We might think hair removal is a modern trend, but it has been around since the beginning of civilization.
Tools and products that we use today originated hundreds of years ago, when hair removal was performed for health and sanitary reasons rather than vanity.
The Caveman Era
Cavemen removed hair from their head and face to prevent mites and other insects from forming nests and laying eggs in their hair. How, you ask? Without the means to create a razor, cavemen had to get creative. They scraped off their hair with a sharpened rock or a seashell. Talk about painful hair removal methods.
Ancient Egypt – 3,000 BCE
In ancient Egypt, men removed all of their hair because it gave enemies something to grab onto during battle. One of the first-known razors, found in Egypt in 3,000 BC, was made of copper.
There’s also evidence that Egyptians used a sugary substance like beeswax to remove hair. The method, similar to waxing, was called sugaring. Egyptians poured the substance over an area where they wanted to remove hair, placed a piece of cloth on top of it, pressed it onto the hair, and then yanked it, ripping the hair out from the root.
Women removed nearly all of their body hair except their eyebrows. They shaped their pubic hair as seen in Egyptian art, which depicts nudes with triangular or fully groomed pubic hair.
Greece and Rome – 400 CE
Later in history, in Ancient Greece and Rome, it was considered uncivilized to have pubic hair, so men and women used tools to pluck the hairs individually or singed them off with fire. Other forms of hair removal included razors, sharpened stones, and even forms of depilatory cream.
Facial hair was viewed as a sign of lower class, so it was usually only found on slaves or servants. This stigma might have followed us into the present since most of our country’s leaders and businessmen have had a clean shaven face.
Europeans – 1500s
It wasn’t until the Elizabethan era that hair removal became popular, but it wasn’t their legs or armpits that they focused on. Instead, women drastically thinned their eyebrows and completely removed hair from their forehead to form a longer brow. The look was so fashionable that women went so far as to rub walnut oil on their children’s forehead to prevent hair growth. Other concoctions were made out of vinegar and cat feces to create the same effect. You might recognize this style from famous paintings such as the Mona Lisa, whose hairline is set back an inch or so.
Americans – Late 1800s to Early 1900s
President Abraham Lincoln made beards stylish again, but after he was killed in 1865, men went back to shaving their facial hair. Around this time, inventor and salesman King Camp Gillette improved the razor and created a product that was disposable. The idea occurred to him while shaving with a dull razor that he’d taken to a barber to be sharpened but was now past the point of salvation. His disposable razors allowed men to shave on their own, saving them a trip to the barber, and to shave on a daily basis if they chose. The design also resulted in less irritation and fewer cuts.
So what about American women during this time? It’s safe to say that the majority followed the hair removal trends of early Europeans because most were of European descent. The first razor for women was created in 1915. Up to this point, women dressed conservatively, making the need for razors pretty useless. It wasn’t until fashion began to change that women found a reason to get rid of their body hair. Around 1910, hemlines began to rise. First, they rose to above the ankles. By 1915, they rose six inches to mid-calf. Gillette used the changing hemlines to promote the need for razors. Many women wore stockings instead, but a lack of nylon during World War II forced them to look into hair removal methods.
Today, fashion trends don’t allow men or women to go very long without maintaining their body hair, and hair removal techniques have come a long way since the caveman era. Of course, many of the basic concepts and designs remain the same. For example, like cavemen and early Egyptians, our culture still relies on razors, hair wax, and depositories. But now we have medical lasers. While other methods get the job done, results only last a few days. Laser hair removal not only provides permanent hair removal, it’s the only hair removal method that makes skin look better and eliminates the possibility of ingrown hairs, blemishes, and irritation. Hundreds of years from now, the art of hair removal still might not be perfected, but hopefully our culture can say that we’ve moved on from caveman-like methods.