Aside from the smell, you still might face a few small problems and one potentially big problem with hair removal creams.
First, you might make a mess. Creams can be messy before they start working, and getting rid of the cream plus broken-down hair is a challenge. Another problem results from uneven application. If you don't spread the cream on smoothly over an entire area, such as your leg, then you might end up with a patchy look in which some spots are hairless and others are not.
The potentially big problem associated with hair removal creams has to do with chemistry. Depilatory creams contain harsh chemicals, and the alkalis that dissolve hair can irritate or burn skin and cause allergic reactions. Just like hair, skin contains keratin, the protein targeted by alkaline chemicals.
When using a hair removal cream, make sure that you follow the directions and read any warnings on the product. You should conduct a patch skin test at least 24 hours before applying the cream over a large area, especially if you have not used hair removal cream before. The skin test will indicate whether you have a reaction or are allergic to the chemicals in the cream. Depilatory users have reported suffering from burns, blisters, rashes, stinging sensations and skin peeling [source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration]. If redness or itching develops in the application area, throw out the cream and try something else. In the event of a chemical burn, you should wash the area thoroughly and remove all traces of the cream, then wrap the affected area in a loose, clean, dry cloth. You may want to consult a physician for further treatment.
If your skin shows no reaction to the cream, then examine the target area for cuts, scrapes and any other surface damage. Don't use a depilatory if you've shaved recently. You may have razor nicks and cuts that you can't see. If the cream gets into them, it will irritate your skin. Depilatories should not be used around the eyes, including on the eyebrows. Remember, above all, that hair removal creams are topical ointments meant for the surface of your skin.
So you've made up your mind to try a hair removal cream. Before you head to the store, read on to find out how to make an informed choice among the many available options.