Depilatory Creams (technical term for ‘hair removal cream’) are somewhat of a mystery. You apply this cream, wait a few minutes, and your hair comes off. We here at No Hair Crew wanted to do a deep dive on some of the science behind what is going on a molecular level. Not a scientist? Good, neither are we. This will be the most casual chemistry lesson of your life.
What is the Structure of Hair?
Before we jump into the science of hair removal, we should first stop by the science of hair in general. To make a basic analogy, hair is a lot like rope. Rope is thousands of strands of smaller strings twisted together into one larger “string”. Hair is simply thousands of strands of proteins (called keratin) twisted and held together by disulfide bonds. This disulfide bond we speak of is important and remember it for later. What is a disulfide bond? It is a connection between two sulfur atoms (the stuff that smells like eggs), usually holding together a much bigger molecule. If the disulfide bond is broken, hair becomes very weak.
If you are ahead of me, yes, depilatory creams break down the disulfide bonds in hair to make them fragile and easily wiped away. We’ll dive into how that happens in the next section.
In review, hair is a lot like rope. Rope that is made of thousands of protein strings, called keratin, all held together by a bunch of sulfur atoms connected by things called disulfide bonds.
Disulfide Bonds vs. Potassium Thioglycolate
Potassium Thioglycolate is a big ass word that would maybe get brought up in an upper level chemistry class. It’s complex and we won’t go into crazy detail. We’re only dealing with need to know information here. This is the active ingredient in depilatories that break down the hair to be removed. Here is a breakdown of what that word is:
- Potassium - This is the nutrient in bananas that your soccer coach always mentioned as being good for you. The addition of potassium in the cream is somewhat complicated but basically it helps break down the keratin. Some creams use Calcium instead of Potassium, but they function the exact same way.
- Thioglycolic acid - This isn’t the type of acid you see melting through cars on TV, it just has acidic properties, but is safe for use on the skin. It has carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, but most importantly it has sulfur. This is the important element needed to break down the disulfide bonds found in your hair strands. Like we explained above, disulfide bonds are when two sulfur atoms are bonded together. Adding this element with another sulfur atom breaks those bonds.
What Happens to the Hair
We won’t start at the beginning of a hair's life, we’re not super concerned with how the hair got there, but more of how to get rid of it once it is. These steps outline what is happening as you use the depilatory cream.
- The hair removal cream is applied to the area, making sure to cover the skin and base of all the hair desired to be removed.
- The cream takes time (typically 3-4 minutes) to actively start breaking down the disulfide bonds in the keratin. As those break down the hair will become weaker and easier to remove.
- At the end of the allotted time, the root of the hair is dissolved and becomes easy to pull off or wipe away. At this point most of the disulfide bonds at the base of the root are broken.
- There are other proteins and bonds in a strand of hair besides disulfide bonds. This is why the hair won’t just fall off of your body or disappear but takes some pressure/wiping in order to actually remove it. The lack of disulfide bonds just significantly helps with the removal.
While depilatory creams are safe to use on the body, they can be rough on the skin if used improperly or without the proper hydrating ingredients to combat the potassium thioglycolate. When people talk about bad experiences with things like Nair, it is usually due to them leaving the product on for too long or the product not containing the correct ingredients to give the skin a break after application. Our No Hair Crew Intimate Cream has several ingredients to soothe the skin and prevent irritation. They all do similar things, but here is what they are and what they do.
- Ginseng Root Extract
- Rosemary Leaf
- Sunflower Seed Oil
What they Do:
- Reduce redness and puffiness
- Maintains the skin’s natural barrier to retain moisture