor to see what they advise. In some cases, they might suggest sugaring over waxing because the paste adheres to hair instead of skin.
Treatments like radiation and chemotherapy can also make skin more sensitive and prone to dryness, so waxing and sugaring may not be the most comfortable forms of hair removal.
It all comes down to your personal pain tolerance. But it also differs between treatment type and how experienced your technician is.
With sugaring, the paste doesn’t stick to the top layer of skin. Instead, it adheres to hair and dead skin cells so there’s less risk of hair breakage and skin irritation. Because of this, some people report less pain with sugaring.
On the other hand, waxing adheres completely to the top layer of the skin. Typically, hard waxes hurt less than soft waxes.
With both sugaring and waxing, the first appointment usually hurts the most. Because of the way your hair grows back, your second appointment might be much less painful.
Sugaring and waxing are usually done in separate salons that specialize in each individual technique.
To find a reputable salon, look at recent reviews with a close eye on reports about cleanliness and professionalism. It’s important to find a salon that doesn’t skip out on sanitary practices like gloves and clean applicators.
Most reputable salons will also have you fill out a client questionnaire to understand your wants and needs before coming in.
Skin prep for sugaring and waxing is essentially the same.
Grow your hair out to ¼-inch long. This process usually takes about 10 to 14 days. If it’s longer than ½ inch, you might have to trim it before the appointment. Some technicians will trim the hair for an extra charge.
A few days before your appointment, lightly exfoliate the area to remove dead skin cells and prevent ingrown hairs.
The day before your appointment, avoid exfoliation, tanning, or hot baths, as these might make your skin dry or sensitive.
The day of your appointment, come with clean, dry skin. Avoid wearing lotions or creams. To avoid further sensitivity, don’t have any caffeine or alcohol and take an over-the-counter pain reliever 30 minutes before.
Depending on how much hair you’re removing, your appointment will likely last around 30 minutes to an hour. At the appointment, your technician will take you to a private room, ask you to undress and hop up on the table.
For sugaring, here’s what to expect:
- After you’re lying down, the sugar technician will clean the area and apply talcum powder to make the hair stand out.
- They’ll then spread a ball of the paste against the grain of hair growth and then lightly tug in the direction of hair growth.
- Because of the nature of sugar wax, it can be reapplied to the same area several times to get more precise removal.
- Unlike wax, sugaring doesn’t stick to the skin so the cleanup is fairly simple. Any residue will come off the skin with water.
For waxing, here’s what to expect:
- The technician will clean the area and follow with a pre-wax treatment, typically an oil or powder, to protect the skin from irritation.
- Next up, the technician will spread a thin layer of the wax in the same direction as hair growth.
- To remove, they’ll either use paper or cloth (for soft waxes) or remove the entire strip of wax itself (for hard waxes), going against the grain of hair growth. Because of this method, hair is more prone to breakage.
- Since wax adheres to skin, it’s only applied a single the area once or twice to avoid further irritation.
- Once all the hair is removed, they’ll soothe the area with a serum or lotion. This also prevents ingrown hairs.
- If there’s any leftover wax residue, they’ll remove it with an oil-based cleanser.
For 24 hours after sugaring or waxing, keep in mind that your skin might be more sensitive. Avoid direct contact with the sun, such as tanning. And avoid hot baths, further exfoliation, and working out. All of these could aggravate the skin.
You can return to exfoliating about 48 hours after your appointment. Aim to exfoliate two to three times a week to help prevent ingrown hairs between appointments.
Some people prefer sugaring because the method cleans out hair follicles, removing dead skin cells and dirt which can lead to ingrown hairs.
On average, results from both sugaring and waxing last around the same time. It ultimately comes down to how fast your hair grows and how dark your hair is, but usually each session will last around 3 to 4 weeks.
If you keep up a regular hair removal schedule, the removal process should become less painful and easier overtime. Some people even report less hair growth overtime, though this isn’t true for everyone.
Both sugaring and waxing can be great forms of hair removal if you’re looking for lasting results.
There’s no clear “winner” between the two, because it’s ultimately down to preference. Those with sensitive skin types might prefer sugaring because of its gentler nature and more natural formulation.
If you’re unsure which to try, read reviews and chat with friends who have tried either process to get their opinions. You can also schedule a consult with the salon you’re considering.
Jen Anderson 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.