It is thought that we humans lost the majority of our body hair as an evolutionary defence against ticks and other parasites, retaining our scalp hair purely for its ability to attract mates, and facial and pubic hair as a sign of sexual maturity.
Ancient cave drawings show both bare-faced and bearded cavemen, which suggests that the ‘fashion’ for facial hair removal has been around since at least 10,000 BC. Flint was used as a shaving device as far back at 30,000 BC.
Our modern obsession with hair removal harks back to 1915, the new fashion for sleeveless dresses and an ad campaign in Harper’s Bazaar. Shaving had been an exclusively masculine pursuit until Wilkinson Sword began marketing razor blades to women, reviling body hair as an unhygienic and masculine flaw. Within years, the female razor industry was booming and bald underarms were de rigeur. With the war-time shortening of skirts, it wasn’t long before legs became the next bastion of objectionable hair, followed by the bikini line (no prizes for guessing where the name came from) in the 1960s.
The most ancient of hair removal methods, there are few brands more recognised worldwide than Gillette, whose disposable razors were first patented in 1904. Although quick, easy and still the most popular method of hair removal, shaving is the least effective in terms of longevity.
The first chemical depilatories were used as far back as 4,000 BC, and contained harsh chemicals such as caustic lime and arsenic. Today’s depilatories often contain calcium thioglycolate which reduces the strength of the hair by destroying its protein structure.
Threading is thought to have originated in ancient Persia, where the removal of body hair signalled a bride’s graduation to womanhood. Cotton thread is looped and then drawn across the skin, removing hairs from the follicle. Typically used for small areas of facial hair such as brows, lips and cheeks, threading may be less irritating to the skin than other methods, and results last up to 6 weeks.
The wives of Ancient Egyptian pharaohs used sticky pastes of oil and honey to remove their body hair in a technique not dissimilar to our modern form of sugaring. Although longer-lasting than shaving, the ‘pain factor’ and having to grow hair out are usually the main deterrents.
A relatively new form of manual exfoliation performed primarily on the face, using a sterile surgical blade to slough away dead skin cells and extraneous vellus (translucent ‘peach fuzz’) hairs. Because vellus hair is different to the coarser ‘terminal’ hair on the head, underarms, pubic area and on the lower face in men, cutting it does not make it grow thicker or feel stubbly.
Electrolysis as a hair removal technique was first used in 1875 by an ophthalmologist who treated ingrown eyelashes using a surgical needle with galvanic current. Since the invention of laser hair removal, the popularity of electrolysis has waned, although it is still an effective method for the permanent removal of non-pigmented hair such as blonde, red or grey (more difficult to treat with laser).
Laser Hair Removal
“Laser” is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The theory of laser was developed in the 1920s, but the first laser wasn’t actually built until the 1960s. Laser technology was used to remove birthmarks in the 1980s, the side-effect of which was hair loss in the treated area. However, it wasn’t until 1995 that the first laser hair removal device was approved by the FDA, and advancements in technology continue to this day.