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Depilatory Hair Removal Creams 101


Young woman applying cream at her legs
Bambu Productions/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The term depilatory actually means 'removing the hair'. But chemical products that remove hair are often called depilatories, so that's what most people think of when they hear this term.

How Does it Work?

A strong, alkaline based product is placed on hair and slowly breaks down the hair follicle, until it turns jelly-like. The depilatory hair removal process takes about 5- 10 minutes for it to be easily wiped off with a warm towel at, or somewhat below skin level.

The Pros

  1. It's fast, relatively cheap and easy. Depilatory hair removal creams can be found at the local drug store, for a couple of dollars and you can use it in your own home (learn more).

The Cons

  1. It has an odor (think perm smell). If you have used a depilatory, you know what I am talking about. Although, I think some smell worse than others.
  2. They contain strong chemicals. You can really hurt your skin, especially if you leave the product on too long. The FDA's Office of Cosmetics says they have received many reports of burns, blisters, stinging, itchy rashes, and skin peeling associated with depilatories and other types of cosmetic hair removers.
  3. Short-lived results. The follicle hasn't been removed from the root, only removed at or slightly below skin level. You will see hair above the skin surface the next day, or in a couple days at best.

Ouch Factor

A light tingling is normal while the depilatory is working. If you feel burning, your skin is either too sensitive, you're allergic to one of the ingredients, or you have left it on too long. In any case, take it off immediately and apply cool water.

Hair Removal Cream Costs

Depilatory hair removal products range from about $4 - $12. The lower end will get you a simple product, where the higher end will get you a spray-on version or a kit.
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