We all know the importance of looking good to feel good about ourselves. As we have all spent longer at home in recent months than ever before, with spas closed, some of us may have started feeling less than happy (need help lifting your mood? Read an older blog post here. Want to know the secret to being happy come what may? read this) or may have let our standards slip. Whether or not you can get to your regular beautician’s, lockdown or reduced disposable income not permitting it, here is a simple DIY way to get rid of those unwanted hairs.
The good news? You can use the sugar at the back of your cupboard since you stopped eating it (give yourself a big pat on the shoulder for that!). It’s also suitable for the more sensitive skins. It contains zero chemicals and it has been tried and tested. In fact the history of Halawa sugaring is centuries old!
The origins of Halawa
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago there was an Egyptian Queen who wanted to look beautiful. She took great care of herself and used all-natural products, as spas and chemically laden cosmetics had not yet been invented.
Cleopatra, the Egyptian Queen, was not alone in applying an old natural method of removing unwanted hair. In fact, this old method has survived for generations to this very day. It is still widely used in Middle Eastern countries and has even reached the shores of countries such as the UK, where it was being used in the 1980s already.
I am referring to Halawa, of course. Not to be confused with Halawa or Halva (which can also be referred to as Halvah, halwa, halwah or even halava), which is a sweet made with sesame and tahini. When I told a friend recently about it her google search did not lead her straight to the Sugaring Paste used to remove hair but to the sweet, which caused much perplexity and a few laughs!
The confusion arises out of the fact that Halawa in Arabic means “sweet” or “sweetness”. Why would you call a depilatory product like a sweet fudge? Because Halawa sugaring paste, if you were so inclined, could be eaten as a sweet. In fact the main ingredient is sugar (hence the English name “Sugaring” or “Sugaring paste”). It is believed to originate in Egypt, although records show it was also used countries further afield such as Iran, Turkey and Arab lands.
The advantages of using Halawa sugaring over wax
There are many advantages to using sugaring as a method of hair removal over wax. Wax is messy (think of dripping spatulas), can stick to clothes (and permanently stain them) and can cause burning of the skin if mishandled. Most importantly, it is not tolerated by everyone. I know of more than one person whose skin was so sensitive they would break out after a waxing session at the salon, but had no issues using sugaring. Also, what do you do if you cannot get to a spa? With constant lockdowns being a part of our lives, taking matters into your own hands is simpler than you might think!
Here is a summary of the myriad advantages of using Halawa sugaring paste:
· You can use ingredients that are in your kitchen cupboards
· You can prepare it yourself in only a few minutes
· It is well tolerated by even the most sensitive of skins
· It doesn’t leave any stains on clothes or furniture
· It is water soluble so can be washed off by simply adding water
· It is not hot so it will not leave your pores open
· It works on hairs as short as 3mm (other methods usually only work for 5mm)
· It will last up to 4 weeks (see notes below)
· It leaves your skin smooth and silky, as it acts like a scrub as well as a depilatory
· There is no stubble, the hair grows back less strong and eventually disappears
· It removes the hair from the roots, preventing growth over time
· It is edible and eco-friendly!
With regards to the last point, I am a great believer in: if you cannot eat or drink it, why would you put it on your skin? (read more about the importance of choosing safe skin care products here).
There is one down side to using sugaring paste instead of wax, you may have to go over the same area a few times. But, having said that, not all wax removes everything in one go. The difference with Halawa is that, unlike wax, it doesn’t irritate the skin making it red, so you can safely use it over the same area several times without worries (as long as you keep the skin taut when you pull it back, that is!).
How long will it last?
Here’s where you are going to call me crazy, however, if you follow the Moon cycle you will see that the faster growth is just the week before the full Moon. Want your hair, nails or sugaring efforts to last longer? Cut, dye or wax just after the full moon.
I have been following this principle for years and I can attest to the fact that if for example I sugar my legs right after the full Moon, I will not have to do it again until 4 weeks later. Do it the 10 days to 1 week before and I’ll probably only manage 2 weeks without having to start all over again. No matter how pain-free the treatment, do we really want to spend half our life doing this? As good as self-pampering is, I’d rather be soaking in a lavender oil bath than pulling hairs out, wouldn’t you?
How to make Halawa sugaring paste
Full disclosure, I have only tried this once, and it didn’t quite work out to perfection. My heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t have the patience. To be honest I have more or less always managed to find it and buy the ready-made version over the years. Having said that, making sugaring paste is a bit like making caramel, practice makes perfect and patience is important.
There are slightly differing recipes available (the quantities of sugar remain the same but more or less lemon and water are added), so it might be a question of making slight adjustments to achieve the right consistency. Below is the basic recipe of how to make it. (For doubts at any stage you can always do a quick search of YouTube where more than one lady demonstrates the entire process step by step.)
