Done with shaving (razor bumps are no jokes) and considering alternatives like waxing or sugaring? We have you covered. Even though both services remove body and facial hair in a similar fashion, they have some key differences. We tapped an esthetician to give us the lowdown on sugaring vs. waxing and which one you should consider for your next appointment.
Sugaring vs. Waxing: What’s the Difference? An Esthetician Explains
What’s the difference between sugaring and waxing?
Spoiler alert: They are actually both a type of waxing. The difference is in the ingredients. Sugaring is sugar-based while regular waxing is resin-based. Their formulas play a big role in how you apply and clean up the products. Aside from the process, you’ll also find that they each have different pain levels and specific hair and skin types they best for.
What Is Sugaring?
“Sugaring dates back to the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece. It essentially started as a home remedy and as the forefather of waxing,” said Shobha Tummala, founder and CEO of Shobha, an NYC-based chain that specializes in threading, waxing, sugaring and laser hair removal.
It was considered a natural, easy way to remove hair and keep skin looking and feeling smooth for a long period of time. Despite its long history, the method recently started building momentum in the beauty world for being a quicker and cleaner alternative to traditional waxing.
Sugaring is created by three simple ingredients you can find right in your kitchen: sugar, lemon juice and water. Since developing the mixture can be pretty tricky, its recommended to let it be formed, applied and cleaned up by a licensed professional unless you’re using the sugaring strips or pre-made kit.
Sugaring is molded into a gel-like paste and can be applied directly onto the skin at room temperature. The paste doesn’t need any strips or sticks to be applied, but you may find salons or kis that do include these.
A tip from Tummala: Although many apply the paste directly, she uses denim stripes to reduce the pain while removing hair—thanks to the fabric's thickness. (Plus they’re eco-friendly and reusable.)
Sugaring Application and Clean Up
The area is cleansed and powdered (to provide distance between your skin and the paste) before a thin layer of paste is placed onto the skin. It’s left on for a few seconds before it’s removed by pulling in the same direction that your hair follicles grow from the root—this means the paste is more likely to take out your hair and not top layer of the skin. (Hence why it’s considered less painful.) It’s important to note that the sugaring process can typically require some repeat application on larger areas (i.e. legs, bikini) as a result. Once your area is completely hairless, sugaring is easy to wipe off with warm water. The whole thing can usually takes between 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the area and your specific hair growth.
Pros of Sugaring
- It’s a great exfoliator
- It’s hypoallergenic
- It’s easy to clean up
- It’s typically less painful
- It doesn’t need to be heated to apply
- It’s a great option for sensitive skin
- Best for fine or medium hair
Cons of Sugaring
- You might have to reapply to larger areas or tougher hair
- It’s typically more expensive than waxing
- It’s difficult to DIY
- Not as great with thicker or coarse hair
What Is Waxing?
Waxing has a similar origin story to sugaring, dating back to Egypt as a go-to beauty service. The Egyptians relied on traditional waxing’s key ingredient—beeswax—to remove body hair. It then became widely popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s after wax strips were introduced to the market (and showing off some skin was more en vogue).
The ingredients found in traditional waxing are beeswax, resins (aka extracts from tree sap or gum) and vegetable oils. Sometimes essential oils (i.e. coconut or olive oil) and vitamins can be added to the mixture to prevent irritation and reduce pain. If you’re buying your own wax to use at home, you might want to check the ingredients list because some “waxes” may actually be sugaring wax—it’s not a big deal, but always good to know what you’re dealing with, especially when it comes to application and clean up.
Waxing can be done with soft wax (aka the kind you need strips, fabric cloths or spatulas to apply) or hard wax (which is directly applied on the skin and removed after cooling). Both need to be heated before application. There are also pre-lined wax strips, which you can usually find in the salons or drugstore to do your own hair removal.
Application and Clean Up
While sugaring is applied at room temperature, wax is typically heated, which can feel warm or even hot on the skin. If you’re dealing with the soft wax, the strips are then applied on top before removing the hair. Soft or hard, you then strip the hair in the opposite direction from where the follicles grow.
Since wax is water-resistant, it takes a gentle, oil-based cleanser to clean off any excess wax and a serum or lotion afterward to soothe the area. Tummala recommends Azulene oil, which she uses in her salons to soothe skin after treatment. It can also take up to 15 minutes to an hour for a service but can be quicker because wax can remove larger areas of hair at once.
Pros of waxing:
- It removes larger areas of hair quickly
- It’s typically cheaper
- It’s typically more accessible to DIY. Here are a few options.
- It’s better at removing coarse or thicker hair
Cons of waxing:
- It’s typically heated, which means it has the potential to burn
- It can be more painful since it can take off more skin
- The strips aren’t eco-friendly
Does Waxing or Sugaring Last Longer?
Both waxing and sugaring last three to five weeks. It really all depends on how fast your hair grows back. But, if you’re consistent with your appointments or at-home applications, you won’t have to worry about stubble creeping up on you before the three weeks (and it can be less painful overtime).
Which One Is More Painful?
“Sugaring adheres to the hair and less to the skin than wax, thus pulling less on the skin during the removal process. Less pulling means less irritation and less pain, while still effectively removing hair from the root, which is great for folks with sensitive skin,” said Tummala.
Sugaring may be the clear winner in this category, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to pain-free removing hair from its root. A great tip to avoid hair removal being more painful? Trim before your appointment. Make sure your hair is short (close to a grain of rice) so it’s easier to remove the hair. (Still unsure what the heck is ‘close to a grain of rice?’ If you can pinch your hairs, chances are it’s a bit too long.) But overall—wax or sugar—it depends on someone’s pain tolerance for either of them.
Waxing vs. Sugaring: Which One Should You Choose?
Short answer: It’s up to you. They are open to all skin types and great exfoliators to not only remove hair but any lurking dead skin cells from the surface. They also last the same amount of time and follow the same routine to prep. So, maaaaybe you want to try both? Some people do waxing and sugaring for specific areas of the body, especially sugaring for the more sensitive areas.
“Usually waxing is more expensive than sugaring so some parts of our body are less sensitive than other areas,” said Tummala. “So, for example, I sugar my bikini area, arms and underarm areas, but I don’t mind waxing my legs. My legs are not as sensitive so I can save money using wax and waxing can be faster. Because sugar is not as sticky as waxing, sometimes you have to go over an area twice to remove all the hair.”
When it comes to removing hair from the face, Tummala suggests sticking to waxing or even threading for the brows, forehead or lip area. At the end of the day, it all depends on your hair thickness, the area you’re focusing on, hair length and price. (For example, it can be $70 to get your legs waxed but $100 to get it sugared.)
Are There Any Side Effects?
Aside from allergic reaction to the mixtures, there can be a risk of burning the skin if the paste is too hot, bruising if removed incorrectly or unwanted hair bumps due to the mixture staying on for longer than needed. Also if you’re taking medication or treatment like retinol, vitamin C, steroids or Accutane it can further heighten these side effects from occurring. To avoid any of these issues, make sure you’re getting these services done by a professional or consult with a dermatologist before booking an appointment.
A Few Things to Remember Before Either Appointment
Whether you choose waxing or sugaring (or both), avoid exfoliating, tanning or sunburn, working out or anything that can dry or make your skin extra sensitive beforehand. Also, avoid wearing any tight-fitting clothing to prevent any sweat or bacteria from getting trapped and leading to irritation later.
Another thing to keep in mind, if you’re waxing or sugaring for the first time (and not sure how you’re going to react to the service), Tummala recommends doing a patch test to make sure you don’t run into any reactions or flare-ups during or after getting it done. Don’t be afraid to suggest that option to the esthetician (or any concerns for that matter.)
Things to Remember After Your Appointment
No one—we mean no one—likes bumps, irritated skin or ingrown hairs, so taking care of the area afterward is super important. “I think aftercare is very important to reduce the potential side effects of waxing and sugaring. The major takeaways are that you want to reduce any irritation and inflammation you may have for the first 24 to 48 hours by soothing and calming the skin,” Tummala suggests. “After that initial time frame, then the focus has to be to maintain the smooth skin, exfoliation.”
If you still experience any of the side effects, be patient as it might go away in a few days. However, if you notice a bad reaction to any service, consult with a medical professional. Now that you’re all caught up on sugaring and waxing, how about booking your next appointment hm?