Sugar waxing is one of those things I always swore I would never try. I chalk it up to one too many botched eyebrow waxes as a teen—or maybe it's just the thought of burning myself with melted sugar that doesn't sit well with me.
Either way, I'm happy keeping a safe distance between me and any sort of depilatory wax if I can help it. But I'm curious by nature, so I started doing some research. It turns out there's a good reason sugaring has become so popular. Said to be traditional waxing's cheaper, less painful and more natural sister, sugar waxing promises a 3-ingredient alternative to daily shaving.
While the thought of ripping my hair out by the root doesn't exactly thrill me, not having to shave my legs for a couple of weeks totally does. So I went ahead and looked fear in the face, gathered up the ingredients, and gave it a whirl.
Meet the experts
Robyn Newmark, esthetician and founder of Newmark Beauty
Tami Blake, sugaring expert, esthetician and founder of Sweet + True
Medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Haley, board-certified dermatologist
Benefits of Sugar Waxing
For those of us who've had a bad experience with waxing, sugaring can be a godsend. It's made with just three ingredients—sugar, lemon juice, and salt—so it's free of skin-irritating chemicals and toxins. And it’s practically free to make, too!
But there's other reasons to love sugar waxing:
Less breakage and ingrown hairs. Because you remove hair in the direction it grows, it's gentler on the hair and skin, which means fewer ingrown hairs. Plus, the sugar wax wraps around the hair follicle and stays soft during the entire process, so there's less chance of breakage.
There's no chance of getting burned. "With traditional waxing it is up to the skill set of the practitioner to control the temperature and technique of the procedure," says Robyn Newmark, esthetician and founder of Newmark Beauty. "Sugaring can be done more often with less trauma although neither technique should be creating trauma if done correctly."
Clean up is a breeze. Sugar wax melts right off when it comes in contact with water. So if there's any lingering wax on your skin, a wet washcloth will do the trick.
Sugar wax can be reapplied. If you missed a spot, feel free to apply sugar wax to the same area several times without adverse effects.
It's super gentle. Sugar wax won't stick to live skin cells, so it doesn't rip off a layer of skin when you pull. This means it's less painful than traditional waxing, and you won't have the wounds to boot.
Better for the environment. Sugaring is also more sustainable in many respects! "Sugaring paste is biodegradable (food grade) and creates less waste, as it eliminates the need for sticks and strips," explains Tami Blake, licensed esthetician and founder of Sweet + True. "In fact, you can use the same ball of paste throughout the entire service!"
How to Make Sugar Wax
Now, I'm going to be completely honest. Making sugar wax is easy once you get the hang of it. But if you've never made it before, pick up an extra bag of sugar (or two) before you get started.
The sugar wax recipe that Newmark recommends is:
-1 cup white sugar
-⅛ cup lemon juice (or apple cider vinegar)
-⅛ cup warm water
As a sugar wax newbie, I scoured the internet for directions and followed the instructions to the letter, but I still managed to burn my sugar the first few times. Once the sugar starts boiling, it can go from golden to black in 2 minutes flat, and you won't even notice until it's too late. After learning this the hard way, I dug an old candy thermometer out of the drawer to save me the continued hassle of eyeballing it.
If you don't have a candy thermometer, don't panic. Just be flexible and don't expect perfection on the first go-around.
Since the wax continues to cook after it comes off the burner, you want to pull the sugar off the burner as soon as it turns a light honey color and pour it into another container. If you overdo it on the first try, pour it in the trash (carefully) and start over again.
How to Apply Sugar Wax
While sugaring is a lot like traditional waxing, there are a couple differences:
1. Let the wax cool to room temperature. Unlike traditional wax, sugar wax doesn't need to be hot to work.
2. Once cool, scoop the wax out of the container and apply it with a butter knife, popsicle stick, or your hands. You'll want to apply a ¼-inch layer of wax against the direction of the hair and gently press it onto your skin.
3. Pull the skin taught. Then get a good hold off the wax and, with a quick flick of your wrist, pull in the direction of hair growth.
4. You can roll the wax between your palms and re-use it on different sections of skin until it's no longer sticky.
One cup of sugar wax should last for several applications, so make sure to save any leftovers in the refrigerator and gently warm prior to use.
