Before you put something on your skin, you might want to know what's in it and what it does. The term "depilatory" actually refers to any method for removing hair. The hair removal creams discussed in this article are called chemical depilatories because they contain a few different alkaline chemicals, such as sodium thioglycolate, strontium sulfide and calcium thioglycolate, that react with the hair on your body.
So what exactly do these chemicals do? Depilatories are usually available as creams, but they also can come as gels, lotions, aerosols or roll-ons. Once rubbed or sprayed onto the skin, the formulation breaks down the chemical bonds that hold the protein structure of your hair together. These proteins are known as keratins. Once a depilatory dissolves the keratin, the hair becomes weak enough to fall loose from its follicle. The resulting substance is a bit like jelly, and it's possible to rub or wash off patches of hair with ease [source: Cressy].
The combination of calcium thioglycolate and sodium hydroxide in most hair removal creams is the main chemical reaction that usually causes such a strong and often unpleasant odor. Some creams, however, now contain additional ingredients that mask the sulfuric scent, but it's important to bear in mind that even these fragrances can be chemical irritants.
To choose the right cream, it's important to consider the type of skin you have. If you have especially sensitive skin, you should consult your doctor or a dermatologist before picking out a product. When using hair removal creams or any topical ointment, it's a good idea to test a small patch of skin before applying the substance to a large area. This way, if you do have a reaction, it's localized and won't affect large areas.
Now that you know how hair removal creams work, it's time to consider the reasons for using one.