Words by Kathy Iandoli
Photography by Aundre Larrow

Nothing can beat the feeling of a close shave.  And sometimes you may not even need a shave to yield that same smooth feel.  For many men, depilatories—or creams and lotions formulated to remove hair—have been the go-to means of getting unwanted hair off your body in the most pain-free way possible.

It all sounds easy enough. Apply the depilatory, wait the recommended amount of time, then remove it along with any unwanted hair.  However, there are a slew of things to consider if you’ve been using depilatories for a while or plan on investing in some. Here’s what to know before you apply:

The Chemical Equation

Depilatories use a chemical compound called thioglycolic acid, which can manifest itself in the creams as either calcium thioglycolate or potassium thioglycolate. These compounds use a process that damages the keratin on your skin’s surface to the point where the underlying hair is then weakened allowing for easy removal.

The Quick Return

Depilatories are theoretically non-permanent. Yet with certain bodies the hair only fades for 1-3 days before another layer of stubble emerges. That rules out smooth skin for the long haul.

A Smelly Hazard

Among many things, like a very terrible odor, thioglycolic acid has some safety hazards for your skin. Chemical burns are one, and the cream can raise the levels of toxicity in your blood should it come into contact with open skin. While the aforementioned side effects are rare, those with sensitive skin can have more frequently unpleasant reactions like severe skin irritation.

Long-Term Harm

If accidentally ingested, gastrointestinal and esophageal damage can occur. And get any of this stuff in contact with your eyes, and your risk of corneal damage goes up. While terminal illnesses such as skin cancer have not been proven, inhaling the odor of the chemicals is still a questionable threat to the upper respiratory system.

Chemical Selection Working Group Study

Face off

It should go without saying, that unless specified, depilatories should NEVER be used on the face. Most brand spell that out on their products, but just to echo the packaging, do not use on your face. The effects could be permanently damaging, as your facial skin is more sensitive than other skin on your body. There is one brand in particular that encourages usage on the face, but the above concerns remain the same.

Proceed with caution if you try it out

Man checks face for bumps
Before delving into depilatories, do a patch test on your skin to measure your level of sensitivity (and also the odor of the product). If neither works in your favor, grab a razor instead. Also, do not leave the product on for too long, as chemical burns are more likely.

Sometimes the pain is worth it

Do you fear the wrath of body wax or cuts from a shave? They might be worth it compared to the potential long term harmful effects of the chemicals in these products. Especially in the case of waxing, several natural options for wax and waxing clays are available now that also dim the pain and leave less unpleasant residue. Look into waxing salons for more information.

The trusty single blade

Bevel Razor
If you’re looking for smooth skin without the threat of chemical burns or pain or longterm scarring, a single blade razor might be your answer. Single blade razors like Bevel, offer a close shave with a hair growth period that can compete with any depilatory or wax treatment on the market.

While many automatically tune out the act of shaving below the face, consider this: most depilatories and waxes are still too young to weigh the possible dangerous long-term side effects. Your skin may not know what it’s in for, so ask yourself: is the risk worth it?