Archeological evidence shows that men have been scraping hair off of
their faces for at least 20,000 years, using sharpened rocks and
shells. String, tweezers, sugar, razors and wax all have roots among
the Ancients as methods of hair removal. Greeks equated smooth with
civilized; and Romans, Egyptians and Sumerians, men and women alike,
used a variety of methods to remove unwanted hair.
A good compilation of this early history can be found at:
History of Hair Removal
It appears that fashion has been the driving force behind the history
of hair removal for women in the 20th Century. Hair removal for women
had its beginnings in 1915 when Harpers Bazaar magazine showed a
fashion model wearing a sleeveless evening gown, baring shoulders and
underarms for the first time.
The first advertising campaign for hair removal was designed by an
executive with the Wilkinson Sword Company to convince American women
that underarm hair was unhygienic and unfeminine.
As fashions changed during the 20th century, hair removal for women
became popular with underarm shaving becoming fashionable even before
World War I.
Underarm shaving became popular and the safety razor was suddenly in
great demand. As the length of skirts and dresses reduced, many women
began removing leg hair. During World War II when there was a shortage
of silk stockings, many women shaved their legs and used leg makeup to
give the appearance of stockings.
Fashion still provides the impetus; as hemlines rise and skin emerges,
we strive for smooth and hairless. A 1990 survey by Gillette showed
that 92 percent of American women over 13 shave their legs.
Hair Removal in the 20th Century
METHODS OF HAIR REMOVAL:
Shaving, whether by blade or electric razor, is the fastest and least
expensive method of hair removal. Shaving creams, soaps or gels will
reduce friction and give the smoothest results, lessening irritation.
Because shaving removes the tapered tip of the hair shaft, regrowth
will be stubbly. Shaving is used on leg, arm, face and bikini areas.
Eyebrow hairs are those most often tweezed or plucked. Tweezing is
also useful for facial and other stray body hairs. Tweezing is
economical and precise, but can cause stinging and is time consuming.
The results last from three to eight weeks.
Similar to electric razors, except instead of a cutting blade, they
have rows of tweezers on a rotary head, which pull hairs out by the
roots. The results last from several days to several weeks, and are
good for arm and leg hair. They can be painful, especially on
sensitive areas, and work best on coarse, long hair.
A rough, sandpaper-like mitt or pad is used to buff away hair at the
skins surface. The effects are short term, lasting only from a few
hours to several days. It is fast, inexpensive and offers the side
benefit of exfoliation. It is useful for fine hair on legs, but should
not be used on face, arms or bikini area.
In this ancient Middle Eastern method of hair removal, cotton thread
is entwined with the hairs of the face (upper lip and eyebrow
particularly) by rolling it along the skin and then pulling out the
follicle. It lasts three to eight weeks, and causes minimal pain and
Using a technique first developed in Egypt, a paste of warmed sugar
solution (also containing citric acid and gum arabic) is applied to
the skin. Cloth strips (usually cotton) are pressed into the paste,
and the strips are then pulled away from the skin, bringing the hairs
with them. Hair is removed for four to six weeks, and subsequent
regrowth is lessened. It is safe and not usually painful. Unlike wax,
the sugar paste does not need to be heated, does not stick to the
skin, is all-natural and cleans up with water. Sugaring can be used on
all body hair with the exception of male beard hair, which has a
unique root system.
The mechanics of waxing are very similar to sugaring. Waxes may be hot
or cold, depending on the formula. Hair grows back in three to eight
weeks, but regrowth is usually less and hair is finer. There are a
number of contraindications for waxing. It should be avoided by
persons with diabetes, varicose veins, poor circulation, users of
Retin-A and similar medications, and should not be used on areas of
skin affected by warts, moles or other skin irritations. Waxing can be
used on most body areas, but should never be applied to the nipples
when removing hair from the breast area. It should never be used on
male genitals, and many find it too painful for the bikini area.
Brazilian waxing is a specific method of hair removal used on the
entire female pubic area. It is painful, expensive and performed only
in a salon, but is thought by some to be worth the price.
The first research into electrolysis for hair removal began as early
as 1869 by Dr. Charles Michel, a St. Louis ophthalmologist. Dr Michel
was looking for a safe, effective way of removing ingrown eyelashes,
which left untreated, could eventually lead to blindness. It involves
the destruction of the hair root by electric current, either passing
through a needle or the water molecules surrounding the root. While
normally permanent, it is expensive, time consuming, often painful and
dependent on the skill level of the practitioner. Electrolysis can be
used on all body hair.
Laser technology was invented in 1957, and by the early 60s, its use
as a hair removal tool was being investigated. Today, it is available
in over 600 US facilities, and is used throughout Europe and
Australia, where it has been available since 1995. It uses a light
beam to transform energy into heat, aimed at the hair follicle,
through the skin. While safe, it is often painful. Since lasers can
destroy large numbers of follicles at a time, it is not as time
consuming as electrolysis. Repeated treatments are usually necessary
to remove all hair, and results cannot be guaranteed. It is also
ineffective on blonde or red hair, and dark or suntanned skin, owing
to light absorbtion properties of color. Laser treatment is used on
all types of body hair: facial, arms, legs and pubic area.
A chemical (usually sodium thioglycolate, or calcium thioglycolate)
liquid or cream preparation that dissolves the hair by means of a
reaction with its protein structure. Results can last up to two weeks,
but the chemicals are harsh, messy and often smelly. Depilatories are
generally used on leg, arm and pubic areas.
Generally used most effectively as a treatment to prevent regrowth
after hair has been removed by some other means. An inhibitor is a
natural plant extract that mimics the effects of baldness, by causing
newly grown hair to come in finer and softer. It chemically changes
the structure of the hair follicle, until gradually it disappears. It
can be used for all types of hair growth, including the pubic area.
Treatment is repeated until all hair growth ceases, usually in about
six months. Thereafter, twice monthly treatments will normally prevent
A summary chart, listing methods, suitable body areas, and length of
effectiveness is available here:
A Brief History of Laser Hair Removal Technology:
Electrolysis Society of the Northeast
About.com offers a number of interesting links including:
Shaving the Pubic Area: Just in Case You Need to Know
World of the Nudest Nudist, a website out of the Netherlands, has, as
you might imagine, a more than passing interest in the subject of hair
removal. They offer an article on the removal of hair where it ought
not to be:
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
I hope that you have found this journey through hair removal history
and methods to be helpful. If you should need clarification of any of
the above information, please do not hesitate to ask.
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