What to do Before and After You Sugar Wax
A good pre- and post-wax routine will help keep pain, ingrowns and infection to a minimum. Here's how to baby your skin before and after sugaring.
1. Let hair grow a bit. A good rule of thumb is to let hair grow to about ¼” before waxing. Anything shorter and the wax won’t stick to the hair shaft very easily, meaning you’ll end up with a splotchy wax job. How long is ¼ of an inch? Well, if you currently:
-Shave – it’s about 10-14 days of growth
-Wax – it’s about 4 weeks of growth
-Sugar – it’s about 4-6 weeks of growth
2. Tackle flakes. For the best results, Blake recommends gently exfoliating the skin before your first appointment and in between appointments. Try using a loofah, sugar scrub, or bath mit 3 days before sugaring. This should be just enough time to remove flakes while still allowing any micro-tears or irritation to heal.
3. Skip the sweat session. Excessive sweating can open pores, which may make your skin more prone to infection. So, don’t do anything that can cause excessive sweating within 24 hours of sugaring, such as visiting the sauna, working out, taking a hot yoga class or soaking in the tub.
4. Don’t have too much caffeine and alcohol before. Drinking and caffeine can make you more prone to bleeding, notes esthetician, Mehvish Patel. She also recommends avoiding the use of any retinoid creams for at least 24-48 hours beforehand.
5. Avoid sun exposure. Sunburn and sugar waxing don’t mix (all I can say is ouch!) Stay out of the sun for at least 48 hours prior to sugaring. If that’s not possible, at least cover any areas you plan to wax.
6. Skip the bath and body products. Don’t apply deodorant, makeup, lotion, perfume or any other body products the day of your wax session. Not only does the wax adhere best to clean hair follicles, but it’ll help keep the risk of irritation and infection to a minimum.
Just like before your wax session, you should baby your skin for 24-48 hours after you wax.
1. Let your skin breath. Wear loose-fitting clothes and avoid all bath and body products, such as lotions, makeup, deodorant, and creams on freshly waxed skin for 48 hours. After 48 hours, begin applying an all-natural moisturizer to replenish moisture and soothe skin.
2. Exfoliate. Starting 2 days post-wax, gently exfoliate to keep skin smooth and free of ingrown hairs. Use a dry brush or exfoliating glove, and move in a gentle, circular motion. Repeat every 3-4 days.
3. Avoid sweat sessions. Just like before, don’t work out, spend time in the sun or do anything that may cause excessive sweating for 48 hours after waxing.
4. Don't touch. Avoid touching, scratching or picking at recently waxed skin.
Sugar Waxing FAQs
We usually get a lot of questions about making your own sugar wax at home. It turns out that, even with a recipe and a video, making your own sugar wax isn't always so easy. Hey, I get it! Hopefully, I can help shed some light on it for you.
What if I don't have a candy thermometer? Would another kind of thermometer work?
You're free to eyeball it and stop the cooking process once your sugar mixture turns a light honey color.
Another way to check the temperature is to fill a medium-size bowl with ice water. Take a small spoonful of the sugar mixture and place it in the bowl of ice water for a few seconds. Once cool, if it still looks stringy and won't form a ball, that means it needs to cook longer.
If you have another type of kitchen thermometer, it should work as long as it can withstand consistent heat and read temperatures at or below 260°F.
Can I use other types of sugar, like brown or caster sugar?
Yes, you should be able to. But it might take some trial and error to get the ratio of sugar to liquid right.
What if my sugar wax comes out too hard?
If your sugar wax consistently comes out too hard, you're overcooking it.
Add more lemon juice (the exact amount you need depends on how hard the sugar mix is) and continue boiling for another 1–2 minutes. If it's still not pliable enough, add more lemon juice and keep boiling.
Once it's overcooked, sometimes the easiest thing to do is to toss it out and start over again.
If you've tried batch after batch and it's always too hard, forget using the thermometer and just try cooking it for a shorter amount of time. And don't let your sugar wax cool in the metal pot you cooked it in, or it will overcook because it keeps cooking even after you take it off the burner.
What if it comes out too soft?
If it's not hard enough and doesn't adhere to the hair, you're undercooking it. The only solution for that is to cook it longer.
