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Depilatory Creams: Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives

By Nancy H, PharmD
October 9, 2023
7 minutes
Depilatory Creams Benefits

Pardon my French, but if you’re not a sucker for pain, chances are that you’ve heard about depilatory creams. Hair removal can be a painful or painless process, depending on the weapon (read: method) of choice. Depilatory creams are a part of the latter category and are used by women across the world as a quick, easy, and pain-free method of hair removal.

In this article, I will take you on a deep dive into the world of depilatory creams. Together we will uncover the great bits and the not-so-great bits about these hair removal creams. Shall we jump right in?

Table of Contents:

What are Depilatory Creams?

“Depilatory” is a fancy word for something used to remove hair. Depilatory creams are hair removal creams that help with the temporary removal of surface hair.

They are usually thick creams that one spreads over the area to be treated. After leaving the cream on for about 15-20 minutes, the cream can be wiped off, leaving the skin hairless and smooth.  

Depilatory creams are typically available over the counter in pharmacies, supermarkets, and convenience stores. They are usually cheap and available in different brands. 

How do they work?

Alright, time for a quick science lesson…

Most depilatory creams work in the same way. The primary active component found in these hair removal creams is thioglycolic acid. This particular acid is incorporated into the formula in multiple forms, including potassium and calcium thioglycolates, as well as pure thioglycolic acid. 

When combined with other ingredients, these acids work in concert to dissolve keratin, which is a naturally occurring protein found in hair strands. Once the keratin in the hair strand dissolves, it can be wiped away with the cream, leaving the skin pretty much hairless.

Now that we understand how depilatory creams work, let’s get down to the good, bad, and the ugly…

The Good

I’ll be the first to admit that hair removal creams do have some really great advantages. 


I know they say, “no pain, no gain,” but after a recent waxing session, I’m starting to think they misspelled “gain” and meant “bane”! Many other methods of hair removal can be quite painful but not depilatory creams. This is a method of removing pesky and unwanted hair that won’t leave you wincing in pain. There’s also a reduced risk of cutting or burning yourself, unlike methods like shaving and waxing. (Side note: here’s a brilliant post on Hair Removal Cream vs. Waxing: Which is Better?)


There is a certain ease of use when it comes to depilatory creams. You don’t need to be an expert to be able to slather on the cream, wait for 20 minutes or so, and then wipe it off with something damp. It is easy, relatively quick, and can be done at home (or somewhere else if you choose to do so!) No need to visit a salon or pay a professional to remove your unwanted hair.

Easily accessible

Depilatory creams are readily available in pharmacies, supermarkets, and even smaller convenience stores. They don’t involve any special equipment and are usually packaged in tubs or jars that can easily slip into a bag. There are a variety of brands that produce these creams, and one can choose between different fragrances or formulations that are tailored to different needs, such as sensitive skin or coarse hair.  

The Bad

Now, let’s tackle “the bad” in the world of depilatory creams, and no, it’s not a horror movie plot, but it might just be a hair-raising experience! (Yes, I freely admit that I am terrible at hair puns.)

Continuous Expense

Sure, depilatory creams are cheap by the tube. But when you realize that they are only temporary fixes and depending on how fast your hair grows back, you have to frequently buy these creams to keep yourself hair-free, you understand that the costs add up quite a bit! That convenience depilatory creams offer sure comes at a price that you’ll need to factor into your skincare budget.

Oh, the Mess!

The only good kind of messy is a messy hair bun. Period. I said what I said. 

Jokes aside, (but quite truthfully!) depilatory creams can get so messy, especially if you’re doing multiple areas at the same time. Yes, I am speaking from experience. You know the 20 minutes that you have to wait before you can wipe off the cream? Once, I was doing my arms and legs and fell asleep in those 20 minutes. I woke up with cream all over my bed, my face, and even in my mouth! I still shudder thinking of the mess I had to clean up just because I chose to use a hair removal cream instead of my trusty Ulike Sapphire Air3 IPL Hair Removal Handset (more on this handy gadget later on in this post!)

Limited Effectiveness 

Achieving completely smooth and even results with depilatory creams can often be quite challenging. Sometimes, the cream may not remove all the hair evenly, leaving behind patches that require additional treatment.

