I have two questions regarding “sugaring.”: Is it true that hair growth is slower and finer after sugaring or waxing? Is it true that the sugar scrub helps prevent ingrown hairs? And is it beneficial or unnecessary? Thank you.
— N. Tran
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There are no studies comparing sugaring to waxing, but as they are both epilation methods (ways of removing the hair shaft and root), the hair should grow back the same after either process.
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Waxing and sugaring are both epilation methods for hair removal. This means they remove both the hair shaft and root. And women use both for the removal of hair all over their bodies: eyebrows, armpits, arms, legs, pubic area, etc. For waxing, hot or cold wax is applied to the hair, while sugaring involves applying hot caramelized sugar. The wax or sugar is applied to the skin, adheres to the hair, and when pulled off with enough force, the hair shaft and root come with it. Removing the hair shaft and root prevents hair regrowth for 6 to 8 weeks, but there is a wide range of individual experiences.
Proponents of sugaring claim it is a more “gentle” method, but this is an unsupported claim. Both waxing and sugaring involve pulling the hair root out of the follicle, so they are both traumatic. Wax may be more adhesive, so the wax can typically be pulled in any direction. There is less adhesion to the hair shaft with sugaring and so the pull must be in the direction of hair growth to minimize shaft breakage (a cause of ingrown hairs). Whether the less adhesive nature of sugaring makes this method less traumatic to the skin surface is unknown, however, if sugaring is adhesive enough to pull out hair, one should assume it is also traumatic to the skin unless studies are performed to suggest otherwise.
Hair does not grow back differently — either finer or thicker — after temporary removal. This is true whether the method is depilation (removing hair at or below the skin surface either with shaving or chemical depilatories) or epilation. However, with age, pubic hair does become more sparse, so it is possible some women may erroneously assume that natural change is related to hair removal.
Ingrown hairs happen when the regrowing hair is trapped under the skin or curls back into the skin. Inflammation and trauma to the area increase the risk of ingrown hairs, as does breaking or cutting the hair shaft beneath the surface of the skin. Exfoliating your skin before waxing or sugaring could possibly help the wax or sugar adhere better to the skin, which may reduce shaft breakage, but this has not been studied.
What about exfoliating afterward? The theory is that removing dead skin cells and sebum (an oily substance produced by the skin) may reduce blockage of the hair follicle and prevent ingrown hairs, but exfoliating could also be damaging to the skin and result in inflammation that could contribute to ingrown hairs. Again, there are no studies. You could try using a facial cleanser on the skin (one with a pH close to 5) to remove sebum without any risk of microscopic trauma. Whether this helps prevent ingrown hairs is unknown, but it is a less traumatic option for your skin.
The best option for preventing ingrown hairs appears to be minimizing trauma, inflammation and breakage of the hair shaft. If one method of hair removal causes ingrown hairs then switching to another method may be worthwhile. Another option is to remove hair less often. A trimmer can be used in between depilation or epilation to keep the hair short without trauma to the skin or hair follicle.
I was unable to find any quality studies on pubic hair removal techniques while researching my upcoming book, “The Vagina Bible,” although we do have some data on complications of pubic hair removal. There is some data on hair removal techniques for men with very curly beards to minimize pseudofollicultis barbae, a rash caused by inflamed hair follicles, so much of the information that I provide to women is abstracted from that data and almost 30 years of experience in caring for vulvar conditions.
Dr. Jen Gunter, often called Twitter’s resident gynecologist, is teaming up with our editors to answer your questions about all things women’s health. From what’s normal for your anatomy to healthy sex and clearing up the truth behind strange wellness claims, Dr. Gunter, who also writes a column called The Cycle, promises to handle your questions with respect, forthrightness and honesty.