Jody asks…I currently use a hair removal cream (Veet) and have heard people say that over time it can damage your skin. Is this true?
The Right Brain responds:
Veet and other hair removal creams work by using thioglycolate to break down the disulfide bonds that hold hair together. (Veet should not to be confused with the mosquito repellant DEET which should never be applied under your arms and in the bikini region. Unless of course your clandestine romantic activities make you prone to mosquito bites in those areas. This actually happened to Sarah Bellum on a recent camping trip. If you ask nicely maybe she’ll tell you the whole story.) Anyway, the chemistry of these products is similar to how perms and relaxers work.
Skin has a different amino acid profile than hair. Whereas hair is held together with disulfide bonds that come from relatively high levels of cystine, skin does not have much cystine. Therefore, thioglycolate will not “dissolve” skin the same way it does hair. Now, because of the high pH required to swell the cuticle and let the thioglycolicate do it’s job, these creams can be irritating to skin. In fact, in its pure form thioglycolate is very hazardous and should not come into contact with skin at all unless you want to experience burning, reddening and haemorrhage under skin surface, eczema like dermatitis and bleeding under the skin. (All according to the Material Safety Data Sheet.) But, properly formulated at the right pH and at a low concentration, this ingredient has been sold in hair removal products for many, many years with a good track record. If you follow the companies instructions for testing the product before you use it and if you haven’t experienced any burning or irritation, then you’re probably fine.
Interesting bonus fact: Veet used to be called Neet.