Hair removal cream vs. shaving—which option is best?

When comparing hair removal cream vs shaving, there are pros and cons to each option, depending on which part of the body you use them on

image of woman applying hair removal cream next image of woman shaving on a colorful pastel background
(Image credit: Future/Getty)

There is a whole arsenal of hair removal methods to choose from—whether it’s threading for the brows, laser for the upper lip, bikini or Brazilian waxing, or at-home laser hair removal for a long lasting option. And tried-and-true methods like hair removal cream vs shaving are two of our favorites, given how quick and easy they are, no matter which prickly spots you’re targeting. 

If you need an affordable method that’s simple to do at home, you can’t go wrong with cracking out the depilatory cream, or a razor used in the shower. But the trick is to use the right technique for the right spot. 

Below, we've detailed the pros and cons of both hair removal cream vs. shaving, and the best places to use each one and why. In our guide, you'll also find out how long each method lasts, and why you might opt to use either depilatory creams over a razor, and vice versa. 

How does hair removal cream work—and how long does it last?

Hair removal creams break down the keratin structure; the proteins of the hair,” explains Hasna Khabarate, board-certified esthetician at Park Slope Laser. “This effectively thins and dissolves the base of the hairs to the point where they are weak enough to be broken off when the cream is wiped away.” 

Essentially, depilatory creams melt away all of your unwanted hair—all that’s left to do is rinse and go. 

And if you're wondering how long does this hair removal method last, you'll be pleased to know that the results are fairly long-lasting, especially when compared to shaving. Clinical dermatologist Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco, owner of VW Dermatology, “depilatory creams penetrate below the skin to remove hair and leave you stubble-free for up to a week—unlike shaving, where regrowth happens much more quickly, usually within a few days.”

The pros and cons of depilatory creams

“Hair removal creams are easily accessible, relatively inexpensive, and, as long as you don’t have sensitive skin, totally painless,” says Dr. Vergara-Wijangco. “This type of cream is also pretty simple to use: just spread it on, wait a few minutes, and wash it away.” 

Depilatory creams don’t take long to use either, and leave you with incredibly soft skin and zero stubble. A lot of products are also formulated with moisturizing ingredients to keep your skin silky-smooth, too. Needless to say, there are a lot of brilliant advantages to this hair removal method. But you still need to use hair removal creams carefully.

“The downside to creams is they pose a potential risk of skin sensitivity, which can lead to redness, irritation, and burns,” Dr. Vergara-Wijangco notes. “In order to ensure your skin won’t have a negative reaction to the hair removal cream, you’ll want to perform a patch test prior to application.” 

It’s also critical that you follow the timing instructions on the product packaging. Leaving a fast-acting hair removal cream on your skin for even a minute or two longer than the recommended time limit can cause chemical burns and irritation. But, unlike with shaving, you don’t need to worry about uncomfortable razor burns and unsightly bumps, or ingrown hairs.

How does shaving work—and how long does it last?

While depilatory creams dissolve the hair proteins below the surface of your skin, razor blades work by cutting off the ends of each hair, up to the surface of the skin.

Dr. Vergara-Wijangco explained, “When you shave, your razor cuts away the hair from the skin’s surface, while the strand and root remain unaffected. Then, once the root pushes a new strand to the surface, it creates stubble.” 

“Depending on your genetics, this hair regrowth may occur very quickly,” she says. For some, that might mean noticing prickly patches the same day, or the next day. But others can get away with not shaving for a few days before they start seeing regrowth.

The pros and cons of shaving

“Shaving is the most popular hair removal method, and for good reason,” says Dr. Vergara-Wijangco, especially for women on the go who just want a quick touch-up without the effort of slathering on hair removal creams. “Shaving is cheap, easy and, unless you cut yourself, painless. Since all you need is a razor and some shaving cream, it’s easy to see why those who are time-crunched would opt for this method of hair removal,” she adds. 

