If being hairless on certain parts of your anatomy brings you joy and going to a salon isn’t an option, sugaring is a cheap and easy alternative to razor burn and store bought wax strips.
This hair removal method was likely invented thousands of years ago near Ancient Persia, and it’s still popular across the Middle East and Mediterranean. Part of its appeal is the fact that the paste used in this technique is easy to make and only requires ingredients you probably already have in your house—sugar, lemon juice, and water.
I first tried sugaring years ago, not long after watching Caramel, a Lebanese film where women used globs of caramelized sugar to gracefully flick even the most stubborn hair out of its follicles. It seemed like a dream compared to my experiences with hot wax. And it can be—if you know what you’re doing.
I made my fair share of mistakes, so you can now skip the learning curve and go straight to sugaring becoming a real and useful alternative for all your hair removal needs.
Warning: This hair removal method involves cooking sugar to molten-hot temperatures. Do not touch the boiled sugar without giving it a chance to cool down. Do not expose large areas of your skin to sugar paste before testing its temperature by touching it gingerly. Please read the whole set of instructions before attempting this project, and be careful.
- Time: 15 minutes of prep, 5 to 10 minutes of cool down, 5 to 30 minutes of application (30 minutes to 1 hour, total)
- Cost: $5 or less
- Difficulty: medium
- ½ cup of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of water
- 2 tablespoons of lemon or lime juice (fresh or bottled)
- 1 tablespoon of baby powder (or corn starch, talc, or baking soda)
- Aloe vera gel (natural or store-bought)
- A nonstick, heat-safe spatula (or a wooden spoon or whisk)
- A small metal spoon
- A small saucepan
- A small bowl
- A small heat-safe bowl
- Parchment paper (or an oiled baking sheet)
- (Optional) A candy thermometer
- (Optional) Tongue depressor (or popsicle sticks)
- (Optional) Waxing strips (or strips of cotton fabric)
1. Wash and dry the skin of the area you want to wax. Clean skin will prevent infection and possible in-grown hairs. The warm water will open up your pores, which will also help minimize pain. For best results, your hair should have at least two weeks of growth, but not more than four or five weeks. If you’re not sure about the length, trim it down with scissors to around ¼ of an inch.
2. (Optional) Exfoliate. In addition to hair, your sugar paste will lift up dead skin, so sloughing off some of those flakes before you wax will mean more of the sugar can stick where you want it to.
Make the paste
3. Combine your sugar, water, and lemon or lime juice in a small saucepan. The acidic citrus will help break the sucrose molecules, making for a paste that crystalizes at a higher temperature. This allows the sugar to stay gooey for longer so you can spread it on your skin more easily.
4. Heat the mixture on medium-high heat, mixing until the sugar has dissolved. If you have a candy thermometer, pop it into the saucepan, making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom. Keep an eye out for around 240 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer, watch for when your mixture turns golden brown.
- Note: You’re waiting for the mix to reach what in the candy world is known as “soft ball stage,” which means the sugar has caramelized and has become sticky and pliant. This state passes quickly, though. To prevent ruining your paste and creating a hazardous situation, it’s important that you never leave the bubbling brew unattended.
5. Remove your saucepan from the burner. Do it quickly as soon as the sugar reaches the desired temperature. Put on some oven mitts and carefully pour the sugar paste into a small, heat-safe bowl.
- Note: Avoid any accidents by being extra careful when manipulating the sugar. At this point, the mix will be extremely hot and it will burn you and stick to your skin if you touch it. If you spill some, wait until the mix has fully cooled before you clean it up. Once it’s hardened it will dissolve into nothing with a bit of water.
6. Stir the sugar paste with a small spoon. The air circulation will help it cool down faster. Do this for two to five minutes, keeping an eye on how long the sugar paste keeps its shape when you move the spoon around. Once it seems to be holding itself up for a few seconds before oozing back down, the paste should be ready to handle.
7. Protect your hands. Fill a bowl with cool water, dip your fingers to wet them, rub your hands to spread the moisture around, and shake off the excess. This will help protect your fingers as you work with the sugar paste, since the heat of the paste will have to work to evaporate the water before it can warm up your skin.
- Note: If you still find the paste is too hot to handle, put it back in the bowl and wait for it to cool down further.
8. Knead the paste. Use your small spoon to scoop a 2-inch ball of sugar paste into your damp hands, and toss it back and forth between your fingers to let it cool a bit more. Once you’ve confirmed it’s not burning hot, knead and stretch it until it turns opaque. If it seems to be melting into liquid, try drying your hands off and repeating the kneading process with less water. Put the ball of kneaded sugar aside on the parchment paper to keep it from sticking, and repeat this step with the rest of the paste.
9. Sprinkle the baby powder onto the area you’re about to wax. Sugar won’t stick to wet hair, so the powder will help ensure your skin is dry. If after the application you have any traces of sugar paste, this will also help you remove it with a quick swipe of a washcloth.
10. Work the ball of sugar with your fingers. Do it until it’s pliable enough to spread.
11. Smear the paste forcefully onto your skin. Smear in the opposite direction of your hair growth. For example, if you’re working on a spot on your legs where most of the hair faces down, you’ll want to smear the sugar paste up the leg. This will help hair come out easier and will also prevent in-grown hair.
12. Flick your wrist in the same direction as your hair grows. Do it while still holding onto the paste. If you’re smearing sugar paste up your leg, you’re flicking it downward to remove it. Make your movements quick and confident. If you’re confused, this video will help you understand the necessary motion.
- Note: If you’re finding the wrist-flicking technique difficult, you can use fabric or paper wax strips and just treat the sugar paste like it’s wax.
13. Repeat as necessary. One of the best things about sugaring is that the paste works for multiple passes over your skin. You can go over the same spot one or two more times, or move on to another spot with the same hunk of paste. When it starts to feel too slippery, thin, or just dirty, toss the paste ball and replace it with a new one. Every time you spread it on your skin the paste will pick up your hair, but also dead skin and sebum. Eventually it’ll get saturated, which means that its hair removing powers will be no more.
14. Once you’re satisfied with the results, rinse your skin with warm water and pat dry with a towel. Unlike actual wax, water will dissolve the sugaring paste right off of you or any surface you may have spilled it on.
15. Treat the sugared areas with aloe. Avoid soaking your skin in hot water, sweating, and other potential irritants for 24 hours. Exfoliate regularly to help prevent ingrown hairs.
If you start to sugar regularly and want to make your paste in large batches and store it, there are lots of methods for doing so. This video provides an excellent run-through of how to make and store sugar paste for later use.