History of Hair Removal
Various forms of hair removal have been practiced since prehistoric times. The reasons for hair removal have ranged from the practical to the vainglorious. As reasons, rituals and trends have changed, an entire hair removal industry has grown out of our desires to be hair-free.
Hair Removal & The Caveman
Neanderthal men were very resourceful at hair removal. They pulled, scraped, and even plucked hair from their bodies. They used sharpened rocks or flint blades to “scrape” hair off their faces and plucked facial hair with two sea shells held together. Reasons for hair removal during prehistoric times include the benefit of having less mites on the body and keeping warring clansmen or vicious animals from having claw and handholds.
Hair Removal in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egyptians may have revolutionized hair removal procedures. A very ritualistic culture overrun with conformity, hair removal may have been highly significant, making advanced to hair removal methods important. We know Egyptians used and were probably the masterminds of bronze razors. Such razors have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back more than 3,000 years. The ancient Egyptians were known to have used a method of depilatory called sugaring, a possible advent to modern day waxing. A sticky paste (bees wax was sometimes used) would be applied to the skin then a strip of cloth was pressed onto the paste and yanked off, removing the hair. Because of the extreme heat, both Egyptian men and women practiced hair removal on their heads.
Hair Removal in Ancient Greece & Rome
Ancient Greeks and Romans paid vast attention to beauty, hygiene, and body appearance, believing smooth (like marble) bodies was a civilized practice.
Still modeled by ancient Greek and Roman sculptures, hair removal played an important role for both women and men. The Greek sculptures of women are polished, shiny and all, and there is no pubic hair at all, whereas the sculptures of men do show pubic hair. The Greeks thought pubic hair on women was ugly and upper class ladies removed it. The Romans did not like pubic hair either and young girls began removing it as soon as it first appeared. They used tweezers, which they called the “volsella” and had a kind of depilatory cream, the “philotrum” or “dropax”, the forerunner of the current depilatory creams! Waxing was also a way of depilating and this was done with resin or pitch.
In Greece, it was popular for men to crop hair very short and remove facial hair. Romans believed the first hair removal of a masculine youth was the arrival of adulthood. It’s known that Julius Caesar practiced hair removal by having his facial hairs plucked.
Hair Removal & Middle Easterners
No doubt barrowing the process for their Egyptian counterparts, Middle Easterners used the hair removal process of body sugaring, involving the application of a natural, sugar-based paste (usually sugar, lemon and other natural ingredients cooked to the consistency of soft taffy). The paste was either rubbed or pulled off in the opposite direction of hair growth. The high sugar content inhibited bacterial growth in the region’s hot environs. The method reputedly was born out of a Middle Eastern bridal ritual. The night before a wedding, Lebanese, Palestinian, Turkish and Egyptian brides had all body hair, except eyebrows and the hair on their heads, removed by the bridal party. According to lore, the bride maintained her hairless body throughout her marriage as a symbol of cleanliness and respect for her husband.
In 1520, Bassano de Zra wrote, “The Turks consider it sinful when a woman lets the hair on her private parts grow. As soon as a woman feels the hair is growing, she hurries to the public bath to have it removed or remove it herself.”
European Hair Removal During the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, upper class European women wanted to be pale. It was fashionable to have plucked eyebrows. And in the mid 15th century through Elizabethan times, women plucked their front hairs to achieve a high forehead. Mothers of this time used outlandish hair removal poultices, bandages saturated with vinegar and cat’s dung, and even walnut oil to prevent hair growth on their children’s foreheads.
The habit of depilating, a practice pass down from the Greeks and Romans, fell out of fashion (publicly at least) during the reign of Catherine de Medici (1547-1589), then queen of France. She forbade her ladies in waiting to remove any of their pubic hair. Yet, it remained a popular practice in other parts of Europe until the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and the smothering prudishness of the “Victorian Era.” Even then, it remained popular in private, especially for the ruling classes.
Hair Removal in North America
Native Americans tweezed their whiskers between halves of a clam shell, and circa 1700 American women applied poultices of caustic lye to burn away hair. There is evidence of the marketing of powdered depilatories in the United States by 1844. In the late 1800s, physicians developed a hair removal method which involved inserting and twisting a barbed needle with sulfuric acid into the hair follicle. This process was refined by Dr. Charles E. Michel (1833 – 1913) into what we know as electrolysis which involves inserting a fine needle into the hair follicle and electronically charging the root of the hair to kill it; however, a new root cell can form in the same area, causing regrowth.
Photographs ranging from the time of the Civil War to the 1930s show that the amount of pubic hair varied from full to none. In 1900, hair removal was done by the local barber for most men.
The modern industrial age saw the rise of such razor manufacturers as Gillette, Schick, and Wilkinson and the power of marketing. With the availability of cheap, quality razors, the practice of women removing their body hair became more publicly acceptable. When women’s clothing styles began showing bare arms and legs in the 1920s, leg and underarm shaving followed immediately. In fact, armpit shaving was not common until May of 1915 when Harper’s Bazaar magazine featured a model in a sleeveless evening gown that showed her bare shoulders and hairless armpits. Shortly thereafter, Wilkinson Sword launched an advertising campaign to convince women that underarm hair was “unhygienic and unfeminine.” Sales of razors doubled in two years, perhaps the result of pent-up demand.
Another hair removal method used by some women as late as the 1940s was rubbing off hair with abrasive mitts that felt like fine sandpaper. Wartime shortages of stockings meant legs went bare. The result was the first modern hair removal depilatory in 1940. The late 1950s advanced mechanical hair removal with electronic tweezers. Derived from the ancient process of sugaring, the wax strip hair removal method appeared in the late 1960s.
Hair Removal in South America
Waxing has always been a rite of passage for Brazilian women, who used to use secretions from the Coco de Mono tree to remove hair. Today, mothers introduce their daughters at age 15 to the “aesthetic clinics” that do depilacao, using the cold wax method.
Hair Removal in Modern Times
In the sixties, smoothness was reinforced with the invention of the bikini, and today many woman remove hair somewhere on their bodies. In 1975 the first disposable razor for women’s hair removal debuted. Warm/hot wax, the advancement on the form of hair removal sugaring, arrived in the 1980′s from Australia.
Today, we have electrolysis and laser treatments as accepted methods of hair removal. It is the fashion to have smooth armpits, legs, bikini lines. Even men are getting smooth. The greater “exposure” of athletes, models, weightlifters and even porn stars continue to lend to the trend.
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