Image: Jay Yeo
December 17 2011
Part: 1 | 2
“Two million bushes pruned – and counting!”, yells the website.
Blimey, what a catchphrase. “How much hair do you think that accumulates to? A house full or a warehouse full?” wonders my slimpsy friend in deadpan tone.
I’ve always thought waxing must be a great recession-proof business, because, let’s face it, feast or famine, it’s one thing I never scrimp on. In fact I have spent the majority of my life contorted in some DIY depilatory state – strip wax, hot wax, tweezers, razors or lasers – in an attempt to be hair-free.
I have certainly not made life easy for myself; my lower legs get shaved, upper legs get strip waxed, the bikini area gets hot waxed, I laser under my arms, my eyebrows get threaded. I’m, ahem, bushed just at the thought of all that labour.
However, many of my friends feel that my over-zealous hair fundamentalism is precisely where I am going wrong. The theory goes: the week you do let your hair down (if you’ll allow me another cheap pun), you will find the elusive Mr Right. Well, if that were the truth, then the Ministry of Waxing, which was founded in Singapore in 2001, would be out of business, because, just as the Ministry of Waxing website says, “Our only mission in life is to help you conquer the body foliage and turn you into one smooth operator!”
“Welcome ladies!” says the girl at the New York City branch of the Ministry. “What’s your poison today? Are we just waxing, or do you want to try the new Brazilian facial cleanse and microdermabrasion treatment on offer?”
I tell her I’ve just had a Kate Somerville facial at the Trump this morning, so I just go for a plain little Brazilian. I’m frankly a bit miffed that she can’t see the glowing effects of the $350 facial I had just hours ago.
“Ahahaha!” she titters. “Oh, we don’t do facials here, my dear – this is a full vaginal facial: we wax, then cleanse, deeply exfoliate, get rid of any in-grown hairs and then moisturise. It’s a really amazing service. And for eight bucks more, we can trim your hair into a heart shape.” My hefty, heavily tattooed therapist, her long brown hair in a ponytail, seems excited at the proposition of turning me into some porn star.
“I’ll have it!” Dipsy, my friend, steps into the ring. In fairness, her therapist looks a lot less terrifying – I’m not sure I can go the full 10 rounds with mine.
“Next question girls: an orang-utan or a strawberry?” She grins; I think we are both wondering just where this might be going.
“Strawberry…?” we say in unison.
“Great! We’ve run out of the orang-utan clenchers anyway.” With a flourish, she pulls two strawberry-shaped rubber balls out of her pockets, handing us one each. “Ever heard of stress balls? Well, this is what we do here – so remember, when the discomfort gets too much, just breathe into the pain and squeeze your little strawberries,” she says winking.
Then we’re off into our respective treatment rooms. She lays me down, snaps on the latex gloves, and for the next 20 minutes I’ve got a death grip on my stress ball, the occasional sting-tear carving a little rivulet down my cheek as she gets into every nook and cranny, leaving not a single follicle unearthed.
“Oh, you are a sensitive soul. Now lift your legs, and hold your knees into your chest – let’s get into your undercarriage.”
I do as I’m told, and despite having gone through these motions probably a hundred times, I still find the whole procedure a bit mortifying; and each time I swear I am going to laser – advancements in laser removal have made the process significantly less painful (or, if almost as painful as waxing, at least with a guaranteed result after about eight to 12 sessions, depending on skin and hair type). I am momentarily unsure why I am here, legs in the air, pink wax dripping down my thighs while my therapist makes small talk.
The art of depilatory waxing was long on offer at many a hair salon or beauty parlour, but usually as a little talked about, or almost forgotten, extra service. From my vast experience of bad waxing – I’ve left red-pimpled or bruised more than once – I’ve often felt that the level of training was simply not there. And for a second-nature treatment that I, and lots of my girlfriends, have almost as often as a blow dry or a facial, it appeared to be stuck in the dark ages of beauty.
That was until Strip, a UK-based salon, opened its doors in 2005. “We do waxing, we only do waxing and nothing apart from waxing,” Maria-Louise Featherstone, the co-founder, told me when I first visited. This was followed in 2009 by Ministry of Waxing sprouting up everywhere. Finally, there was some specialisation – and it wasn’t long before I saw the entire industry standard of waxing and the products used improve.
The science bit, for me, is threefold. There’s the actual wax product itself, which comes in two main types: a thinner variety, called strip wax, used on legs (and, by some very brave or deeply de-sensitised souls, on the bikini area); as the name suggests, it’s applied in layers, allowed to set, and then yanked off at speed using strips of cloth or heavy paper. It has to be a special consistency and just the right temperature – not hot enough and it won’t open the pores to ease the extrication of follicles; too hot and, of course, it can burn the skin, taking layers off when it’s removed. A thick hot wax is used for the more sensitive bikini line. Both Ministry of Waxing and Strip use an excellent consistency wax that is packed with moisturising and calming ingredients, and comes in an array of non-allergenic scents (strawberry, chocolate and lavender among them). So important is the wax that many salons demand exclusivity on a producer’s range as it’s a key USP for their business.
Then there are the techniques and the training. These of course are paramount to a quick and pain-free (as is possible, anyway) procedure. My therapist today is very thorough, encouraging me to breath in sensitive spots, or else squeeze my little rubber panic ball, and her technique is swift. All therapists at Ministry of Waxing are trained at waxing “boot camps” to ensure that the level of service globally stays the same.
Finally, the right post-wax product can seriously enhance the result. These vary from lotions that help prevent ingrown hairs, to “freezing” lotions that calm burning or irritated skin, to moisturisers that do both. My therapist today uses an alcohol-free treatment that contains a pineapple enzyme known as Bromelain, and tea tree, to calm the area, and a lotion called Ice Cream that feels lovely and calming rich and moisturising.
So yes, it still hurts – but in fairness, I feel more sorry for her than me: I will leave in five minutes, but she is back-to-back today. She has already pruned and fine-tuned eight lucky ladies, from their nostrils to their bushy toes, before me – and two more to go before her day ends, all on what I’m sure isn’t exactly a robust wage.
As she leaves the room, I examine her work, and I am delighted with the thorough job she did and the speed with which she did it. I wait around in the lounge for my friend Dipsy to finish. They have a very cool retail store, selling everything from an SOS Virgin Forest Kit (£26) for first-time waxers, to Nippies (£9), which hide your nipples when you fancy going braless.
Goodness. Who thinks up all of this stuff? But it must be working, as wax-ologists are sprouting up everywhere.
“I love it! I’ll be back!” I can hear Dipsy strutting down the corridor. “And I will be bringing my boyfriend in for a Boyzilian.” She clocks the puzzled look on my face. “Yes, dear – don’t be such a prude. Guys get the full treatment here too. Personally I think it’s pure common courtesy.” Finally, we can get our own back. Gentlemen, be warned; there is a waxing revolution with your name on it happening in a city near you. And we ladies all agree: rather latex than never.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Yes, it still hurt, but within reason – that’s par for the waxing course; even a therapist of excellent technique – which mine was – can’t fully prevent pain when what you’re essentially doing is ripping hair out at its root in an already sensitised area of one’s anatomy. But I’m very impressed with both the result (a totally clean sweep, bump-free, well shaped) and with the procedure. In addition to an excellent technique, my therapist was very fast, and observed the cardinal rules of waxing hygiene (latex gloves on at all times, and no double-dipping the spatula in the hot wax). Ministry of Waxing is also very competitively priced – other general beauty salons which don’t make the delicate art of good waxing a speciality charge just as much. All in all, a big thumbs up; I’ll happily entrust my bikini line to this salon when I’m in New York in future.
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.