Face it -- just about everyone has a little unwanted hair. Particularly in warm weather, which keeps the hair-removal business buzzing in the Valley, year-round. Some of the more intriguing hair-removal specialists in town bared all to share their techniques -- and a few tales from around the wax pot.
One of the latest trends in hair removal involves one of the most basic tools: a spool of thread.
Threading is an ancient technique -- used mostly for removing facial and arm hair -- now practiced in the Middle East, India, Asia and Eastern Russia.
No one in the Valley knows more about threading than three Russian ladies at the Elizabeth Arden Salon and Spa at the Biltmore Fashion Park (2472 East Camelback Road, 602-553-8800).
Esfira, Raisa and Berta all hail from Uzbekistan, where threading, they say, is a womanly rite of passage.
Generally speaking, according to Esfira, in Eastern Russia girls don't begin having their faces threaded until right before they get married, and bridal showers revolve around the practice. The showers are held one week before a wedding when female friends and family get together to eat, laugh, sing, dance and rip the hair out of the faces of blushing brides with nary more than a little piece of string.
Once a woman is married, threading becomes as much a part of her beauty routine as using a razor to shave one's legs is here in the U.S.
The ladies compare today's threading methods to waxing, in terms of pain, price and the length of time it lasts. But Esfira, Raisa and Berta claim threading is much gentler on the skin, improves circulation, and won't remove the color from a tan the way waxing can.
Berta offers to demonstrate the technique on Raisa's cheek as Raisa rolls her eyes and boasts of having a gentler touch than her thread-wielding friend. First Berta wraps the thread around her neck and secures it with a twist, then winds it around the first three fingers of her right hand. Taking up the slack with her left hand, she begins to work it across the woman's cheek, rhythmically, in a way that suggests she would be great at yo-yo tricks.
Raisa's cheek is soon hairless, smooth and glowing.
That episode alone is a little odd, considering it takes place behind the Red Door, in the city's swankiest shopping mall. But that's nothing. Just after Raisa's threading, a slightly bedraggled, slightly hairy woman meanders into the salon and begins speaking rapid Russian to the threaders. It turns out she is a Russian Gypsy who just happened into the salon. After some haggling, the Gypsy accepts the opportunity to have her eyebrows threaded by Berta in exchange for reading her fortune.
First Berta dusts the Gypsy's brow area with talcum powder, then, rather than removing a spool of thread from her jacket pocket, she pulls out a two-inch knife. It's explained that before one's brows are threaded, the arch must be created with some precision plucking. Berta's instrument of choice isn't tweezers; she prefers to use a dull knife with the blade pressed firmly against her thumb. Her deft handling of the knife as she thins a small patch of hair millimeters from the woman's eye is impressive.
After the arch is created, Berta dusts the area to be threaded with a bit of talcum powder, then takes out her spool of thread, and much string-flinging ensues. All fears of a violent end to eyesight aside, when Berta is finished, the Gypsy woman's eyebrows are perfectly arched and the skin around them devoid of fuzz. She looks dramatically better kempt.
With threading, there's a little pressure, a little pulling, and a little -- but just a little -- discomfort.
Because threading can be time-consuming, it is ideally suited for smaller body parts such as the eyebrows, cheeks or forearms. Anyone needing hair removed from a larger area than that needs to look to one of the other hot trends in hair removal hitting the Valley.
Sparkles in Brazil
The Brazilian was made famous when Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw traveled to Los Angeles a few seasons back and lifted her leg during a bikini wax -- but Julie Snooke of Waxworks in Scottsdale (7146 East First Street, 480-663-7756) did her first Brazilian 20 years ago.
Back then, just a couple clients wanted the almost-bare-down-there bikini wax. Now she does 40 a week, and Snooke keeps busy. She's even making waxing a family business; her daughter will join her this month.
For $50 a pop (literally -- read on for explanation), clients get very special service.
Snooke makes her own wax. Through trial and error, she has developed a secret formula.
"Over the years I played with it. Now my little brew consists of imported beeswax [from three countries] as well as my special blend of KFC spices," she says with a mischievous smile. Hers is a thicker, hard wax that does not require paper strips in order to be pulled off. She claims this makes the process less painful.
But how much less painful?
Not for the squeamish, nor the modest, nor for anyone with the misfortune of having been born with nerve endings in their nether parts -- there's no getting around it, the Brazilian means pain. When asked about how badly a Brazilian hurts, Snooke doesn't beat around the bush.
"Your first one does kill you," she says, matter-of-factly. "But I tell [new clients] they will laugh more than they will cry. I give them a lollipop to shut them up, and kind of harden their nerves. Ninety-nine percent of my clients grab a lollipop when they come in, and some crunch through two their first visit. If you walk out of the room with [a lollipop], everyone knows what you've had done."
