What is a Depilatory?

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  • Written By: Dana Hinders
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2019
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A depilatory is a cosmetic used for the temporary removal of unwanted hair. It contains substances used to dissolve hair above the skin. Since the process does not pull the hair out by the roots like waxing does, it is considered to be a short-term solution to hair removal. A depilatory will produce results that last significantly longer than shaving, though.

Depilatory agents can be creams, lotions, or sprays. Lotions are better used for larger areas of the body such as the legs, underarms, or bikini area. Creams can be applied to specific areas better because they are thicker; this is why cream depilatories are generally considered to be ideal for removing unwanted hair on the face. Sprays are the newest type of depilatory and are often thought to be easier for novices to apply.

A depilatory is generally applied and left on for between five and 15 minutes. The timing instructions on the product must be followed precisely to avoid causing skin irritation or an allergic reaction. The amount of time it takes to go through the hair removal process varies depending on the coarseness of the hair. Dark or coarse hair may be more resistant than fine or very light hair.


One advantage of using a depilatory as a method for removing unwanted hair is that it will make your skin seem very soft. The hair removal process used by this type of product acts as a type of exfoliant, removing the dead skin cells that build up every day and make your skin feel rough.

There are some basic guidelines you should always follow to ensure the best results when using a depilatory. Conduct a spot test to check for skin sensitivity before applying the product to a large area. Never use this type of hair removal product when you have an open cut, as it could cause an infection that would require medical treatment. If possible, use the depilatory after a warm bath when your hair is softest.

When looking for cosmetic depilatories, you will want to keep in mind that there are also depilatory products used by hunters or anyone wanting to make the hide of an animal they have caught into clothing or wall hangings. This type of depilatory contains chemicals, usually sulfides, that are used to get rid of the hair that remains on the hide and make it as smooth as possible before it is cut and sewn into the finished product. Obviously, this type of depilatory is not safe for use on human skin.


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