However, it can leave your skin feeling dry and prickly—even by the end of the day. “Although it’s a myth that shaving makes hair grow back thicker, the blunt angle by which the hair is cut during shaving will make it appear thicker,” Dr. Vergara-Wijangco explains. 

Another common downside of shaving that many people struggle with is ingrown hairs. These can cause skin bumps, itching and irritation. If you’re one of them, this hair removal method might actually create more problems than it solves for you. 

Plus, as mentioned, the regrowth when it comes to shaving can be much faster—some even notice small bits of stubble appearing the very next day after shaving. For those who want a method that doesn't require touching up, shaving isn't the best option—something much more permanent, like laser hair removal, might be far preferable.

Where to use hair removal cream vs. shaving

Both razors and depilatory creams are great options for quick and affordable at-home hair removal. “The cost between hair removal and shaving is typically not too different,” says Khabarate.

And, as Dr. Vergara-Wijangco adds, “While there is no right or wrong answer, creams win as far as long-lasting results go, while shaving wins for convenience and ease.” 

If you want to get the best of both, here are our recommendations for when to use hair removal cream vs shaving:

1. Opt for shaving for silky-smooth legs

If you don't have much time (e.g. before a big event!), using a hair removal cream in a rush means you may end up with patchy spots on your legs. And if you miss a spot, you probably shouldn't reapply the depilatory cream, as they shouldn't be used too often.

That’s why shaving can work better for keeping your legs evenly stubble-free, as you can easily address missed spots without a bother.

“In order to obtain the closest possible shave, ensure you’re shaving against the hair growth. That means starting near your ankle and working your way up to your knee. Follow up with a bit of alcohol-free lotion, which locks in moisture and gives your legs a smooth, bump-free sheen,” suggests Dr. Vergara-Wijangco.

2. Use a specially formulated depilatory cream for the bikini area

To avoid annoying razor bumps and ingrown hairs around the bikini area, reach for a depilatory cream that’s specifically designed for use around those intimate areas—it's one of the best ways to remove pubic hair without shaving.

A hair removal cream will remove unwanted hair in just a few minutes and leave your skin softer and smoother than ever. Plus, the results will be longer-lasting, so you don’t need to worry about touch-ups in this sensitive spot for a while.

Just be sure to test the cream on a small patch of skin first (to see how you react to it), keep the product away from any inner areas of your genitals, and follow the timing instructions to the letter.

3. Opt for a facial razor for any smaller areas

For everywhere from your upper lip and chin to your hairline and brows, a small facial razor can work wonders for those areas where you need precision and control. 

Keep in mind that this is not the same tool as the razor you use on your legs—instead, look for one that’s about the size of a toothbrush, and is especially for use on the face. To avoid any irritation, apply a shaving gel and follow up with moisturizer afterward. And, if you're wondering how to remove facial hair permanently, look no further than our guide.

4. Both methods are ideal for your underarms

In the hair removal cream vs. shaving debate, either options can be just as helpful for your underarms, though depending on your hair type you may prefer one over the other. Dr. Vergara-Wijangco notes, "If you have dark, coarse, or fast-growing hair, you may lean towards cream as your chosen hair removal method, since results will be longer-lasting."

But, if you want a fast fuzz-removal method you can use before you run out the door —because who hasn’t forgotten about underarm hair until it comes to throwing on a sleeveless top—stick with your trusty razor. Just go gentle and be sure to use a shaving cream, to avoid any ingrown hairs or irritation.

My Imperfect Life thanks Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco of VW Dermatology and Hasna Khabarate of Park Slope Laser for their time and expertise.

Aleesha Badkar
Deputy Editor at My Imperfect Life

Aleesha is deputy editor and beauty & fashion lead for My Imperfect Life, where she heads up the beauty, fashion and eCommerce pages. Previously she was shopping writer for woman&home and gained an AOP awards nomination after working on their news team. She earned an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London in 2017 and has since worked with a number of brands including, Women's Health, Stylist and Goodto. When she’s not testing new products, Aleesha spends her time soaking up the newest bestsellers and Netflix releases, learning about different wines, attempting new languages and travelling as much as she can.