Why do hair removal creams smell so bad?

A sulfur-hydrogen atom in Potassium Thioglycolate gives hair removal creams that bad stench.
Dissolved disulfide bonds gives hair removal creams that bad smell. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
ŠiStockphoto.com/Lev Olkha/HSW 2009

You've decided to use a hair removal cream. You've read the instructions, and, after opening the product, you're ready to apply the cream. What you weren't expecting was that horrible smell. Don't worry -- it's normal, and although it can be rather unpleasant, it's completely harmless. To understand why hair removal creams smell so bad, you'll have to understand how they work.

Hair removal creams often contain chemicals like sodium calcium, titanium dioxide and calcium thioglycolate. When used in the right concentration, these chemicals can effectively dissolve proteins, like keratin, that make up your hair. In the simplest terms, this weakens the root of your hair and allows it to break off. It's important to follow the instructions that come with a hair removal cream because the same chemicals that dissolve your hair can burn your skin if used incorrectly or left on for too long.


Now back to the smell. You may notice that hair cream smells even before you put it on your body. That's simply because the chemicals in the cream have unpleasant odors. When they start breaking down your hair, the smell gets even worse. This is due to a sulfur odor released into the air around you. The chemicals inside your hair removal cream, particularly thioglycolate, dissolve the disulfide bond of your hairs, which releases that sulfur smell [source: Draelos]. If you've smelled sulfur before, it's not the most pleasant of scents.

This smell is just an unpleasant byproduct of the chemical reaction that's dissolving your hair. Scientists are working to develop a new hair removal cream that doesn't have such a strong odor, but until they do, you'll need to deal with it in return for smooth skin. The good news is that the smell should wash away with your hair, so the only person it will bother is you. If you feel it's lingering, use a mild cleanser on your legs and follow up with moisturizer.

See the links on the next page to find out lots more information on hair removal creams.


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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Bouchez, Colette. "For Women Only: Best Options for Hair Removal." WebMD. Feb. 9, 2007. (Aug. 25, 2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/for-women-only-best-options-for-hair-removal
  • Draelos, Zoe. "Hair Care: an illustrated dermatologic handbook." United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis. 2005. (Aug. 25, 2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=Z2rHHGQc-5QC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  • Ott, David. "Depilatory product." U.S. Patent. (Aug. 25, 2009)http://www.faqs.org/patents/app/20090087499