Depilatories: Pros, Cons and Usage Precautions

Depilatories: Pros, Cons and Usage Precautions

If you’ve never considered using a depilatory product, or have used them but with limited success, you’ve definitely come to the right place. This brief, yet informative article will teach you everything you need to know to decide whether a depilatory product is right for you and what you need to know before using them.

How Depilatories Work

There are two main ingredients used in depilatory products: calcium thioglycolate and/or potassium thioglycolate. Some products have both, some have just one.

To put their method of action into the simplest terms possible: the calcium or potassium thioglycolate found in depilatories break down the protein in hair, called keratins. This effect both weakens the hair and separates the follicle from its root.

Available Applications

There are 6 widely available types of applications available:

1. Creams
2. Gels
3. Lotions
4. Spray-on
5. Roll-on
6. Powder

Creams and gels are definitely the most popular types. Lotions, sprays, and powders work well on thin, light-colored hair, but are much less effective on darker, thick hair.



There’s no preparation needed to use a depilatory. Simply run to the store, buy it, take it home and spread or spray it on. Within 5 – 10 minutes you rub the product off, and viola! Compare that to waxing, tweezing, or using an epilator, and it quickly becomes obvious why these products have a huge stake in the multi-million-dollar hair removal product industry.

No stubble with regrowth:

Like waxing and tweezing, depilatories don’t cause nasty stubble regrowth. The hair is completely removed from the follicle. When regrowth occurs, the soft top part of the hair shaft comes out first. In contrast, when hair is shaved, you’re cutting the follicle at the base, the thickest part of the hair which causes stubble and the 5 o’clock shadow effect.


You can spend as little as $4 and as much as $40 for high-end products. Paying more doesn’t guarantee better results though. Often you’re paying extra for more skin conditioners and exotic fragrances that really aren’t necessary for effective hair removal.

No learning curve:

Waxing, tweezing – even shaving all have a learning curve to overcome, to get the best and least painful results. A depilatory requires nothing more than watching the clock carefully after you apply the product.

Relatively pain free:

Provided you time the process carefully, depilatories offer the most pain and irritation-free hair removal experience. If you have sensitive skin, irritation may be unavoidable, but still less intense than other methods.


Powerful Chemicals Used:

While they’re relatively safe to use; it’s important to consider that you are applying a product to your skin that’s designed to dissolve the keratin in your hair. Consider how strong a hair is, and the fact that skin is also rich in that same keratin, and it’s not a far stretch to imagine it may cause short or even long-term skin damage if not used correctly. Burns, blisters, itchiness, rashes, and skin peeling are common negative reactions from users who left the product on longer than recommended.

Unpleasant odor:

The thioglycolates used in depilatories have a very distinctive odor that’s considered unpleasant by most people. These odors are near-impossible for manufacturers to mask completely.

Hair starts regrowing within days:

This is true for all hair removal methods, next to lasering procedures. The hair will generally come back within a few days, just slightly less time than if you’d shaved it.

Usage Precautions

Following these precautions can help to reduce irritation and maximize hair removal:

• Spot test first: place a dab of product on your skin and follow the directions on the packaging. If a negative reaction occurs, carefully consider whether you want to really try a larger area. Try a different brand or different hair removal method in this case.

• Tingling is good, burning is bad!: Tingling is a normal reaction that tells you the product’s working. Burning indicates that the depilatory has been on too long, or that your skin is too sensitive.

• Follow directions: The instructions on the packaging are there to protect you. Leaving the product on too long, or not long enough can result in needless irritation or worse.

If you find that one product gives you a negative reaction or doesn’t remove your hair very well, try a different one and see if you get different results. What doesn’t work for one person will work on another, and vice-versa.

Don’t spend too much money stocking up on any specific brand until you find one that works best for you.

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