To prove she is more masochist than sadist, Snooke admits that she does her own Brazilians. "Oh, the first rip is bad. It wasn't funny; the first time I just about had a thrombosis, I'm telling you."
Repeat performances minimize pain, Snooke says. She tells of a client who had such a tough time getting through her first Brazilian that she had to stop in the middle to take a "breather" out in the waiting room. Three Brazilians later, she talked on the phone to her real estate agent through the whole thing.
At no extra charge, Snooke will adorn the newly shorn with glue-on body jewelry (like crystals or sequins) or temporary tattoos.
"Unicorns, butterflies and flowers are the most popular," she says. "Ninety-five percent of my bikini wax clients want Brazilians, and 95 percent of those getting Brazilians opt for the jewelry or tattoos."
The special flourishes can be worn in the shower and will last three to five days.
For Valentine's Day, anniversaries or special occasions, Snooke offers the "Heart Bikini Wax" for $35, where she prunes one's womanly hedge into a heart shape, ties a little bow on it and sprinkles it with glitter.
Just about the only thing Snooke won't do is wax men from the waist down. For the hale, hearty and hairy men who want more than their backs, chests, brows, necks or ears waxed, Snooke refers them to Loretta at Just for You Salon and Spa in Tempe.
"Timid Is Bad"
Loretta Wilson's clients like her because she's cheeky.
"All of my bikini waxes include 'around the butt, up the butt, or crack-waxing,'" she says with a straight face.
Whatever you want to call it, Wilson isn't afraid to go all the way with a hairy guy. Her Tempe salon, Just for You (1730 East Warner Road, 480-752-8100), is one of very few in the Valley that offers the full range of waxing services for women . . . and men.
It used to be that waxing for men was a service sought just by body builders, dancers, boxers and athletes. Now with the advent of Queer Eye . . . , "Manscaping" is one of the hottest grooming trends for metromales.
Bumps and razor burns, apparently, are for losers. "Nobody shaves anymore," Wilson says, adding that these days, "more and more women send their husbands and boyfriends in for waxing. They want their men to be hairless." Why? Consider it a matter of personal taste.
Wilson uses frank language and believes that that is what puts her clients at ease. Her ads are aggressive, and her Web site (www.justforyouintempe.com) will tell a person exactly what to expect when he or she shows up for a waxing service.
In addition, the FAQ section will answer just about any question a person could conjure up, such as, "Can certain kinds of waxing make your penis look longer?" and "Does waxing a man's testicles hurt bad . . . ?" (The answers: Yes, and, What, are you kidding?)
When she first started offering Brazilians for men, Wilson had a problem. Men would schedule appointments and then chicken out. To combat the problem of frequent cancellations, she requires a 50 percent deposit over the phone for first-time male customers asking for Brazilians.
She says it is not at all uncommon for male clients to have an erection during the procedure. After all, if she is waxing a man's testicles, waxing becomes a full-contact, "summertime sport." Not that it fazes her. "I just cover it with a towel and go about my business. The erection goes away when I start pulling hair."
With that said, Wilson is quite comfortable waxing a butt, but she won't wax an ass.
"If a client gets out of line: It. Is. Over. With. I am very strict with misconduct or innuendos because I don't want a business like that. I am strictly business." She says she immediately tells unruly yetis to leave the premises.
Not that it happens very often.
The Wonder Woman of Waxing takes a lot of pride in her work.
"My waxes are very artistic," she says. "I do not want a single strand of hair left." She treats ingrown hairs with chemical acne products. And she follows up by phone to see how clients liked their service.
One of Wilson's body waxing clients (call him Harry) says that he found Wilson by looking on the Internet and calling around, and that he appreciates her frankness. Before going to Just for You, he had been to another salon where the aesthetician was not accustomed to waxing near the South Pole, and he says that her lack of experience left him feeling less than satisfied.
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"Timid is bad," says Harry. "[This] one gal used big blobs of wax that would get cold and then pulled it off slow and have to do it again. It was a lot more painful."
Harry also said some places he called wouldn't do a full body wax on a man in one session, making the process more time-consuming, and much more expensive. To have all one's body parts waxed à la carte would cost as much as $350 to $375 over multiple sessions, whereas Wilson charges $200 to $275 for a full body wax, which takes about two hours of fast waxing.
Wilson also offers Designer Bikini Waxes (men opt most frequently for half-moon styles, triangles and lightning bolts); In-Home Waxing Parties (for 10 or more); and a Frequent Waxers Club with rewards for multiple visits and for referring friends. Wilson also makes waxing sentimental, by donating 5 percent of every waxing fee to charity, proving she is a waxer with a big heart.
A big, hairless heart.