What Is Depilatory Hair Removal?

Natalie M. Smith

Depilatory hair removal typically refers to removing hair above the surface of the skin, or just below it, through the use of chemicals. These chemicals are part of a depilatory cream, spray or similar product that is applied to the skin for a certain amount of time. When the product is wiped off, the surface hair is also removed.

Depilatory creams and lotions are used to remove unwanted hair.
Depilatory creams and lotions are used to remove unwanted hair.

Depilation is different from epilation; depilation methods remove the visible portion of the hair, and epilation methods remove the entire hair, including what is underneath the skin. Shaving, trimming and depilatory creams and sprays are all types of depilatory hair removal. Waxing and tweezing remove the surface hair and its growth center, or follicle, making them epilatory types of hair removal. Hair removal creams and sprays are commonly referred to as depilatories, so the term "depilatory hair removal" is most often associated with removing surface hair by chemical, not mechanical, means.

Shaving with a razor won't remove hair from below the skin's surface.
Shaving with a razor won't remove hair from below the skin's surface.

Chemicals in depilation creams and sprays break down hair's basic properties or weaken the hair's follicle until the hair can be easily removed from the skin's surface. As with other chemicals found in personal care products, the chemicals in depilation creams might cause skin irritation and other adverse side effects. Depilatory hair removal kits come with complete instructions that, when followed, are likely to reduce harm. Depilation methods that do not require chemicals must also be performed with care to prevent injury.

Methods of hair removal range from extremely cheap to extraordinarily costly and from simple at-home methods to complicated ones that must be performed by professionals at their workplaces. Depilatory hair removal creams and sprays are relatively inexpensive, are widely available at retail and other stores and can be used by average adults in the comfort of their homes. They generally work within a few minutes. The same is true of most non-chemical depilation methods. Professional beauty salons, barber shops and dedicated hair removal businesses might offer various depilation services at higher prices.

Hair removal products also differ based on how long they prevent hair regrowth or visibility. Methods that remove the entire hair tend to keep hair regrowth and visibility at bay for lengthy periods — some even permanently. Depilatory hair removal is temporary because it leaves the follicle intact, allowing for regrowth. Depending on the depilation method used and the rate of hair growth specific to the individual, results last from a few hours to a few days. Creams and sprays tend to produce longer results than shaving and trimming.

Depilatory lotions may be used to remove unwanted underarm hair.
Depilatory lotions may be used to remove unwanted underarm hair.

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Discussion Comments


I really hate the smell of hair removal depilatories, but what can you do? Shaving gives me a rash and I'm too much of a coward for waxing.

If someone could invent a product that didn't have such an odor I'd gladly pay a premium for it.


@MrsWinslow- Yes, I find creams to be the best hair removal method for that unfortunate area. (There are special gentle ones for your face--make sure to get the right one.) I tried bleaching, but then I just had a blond mustache! Not such a huge improvement.

You can get a little red from the cream, so really follow the directions and test a small area on your face first. I always do it at night, myself, so that it looks better by morning. Sometimes I break out a little bit, but it seems to clear up within a day or two. I should probably just try a different brand and see if that makes a difference.

Good luck! Hope you find the right thing.


Are depilatory creams a good option for facial hair removal for women? I tend to get just a shadow of a mustache. Or should I bleach it instead? I tried having it waxed like I've always done my eyebrows, but I wasn't very happy with the results--I got red and irritated and the wax didn't go all the way to the corners of my mouth.

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