Who wears short shorts? Those of us in our 20s and older will recognize the line from the catchy Nair jingle of yesteryear. The pink bottle of depilatory cream was, at one point, a product synonymous with micro-shorts and teeny-tiny bikini bottoms. However, the last couple of decades have seen the rise of waxing and laser hair removal, as well as advances in razor technology, which seemed to make Nair a thing of the past. Or did it?
I was found that people still use Nair when, in a rush to pack for a bachelorette party, one of my friends didn’t have time to tend to her… grooming. “Does anyone have any Nair?” she asked our nine-deep group of girls. Four yeses rang out, as I sat in the corner, checking the date on my phone (it was in fact 2017, and not 1987), both confused and shocked. And then, earlier this year, another friend declared she forgot to Nair away her barely noticeable mustache. What is going on? I asked myself. “Is that even safe?” I asked out loud.
Apparently, yes. The product is FDA-approved so it’s okay to use. Dr. Purvisha Patel, founder of Visha Skincare, advises against using it on the brows or eyelid area though since those are the most sensitive parts of the face. But it's totally fine to use on the bikini area, “as long as the cream is used on the outside epidermis and not near the mucous membranes,” Dr. Patel says. For the hair down there, it’s also important to sit pretty still while using it to make sure the product doesn’t venture into unwanted areas. It’s safe to use on most body parts, really, as long as you only leave it on for the time recommended (no longer!) and wash it off thoroughly.
It’s not all great news though. As we mentioned, it’s vital to follow the directions and not leave it on for longer than the directions say. “The FDA says that they have received many reports of burns, blisters, stinging, itchy rashes and skin peeling associated with depilatories,” Dr. King says. “A light tingling is normal while the depilatory is working, but if you feel burning, either your skin is too sensitive, you’re allergic to one of the ingredients, or you have left it on too long.” Keeping the area out of the sun right after applying is also important as exposure can cause more inflammation and a possible negative reaction. A common misconception of depilatory creams is that the method keeps you hair-free for longer, but that’s not the case. “The results are short-lived because the hair has not been removed from the root,” Dr. King says. “You will see hair above the surface of the skin again in one to two days, and you may also see a shadow under the skin where there is dark skin.”
Depilatory creams have long received a bad reputation—the smell, the tingling, the dated packaging. Those things might have been tolerable back in the ‘80s when options were limited, but the idea today is that you don’t have to burn off your skin anymore, rather, you can shave, pluck, thread, or even wax for the real masochists out there (me). But, there are upsides. The advantage of using depilatory creams, Dr. Hadley King, says is that it’s “painless, easy, fast, and relatively inexpensive.” The creams on the market now are less harsh thanks to hydrating ingredients (like cocoa butter, aloe, and almond oil), don’t smell as bad, and come in different formulas such as sprays and gels which are easier to use.
So, are we experiencing a revival of the baby pink bottle? It’s hard to say. My friends have been using depilatory creams for a couple of years now, fed up with the cost, pain, and upkeep that comes with other hair removal options. It’s also no coincidence that all of them are of darker complexions. Dr. Patel explains that people who have curly hair and are prone to ingrown hairs with shaving tend to do better with the creams. Plus, Dr. King says there has “been some recent resurgence in depilatory creams as new products have come out and have found an audience with a new generation unacquainted with the products from the 1980s.” Decades later and, it seems, we’re still not done wearing those short shorts.