“Sugaring” — it’s all the rage, apparently, being gentler and cleaner than waxing.  It’s harder to find information about it online than one might expect, especially since often it’s confused with waxing using a product based on sugar.  Sugar paste does not involve heating and it does not use cloth strips.


You can find a high-level overview of the process at any number of salon/spa websites.  Here are a few (click through to read):

Studio Alexandria says the paste is “all-natural” and made of “sugar and lemon juice” and a “secret ingredient.”

About.com has an overview: the recipe is the same one you’ll find on many sites (it lacks a secret ingredient): 2 cups sugar to 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup water.   The actual directions on how to make the paste are mostly wrong, though.

Studio Smooth has a good description of the process and the origins of the technique.  They mention the secret ingredient: guar gum.  They don’t mention how much, but if you read up a bit on thickeners, a little bit goes a long way.  They also don’t mention when in the process you should add the guar gum powder (but since it’s a thickener, maybe late, since it might interfere with boiling out the water…)

How To Make it at Home

The recipe I’ve found online is:

2 cups sugar (white, granulated)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water

What is this?  It looks like sugar candy!  That’s because the sugar paste actually is made of candy… at least, with this recipe.  The 1/4 cup water is actually overkill — you will evaporate it out, because the target is a 92% sugar solution (hard ball stage).  So let’s modify it to save cooking time:

2 cups sugar (white, granulated)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup water


Mix the ingredients in a saucepan and turn the heat up to high.  You do not want this to turn red/dark, like About.com and a few other sites say.  Getting dark just means the sugar is caramelizing (breaking down).  If you heat it up slowly (simmer) for a long time, it will get dark.  If you heat it fast (boil) for a short time, it’ll stay light.  All the salon products are light, and I don’t see what good caramelizing the sugar is, so let’s avoid that.  You want to boil it (not simmer) until it hits 260 degrees F (hard ball stage).  Careful: you have to watch the pot and make sure it doesn’t boil over and make a mess.  It’s OK if it gets a little hotter than 260 degrees, but you’ll be unable to use the sugar paste if it doesn’t get hot enough: so err on the side of too hot.  Get a candy thermometer to eliminate guesswork; they cost under $5 at your grocery store.  It takes about 9-12 minutes to boil out the water, depending on how hot your stove is.

The result is a supersaturated sugar solution.  The lemon juice (any acid will do) prevents crystallization of the supersaturated solution.  It inverts the sugar into its two simpler components, fructose and glucose, which interfere with the re-formation of sugar crystals.  Let it cool back to room temperature.  You can do this in a fridge, if you want.


Words aren’t enough, so have some videos:

Amy’s videos on YouTube are pretty good with regard to how to make the paste.  Don’t do the butter knife thing she talks about; it’s faster but it doesn’t work as well.

And this demo in French with subtitles shows how to deal with some of the common problems with using sugar paste (sugar not sticking, sugar losing its elasticity).  However, you want to apply against hair and pull with it (the opposite of what’s shown).

The Alexandria Professional demos give you a good idea of technique: 1) You have to leave the sugar on for a few seconds so it can “melt” a little into pores.  2) The flicking motion goes with hair growth, because it’s gentler and less likely to break off hairs at the surface.  3) You should do large areas at once (i.e. ankle to knee, not half of that), since that is one of the advantages of using the paste over waxing.  Of course, they’re in this for the money, so they say you can only get this done professionally, at a salon, at about a 20% premium over waxing.

No need, no need, just use the wax as shown in the videos above and you too can get painless epilation, except for less money.

The Secret Ingredient

However, if you use the base sugar recipe shown above, the sugar paste gets soft and unworkable pretty fast.  When you start, the sugar is clear and amber colored;  as you stretch it over the skin and pull off repeatedly, it becomes opaque and white and eventually gets too soft to use.  At first I thought this happened because it heated up — the sugar solution becomes a liquid again if you microwave it — but now I think it must be part of the formula.  The salon websites say that they use the same piece of sugar for the whole session, and there’s no way the base recipe would last that long, even if you magically kept it cool.

Why does the paste get soft?  I can’t find any good chemistry references for what happens to a supersaturated solution of sugar when kneaded.  Heck, why is a supersaturated solution of sugar elastic at all?

I will continue to research this, but in the meantime, maybe the missing secret ingredient would help?

Guar gum (mentioned in a few of the salon sites) is a thickener — in food it’s usually used for gluten-free baking.  Xanthan gum (similar to guar gum) is known to decrease hardness and pseudoplasticity (that’s when a thing suddenly becomes much less viscous, like ketchup does) in sugary syrups – so it’s possible it would help with the elasticity/plasticity of the paste.  Note: it’s also on the ‘generally recognized as safe’ list, but guar used to be used as a diet aid because it swelled up in the stomach and made you feel full.  But then it messed up your intestines too.  Don’t eat guar gum.

Well, I’ve ordered some online (I could only find xanthan gum in my Whole Foods and local grocery store).  Stay tuned to find out how it goes…

Next time…

2 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup water
1 tsp guar gum (add at the end)

For the results, see my post, “Sugaring: Follow-up“.

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