How Does Nair Hair Removal Work?

scrubs hair removal cream
A close-up of hair removal cream on a woman's legs. (Image: Mingman Srilakorn/iStock/Getty Images)

Chemical depilatory creams are one of many hair-removal options available. Nair's advantages include smoother skin and a longer time before hair regrowth, especially as compared to shaving; disadvantages include skin irritation and a pungent smell. The exact mechanism of depilatory creams can seem mysterious, but the science behind the product is actually quite straightforward.

The Basics

Nair, like other chemical depilatory creams, dissolves the disulphide bonds between keratin proteins in the hair shaft. This leaves the hair follicle intact -- permitting the hair to regrow eventually -- but transforms the hair itself into a gelatin-like consistency. That gelatinous substance is then easily wiped or rinsed away down the drain.

Potassium Thioglycolate

Nair's primary active ingredient is a compound known as potassium thioglycolate, one of a class of thioglycolate compounds that specifically target the disulphide bond. Other depiliatory creams often use sulfides, which work faster than thioglycolates, but also smell stronger thanks to their sulfur content. Thioglycolates are also less likely to irritate your skin.

Calcium Hydroxide

Nair also contains calcium hydroxide, or lime. Calcium hydroxide is a compound that helps boost the action of thioglycolates in dissolving hairs at their roots. It may irritate the skin, as lime's corrosive chemical action can do the same thing to the proteins of your skin as it does to the proteins of your hair shaft.

Skin Repairers

Most versions of Nair also contain some sort of ingredient to aid skin repair after being exposed to the harsh depilatory chemicals. One formulation contains aloe; another uses cocoa butter and a third contains baby oil to soothe the skin.

Cautions and Precautions

Follow the directions on your bottle of Nair carefully and use it only on the part of the body indicated. Do not apply to cracked, broken or already-irritated skin. Do not leave the product on your body longer than recommended on the bottle; this can lead to chemical burns. If your skin begins to tingle, itch or burn, wash off the depilatory immediately and discontinue use. Moisturize well with an emollient after using Nair to help heal the skin.

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