Hair removal down the centuries

If you think hair removal today is a chore (and, oh my goodness it is!), how would you feel about living in an era when removing unwanted hair could involve cat’s pee, frog’s blood or ant’s eggs? Yuck!!

Time for a lesson about historical hair removal that will make you glad you’re living in the 21st century!

Back in the stone age they were getting rid of unwanted hair with stones, appropriately enough. Historians tell us there is evidence that men scraped hair off their faces and heads with sharp rocks, blades and sea shells. Speculation is that it was probably for comfort, because less hair would mean fewer itchy and irritating lice and mites.

In the more sophisticated world of the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks they were employing pumice stones to ‘sand’ away body and facial hair more gently and also developed more sophisticated razors out of flint and bronze. They also invented an early waxing/sugaring method where a sticky paste of beeswax or a sugar-based solution was smeared on to the skin and a strip of cloth pressed on top. This was then pulled off forcefully taking the hair with it. Women also devised tweezers from seashells and the fashion was for females to remove virtually all their body and head hair – leaving just their eyebrows.

Absence of body hair was a sign of affluence in the Roman Empire. Wealthy Romans used razors, pumice and tweezers, but threading also made an appearance. Loops of thread, string or yarn were used to pull hairs out by the roots.

Queen Elizabeth I set fashions that were followed by women across the UK including big, high foreheads. Achieving this look involved taking off the eyebrows and hair from the hairline with walnut oil, bandages soaked in ammonia (obtained from cat’s pee) or vinegar.

This blog post by Jill Burke, a senior lecturer in Renaissance Art History at the University of Edinburgh, reveals even more hair removal horrors.

She’s found recipes based on creating a highly alkaline solution that melts the hair from the surface of the skin, a similar process to modern hair removal creams and mousses. She quotes a recipe from a 1532 book that involved boiling arsenic and quicklime and then smearing it over the hair in the baths or a hot room. ‘ When the skin feels hot, wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off’ the recipe warned.

She tells us that other recipes involved the application of eggshells, vinegar and cat dung, or ‘thinning the eyebrows with a combination of ground ivy, gum, ant eggs, burnt leeches, and frog’s blood’.

Over in America, the first pilgrims to arrive from Europe were shocked to discover that Native Americans regarded body hair as disgraceful and removed it all by plucking. You can read more here:

It was French barber Jean Jacques Perret who created the first straight razor for men in 1760. It had an L-shaped wooden guard intended to protect the skin. In 1880, American businessman King Camp Gillette created a much safer razor.

New methods of hair removal began to come thick and fast. Around 1844, a Dr Gouraud created a depilatory cream called Poudre Subtile. An early (and primitive) version of electrolysis was first performed in the late 1800s by inserting and twisting a barbed needle with sulphuric acid into the hair follicle.

x-bazinIn 1915 Gillette created the first razor for women called the Milady Decolletee. Around the same time American magazines began printing advertisements that featured drawings of women with arms aloft displaying hairless armpits. One such advert, placed by Hall & Ruckel of Washington Street, New York, read: ‘Summer dress and modern dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.

X Bazin Depilatory Powder has been used by women of refinement for generations for the removal of objectionable hair. It acts gently and effectively. It is harmless to the most delicate skin. It is easily applied. Sold by druggists and department stores everywhere for 50 cents’.

During the Second World War a shortage of nylon stockings forced women to go bare legged more often and may have speeded up the development of both an electric razor for women and the first modern depilatory, Nair® Lotion.

It’s a relief to think that today you don’t have to endure any pain, mess, nasty smells or discomfort to remove unwanted hair. You also don’t have to spend hours on laborious tweezering.

Fortunately technology has moved on considerably in recent years, The Soprano Ice laser that I use at Xodos is genuinely pain-free and achievesa fantastic – AND long term – results on almost all hair colours. Call my clinic on 01543 415942 or email for more information and to book a free, no obligation patch consultation.