"Beauty hurts," was my husband Patrick's first response to the news that I was considering a bikini wax. My confidence boosted by a successful campaign to rid myself of 15 excess pounds, I was making plans to trade in my skirt-bottomed swimsuit for a sassy two-piece. "Never mind the high heels, the control-top hose, and the tweezing," continued Patrick. "Now you're looking to get hairs melted into wax and ripped out of your body." I put on a brave face and brushed him aside, reminding him that he liked the way I looked and dressed, but he spooked me with the waxing talk. I needed reassurance.

A good friend had raved about the treatment her skin received at 20/20 Skin in Sorrento Valley (858-450-9191, www.2020skin.com), so I decided to pay them a visit for a little prewaxing tutorial. Owners Lynne Warner and Elizabeth Allen greeted me and gave me a preview. "You're greeted, then ushered back and given a place to change," said Warner. "We take a brief written profile of the client's skin and health conditions. We want to check for products or conditions that might make them supersensitive and literally unwaxable. Specifically, acne medications or topical ointments used to bleach the skin. Or if they've recently been tanning. Those things make the skin more sensitive, so that the waxing is more likely to lift skin instead of just hair."

In the waxing room, said Warner, "The bed has waxing paper on it, and there's a heated blanket. A drape is provided for additional privacy. There's a fan that we can have on your face -- some people get nervous or sensitive," and the cool air helps calm things down.

Once in the waxing room, I encountered warm vibes, inviting aromas, and esthetician Sommer. "I try to be really sensitive to the client," she said, "and to get a feel for them, based on whether they've had any waxing done. If not, I assure them I'm going to be really gentle and slow. I do a little test patch of the area to give them an idea of what it's like."

The area in question -- the part that gets waxed in the $30 bikini wax -- "covers a squared-off area on the very upper thighs and the pelvic region. I provide a disposable spa thong for you to wear. That way, we don't mess up your own undergarments, and it allows me to better access the area. I can slide the thong around to customize the waxing. The ideal hair length for waxing is a quarter-inch. If it's longer, I trim it. Then I clean the area and put on an epilation powder, which isolates the hairs and absorbs any excess skin oil."

When it comes to waxes, said Sommer, "there's a variety. Some are cream-based, and some are honey-based. I prefer the honey wax; it grabs the coarser hair and gives you a nice clean wax. The cream waxes are for more sensitive skin; that's what you would use on the person's face -- or other areas, depending on the person's sensitivity. Honey wax is made with honey; it looks like honey. It's heated, but at a pretty low temperature. I describe the sensation as 90-degree weather against your skin."

During the procedure, "I apply the wax in a very, very thin layer with a wooden spatula, held at a 45-degree angle. Then I apply a muslin cloth over the wax with a light patting motion. After that, I stretch the skin nice and tight with firm pressure, and rip in the opposite direction. Immediately afterward, I apply pressure -- to take away sensation. The nerve endings are going a little haywire, and applying pressure diffuses the nerve endings."

Sommer said she was careful to get all the hair and wax off on the first try, so as to avoid going back over areas. "That's a chronic problem," added Warner, "rewaxing an area that's already been waxed. The skin can only tolerate so much. It's unpleasant to have an area redone; it's painful, and can lift skin. Also, our post-treatment oils clean off all the wax, so you don't stick your way out of here."

Still a bit anxious, I asked if it wouldn't be easier just to shave. Sommer was ready for me. "The benefit of waxing is that the skin is left incredibly soft and baby-smooth -- a lot more so, because you're taking the hair out of the follicle. You don't leave a little lump around the root, because you've taken the root out. The area may be a little pink or tender afterward, so I go over it with soothing azulene oil. Within 30 minutes to an hour, you're back to normal. And with waxing, you're gradually collapsing the hair follicles. With shaving, the area immediately grows back coarser and thicker -- sometimes, you have two hairs growing from one follicle."

Waxing, said Sommer, leaves the skin smooth "for about three weeks," though owner Warner noted that "if it's a person's first waxing, there's a crop of baby hairs coming in right behind, so you might have to rewax sooner." After that, "there's more time between each wax." Added Sommer, "There are different stages of hair growth. You have hairs that are already out, hairs that are in the follicle and on their way, and hairs that are forming in the follicle. With waxing, you're training all the hairs to grow at once. And as the hair regrows, it's softer, finer, and more sparse."

There was the matter of "styling" to attend to. "Most women," said Sommer, "want the hair removed that would be exposed by a bathing suit. Some ask for the Playboy look, which is a landing strip, so to speak -- just a very thin line, maybe three-quarters of an inch wide. Sometimes, they want a little arrow, kind of a triangle pointing down."

After the session, said Sommer, "I tell people to exfoliate for a few days, to prevent ingrown hairs. If you don't exfoliate, hairs get trapped under dead skin."

1. Honey wax

2. Lynne Warner

3. Sommer

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