Hair Removal Through The Ages: A History of Unwanted Hair

Who were the first people to remove their body hair? When did women start shaving? Why?

Hair removal has been going on for not just years but ages.

Both men and women practiced a variety of techniques that have been passed down, modified, and perfected. It’s incredible to see where the techniques began compared to how they have evolved.

The Cavemen

Oh yes, cavemen certainly removed hair. And it was probably as painful as it you might think.

Archeologists have discovered through pictorial evidence that thousands of years ago, humans were removing hair. In representations of 20+ thousand years ago, the women have long, braided hair while the men didn’t have any. It’s assumed they used very sharp stone tools or shells to remove it (along with some skin, probably).

Some theories claim that since they didn’t wash their hair, it emitted foul odors that would scare away prey, affecting hunters in the Stone Age. Another theory is that their hair would’ve been the perfect home for parasites like lice and mites, giving a great reason for cutting their hair.

They also fought each other and rival clans, so they could have also cut their hair for survival. By removing excess facial hair and hair on their head, their opponent wouldn’t have something extra to grab onto during a brawl.

The Egyptians

ancient Egyptians sugaring

The ancient Egyptians invented many of the methods we still use today.

During their time, they would remove hair from all over their body except for the eyebrows. If women had hair in the bikini area or if men had facial hair, they would be uncivilized. This was a huge indicator of class in their society. If a man had a scruffy beard, he was considered either a servant or a member of the lower class.

The upper class and royalty would use tweezers made from seashells, pumice stones, beeswax, and a sugaring method. They even had razors made of bronze or flint. The practice of hair removal was a huge deal for their time period. We’ve modernized a lot of their methods, especially the body sugaring.

Essentially the hair is removed at the root and what little grows back, comes back softer. The sugaring “wax” is made with sugar, water, and lemon juice and it’s mixed into a paste, spread onto the skin then ripped off with a cotton cloth strip. It’s very similar to depilating although it may be considered a “cheaper” or more “organic” option. And it’s also been said to be less painful than waxing.

The Romans

romans hairless

Like the Egyptians, the Roman Empire identified their classes by lack of body hair. The wealthy used flint razors, tweezers, stones, and creams to remove unwanted hair, including pubic hair. The statues of gods and paintings of upper-class women in that era are all depicted hairless.

The Persians

Over 5000 years ago, the method of Bande Abru is born in Persia. The name Bande Abru translates to “thread” and “eyebrow” which gives it the name threading. This method has spread throughout more countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, and even the US. It is great for those with sensitive skin and works by intertwining a thread through the fingers then rapidly rubbing the thread against the skin, pulling and tugging on the unwanted hair.

Typically, it’s used on any facial region but it can work anywhere. When it originated, women practiced it on their wedding day or special occasions. It was used as a sign that a young woman had reached adulthood. Today, it has grown in popularity because it’s said to be more tolerable than waxing.

The Europeans

Queen Elizabeth I set the bar for hair removal for women in Europe during her reign. During her time, it was fashionable to remove eyebrows and any hair from the forehead so it would appear larger.

However, they wouldn’t remove hair from their bodies.

To keep hair from growing, women rubbed walnut oil on their children’s foreheads. Walnut oil, ammonia or vinegar-soaked bandages, and feline feces were all widely popular methods back in those days. Of course, European women removing hair are the reason American women remove hair because Americans migrated here from Europe, bringing techniques with them. But both European and American women only started removing body hair in the last hundred years or so.

The Birth of Modern Hair Removal

Jean Jacques Perret invented the first straight razor for men in 1760.

first straight razor

He created an L-shaped wooden razor guard that helped reduce the damage of shaving. In his footsteps, Dr. Gouraud created one of the first depilatory creams in the United States called Poudre Subtile in 1844. Poudre Subtile was more powdery in substance than the creams we use today. In an advertisement, Dr. Gouraud claimed it “will effectually remove every appearance of beard from the lips.” Essentially, depilatory creams chemically dissolve hair. And the method is widely popular today with brands such as Nair and Veet. But at this time, hair removal methods were invented only for men.

That’s when King Camp Gillette started a razor revolution. He created the first modern day razor for men in 1880, no longer just for the rich or special occasion. But in 1915, he created the Milady Decollete, a razor designed specifically for women. In that same year, Harpers Bazaar magazine featured a woman with her arms raised and her armpits hairless, the very first to do so.

The Women

During the war, the nylon shortage forced women to go without their pantyhose. This urged companies and manufacturers to produce and release hair removal products strictly designed for women, such as the creation of Remington’s first electric women’s razor in 1940. Hair removal was publically accepted by the ‘50s but women relied on razors and tweezers for shaving and grooming since depilatory creams irritated the skin.

Wax strips and laser hair removal joined the party the 1960s. While wax strips became extremely popular for hair on the arms and legs, laser hair removal wasn’t as lucky since it caused damage to the skin. Today, laser hair removal isn’t only FDA approved, there are even lasers that can be purchased for home use! As swimsuits grew in popularity in the 1960s, bikini hair removal was reborn in the ‘70s.

Some people believe electrolysis has only been around since the 1970s (when the better, more reliable equipment became available) but it’s been around for over 100 years. When it was invented in 1875, the intent was to remove in-grown eyelash hairs. It wasn’t truly deemed as “safe” until the ‘70s and is now one of the most popular hair removal methods since it’s the only one that destroys hair growth cells, ultimately preventing any future growth.

The Present

Today, the art of hair removal has become intertwined in the daily lives of men and women. While some methods are more expensive than others, hair removal is no longer just for the upper class or the royal. There are now salons, studios, and treatment centers dedicated to all the specific forms of hair removal all over the world. Hair removal has grown into one of the most popular beauty services today. From shaving, tweezing, waxing, threading, epilating, depilatory creams, and lasers, there are tons of options perfect for everyone no matter the gender, skin type, or hair type. We’ve come this far, who knows what they’ll come up with next.

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