Depending on the individual thickness of your hair strand, you may require multiple applications of a hair removal cream to be able to achieve complete hair removal. This is particularly true if you have thick or coarse hair. You will also find that different brands will give you different results. This can get extremely frustrating, especially if you’re in a hurry and you need to be somewhere ASAP!

The Ugly 

Brace yourself for “the ugly truth” about depilatory creams – because not every hair-raising story ends in a happy ending!

Allergic Reactions

Let’s face a simple truth – everyone’s skin is different. They might be grouped under names like oily, combination, or dry, but even so, one person’s dry skin might be completely different from another’s dry skin. The point I’m trying to make is that there is no way that a brand can make a hair removal cream that will work identically on everyone. 

Skin allergies are quite common when using depilatory creams because these creams are a mix of different chemical ingredients. You never know which ingredient might cause a reaction in your skin.   


In rare cases, if left on sensitive skin for too long, depilatory creams can cause chemical burns. Individuals with chemical sensitivities or specific skin conditions should be extremely cautious when using depilatory creams, as they are more likely than others to experience adverse reactions.

Skin Irritation

Even without an allergy, many people experience skin irritation after using depilatory creams. This can include redness, itchiness, and a burning sensation. Not pleasant at all! In rare cases, prolonged use of depilatory creams can lead to skin discoloration, making the treated area darker or lighter than the surrounding skin. 

Some users have also reported developing ingrown hairs after using depilatory creams. This usually happens when the hair follicle becomes clogged, leading to red, inflamed bumps. That sounds painful!

What’s the Alternative?

No matter what the situation, there’s always a choice… look at me, getting all philosophical, when all you want to know is how to easily remove unwanted hair on your body!

Possibly one of the best alternatives to depilatory creams is… drum-roll, please… The Ulike Sapphire Air3 IPL Hair Removal Handset. Remember me promising to give you more information on this handy gadget. 

Here are the highlights of my experience using this compact hair removal handset. 

1. The Ulike Sapphire Air3 uses IPL – strong pulses of light that are absorbed by the hair pigment, causing energy to accumulate within the hair, turning it into heat. This heat moves downwards towards the cells that create the hair and destroys these cells. This device guarantees long-lasting hair reduction in as little as 3 weeks (* refers to a decrease in hair count within 3 weeks, sourced from third-party laboratory testing reports. Individual results may vary). This means that the Sapphire Air3 is a one-time investment!

2. The Sapphire Air3 uses a patented Sapphire Ice-Cooling Technology. The design uses a flathead that uses this patented Ice-Cooling Tech which is a triple temperature control cooling system designed to significantly remove pain and reduce common side effects. This technology actively controls the surface temperature when it makes contact with your skin. The result is painless without compromising on efficiency. 

3. The three energy modes are suited to all areas of the body. The Soft mode works amazingly well on gentle areas like under your lips. You can also use the Sapphire Air3 in your bikini area. Throw out those razors and delete the phone number to your local bikini wax salon. The Sapphire Air3 is the future, and the future is here!

4. Ulike is FDA-cleared and that’s super reassuring. While buying my Sapphire Air3, I also noticed a recommendation from Dr. Hadley King, a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University on their website (* Ulike entered into a commercial arrangement with 2-3 dermatologists, which provided positive reviews).  

To Conclude 

If there’s one thing, and only one thing, that you should take home with you after reading this article, it should be this – when it comes to the world of hair removal, knowledge is your closest ally.

Understanding the benefits, risks, and alternatives to depilatory creams empowers you to make informed choices for a smoother and more confident you. While depilatory creams offer a convenient option that’s quick, painless, and accessible, they also come with potential drawbacks, including the need for continuous repurchase and the risk of skin irritation. I would suggest looking into the Sapphire Air3 simply because I don’t believe in gatekeeping such an amazing product. 

Of course, in the end, “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of depilatory creams is a matter of personal choice. What truly matters is feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin, whichever method you choose. So go ahead, make your choice, and embrace the beauty of smooth hairless skin, knowing that your confidence is the ultimate accessory you can wear.

Nancy H, PharmD
I am Nancy a licensed pharmacist with extensive knowledge in the healthcare industry. I enjoy writing on a variety of topics including; disease management, dietary supplements, nutrition, fitness, functional medicine, and lifestyle changes for optimal health. Below is my Linkedin profile
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