Health & Beauty

Road Test: Hard Wax at High Maintenance

Wax on, wax off. It really is that simple.

By Rachel Walls April 27, 2012

Naomi Lewis, owner of High Maintenance Skin Care Salon, makes hard waxing look easy.

I’ve had my fair share of strip waxes. That might sound like a confusing bachelorette party game, but it’s the hair removal technique of applying hot wax to an area of skin, covering it with a strip of cloth, and ripping the hair out by the root. While it’s an efficient way to remove unwanted hair from large areas of the body such as the legs, back, or chest, it’s a bit rough on sensitive spots like the face, armpits, and bikini area.

Enter hard wax.

Naomi Lewis, owner of High Maintenance Skin Care Studio in Capitol Hill, has been using hard wax on her clients for 13 years. She estimates that she has given about 100,000 waxes in her life, so I feel confident booking a Brazilian with her.

The biggest appeal of hard wax is that it’s supposedly less painful. I was skeptical, but I went without my usual pre-wax ibuprofen so as not to tip the scales. (That’s just how committed I am to journalistic integrity.)

Hard wax, Lewis explains, bonds to the hair but not the skin. Not so with strip wax, which accounts for the redness, sensitivity, and irritation so commonly experienced. Hard wax is applied liberally in a small area, allowed to cool for a few moments, and then removed in one quick motion. No strips necessary: because the hard wax doesn’t bond to the skin, she can grab a corner of the hardening wax and yank it off by itself. (The lack of strips also eliminates that terrifying rrrrrrriiiiiiip sound, which is not psychologically comforting.)

The million-dollar question: Is it really less painful? In a word, yes. But in several words, it’s less painful than a strip wax in the same sense that a tooth extraction is less painful than a root canal. If you find strip waxing unbearable, don’t expect hard wax to feel like a thousand butterflies wishing your hair away. But if waxing is part of your regular routine, you owe it to yourself to upgrade; the difference is noticeable.

A question worth at least a hundred bucks or so: If hard waxing is such a superior hair removal technique, why aren’t all the salons doing it? For one, Lewis tells me, it’s more expensive. Her wax of choice comes from Australia, and not only does it cost more than the gold goo used in strip wax, it requires a more heavy-handed application to get the job done. I also notice the process takes longer than my usual strip wax, and longer sessions equals fewer clients per hour, which means less profit.

It’s also much more difficult to learn how to do it properly. As anyone who has ever attempted an ill-fated at-home wax knows, things go very painfully wrong when you don’t know what you’re doing. Lewis trains new aestheticians in the process for three months before setting them loose on her clients, but it’s not hard to imagine most salons can’t afford that kind of time commitment.

After my appointment, Lewis gave me a hug and a sample of Tend Skin. I assure her I’ll be back, and I know I will. I won’t be able to downgrade to strip wax now that I know what’s out there. Hard wax is the iPhone 4S; strip wax is the flip phone.

And shaving is the pay phone at the gas station: only for emergencies.

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