Central Illinois stylist uses ancient hair removal technique



James Wealthy uses the ancient technique of threading on customer Jessica Junis on March 17, 2008, at CB Hair Design in Bloomington, Ill. The technique uses a simple piece of twisted thread to remove unwanted body hair, mainly on the eyebrows and other pa Lori Ann Cook, The Associated Press

By Michele Steinbacher

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – About seven years ago, hair stylist James Wealthy stumbled onto an interesting kiosk in a Chicago-area mall.

“I walked by, and I saw this Indian woman leaning over a client with a spool of thread,” said Wealthy, the professional name of James Whitaker.

“I was thinking, What is that? What is she doing? It was threading,” he said. The Bloomington man was hooked.

The technique uses a simple piece of twisted thread to remove unwanted body hair, mainly on the eyebrows and other parts of the face, such as above the lips or on the chin.

“It literally entraps the hair and pulls it from the root,” he said.

“I see it as an alternative, just another option,” said Wealthy, who provides the service through his space at CB Hair Design in Bloomington. “It’s not necessarily better than other techniques, like razoring or waxing. It’s one of those things that you either like it or you don’t,” he said.

“My objective as an artist, or a stylist, is to be able to provide my client with whatever service they desire,” he said. He believes with threading, hair doesn’t grow back as thick, threading isn’t needed as often as wax, and it’s a good choice for some people with sensitive skin.

“Especially people who might be taking medications that could cause sensitive skin reactions,” he said.

Waxing removes a layer of skin; threading does not, Wealthy said.

Threading may be fairly new to Central Illinois salons, but it’s been offered for many years on the East and West Coasts, and in large cities serving Middle Eastern populations. Wealthy said he’s seen entire salons devoted to threading in Los Angeles, for example.

“All the women I knew in Pakistan did it,” said cosmetologist Uzma Hassan, who with her partner, Vicki Patel, sometimes offers the service at a local shopping mall.

Threading is fairly common in Central Illinois’ Indian and Pakistani communities, but often the technique is performed on friends in living rooms, not in a professional salon.

Two years ago, when Wealthy first discovered threading, he had a difficult time finding a teacher, he said.

He compares the cultural tradition to the way some African women view braiding.

“It was passed down sister to sister, mother to mother; it’s kind of guarded,” he said. Eventually, he persuaded an Indian woman who worked in his former salon to teach him how to thread.

Wealthy contends eyebrow threading as well as his other specialty area, eyelash extensions, will be the next big thing to hit American salons.

“You know how there are manicure and pedicure shops everywhere now? That’s what I imagine we’ll be seeing for threading soon. Brows and lashes are here to stay,” he said.

Wealthy is doing his part to spread the technique.

“I concluded that I wasn’t the only person who wanted to learn how to do this here,” he said.

He uses his spot at CB Hair Design as a home base, but spends about half his time traveling to U.S. beauty industry trade shows, where he offers courses in both threading and eyelash extensions.

Though Illinois doesn’t offer licensing or certification for the technique, Wealthy provides students who complete his course with a professional certificate, he said.