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What Are the Different Types of Depilatory Hair Removal?

By Elizabeth West
Updated May 17, 2024
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Depilatory hair removal products come in creams, gels, and lotions. Chemical depilatories act by breaking disulfide bonds in hair and weakening it, making it break down. They are easy to use and relatively inexpensive. There are other methods of hair removal for those who are sensitive to the compounds in these products.

The most common chemicals in commercial depilatories are thioglycolate and sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide. These chemicals dissolve the disulfide bonds in hair, which contain the protein cystine and hold the hair cells together. Since dermal cells also have the same protein, chemical depilatory hair removal often causes irritation to the skin. Most of the products recommend a patch test, where a small amount of the cream or lotion is applied to the inside of the elbow and then monitored for any changes. If changes occur it indicates a possible allergic reaction, and the product should probably not be used.

Disulfide bonds are tough, and the chemicals have to be somewhat strong to break them. Body hair may be coarser than facial hair, so a stronger depilatory hair removal product will be needed. Using the wrong one on the wrong area can produce irritation, redness, and cause burns.

A depilatory hair removal product should be applied to clean skin that has not been recently shaved. The instructions will indicate how long the product should be left in place. When the time is up, the cream or lotion can be washed away with warm water and a washcloth, using light pressure to pull the hair from its follicles. Some products come with a soothing aftercare lotion that helps reduce irritation. If this is not included, a mild hydrocortisone cream can soothe any inflammation.

Depilatory hair removal has advantages, including affordability and convenience. It tends to be relatively painless, and the creams are easy to use over a large area, such as legs. For some people, very sensitive skin may preclude the use of depilatories. Others object to the chemical smell or the mess, and people with very coarse hair may not find it effective enough over a long period.

For those who can’t or don’t like to use depilatory hair removal, shaving and waxing are alternatives. The most economical is shaving, although replacement cartridges for some razors can be costly over time. Waxing may also cost more if it is done at a salon. Electrolysis and laser treatments offer a more permanent solution, but they are pricier than depilatories or shaving.

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