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Nair is a popular and affordable chemical hair depilatory that can easily be used at home for temporary hair removal. The Nair cream is first applied in a thick and even layer to the area of the skin where there is unwanted hair. After a few minutes, the cream (and hair) can be removed using a washcloth soaked in warm water. So how does Nair work?

Hair removal, also known as depilation, is a billion-dollar industry. Depilation techniques include hair removal creams, waxing, and lasers.

How does Nair hair removal cream work?

Hair is mostly made up of the protective protein keratin. Keratin strands are bonded together through covalent disulfide bonds and hydrogen bonds. Depilatory agents are able to dissolve hair strands by targeting these bonds.

Nair breaks strands of human hair through its active ingredients: salts of thioglycolic acid, such as potassium thioglycolate or calcium thioglycolate, in combination with bases (calcium, sodium, or potassium hydroxide).

These bases cause hair to swell, allowing thioglycolate to penetrate the keratin fibers. The bases also remove the proton present in thioglycolate, which leaves the sulfur atom free to attack the disulfide bonds in keratin. Breaking these bonds means that the hair protein will be completely degraded and can be wiped away.1

Benefits of Nair

Due to the way chemical hair removers like Nair work, they are surprisingly selective. Researchers investigated the ability of Nair to dissolve thin, medium, and thick strands of hair, in addition to cotton, polyester, and rayon fibers.2 Nair was able to break all three types of hair within minutes but was not able to dissolve cotton, polyester, and rayon even after hours of application. The fibers were not broken by Nair since they do not contain disulfide bonds.

There are additional advantages to using depilatory creams for hair removal:  

  • This method is simple and painless, particularly to remove hair from the legs and underarms.
  • Some products contain moisturizing ingredients, which can help to give softer, smoother skin.
  • Hair removal creams typically get rid of hair for about a week, which is less time than waxing but more than shaving.
  • There is some evidence that hair removal creams can slow hair growth in applied areas if used for a long time.

Difficulties of using hair removal creams

  • If applied unevenly, hair removal can appear patchy.
  • If left on for too long, skin can become irritated, or cause chemical burns.3
  • Hair removal creams normally have a strong odor due to the chemical reaction involved in breaking down hair.

Is Nair safe?

Nair has a pH of 12-12.5 to work rapidly and prevent burning the skin. Although Nair is generally safe, it can cause side effects in some people.

Some side effects of hair removal creams can include:

  • chemical burns
  • allergic reaction
  • irritation
  • rash
  • stinging sensation
  • skin peeling
  • blisters

It is important to carefully follow the directions for use to minimize any risks. It is usually a good idea to apply hair removal cream to a small area of your skin if it is your first time using the product to test for any side effects.

You should be particularly careful before using these types of products if you are prone to rashes and breakouts or have had reactions to other hair removal creams.

References:

1. Hanau, H. (2018). What are hair removers, and how do they get rid of unwanted fuzz?  Chemical & Engineering News, 96(22). Retrieved from: https://cen.acs.org/business/consumer-products/hair-removers-rid-unwanted-fuzz/96/i22

2. Plesa J, et al. (2015). Effect of a depilatory agent on cotton, polyester, and rayon versus human hair in a laboratory setting. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 65(3), 256-259. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196064414012372?via%3Dihub

3. Park R, Hansen T, and Bell D. (2019). Self-inflicted chemical burns caused by depilatory cream use: the price of beauty. Indian Journal of Burns, 27(1), 44-48. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338577776_Self-inflicted_chemical_burns_caused_by_depilatory_cream_use_The_price_of_beauty

Image by adamkontor from Pixabay 

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