1 cup white sugar (white is easier for the newbies)
2 tbsp of water
1 tsp salt (optional)
1.5 tbsp lemon juice
1. Place the sugar, water, lemon and salt in a pan over a low to medium heat.
2. Stir with a wooden spoon or whisk so that all the ingredients blend and the sugar melts thoroughly.
3. The mixture will slowly thicken and will start getting darker. Simmer for about 6 to 8 minutes being careful not to burn it. When it has become roughly the same consistency and colour as honey, switch off and remove from the heat.
4. Allow it to cool down a little. Move to a heat-proof glass or metal container and work with a metal or wooden spoon until it cools down completely and it becomes a paste. It will be very hot at this stage so be careful not to burn yourself!
5. Once it has cooled down and solidified slightly, use your fingers to work it into a ball and use immediately or transfer to a sealed container which you can refrigerate. (It should keep well for a couple of months).
The reason white sugar is better when you first make this recipe is simple logic. It is easier to tell when it has darkened than if you use dark brown sugar to start with. It will also be less likely to burn while you are trying to figure it out!
As it tends to stick to the sides, you may want to use a microwave-safe container. Or one that is heat resistant so that you before using it, you can immerse it in water and heat it up just enough so that you can more easily ease it off the sides ready to use.
How to use it
For full legs take some sugaring paste, about the size of a golf ball. If you struggle to separate it from the sides use the advice above, or just leave it outside the fridge to warm up and soften a little. Alternatively, you can warm and ply it free between your fingers. If you stored it in the fridge this may take a while, though!
Before you start applying it to your skin, you’ll need to massage and stretch it a little so it becomes pliable. It will also start going from a translucent amber colour to a more opaque whitish colour. That is the signal it is ready for use and will work best.
Apply to the skin, pressing and stretching it down using your thumb, in the direction of the hair. Then pull in the opposite direction to hair growth to remove the hair. It will go back onto itself and reform a ball, a bit like a rubber band. Then stretch and press again, and pull. It is easier to start from the ankle areas of your legs and work your way up (and back) slowly until you have covered the entire area.
Using Halawa sugaring is a bit like making flaky pastry. The success rate of your dough will very much depend on the climatic conditions and temperature. On a cold winter’s day everything might run as smooth as silk. On a hot sultry day in August you might want to tear your hair (the one on your head) out as you struggle with the consistency.
I am sharing decades of experience below which I hope will help you troubleshoot the most common scenarios.
Help it’s sticking everywhere!
This can also happen when it is a hot day, especially if you do not have the luxury of air conditioning at home. Don’t panic, all is not lost yet! If you had to heat it up before use, it might be a good idea to place the amount you need in a ball on a plate and put it back in the fridge to firm up.
There might be a point when the ball becomes too sticky to use, or your skin is perspiring due to the heat of the summer day. There is a simple way to fix this. Lightly dust your skin with talcum powder (avoiding the sensitive intimate area!!) and try again. The talcum will absorb any excess moisture. Use too much though, and you’ll get a dry ball.
It’s not sticking!
Did you over do it with the talcum? Or have you been using it for a while and it’s not sticking anymore? Add a few drops of water, and I mean DROPS, and blend it. Try again. If that doesn’t work then it’s time to grab a fresh batch and start over.
It’s sticky but too runny
Don’t throw it away just yet. There is another way to apply this. Which is how most ready-made commercially sold water soluble “wax” works. Make sure it is like a runny honey consistency (but not hot!), and apply using a spatula. Place a strip of material over it and peel off like you would with regular wax. You will be able to reuse the strips later if you remove the excess and wash them with hot water.
The finishing touches
Sugaring paste can be used also on smaller, more sensitive areas although personally I’ve never been a fan of using it on facial hair. Once your masterpiece is over, and you are as hair-free and silky as a baby’s bottom, you can just use lukewarm water to remove any excess and wash away any sticky surfaces.
You can then dry your skin and use a disinfectant if you wish (and your skin is not sensitive to them) such as isopropyl alcohol. A better option might be 100% aloe vera gel (also another one of Cleopatra’s beauty secrets – read about aloe vera here). You could also finish with some moisturiser although your skin probably won’t need it.
It is generally not recommended to stay in the sun for 12 hours before or after (sugar) waxing. However, that will depend on your skin as much as the strength of the sun.
There you have it, the healthiest way to remove all that unwanted hair at home, which will not only be pocket friendly but might also help to make you feel more human again and who knows, might even lead to an evening of romance on your stay-home-date-night!