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The Evolution of Hair Removal

By: Terri Wojak
Posted: January 5, 2011, from the January 2011 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

History demonstrates that hair removal methods have been around for a long time. When most people think of evolution, they automatically picture a hairy caveman; however, hair removal has been around since the Stone Age, approximately 10,000 BC, from which there are ancient paintings showing cavemen using two seashells as tweezers.

As far back as 30,000 BC, flint, a hard form of mineral quartz with sharp edges, was used as a shaving device. Technology has come a long way since then. One example is laser hair removal systems that have been developed to permanently reduce the amount of hair that grows. According to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, laser hair removal is the third most popular nonsurgical cosmetic procedure performed in the United States,and according to www.surgery.org, the organization’s website, there were 1,280,031 laser hair removal procedures performed in 2009. Even though hair removal has evolved since the Stone Age, it still has a long way to go. New devices are constantly being developed that are more effective and easier to use than what was available as recently as several years ago.

Hair removal in society

There are many times when society has made hair removal popular. In a 1915 edition of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, a model was featured showing bare shoulders and underarms. This prompted the Wilkinson Sword company, which made razor blades for men, to design a campaign convincing women that underarm hair was neither feminine nor hygienic. Within two years, the sales of razor blades doubled, and now removing underarm hair has become the norm for North American women. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hollywood starlets were removing their eyebrows so they could draw thin, exaggerated brows with makeup pencils. Taking their fashion cues from the movies, many women followed suit, and having arched eyebrows is still popular today. These are only a few examples where removing hair has made its mark in history.

Shaving

One of the most ancient and popular methods of hair removal is shaving, which is a relatively easy process, especially with today’s shaving devices. Similar to ancient times when flint was used, most consumers use disposable razors, replacing them often as the edges become dull. In 1901, Gillette, with help from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineer, developed the safety razor with blades that were disposable and replaceable. The company received a patent for it in 1904, and left its mark on history as the company to use for shaving when, during World War I, it made a deal with the U.S. Armed Forces to provide the safety razor and blades to all enlisted men going to Europe. In 1927, the first electric dry shaver with oscillating blades was invented by Colonel Jacob Schick, and was made available in 1929 to consumers. Despite the low cost involved upfront, shaving is time-consuming. On average, a woman who shaves her legs will spend a total of 225 hours—nine days and nine hours—on the task during a five-year span.

Depilation

The use of chemical depilatories dates back to 4,000–3,000 BC when people used the first chemical depilatory called rhusma. This blend contained harsh chemicals, such as caustic lime and arsenic. Other depilatories used in the past contained resin, white vine or ivy gum extracts. Many of today’s depilatories contain the powerful ingredient calcium thioglycolate, which works by destroying the protein structure of hair, reducing its texture and strength. Because of its widespread marketing campaign in the mid 1980s—“If you dare wear short shorts, Nair for short shorts”—Nair remains the best known hair removal lotion. Chemical depilatories are still widely used today, but their results don’t last long, and they can be irritating to the skin, especially in sensitive areas.

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