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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sustainable Hair Removal

SugaringHere is a question for you: how can I easily and successfully remove body hair without creating a lot of waste or exposing myself to dangerous chemicals? The problem with most recent inventions in hair removal tends to be the fact that they are environmentally unfriendly due to packaging, waste and chemicals.

Depilatories. Well, I'll tell you depilatories isn't the winner in the sustainability category. In spite of their ease of use, they are chock full of chemicals that do heaven knows what to the environment and your own skin (remember that your skin in your largest organ and absorbs this stuff). Add to that the fact that the packaging and propellants in them aren't environmentally friendly either. So, even if you find it effective, I suggest you try to switch to something a little less damaging all around.

Razors. You have a few options if you are shaving with a razor, some better than others. Clearly, disposable razors aren't the way to go. Even if you opt for a disposable head, the heads generally come full of plastic and packaging. If you want to go nuts and find yourself an old fashioned safety razor where all you supply are new razor blades, then by all means, hack yourself to pieces. Other shaving options include a straight razor, although it's difficulty and lack of convenience and acceptability make it less of a decent option for most. If you stick with shaving, go with a replaceable head. I only wish that some of the manufacturers would choose to forego the individual packaging.

Electric Shavers. Electric shavers are more sustainable than disposable razors in theory, but you are still taking a hit on the environmental impact of production, packaging, shipping and electricity to run or charge it (unless you have a solar charger). If you can get a used electric shaver, then you've eliminated at least the manufacturing element.

Laser Hair Removal. I don't consider this all that environmentally friendly given the incredible amount of manufacturing input involved to make the equipment. One could argue that once the device has been manufactured, then it's really only input it energy. But, until laser hair removal is actually something that lasts and isn't so expensive, I wouldn't even consider it. I added it here only because I figured someone would ask about it.

Waxing. Most waxes are petroleum based. If you use store-purchased waxing kits, then you again are dealing with production, packaging and shipping issues as well as the waste created with throwing out the used strips. Salon waxing may provide a better option than home purchased kits since you may be able to find a salon that uses natural waxes, but there is still an issue with disposal due to health concerns. And, primarily, the cost can be an issue.

Sugaring. For those of you who are lucky enough to have tried sugaring or have a salon nearby that provides this service, you will know that sugaring is much more comfortable than waxing in that it adheres only to the hair rather than the skin (like waxing). There are kits you can buy for home use (like Moom), but there is still the issue of production, packaging, distribution and waste.

So, what the answer? What's the most environmentally friendly method of hair removal? Home sugaring.

There are only a few items that are needed and you most likely already have them on hand. All of these items are reusable so you just need to provide a few simple ingredients and a little know-how.

Home Sugaring Kit
  • Tongue depressor (a wooden Popsicle stick or dull knife also works well as a spreading device)
  • Cotton or linen cloth or muslin cut into 1 inch strips
  • Candy thermometer
  • Glass storage container (optional: if you plan on reheating in microwave)

    Sugaring Recipe
    2 cups sugar
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    1/4 cup water

    Combine all the above ingredients in a saucepan. Heat on low (making sure it doesn't boil over). Put the candy thermometer into the saucepan and when the mixture reaches 250 F on the candy thermometer (hardball candy stage), take it off the heat and pour it into the glass container after it's cooled down a bit. You can reheat this mixture in the microwave later if you don't use it all after it is made or if it cools down too much and isn't as spreadable.

    To use: Let the mixture cool down enough so you don't burn yourself. Test it on your wrist. Trust me, you will learn quickly to make sure the temperature is correct. Using your spreading device, spread it on your skin in the direction of the hair growth. Cover with the cloth strips and rip it off against the direction of the hair growth (kind of like pulling off a bandaid). You can also hold the skin taut with the non-ripping hand to aid in making sure all the hairs come out.

    To clean up, just wash the strips in soap and water. You can even throw the strips in the laundry for reuse again. I like to hand wash and air dry the strips.

    I highly recommend showering after sugaring to make sure you remove all of the mixture since bacteria love to breed in sugar.

    VoilĂ ! Enjoy your silky smooth skin using only a little sugar and lemon!

    Hilarie Mae said...

    Thanks so much for posting this! Now that summer is upon us, I was considering several hair removal options, but I'm definitely trying this first!

    anne lemay h said...

    If you opt for a disposable razor, try the Preserve Razor Recyclable. The handle is made from 100% recycled plastic and it comes in minimal packaging that doubles as a carrying case! and better still, both can be recycled in communities that accept #5 plastics. If your area does not accept #5's, no fear! Just send back the handle and plastic packaging container in a pre-paid mailer that should be available when you buy the razor (available at most health food stores or co-ops). They also make toothbrushes and are expanding into disposable utensils and kitchen items. I'm a huge fan and I'll never go back to reg. plastic! Check it out www.recycline.com

    Terra said...

    Now, I am always hearing about how sugaring makes your hair grow back lighter and thinner, if it isn't too personal, has this been the case with you? I see you are blond, so maybe you don't have much of a problem with it anyway, but I just have to ask!

    Emily said...

    Hello Crunchy,
    I use a stainless steel safety razor and it is very safe. Hence the name 'safety' razor.

    Anonymous said...

    Is there a good way to heat up the sugar wax if you don't have a microwave? Do you think it would become soft enough if you just stuck it in a bowl of hot water?

    Sarah said...

    Most sustainable method: leaving it where it is. This is also a nice way to show our daughters that they don’t have to change their bodies, conform to media-derived standards of beauty, or waste mental energy fretting about the state of their pubes in order to be valued and loved. (Normally when I suggest this women go on about how their armpits just stink if they don’t shave, etc. etc. but interestingly I’ve never encountered a man who shaves for that reason- funny that.)

    Deanna said...

    Terra - Yes, sugaring (or any kind of waxing) will make your hair grow back thinner. If you have sugaring done professionally, where they don't use the strips for removal, they do it in the direction of the hair growth. Apparently when it is done this way, with the hair pulled out at the root in the direction of the growth, it will come back a lot sparser over time. I'm not sure if you can say it's lighter, but there's definitely less of it.

    Emily - I have problems with the triple blades and goop strips and all that so I can't imagine using a safety razor, but I'm sure they work well for many people. I'm just not one of them.

    Anonymous - The sugar is heated on the stovetop. You would only use a microwave if you wanted to reheat it later, although I suspect you could just put it back on the stovetop to reheat.

    Sarah - Yep, the most sustainable method is to leave it there. But, for many women they aren't willing to go that route and are interested in a more green alternative.

    Anonymous said...

    Have you ever heard of "stringing"? I seem to recall that it is a method women in India and the middle east use. Any idea how that works?

    die Frau said...

    And here I just bought waxing strips (in the "natural" aisle, at least!). But I'm totally trying your method--thanks!

    Deanna said...

    Anonymous - Yeah, I've heard of stringing but I've also heard less than complimentary reviews of it. Basically you take a piece of string and twist it around the hair(s) and pull it out.

    Many practitioners hold one end of the string in their mouth and some weren't too crazy about that less-than-hygienic method, but I don't know if that's how they all do it, or what. I haven't really looked into it since it sounded rather complicated.

    Sharlene said...

    I use a razor but I am gonna try sugar. Sounds easy enough.

    I have had a middle eastern woman use banding (the strings) on me once and it hurt like a bitch! Holy shit! PLucking is a walk in the park comparitively. Never again!

    Kim said...

    A couple of years ago I bought the Parissa 2-in-1 Body sugar kit (http://www.parissa.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=30_1&products_id=50). It came with reusable strips. They didn't sell refills at the time so I just stopped removing the hair at all. Now I have a recipe I can use to refill it, just in time for skirt weather.

    The Cooking Lady said...

    My daughter and I will sooooo be trying this one. I cannot wait.

    Veronica said...

    My aunt told me that her mother-in-law's legs were as smooth as a babies butt and all she ever used was the whey from buttermilk. She'd rub it on each night and eventually -- no hair. She is long gone so I cannot ask her questions about it. I'd love to find out more about this technique. Is there more to it? Thought maybe if I posted this comment someone that knew about it may speak out or you may even be able to find out something.

    Anna de Tampico said...

    Crunchy, if you're still there...

    Usually I leave my legs in their natural state, but decided to try your sugaring to get fancied up for a wedding. It worked super well, but I have a question regarding the reusable strips. My cotton pieces ended up curled at the edges after I washed them. I certainly don't want to iron the suckers for reuse. Did you use a heavier weight cotton fabric? Any tips for this? Also, did you bind the edges of your fabric strips in some way?

    Crunchy Chicken said...

    Anna - My strips are made out of muslin, which you can easily find at a fabric store. I used pinking shears to cut the strips (they leave a little zig-zag pattern on the edges). They curl up a little, but not enough to be a problem since they mostly lie flat.

    I'm glad it worked well for you!

    Braun Electric Shavers said...

    Ouch! I have a new respect for women that is for sure!

    Theresa said...

    Does sugaring hurt a lot? I tried buying pre-waxed strips years ago and it hurt alot. After one or two strips I gave up and shaved because there's no way I was able to continue with the pain!

    Crunchy Chicken said...

    Sugaring is way less painful than waxing because it only sticks to your hair, and not to your skin. You also don't have the same amount of redness and irritation because you aren't trying to remove the top layer of your epidermis :)

    Anonymous said...

    Have you considered the environmental impact of getting that sugar to the store so you can buy it?


    Sera said...

    Hullo Crunchy, just wondering - is it possible to know when the sugar is ready without a candy thermometer? I'd love to try this but don't have one...


    Crunchy Chicken said...

    Anonymous - Yes there is an impact for everything that has a long supply chain.

    Sera - If you are able to identify the hardball candy stage without a thermometer it would work. But, even with a candy thermometer I've had problems getting it to the correct thickness and, once it cools down, will revert back to a liquid.