Sugaring is a simple, inexpensive hair removal method you can do yourself at home.  It’s gentle on sensitive skin and the results last much longer than shaving — the hairs grow back slower and thinner.  It’s also a great exfoliant!  Sugaring is often confused with waxing with sugar-based wax, but it’s completely different.  Sugar paste is used at room temperature without cloth strips.

Part I. Making the sugar

The sugar paste you use for hair removal is basically soft sugar candy.  The ingredients are simple:

Any kind of sugar is fine.  You can use the pre-packaged lemon/lime juice from the grocery store (no need to squeeze your own).  And the guar gum is optional — I think it helps the product last longer, but it will still work without it.

You only need a few basic kitchen supplies:

  • A small saucepan
  • A candy thermometer

The procedure

  1. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and water to a small saucepan.
  2. Turn the heat up to high; stir so that the sugar dissolves.  If your saucepan is non-stick, be sure you use something safe to stir, like a rubber spatula.
  3. Attach the thermometer to your saucepan so you can watch the temperature.
  4. Take the saucepan off the heat once the thermometer hits soft ball stage (240 degrees F).
  5. Stir in the guar gum, vigorously.
  6. Pour the sugar into a storage container while it’s still liquid but not so hot that it’ll melt/crack your container.

It takes several hours to cool to room temperature.  Don’t try to use the sugar hot!  It’s meant to be used at room temperature.

A note on temperature:  The temperature rises pretty quickly once it gets going, so watch carefully for the moment to take the sugar off the heat (it will continue to go up a degree or two).  The longer you boil the sugar, the stiffer/harder the final paste will be.  240F works well for my climate (dry, mild — California).

Part 2: Sugaring!

It’s really important that you start sugaring by prepping your skin.  I recommend sugaring after a shower, but not immediately after.  Moisture stops the sugar from sticking.

  1. Start with clean, dry skin.
  2. Apply baby powder/talcum powder liberally.  This helps the sugar stick to your hair.
  3. Pull out a scoop of sugar paste.  I like about the size of a Cutie or mandarine orange.
  4. Stretch the paste out over your skin by pulling it against the direction of hair growth.  Careful – if your hair is very long, this can pull a bit.  Sugaring works on fairly short hairs, so you can trim beforehand if this bothers you.
  5. Quickly pull the sugar off in a flicking motion, with the direction of hair growth along your skin.

It’s hard to describe this well in words, so take a look this video by Grace J Power.

Some tips and important notes on technique:

  • Flick only as far as your wrist can go — don’t try to pull from, say, your knee to your ankle in one go.
  • Don’t pull up/out — pull along.  You want to slide out the hairs in their natural direction of growth.
  • Hold your skin tight with your other hand.  You don’t want your skin bouncing as you pull the sugar out.

Sugaring is generally gentle on the skin.  You can go over the same skin multiple times if you need to.  It should only hurt a little — you are, after all, pulling your hair out — but it’s nothing compared to waxing or epilating.  If you are experiencing pain after sugaring (sometimes this happens on more sensitive areas), just rub the newly-sugared area with your clean hand.  The rubbing sensation blocks out the pain.

Sugar sticks to itself — if you have little bitsies left behind, you can just “pick them up” with the sugar in your hand — the way you pick up bits of Play-Doh.  Much less messy than waxing!  If you do end up getting sugar on anything, it’s water soluble so it should just wash out.

Part 3: Common questions and problems

When I try to cook the paste on high, it boils over!

I’ve noticed that different saucepans seem to perform differently.  When I switched to a non-stick, smaller saucepan, this stopped happening to me.  However, if your stove+saucepan tends to boil over, move the saucepan so it’s only half on the burner, or turn the heat down.

My paste comes out dark red/brown… is that OK?

The color of the paste is related to how long you’ve cooked it.  Sugar turns brown and caramelizes when it’s heated for a long time.  This affects the taste and smell but not how well it removes hair 🙂  Any color — light amber, dark amber, deep maroon — is fine, as long as the paste is soft enough to use at room temperature.

My sugar paste starts clear but turns white/opaque when I use it.

Yep.  That’s what it does.  Just means you’re doing it right.

The paste is super soft and it “melts” when I try to apply it!

If the sugar does this when you first take it out of the box, that means you need to cook it longer.  Your thermometer might be “off” or perhaps it’s some other factor.  You can try re-cooking this batch, or chuck it and try again.  Make a note of what temperature works for you.

I can’t get the paste out of the container — it’s too hard.

It’s easy to do this if you get distracted and miss taking the sugar paste off the heat in time.  This can usually be rescued by adding water and microwaving — see this post for how.

I’m flicking the sugar off, but it’s not actually pulling the hairs out.

Some hairs are more stubborn than others!  If you have especially stubborn hair, exfoliating well before sugaring will help.  You can also pause for several seconds between applying the sugar and pulling it off — give the sugar some time to “melt” into your pores and get a really good grip.

I heard you can use the same paste for your whole body, but mine gets “gooey” after a while.

Mine too.  I think it is because I don’t exfoliate enough.  The guar gum helps, but for the most part, I just pull out new sugar when the paste stops feeling “stretchy”.

I used too-soft paste and now it is stuck to my skin. D: Help!

Normally, the paste flicks right off, but if you use it too long, it can get “gooey” or “melty” and just stick to your skin.  Once the paste gets to this point, you can’t use it any more.  But how to get it off?  My preferred method: take a new piece of sugar out of the container and stretch it over the gooey stuff.  Flick that off in the normal way; then throw it away and continue with a completely new ball of sugar.  For other techniques, check out Tips to Getting Unstuck with Sugaring.

Happy sugaring, everyone!