Pros and Cons of Hair Removal Creams (Depilatories)

Hair removal creams, commonly known as depilatories, are widely available and have developed and vastly improved over the years.

​There are now depilatory creams, lotions, gels, roll-ons, powders and even sprays available, with different strengths for different genders and parts of the body.

Now that the truly pungent and eye-watering odour associated with the original creams are more or less a thing of the past, what are the pros and cons of their use in comparison to other hair removal methods?​

How do Hair Removal Creams Work?

The most essential component of the hair's structure is a protein called Keratin, which makes up 65% - 95% of the hair's total fiber by weight* and it is this that forms the strength of your hair.

Illustration of internal structure of hair - it si the cortex which contains the keratin

Thioglycolic acid (TGA) is the most commonly used ingredient in hair removal creams, often in salt forms such as calcium thioglycolate and sodium thioglycolate, and accounts for the well-known strong and unpleasant odour.

It is the ​TGA in the cream which breaks down the structure of the keratin to weaken the hair and dissolve it so that it can be easily wiped away from its follicle, just below the skin's surface.

​The top layer of your skin (the epidermis) also contains keratin, which is why hair removal creams should never be left on for too long, as the skin may become adversely affected.

Advantages Compared with Other Methods

Pain  Free

Pain Free

The major and most obvious advantage which depilatory creams have over almost all other methods of hair removal is that there is no pain involved (assuming that your skin has no reaction to the chemicals, of course).

The only other totally pain - free method is shaving, however there are a couple of ways in which depilatory creams have the advantage:

  • Shaving is a frequent and often daily activity - the hair is removed with the blade at the skin's surface and so visible regrowth occurs very quickly.​ Depilatory creams remove hair at just below the skin's surface, so the results last rather longer - anything from a few days to a week +, depending on the location of the hair and the length of its growth cycle.
  • A common side effect of shaving is ingrown hairs, often referred to as razor bumps.  This is not so with depilatory creams.

Quick and Easy to use At Home

Depilatory creams work quickly - usually anything from 4 - 8 minutes, and are easy to use, with no skill required other than the ability to follow the instructions.

Waxing, tweezing, epilating, threading, home lasers and even shaving all require technique and take at least some degree of practice to perfect. 

Relatively Inexpensive

​Whilst it is true to say that the cost is ongoing, depending on how often you need to use the product and for how large an area, depilatory creams do not require a major outlay.

Prices range from around $5 - $15 (anything from $0.75 per fl oz upwards) and will usually be sufficient for several treatments.​

The obvious methods involving less outlay are tweezing and threading, but they are not as versatile as depilatory creams in that they are not suitable for tackling larger areas such as legs.

Waxing involves similar ongoing outlay, as does shaving (for replacement blades, shaving foams/creams, aftershave etc)

Epilators, home lasers and such need a high initial outlay, and it is worth checking if they have any replacement parts that need to be taken into consideration.

Disadvantages Compared with Other Methods

Chemical Odour

Whilst manufacturers have worked hard to remedy the strong, offensive odour of the original depilatory creams, there is no disguising the fact that these creams do generally have quite a strong scent.

Many of them have definitely improved considerably and some actually smell quite pleasant, or at least, not unpleasant!​

I recently found one that I was really impressed with; Surgi Cream for facial hair which has almost no scent at all.

Possible Allergic Reactions

These creams contain strong chemicals and have the ability to cause severe reactions and burns, blisters etc. to the skin.

It is really important that you follow the instructions to the letter and carry out the skin test every time prior to use, no matter how much of a nuisance this seems.

Most important of all, you must never exceed the maximum time recommended.

Remember, it is possible for an individual to develop an allergy to a product over time, even if they have used it before with no problems.​

I have quite often experienced a very mild tingly feeling when using depilatory creams. I recently tried the ​Olay facial hair removal duo, which includes a skin guarding balm which you rub into the skin prior to using the cream.

My personal experience of using this was that it was, as intended, a great barrier and I didn't even feel the mildest of tingling.​

Frequent Treatments Required

As previously mentioned, the hair is removed to just below the skin's surface.  This means that within a matter of days it will grow to the surface and start to show again.

Therefore, although it will last a little longer than shaving, any hair removal method such as waxing, tweezing, epilating etc. that forcibly removes hair from the root will last considerably longer.​

Where can Hair Removal Creams be Used?

The most obvious places on the body where use of depilatory creams scores highly are for sensitive areas such as underarms, upper lip and bikini line (there are also some designed for male genitals).

​Whilst they generally work better on finer hair, there are different strengths available for areas where the hair is thicker or coarser - just be sure to check the box first to see which area the product is designed for.

Depilatory creams are also good, easy to use and quick for large areas such as legs, back, arms etc.

There are numerous creams for facial hair, but none are suitable for use round the eye or brow area, nor for ear and nose hair, where the strong chemical ingredients could cause severe damage.

Summary Pros and Cons

Pros of Depilatory Creams

  • No Skill Required - can be carried out quickly and easily in the home
  • Convenience - hair is removed in around 4 - 8 minutes
  • Versatile - there are depilatory creams available for most parts of the body
  • Low Cost - relatively cheap with products available to suit all pockets
  • Pain Free - provided you have no allergic reaction to ingredients

Cons of Depilatory Creams

  • Not Long Lasting - treatment needs to be repeated regularly
  • Odour - can be strong and unpleasant - need to shop around to find one that suits you
  • Not Suitable for All Areas - cannot be used for brows, near eyes, nor for nose or ear hair
  • Need Several Types - you need to purchase different depilatory creams specifically for different areas of the body
  • Adverse Reactions - need to carry out skin test prior to use

More Information

For more information about depilatory creams see our further articles:

Everything You Need to Know about Depilatory Hair Removal

​Roundup Review of the Best Hair Removal Cream Products





For the past 12 months, I have been testing and playing with all sorts of hair removal products for Hair Free Life. My goal is to provide the most accurate and up-to-date hair removal consumer information on the internet. When I'm not photographing, reviewing and researching hair removal products I play the drums in a samba band and am a volunteer for the Swindon Lions! Got any questions? Write to us below: