Women have been doing it for centuries. So what's all the fuss about getting a man to try it? Paul Welsh introduces a friend to the art of sugaring

THE beautician spoke reassuringly. ``People are always apprehensive the first time, John, but don't worry, you'll be fine!'' Let's hope so. For men, the thought of hair removal is liable to leave them feeling nauseous.

Older than civilisation, popular beauty treatments including shaving and waxing, are widespread, but the latter technique still bamboozles males, striking fear into the toughest of them. ``How could someone do that?'' we ask ourselves incredulously. Peeling-off an Elastoplast is bad enough, but bonding a six-inch, hot-wax version to your lower leg then stripping-it-hairless in one swift action, is simply madness.

After 3000 years of fine tuning, however, an alternative technique known as sugaring is now gaining popularity, and this may demand a change of outlook. In North Africa and the Middle East, this is the preferred method of hair removal, practised there for millenia by aspiring beauties reclining further back than Cleopatra.

XS Sugaring, a training centre and practice newly set-up in Bonhill, Alexandria, has provided much of the impetus for this recent surge in interest, and according to first-hand reports, sugaring is less painful than waxing, more thorough and equally hygenic. Must be time for a man to try then? Well, apparently not.

``Men are always reluctant to inflict pain on themselves,'' reflects XS co-founder Mairi Stevenson, before the guinea-pig session begins. ``I think there is a fundamental difference between males and females in this respect. I am sure if a man had a child, he would only have one. Come to think of it, if we left procreation to men, the human race probably wouldn't last very long.''

That's just what we needed to hear. Feart by nature or not, the first man to be sugared in Bonhill was now quaking at the prospect.

``Certainly if you have been shaving, it's a bit nippy.'' Stevenson's business partner, Jan Ferguson, explains. ``Taking the hair out by the root causes all the pain and shaving makes the hair and roots coarser, so it is even more painful. Consequent treatments are almost painless though. If the hair is continually removed this way, eventually it grows back very fine, leaving the type of down found on a baby. Personally, I was converted because sugaring is only half as painful as waxing.''

In the Middle East, sugaring paste is made from tree sap, and in some cultures, pubescent women still have their hair removed using this technique, remaining hair-free for life. Ferguson and Stevenson have developed their own range of products, however, including a Scottish version of the sticky honey-like paste which is spread warm on the skin, before a deft, skilful flick carries away all offending hair.

``I can't say what's in the paste,'' says Ferguson, ``because it's absolutely top secret! It is predominantly sugar, though, 100% natural with no additives, chemicals or anything like that.''

Another reassuring thought, unlike previous publicity for sugaring in Britain. A number of years ago, home-sugaring kits had to be removed from High Street stores after people burnt themselves badly with paste over-heated in microwaves. And without proper training, the necessary action of sugaring can also damage skin.

``Sugaring should always be done by an expert,'' says Ferguson. ``If you do not have the right technique, you can bruise the skin when the paste is removed, and it takes a significant amount of time to develop this skill. I could show you how to wax someone's legs in an hour, but you cannot learn sugaring in that time.''

Both Ferguson and Stevenson trained in the South-East of England, but since starting XS, they have developed their own instruction course for anyone interested in setting-up a professional clinic. It includes advice on tax legislation, pricing, a code of practice, ethics and marketing, as well as the technical details of sugaring.

``If a woman can turn a room over to sugaring,'' says Ferguson, ``they can develop a fantastic business. I never thought I would be busy from home, but it reached the stage where I could not cope with the demand. This is my first business, and a complete contrast to what I was doing before. It is ideal for job sharing, generating a little extra money, or even more - at the moment we are training one woman who is taking her redundancy and going into sugaring full-time.''

Training involves 50 hours one-to-one in Bonhill, and another 150 hours of assessment, theory and practical work with models or clients at home, wherever that may be. Sugaring ``graduates'' have alrady established businesses in Glasgow, Perth and Islay, and the two partners at XS have enough clients to regularly work 10-hour days.

Waiting to be sugared in their relaxing, pristine Bonhill clinic (a converted ground-floor tenement flat), John had resigned himself to an uncomfortable fate. ``I don't particularly want to lose my hair,'' he announced. ``If you pull a hair out, it has to be painful, there is no way round that. Paul just asked me to come down and give it a go, but my mum nearly hit the roof when I told her. Mums love their boys the way they are, with no changes.'' But sugaring is all about change.

``People are very self-conscious about their body hair,'' says Ferugson, ``and you would not believe the variety we see. Facial hair, chest hair, all sorts, so you have to offer a discreet service. If there was a demand from men, we would have to arrange a separate evening or consultation time for them, as well.''

Both HRT and forms of medication containing male hormones encourage hair growth, and, as a result, increasingly more women require this service. The specifics of personal motivation still vary significantly, though.

``Some girls are just vain,'' says Stevenson. ``They want their legs done but you would need a magnifying glass to find any hair on them. Other women, though, have bad problems with unwanted growth - for instance facial hair - and helping to improve their quality of life gves me a good feeling.''

Only two questions remained. Could they do the same for John and was it really so sore?

``I removed a man's moustache once,'' Jan recalls, ``but he nearly catapulted through the ceiling. He was going to Kenya and didn't want to shave when he was away, so his girlfriend sent him to us. Shoulders, chest or back are probably better.''

Soon John was smiling contentedly, though, as XS pampered, prepared then massaged his new, baby-smooth back. ``It stung a little but was definitely not as sore as I thought it would be,'' he confided honestly. ``You would really have to want this treatment a lot, but it's probably worth it for the massage at the end. I'm a sucker for a back-rub - that feels great - just wish I wasn't so fat, though.'' Don't ask why I didn't try but lipo-suction is next, John fancy it?

n.XS Sugaring: Qualified Practitioners & Training Centre, 86 George Street, Bonhill G83 9JF. Tel 01389 710562. Face from #3.50; full leg from #14.00; Sugaring Training Course #2200 (all inclusive).