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The Thread Connecting Them to Long-Ago India

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Totally unglamorous yet aesthetically urgent, facial depilation can be hair-raising in more ways than one. Although most women would prefer to avoid the subject, facial hair removal tops the list of most common and least enjoyable beauty treatments.

Shaving requires vigilance beyond most women’s inclinations, while plucking can cause nicks and scars, and waxing’s side effects may include burns, rashes or blemishes. The new laser removal methods are extremely costly and electrolysis is an expensive pain in the pores.

So what’s the alternative?

Threading, an age-old Indian hair removal technique that is relatively new to the West. In a gracefully bizarre ritual, the cosmetician holds one end of a 100% cotton thread in her mouth while manipulating the other, tightly looped end around facial hairs, yanking them out of the follicle with a rapid twisting motion. As she works the thread across the client’s face, the cosmetician’s neck and head bob back and forward in sinuous movements mirroring those in traditional Indian dance.

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“Threading definitely looks and feels weird, but it never irritates my skin like waxing does,” says Monica Santos, 28, a devotee of Ziba Beauty Center in Artesia’s Little India neighborhood. For two years, Santos has been driving here from Irvine to have her eyebrows threaded “because it doesn’t hurt as much as waxing.” Although her sister, Cindy, 19, disagrees about the pain factor--"Threading hurts like hell"-- she willingly submits and pays $6 for the treatment because she wants “to look like I have two eyebrows instead of one. A lot of Hispanic women have the same problem.”

Judging by Ziba’s clientele, the Frida Kahlo uni-brow and / or mustache is far more culturally widespread. On a recent weekday morning, Indian, Middle Eastern, African American and white women of European descent crammed the salon, amiably chatting as they waited an average of 20 minutes to undergo facial depilation. According to regulars such as Shelia Taylor, 27, a statuesque client from Lakewood, weekday mornings are the best bet--"'If you come here on a Saturday, you might have to wait up to an hour.”

Because eyebrow and upper lip threading requires just five to 10 minutes, Ziba provides these services on a walk-in basis. (Eyebrows cost $6; the upper lip, $4). Appointments must be made for full facial threading--denuding of chin, forehead, eyebrows, upper lip, sideburns and cheeks. This costs $25 and takes 15 to 20 minutes.

“Facial threading makes my skin surface much smoother,” says Fran Daniel, 27, of Buena Park. “I have such pale, sensitive skin, and having a smoother face means that makeup goes on more evenly and stays on longer.”

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Daniel, a Northwest Airlines flight attendant, first came to Ziba seven months ago at the suggestion of her Indian husband, who’d recommended the salon’s herbal facials. She’d never heard of threading, came for a facial and wound up having her eyebrows done. Now she comes monthly for facial threading.

“I’ve been burned by hot wax in a salon before, so I’ll never get waxed again,” she says. Because no foreign substance is applied to the skin, she adds, “Threading’s a clean and gentle hair removal tpreatment. It never strips off the top layer of dead skin like waxing does.”

According to Ziba owner-founder Kulwant Sabarwal, “Another advantage of threading is that as soon as the hair pops out of the skin, we can remove it. With waxing or tweezing, you must wait for hair to grow to the right length before removal.” Because hairs are pulled out at the root, it takes an average three to four weeks for them to grow back.

Sabarwal specializes in Indian beauty care, including rose water and herb mud pack facials and the traditional henna tattoo art mehndi, but the owner says that “60% of our business is in threading.”

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While the technique theoretically can be performed anywhere on the body, Sabarwal says that “to do somebody’s leg could take me a whole day and . . . would be prohibitively expensive.” Although threading is not taught in American cosmetology schools, Ziba’s threaders are licensed cosmetologists authorized to perform any kind of hair removal. To Sabarwal’s knowledge, “The only salons in Los Angeles or the United States where you’ll find threading are Indian or Iranian.” Among the latter is Mimi’s in Beverly Hills.

“Because threading is such an ancient practice, its origins are somewhat mysterious,” Sabarwal adds. “I’d venture that the Aryans, who had pale skin and dark hair, originated threading in the Middle East, then moved with it to India and into what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh.” More information about threading and Indian salons is available at Ziba’s Web site, https://www.zibabeauty.com.

Sabarwal co-owns and operates Ziba with her daughters, Sumita Batra, 28, the salon’s marketing manager, and Suman Patel, 30, who manages salon operations. When this writer had her eyebrows done by Patel, it was pure torture--but in minutes I had elegantly shaped brows. While Patel says she doesn’t find threading that painful, she notes, “Sumita can’t have her eyebrows threaded without screaming.”

“She’s right,” her sister agrees, laughing. “And upper lip threading is excruciating for me. But, like a lot of our clients, I get threaded once a week” when the hair is shorter and removal less painful.

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Batra finds it faintly surprising that Ziba has its share of male clients, including Latinos and Asians who have their eyebrows done and, she says, a UPS employee who “must be the best-groomed delivery guy in Southern California.”


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