Women go to great lengths to combat that oh-so-unfeminine facial hair. They pluck, wax and tweeze. Now they can even thread.
This trendy Eastern alternative -- which uses a looped thread to yank out hairs at the root -- is an alternative to other near-medieval methods.
"I'm a convert," says Linda West, 41, who has come to Usha Beauty Salon in Parkville to get her eyebrows threaded. "I'll never have them waxed again."
It may just be a matter of time until threading becomes even hotter than waxing. "Waxing is about cutting out your pattern," says Jane Larkworthy, beauty director for Jane, a fashion and entertainment magazine. "Threading is each hair by each hair. It's more artistic."
It definitely is something to see. The threader, holding one end of the thread taut in her mouth, plays the part of cosmetic cowboy, lassoing out each hair with the looped ends of the thread.
Narine Nikogosian, of the hip Ole Henriksen Face and Beauty salon in Los Angeles, says threading has its perks. It doesn't pull the skin and is good for the circulation of the face, she says.
Threading is also chemical free, allows for more precision, and can remove hairs too short to be waxed away.
The growing praise and press about threading coincides with the current obsession with eyebrows. Big-screen brows -- sexy, arched, defined -- are all the rage.
Threading has woven its way into such sophisticated cities as L.A., New York, Chicago and, yes, even Baltimore.
Usha Gupta, of Usha Salon, is one of Baltimore's reigning masters.
Give Gupta five minutes and eight dollars and she'll thread away those errant hairs. It'll take a little longer and cost a little more in both pain and cash for the upper lip and chin.
In Gupta's tiny, narrow salon, which offers other exotic services like temporary mehndi tattooing and full Indian bridal makeup, the petite Gupta leans over her devoted customers (nearly 20 in an hour), intense focus on her face, thread poking out of her mouth. "You have to concentrate," says Gupta. Just because she isn't into hairdresser-style chitchat doesn't mean her regulars don't adore her. "She's got a cult following," says West, who works for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. "I come here all the way from Columbia."
Gupta was born in Bombay and has been threading for 24 years. She's been doing it in this country for 7 years. She learned how to thread in cosmetology school in India.
The exact origins of threading are difficult to trace. Some, including Nikogosian, say it began in the Middle East. Others, like Gupta, suggest it was brought to India by the Chinese more than two thousand years ago. Most agree that it's been practiced here for at least 10 years. "If people come with the bushy eyebrows and they want a deep arch, I can do it with the thread," Gupta says.
Jessica Vitilio, 24, is relying on this. She says she's waited a little too long between appointments. "You'll see a good 'before and after' on these bad boys," she says with a laugh, pointing to her slightly overgrown brows.
She reclines for the treatment, holding one hand on her forehead, the other pulling down her eyelid as Usha suggests. Holding the skin taut prevents cuts and minimizes pain.
Tiny hairs fall on her face and she twitches slightly as Gupta performs the repetitive tugging without batting an eyelash ... or eyebrow.
The moisturizer and antiseptic lotion pumps get a workout, as Gupta does everything she can to make the process more pleasant.
After the treatment, Vitilio looks in the mirror, eyes tearing slightly, skin pink and tender. She smiles. "It totally changes the shape of your face," she says, now blessed with two neat, clean, perfectly streamlined brows.
But did it hurt?
Any practice that involves ripping hair off your body is bound to smart a little. "Waxing is a quick pain," says Terrelle Gray, an Usha devotee who lives in Northwest Baltimore. Threading is a staccato pain more akin to tweezing, as the hairs are removed almost individually.
No matter what the agony factor, practically every client eagerly books her next appointment before she departs.
For Elizabeth Poling, threading is beauty salvation. "She dragged me in to get my eyebrows waxed when I was 12. I had so much brow," says Poling, 24, pointing to her mother Doris, also an Usha customer.
Elizabeth, who lives in Towson and works in sales, confesses that she once had an unmanageable unibrow. "Every time I got waxed, I would bleed." "The threading was like a miracle," says her mother, Doris Franz-Poling, 44.
Some beauty consumers might be concerned about hygiene since one end of the thread is held in the aesthetician's mouth. "If [the thread] is long enough and the fiber is not a cotton, it should be OK as long as that area is kept away from the skin," says Lisa Donofrio, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. And, reusing a thread is a no-no, she adds. Gupta says she uses a new thread for every customer, and her threads are 100 percent polyester.
But what about more, um, sensitive places? Gupta says threading is only done on the legs, arm and (shudder) the bikini line, to capture pesky hairs that refuse to be removed by waxing or other methods.
As threading gets bigger in cities like L.A., it's only a matter of time before starlets start singing its praises.
Gupta thinks Hollywood is definitely ready for threading. But she'd like to start at the White House with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who Gupta considers an eyebrow nightmare. "Please," she says, "just let me go and do her eyebrows."
Usha Gupta of Usha Salon in Parkville has a few helpful hints on making your foray into the ancient Eastern art of threading a little less, well, hairy:
During threading: While brows are being threaded, hold skin taut with one hand on the forehead, and the other tugging the eyelid (it reduces the pain)
After threading: Put ice on skin
Maintaining threading: Tweeze every other day to maintain shape and come regularly (normally, every 2 to 3 weeks)