how depilatory creams work

I’m definitely a shaver, but I’ve dabbled in depilatory creams sometimes. As much as I love the ease and convenience of shaving, it’s a chore I have to do every day. Depilatory creams promise to keep my legs hair-free for 4 or 5 days, so, of course, I gave them a try.

Unfortunately, they never worked that well for me. I never seem to get a close shave with them, and, maybe because of that, my hair start growing back the next day. Plus, depilatory creams are more time-consuming ā€“ you have to apply them, wait for them to do their thing, and take them off.

So, I went back to shaving. But, I remained curious about them. What is it about them that makes hair fall off? How do depilatory creams work, basically? Let’s investigate:

What Are Depilatory Creams?

Depilatory creams can come in liquid or cream form. Their job is to remove unwanted hair from the body. But, they can only remove hair from the surface of the skin, or just very little below it ā€“ not from the hair follicle. That’s why the results last 4 or 5 days at most.

How Do Depilatory Creams Work?

Depilatory creams are made up of three main groups of ingredients:


Depilatory creams contain either calcium or potassium thioglycolate, two chemicals that dissolve the bonds of keratin, the protein hair is made of (of course, keratin can be found even in the skin and nails). When these bonds become loose, hair becomes so soft, it breaks off when you remove the cream from your skin.


These creams usually also contain calcium hydroxide, which increases the pH of the formula and helps thioglycolate better penetrate the hair, so the cream can do its job more easily. Sodium hydroxide does the same thing, but it’s used less often because because it’s harsher than calcium hydroxide.


Some of these creams also contain moisturizing ingredients that keep skin stay soft and smooth while the hair is being removed. Even so, any form of hair removal can irritate skin, so it’s always best to apply a moisturizer afterwards.

Do Depilatory Creams Have Any Side Effects?

I’m afraid so. Depilatory creams can cause:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Burns
  • Discolourations
  • Irritations

Some of the ingredients in the them can be pretty harsh (I mean, they have to dissolve keratin bonds, so they can’t be too gentle), so they can cause problems, especially if your skin is sensitive.

That’s why I recommend you do a patch test first. Try a small amount of the cream on a tiny area, like your wrist. If something nasty happens, and you experience a negative reaction, wash the cream off your skin IMMEDIATELY.

Do you use depilatory creams? Share your experience in the comments below.