You can try to get it to the right consistency by putting it back in the pot on the burner and heating it for another few minutes. Or you can attempt to use the soft wax as-is with cotton wax strips.
The strips will give the wax something to hold on to so you can peel it off, hopefully taking the hair with it. If the wax is too soft to stick to cotton strips, then you definitely need to cook it another couple of minutes, let it cool, and try again.
I've tried this recipe 'x' times, and it still won't come out right. Now what?
For a variety of reasons, there isn't a one-size-fits-all sugar wax recipe. Here are a few of the potential issues that might affect how your wax turns out:
It could be the climate you live in (more moisture in the air will affect your sugar wax), or it could be your supplies.
Your thermometer isn't calibrated correctly or it's not sensitive enough.
Your burner gets too hot and the liquid evaporates too quickly.
Maybe when you removed the wax from the stove, it kept cooking (this is a big problem for a lot of people), so even if it was perfect when you turned off the heat, it may have burned as it sat.
As always, if this recipe doesn't work for you, another one might work better. Keep trying until you find a method you like.
Do I need to use cotton cloths with this?
If the sugar wax is the right consistency, then no, you don't need cotton cloths. It should adhere directly to the hair and pull away from the skin cleanly by hand.
But if your sugar wax isn't the right consistency, cotton waxing strips may help by giving the wax something to cling to.
What kind of cotton cloths should I use?
You can either buy pre-made waxing cloths online (like these), or make your own using old cotton pillowcases, sheets, or curtains cut into 2-inch x 4-inch strips. You'll want fabric without any stretchiness, so it pulls off in one fell swoop.
Can I sugar wax if I'm diabetic?
Yes! Unless you're ingesting the sugar wax (which, um, you shouldn't be...), the sugar will never enter your blood stream and therefore won't have an affect on blood sugar levels.
Can I store leftover sugar wax?
Store it in an old microwave-safe container. When you're ready to use it, pop it in the microwave and heat in 15-second intervals until melted. Just be super careful because hot sugar wax can cause serious burns.
How long will it stay good?
"The high concentration of sugar naturally preserves the paste allowing it to stay fresh for 2-3 years if stored and maintained in a climate controlled environment," says Blake.
How long should your hair be in order to stick to the wax?
Hair should be at least ¼-inch (5–6 mm) long.
Can you make sugar wax in the microwave?
I tested it out using this recipe:
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Combine everything in a bowl and microwave it on high in 20-second intervals for about 2 minutes without stirring. At this point, it should be the ideal consistency for sugar wax.
No matter how long I microwaved it for, I just couldn't get mine to come out right. Since making sugar wax is all about evaporating the liquid until the melted sugar reaches a soft, sticky consistency, microwaving made it hard to boil off enough liquid.
It also made it so that I couldn't physically watch the sugar as it boiled, so after one microwave session too many, my wax burned. (See how dark it is below?)
For me, no, it didn't work. While technically a microwave might work, if you're new to making sugar wax or you don't have the time or patience to go through a few test rounds, stick to doing it on the stove where you can keep a close eye on it.
How to Make Sugar Wax At Home
- Candy thermometer
- Medium saucepan
- 2 cups white sugar
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Add all ingredients to a pot, and without stirring, turn the heat to medium-high (stirring can cause sugar to crystalize on the sides of your pot). If you have one, attach your candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan so you can watch the temperature closely as it cooks.
- Once the sugar mixture starts to boil, gently swirl the pot to mix the ingredients.
- Keep a close eye on the mixture and cook until it turns the color of honey or until your thermometer reads 260 degrees F (this took about 5 minutes for me, but it could vary depending on the size of your saucepan).
- Immediately remove wax from the heat and transfer it to a glass jar to stop the cooking process (the wax can shatter cold glass, so run your jar under hot water for a minute to prep it for the wax). Meanwhile, take a spoonful of wax and put it in the freezer. Wait until it has cooled completely, then check the consistency. It should be stretchy like a piece of bubble gum and slightly sticky. If it's too runny, return wax to the pot and boil for another 30 seconds. If it's too hard (like crunchy candy), either add more water and boil a little longer or throw it out and start over.
- Once your wax is the right consistency, let it cool completely before applying to skin.
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Haley, a board-certified dermatologist with extensive experience in medical, cosmetic and surgical dermatology. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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