Know Your Product: Hair Removal Creams

Patriarchal beauty standards have led women to constantly rely on hair removal creams (or other hair removal tactics) to get rid of their body and facial hair. Body hair, pubic hair, facial hair are still considered undesirable in 2018, and while there’s no harm in resorting to hair removal out of one’s agency, but to do so to meet regressive standards can be deeply problematic. That said, for those who do use hair removal products, it’s important to know what they actually consist of, and what effects they may end up having on your body. Knowing the composition of a product before using it helps you critically examine what kind of potential damage it might wreak on your body, and whether or not you should avoid it altogether.

Hair removal products essentially work by breaking down the protein structure of the hair shafts in your skin. The chemicals in it, known as ‘depilatories’, come in gels, lotions and creams and can be effective in clearing out body hair. However, some people are allergic to the chemicals in depilatories, and it’s important to carefully follow instructions on the products to prevent skin irritation.

Thioglycolate Salts and Sulfides

Thioglycolate salts and sulfides are among the most common active ingredients in hair removal products. Potassium thioglycate is the salt that’s most popular, which is generally a safe way of hair removal, but to those with sensitive skin can cause rashes or allergies. In some product labels, you might notice the presence of Barium Sulfide or Strontium Sulfide in place of Thioglycate salts because they react more quickly, and have a more immediate effect on removing hair particles from the skin. However, these can also burn and irritate the skin more easily, so while using such products, practice caution.

Sodium Hydroxide and Calcium Hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide is another common constituent of chemical depilatories. They help in adjusting the pH levels of the skin, which is always necessary after the process of hair removals. The presence of these components actually make the hair removal product safer, because both calcium and sodium hydroxide are gentler to the skin, and help maintaining its natural balance.


Depilatories also need something to help dilute other ingredients in the products. This helps in regulating the severity of some of the harsher chemical ingredients and prevent skin damage. Water is the most commonly used diluent, and is the safest and best one. It is inexpensive, causes minimal damage or irritation to the skin and is compatible with a wide range of other ingredients. However, some products also use alcohol as a diluent, which is harsher and may leave your skin rough and coarse, so avoid those.


Emollients, much like diluents, are meant to help reduce the aggressiveness of the chemicals included in hair removal creams and lotions so that they are better for the skin; but they work on a more elaborate level, breaking down harsher chemicals and helping keep the skin supple and soft. Oils, silicones and esters are some examples of emollients. Their composition varies from product to product, so it’s important to check it and suit your usage to your skin type. According to Wired magazine, the number of skin-repair agents in a certain hair removal product actually outnumber the hair-removal ingredients.

Additional Supplements

In order to make hair removal products more appealing to consumers, manufacturers sometimes include fragrances in their formulations to overcome the strong and aggressive smells of the hair removing chemicals. Emulsifiers are added to creams and lotions. Dyes are used to enhance the color. Sometimes, preservatives, antioxidants and extracts are also added. Most of the time, these don’t have too many side-effects because they’re mostly organic ingredients. But it is still important to check the composition of each element, because it might lead to allergies for oily and sensitive skin.

So, before you use a hair removal product, keep checking the label multiple times. Make a note of each ingredient, classify it into various categories, and assess what might suit your skin and what might not. The beauty industry feeds us a lot of myths, telling us that certain products are essential and that without it we can’t survive. But what really matters is what will suit your skin and your body, so don’t allow yourself to be fooled.

About the Author

Rohini Banerjee

Rohini Banerjee is a 23-year old freelance writer who is passionate about issues relating to gender, sex, and sexuality. She's also an advocate for mental health awareness, queer rights, and education, while balancing an abiding love for literature and popular culture.