What's In Nair

Hey, do you know what’s in Nair, the creamy hair-removal product that smells like skunks? (Or used to—the current formulation is supposed to smell better.) Now, thanks to Wired’s “What’s Inside” article, you will! The active ingredient is potassium thioglycolate, a member of the thiol family, which not coincidentally is also responsible for the intense stink factor of skunk spray. Thiols “eat into keratin (a skin and hair protein), which is what makes actual skunk spray (and Nair) lock onto human flesh and fuzz.” Another chemical—calcium hydroxide—destroys the weakened hairs.

The rest of Nair is a bunch of animal, plant, and mineral moisturizers to try to repair the damage inevitably caused when you chemically burn away part of your body.

“What’s Inside: Nair Hair Remover, Feel the Burn!” [Wired]
(Photo: Kevin)


Edit Your Comment

  1. KingPsyz says:

    I wonder how many mishaps they had on they way to nailing down this formula?

  2. darkclawsofchaos says:

    so… its suprising that there is an acid in hair remover? well maybe skunk spray active ingredients, but acid… wow, and we wondered why it burns all this time…

  3. Meg Marco says:

    Soylent Nair is skunks.

  4. tk427 says:

    There must be a related chemical in perm soloution.It softens your hair so that it can be shaped. Both products smell like rotten eggs to me.

  5. tk427 says:

    “solution. It”

    I was having a traumatic Epilady flashback while I was typing.

  6. cheera says:

    TK427 is on the right track. Permanent waving solution has ammonium thioglycolate in it, which is why they both smell so rank (though these days perms smell a bit more tolerable). However, the ingredients in Nair I think might have a pH of something ridiculous, like 10 or 9. Talk about burninating the countryside. Or your balls, if you’re insane.

  7. Parting says:

    Well, that’s better than ”unknown”.
    Still it stinks.

  8. BloggyMcBlogBlog says:

    @darkclawsofchaos: Calcium hydroxide and potassium thioglycolate are actually bases. When you’ve spent as much as I did on an education, I try to use it at every chance. ;)

  9. cashmerewhore says:


    Yup, hydroxide, OH- forms a base.

    Damn organic chemistry….

  10. ChrisC1234 says:

    @cheera: “ammonium thioglycolate”… WOW, the only place I’d ever heard of that before was in Legally Blond… I guess it really is a real chemical…

  11. Snowblind says:

    Oh dear God! Bigfoot is using Nair outside my house!

    Wait… no… that is a real skunk…

  12. darkclawsofchaos says:

    @BloggyMcBlogBlog: sorry, I only had the first half of organic chem, I’m taking the second half this coming sem, I all I was sure of it has potassium ions and some sulfur compound ion in it since it had thio, so it does make sense sinse sulfur acts very similarly to oxygen as a nucleophile

  13. Benny Gesserit says:

    I thought the distinctive odour was blamed on the mercaptan family – butyl mercaptan or maybe allyl mercaptan.

    Despite the smell, skunks are really very sweet looking, delicate creatures. They used to raid our neighbors garbage as they LOVED the leftovers from hulled strawberries.

    As long as you weren’t startled, they wouldn’t spray. I found just saying “Well hello there.” would get their attention and they’d totter off back into the woods.

  14. Alvis says:

    What’s the big “stink” about?

    Here’s a product that contains what it lists on its bottle. No surprises there – anyone’s free to look up what chemical effect they all have. And it works as advertised.

    Why is this even being reported? Eww – it stinks! Eww – it melts organic material! It’s not baby-safe tear-free shampoo, after all. Way to play the gross-out card, Consumerist.

  15. The Big O says:

    @Meg Marco:


  16. guymandude says:

    @darkclawsofchaos: “so… its suprising that there is an acid in hair remover?” Calcium Hydroxide is a base.

  17. backbroken says:

    Who wears short shorts!?
    We wear short shorts!!

    If you dare wear short shorts,
    Nair for short shorts!!

  18. Sidecutter says:

    I tend to buzz my hair as close to the scalp as possible, and decided to try the Nair for men once to remove the stubble.

    That did not end well. Apparantly “For men” means “extra-super-mega-strong”. I followed the instructions to the letter, and it chemical-burned my scalp horribly. The hair was gone, sure. But it took big patches of scalp with it. My whole scalp was patched with scabbing and I looked like I’d been through a fire.

  19. IrisMR says:

    Oh well, as long as it works eh?

  20. TWinter says:

    @Sidecutter: I think the For men version is meant mostly for chest and back hair – which tends to be thicker and tougher than most women’s leg hair and it’s probably stronger to compensate for that.

  21. Sidecutter says:

    @TWinter: Probably true, but I seem to recall them advertising scalp as one of the uses, hence why I got it. Evil stuff.

  22. silver-spork says:

    Yes, using Nair is performing a controlled chemical burn on your skin. There is a short window between removing the hair and ending up with a serious burn.

    Never use this type of chemical on more sensitive skin (i.e. face or scalp) without doing a short test (1-2 minutes) to see how your skin will react. If you do get a chemical burn from these types of products, wipe the product off with a dry cloth and use a cool dry compress (a bag of peas wrapped in several towel layers) until you can see a doctor. Adding water or using something like aloe vera to “soothe” the burn is only going to make the bases more soluble and accelerate the reaction.

  23. CPC24 says:

    @backbroken: Me too. I tried the stuff on my underarms once. Looked like I set my underarm hair on fire. It burned for a week!

  24. darkclawsofchaos says:

    @guymandude: yeah I missed the CaOH, I was refering to the active ingredient. Also, BloggyMcBlogBlog: and cashmerewhore: pointed out to me the the active ingredient is also a base, but yeah, I knew CaOH is a base, my lab report has the holes to prove it.

  25. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @Sidecutter: Thats funny the wife likes me to be “manscaped” if you know what I mean. I have never even had more than a slight tingle and it was on for about 10 min. Maybe my skin isn’t that sensitive around those parts. Now if I used it on my face though it would probably cause my face to catch on fire and or fall off.

  26. skeleem_skalarm says:

    Burned and blistered my legs, left all the hair! Oh well, I didn’t need all of my skin anyway.

  27. inkhead says:

    During college (dorms) we used to put Nair in the shampoo containers. Unfortunately it was very evil…