Andrea Low, 22, a student at SF State, walks up the stairs of an old Victorian building to a small room offering $25 Brazilian waxes. Below the room is an old and dingy tattoo parlor. The first thing she sees is a small bed located in the corner of the room and a tray containing the necessary beauty supplies such as warm wax, baby powder and paper strips. The room is hot and stuffy and she immediately wonders if she should turn around and run. She knows people who have come here before and survived the wax, besides how could one pass up a Brazilian for $25, Andrea thought.
The woman’s business card said she was a professional in psychobabble and waxing. “She calls herself a professional in psychobabble because she can really talk your ear off to distract you from what she is doing,” Low says. “I could tell you a couple horror stories about Brazilian waxing but this woman tops them all. She brought her greasy lunch in the room and mid-wax, I joke you not, she takes a bite of her hamburger, and then continues waxing. She wasn’t even wearing gloves! She was nice and all but it’s safe to say I never went back.”
The Brazilian wax is a procedure that involves the removal of hair from around the pubic region. You have the choice to remove all of it or leave a little hair. Depending on where you go, an esthetician might ask a client if they would like to leave strip of hair down the middle, or have a triangular shape with the pubic hair. Sometimes a heart shaped design can be made, which is popular around Valentines Day. Brazilian waxing is mainly affiliated with females but men do it as well.
Hair removal gained popularity with American women in the early 1900s when sleeveless dresses, higher hemlines and sheerer fabrics became the fashionable trend. Revealing swimwear that originated in the 1940s resulted in the removal of pubic hair. Hair removal is an ancient tradition and although historians are not sure where it originated, they do know it developed in other countries, centuries ago. Women would remove body hair for both hygienic and religious reasons. Ancient Greeks and Romans would use pumice stones to remove body hair and women in ancient Egypt would use beeswax and depilatories, made from alkali, to remove leg hair.
This kind of waxing originated in Brazil when the popular thong bikini, many Brazilian women wore, became the newest fashion trend. The Brazilian wax gained popularity in the United States through pornography, celebrities, and TV shows such as Sex and the City. The Brazilian wax graced us with its presence in the 1980s in magazines such as Playboy and eventually became a trend among women and men in the United States in the 1990’s. Some people, such as feminists, argue that this kind of media coverage is a form of social capitalism that does not discuss the repercussions of a Brazilian wax. These repercussions include the social control of a women’s body and the childlike appearance the Brazilian wax creates. “A lot of people I know just get their bikini line waxed instead of getting it all waxed off,” Low says. “With the way swimsuits are made for women these days I think you really need to shave or wax down there.”
“It’s a trend that isn’t going anywhere,” Sarah Redmond, founder of Cocoon Urban Day Spa says. Redmond has been in the industry for ten years. She started her career in Ireland then worked in Paris before opening her own salon in San Francisco. There are many reasons people like to get Brazilian waxes. “It makes people feel cleaner and sometimes their partners prefer it,” Redmond says. “People like being hairless down there because it is more appealing and to some more hygienic.”
Walking up the stairs into Cocoon Urban Day Spa, located downtown at 330 First Street, one is welcomed with a relaxing atmosphere. Soft music, comfortable chairs, a glass of champagne and warm smiles greet guests as they walk through the door. In another room, a yoga teacher soothingly instructs her class through different yoga positions. Guests are taken down a warmly lit hallway decorated with pretty paintings and photos into a personal room. To the right of the small room is a small bed topped with wet wipes, numbing spray and a towel. A guest is instructed to use the products then remove all articles of clothing below the waist and lay on the bed with the towel draped over their lap. You’re a little nervous and not exactly sure what to expect next.
Waxing is said to be better than shaving because there are fewer ingrown hairs afterward. Shaving actually promotes hair growth; so the more you shave the more it grows back. Waxing reduces hair growth because it removes the entire hair follicle, which will make the hair grow back thinner and slower. If you continue waxing over a period of time the hair will take longer to grow out and will not grow back as thick.
“Once you see one vagina, you see them all,” Redmond says. “We take our job seriously. We have a goal, see the hair and remove the hair.” As for pain, there’s no way to escape that, it is going to hurt a little. Hairs are being yanked from your body. The numbing spray is supposed to help with the pain, and the complimentary glass of champagne helps to calm the nerves. “It’s a sensitive area so it’s going to hurt a bit, but it only takes about fifteen minutes,” Redmond says. “Also, the first time you get waxed usually hurts the most because the hair follicle is being yanked out for the first time.”
Almost five hundred businesses located in San Francisco pop up on Yelp.com when ‘hair removal’ is typed in the search engine. Many of these salons offer Brazilian waxes and other hair removal services such as leg and underarm. Cocoon offers leg, arm and chest hair removal for men but not Brazilian waxes. There are other salons located around San Francisco, such as the John Francis Spa located in the Castro district, which provides all types of waxing treatments for men and women.
Many wonder if Brazilian waxing is safe. Some women are scared to have a Brazilian because they are afraid it will be painful. Others do not want someone other than their doctor down in that region to perform a procedure. Always call the salon beforehand and ask questions. Make sure the salon has a state cosmetology license and check to see if they reuse the wax on their clients. It is not a good sign if a salon does reuse the wax. Most salons charge between $40 and $100 in San Francisco for a Brazilian wax. Never settle for a cheap wax, such as the $25 Andrea settled for, unless you ask these questions. Sometimes it’s better to pay a little more for a better-trained staff.
To prepare for a wax, some salons, including Cocoon Urban Day Spa, recommend trimming hair to a quarter inch before a Brazilian because it will make the experience more comfortable and the hair will be easier to remove. You can use clippers or scissors. If you generally shave down there, wait two to three weeks to wax for hair to grow back. Also, give yourself about a month in between waxes. Most likely the waxed will not be beautiful-looking at first. The area will look red and puffy. “I tell clients it kind of looks like a plucked turkey,” Redmond says. “It will definitely look a lot better 24 hours after the procedure.” Make sure to plan in advance so that you do not schedule an appointment on the same day you have special plans.
“I’ve had only a couple bad experiences with waxing, but for the most part they have been really good,” Low says. “I go about once a month, so I’ve had quite a few.”
“Once you try a Brazilian wax, it’s almost impossible to go back to shaving,” Redmond says.