Waxing vs. Sugaring: What’s The Difference Between The Hair Removal Treatments?
Strips, film, hard wax, sugaring. When it comes to hair removal, there is a growing array of options. We’re breaking down everything you need to know.
Soft wax strips have long-dominated the hair removal market, but more and more methods are becoming mainstream and quickly gaining popularity. Whether it's an updated take on traditional waxing or a modern iteration of ancient sugaring, all of these hair removal options do the job (and have some level of pain — let’s just get that out of the way up front!).
With that said, some techniques are better suited for particular areas of the body and specific hair types than others. So, if you’ve ever wondered about the difference between all of these wax and sugaring options, we’re answering your burning questions.
Soft Wax Strips
- The Method: Wax strips (a.k.a. soft wax) is probably what you most associate with the term ‘waxing.’ The method involves heating up wax and applying it to the desired area with a wooden stick or applicator. Once the hot wax has adhered to the skin and hair, a paper or cloth strip is used to remove it from the body. Because the process also removes the first layer of skin, you can only go over an area once. To ‘clean up’ any remaining hairs, light tweezing is often employed. Compared to some of the other hair removal options, soft wax is generally considered a little more painful and a little more likely to cause irritation. So, if you have sensitive skin, you might want to skip the strips!
- The Ingredients: As you may have suspected, soft wax is made of beeswax. It also usually has rosin, essential oils, and other ingredients to help soothe and moisturize the skin.
- The Benefits: Wax strips are quick and efficient, making soft wax ideal for treating larger areas (think: the arms and legs). It also tends to be the most affordable option on this list.
- Best For: Large areas; those on a budget
- The Method: If you’ve been a loyalist to soft wax strips, the idea of hard wax may be, well, hard to grasp at first (it was shocking — in a good way — the first time I tried it). Unlike soft wax, which requires a paper strip or cloth to be placed on top of the wax to remove it, hard wax does not. The wax hardens enough that it can double as the hair remover and strip.
- The Ingredients: Like soft wax, hard wax is also made from beeswax. At European Wax Center, for example, the wax features a proprietary blend of beeswax and other European-sourced ingredients to soothe the treatment areas. “This wax is specifically designed to make waxing more comfortable,” notes EWC manager Gina Petak.
- The Benefits: According to Petak, a huge benefit of hard wax is that it adheres to the hair — not the skin. “This allows the wax to be placed over the same spot multiple times without skin damage, ensuring all the hairs are removed,” she says. As a result, many people experience less pain and irritation compared to soft wax, and I would have to agree. Another benefit of European Wax Center’s hard wax is its deep violet color that makes it much easier to see against skin. As a result, I find that there is a lot less waxy residue!
- Best For: Sensitive skin; all parts of the body; coarse hair
- The Method: Similar to traditional hard wax, a strip is not needed to remove film wax. At Amazing Lash Studio a wooden applicator is used to apply the film wax. “Stylists create a ‘lip’ — or thicker edge/tab — when applying the wax,” explains stylist educator Mariah. “Once dry, that lip acts as a tab to lift and remove the hardened wax from the skin.”
- The Ingredients: Film wax is a hybrid of soft wax and hard wax, which Mariah says offers “the best of both worlds.” At Amazing Lash Studio, the formula features hydrogenated polycyclopentadiene, a synthetic resin that serves as the sticky base for the wax and also allows it to be applied in a thin, film-like consistency. Paraffin, meanwhile, helps soften the skin and prevent irritation. There is no beeswax in the Amazing Lash Studio film wax, but other formulas on the market may contain it.
- The Benefits: “Our pink film wax is very gentle on the skin, as it only clings to the hair,” she explains. As a result, technicians can reapply wax to the same area of the body if there is any hair remaining.
- Best For: Sensitive skin; all parts of the body
- The Method: While new to many of us, sugaring is actually an ancient method of hair removal that dates back to Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece. Instead of using wax, sugaring uses an organic ball of paste to remove hair — no strips or spatulas required. The technician works in smaller areas than in waxing, removing small amounts of hair more frequently. Overall, the pain level is considered more tolerable compared to traditional wax, but, when I first started sugaring, the constant pulling was a lot. My aesthetician regularly checked in to see if I needed a break, and the sensation became much more manageable after a few sessions.
- The Ingredients: “Sugaring utilizes a paste made from just three ingredients: sugar, lemon juice, and water,” explains Jade Haifa, master aesthetician at DAPHNE Studio in New York City. “It has no chemicals, fragrance, or coloring added, and it’s also hypoallergenic.”
- The Benefits: Haifa recommends “sugaring over waxing for those with sensitive and reactive skin” thanks to the simplicity of the formula and the fact that it is applied at room temperature (unlike hot wax). And then there are the results. “Sugaring pulls hair out by the root, and, because of this, the bulb will have to regrow and you won’t see hair resurfacing for a few weeks,” she explains. “The more frequently you go, the follicles get weaker with less blood flow to the area. Over time, hair becomes thinner and less noticeable.”
- Best For: Sensitive skin; smaller areas (except eyebrows)
Preparing For Your Hair Removal Treatment
The preparation for all waxing and sugaring treatments is the same. You need to avoid the sun for 24 hours before the session and make sure hair is about quarter of an inch long (think: the length of a grain of rice). “This helps prevent breakage of hair, which can lead to ingrowns,” Haifa says. For most people, that is about five days worth of hair growth, so don’t shave in the days leading up to your appointment. “Don’t worry, your hair can never be too long to come see us,” Petak notes. “All of our wax specialists are expertly trained to work with all hair and skin types.”
For the best possible experience, Haifa also recommends limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake “to prevent your pores from tightening the day of your appointment.” Depending on your pain tolerance, you may also want to consider skipping your workout on the day of your session. “[Exercise] accelerates blood flow, which can make you more sensitive to pain,” she cautions.
If you are wondering whether or not you should exfoliate prior to waxing and sugaring, the answer depends on the treatment area. To maximize results, Petak suggests exfoliating one to two days before waxing to remove dead skin and prevent ingrown hairs. She recommends the non-abrasive EWC Treat Face & Body Exfoliating Gel, which features pineapple fruit extract, aloe, and a cocktail of vitamins A, C, and E to smooth skin. The EWC Treat Ingrown Hair Serum, meanwhile, keeps the area bump-free in-between appointments thanks to a gently exfoliating blend of glycolic acid, lavender, vitamin E, and chamomile. When it comes to the face, however, Mariah recommends not exfoliating or scheduling any other facial services within 24 hours of treatment.
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