Chances are your go-to hair removal method is shaving. It’s relatively easy and effortless, which is why it’s such a popular option. All you have to do is lather up with your favorite shaving cream and go at it in the shower. But you could also wax (either DIY or by seeing a pro), try threading, splurge on laser hair removal, or try a depilatory. But while you likely know there are plenty of ways to get rid of hair these days, one that you may not have tried yet is a hair minimizing lotion or cream.
“Hair minimizing cream is a cream that is applied topically to skin to minimize hair regrowth after it has been removed,” explains board-certified dermatologist and Maei MD founder Rebecca Marcus, MD. “Typically, these creams cause hair to grow more slowly and with a finer texture. These creams contain ingredients that take action on the hair follicle, inhibiting enzymes that are necessary for hair growth.”
Meet the Expert
- Hadley King, MD, FAAD, is a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology, as well as a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
- Marisa Garshick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell-New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
- Rebecca Marcus, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Maei MD.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, your next question is probably whether hair minimizing lotions and creams actually work. To get to the bottom of it, we turned to Marcus and two other derms for everything you need to know. Keep reading to learn if and when hair minimizing creams work and to decide whether they're the right option for you.
How Hair Minimizing Creams Work
A hair minimizing lotion or cream is designed to slow down the production of hair. “They incorporate certain ingredients that influence the hair follicle to slow down hair regrowth,” says board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD. “It is important to note that these creams do not necessarily address the underlying cause of increased hair growth, so if there is an associated condition that is causing the excessive hair, it is still important to address it.”
An example of a condition that may require additional steps to address is PCOS. Those with this condition or other underlying conditions that can cause excessive hair growth may want to consult with a dermatologist to learn about their best options for hair removal.
Hair Minimizing Creams vs. Depilatories
Though they’re both creams, it’s important to note that hair minimizing lotions and depilatories function differently. “Depilatories use a chemical to dissolve the hair, effectively cutting it at the surface of the skin,” Marcus says. “Hair minimizing creams work by inhibiting an enzyme in the hair follicle that is necessary for hair growth. Hair minimizing creams tend to work slowly, and results are seen over weeks as hair growth slows and the texture becomes finer. Depilatories are more of an instant result, but hair grows back right away, as it would with shaving.”
New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, FAAD, explains that a depilatory cream is an alkaline-based product that processes unwanted hair into a jelly-like substance. “Common ingredients to break down the protein bonds of the hair include sodium thioglycolate, calcium thioglycolate and strontium sulfide,” she says. “The process takes about five to ten minutes to work, depending on the thickness of the hair and the formulation. Thicker hair takes longer, and moisturizing or gentle formulas also tend to take longer. When the chemical reaction has completed its job, the hair can easily be wiped off with a warm towel at or somewhat below the level of the skin. The advantages of this kind of hair removal is that it’s painless, easy, fast, and relatively inexpensive.”
However, the disadvantages are that depilatory creams contain strong chemicals. “You can really hurt your skin, particularly if you leave the product on too long,” King warns. “The FDA says that they have received many reports of burns, blisters, stinging, itchy rashes, and skin peeling associated with depilatories. Be careful and follow the directions.” Light tingling is normal while the depilatory is working, but if you feel burning, that means either your skin is too sensitive, you’re allergic to one of the ingredients, or you have left it on too long. Take it off immediately and apply cool water.
Results of Hair Minimizing Cream
It’s important to remember that hair minimizing creams work gradually. King says it will take about six to eight weeks to slow hair growth in the treated area, and it will not remove existing hair.
“Hair minimizing creams help to prolong the interval between needing to wax, tweeze, or shave, but it does not eliminate the potential need for those treatments, but just reduces the frequency,” Garshick says.
The Final Takeaway
Patience is key with hair minimizing creams. Though they take some time to get the job done, they do come with perks. “For individuals who experience ingrown hairs as a result of shaving but don’t want to get laser hair removal or wax, this may be a helpful way to reduce the frequency of shaving and therefore potentially help to reduce breakouts,” Garshick says.
Just be sure to keep in mind that hair minimizing creams are designed to slow hair regrowth—not eliminate hair completely. “Realistically, hair minimizing creams can slow down hair growth, but they will not remove hair,” Marcus says. “It takes a few weeks of consistent use to see results. I do recommend hair minimizing creams for anyone who experiences excessive hair growth or is bothered by the texture of coarse hair. In addition, for those who experience problems with hair removal, such as folliculitis, hair minimizing cream can help to lessen the need for hair removal, and also lengthen the time between hair removal sessions.”