Hair and the Hourglass – A Hair Removal Timeline

Since our ape-like ancestors first evolved into more-or-less humanoid form, man has had a close relationship with his hair. From ancient times forward, men have grown beards of all lengths, widths and densities, along with curious hairstyles that have ranged from the bangs of Julius Caesar to the sideburns of Elvis and Kookie to the Afros of the 1970s.

But it has been hair removal that has set the stage for epic stories and social development. Sampson supposedly drew his strength from his locks, but Delilah performed the first hair-removal procedure of Biblical proportions, leading to follicle-chilling results. Long before that episode, however, man – and woman – worked hard at hair removal.

According to the Quick Shave, Inc., shaving historical timeline, Neanderthals devised the first set of tweezers, using two seashells to pluck hairs from their body. Blades made of flint date as far back as 30,000 B.C. These stones, which could be finely sharpened, were used both to remove hair and carve designs in the user’s skin.

By 4000 B.C., women were blending such daunting substances as arsenic and quicklime with starch, producing homemade depilatory creams to remove body hair. The development of metalworking allowed humans to create the first permanent razors, fashioned from copper.

Danes carried ornate bronze razors around 1500 B.C.; and around 500 B.C., Greeks began mimicking Alexander the Great, who was fanatical about shaving his face. Women in Rome, meanwhile, found ways to remove hair by employing razors, pumice stones and more homemade depilatories.

A few hundred years before the Common Era, men in India cared for their beards but shaved off their chest hair, while women removed hair from their legs.

During the Middle Ages, 476-1270 A.D., women adopted the practice of removing all their hair from eyebrows, eyelashes, temples and neck, a daily plucking chore that became quite fashionable.

By 1500, Aztecs in North and Central America were shaving with obsidian, a form of volcanic glass, and later in the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth popularized the removal of hair from eyebrows and around the forehead.

In the second half of the 18th century, men and women alike not only removed all the hair from their forehead, but they subsequently applied press-on mouse-skin eyebrows. In 1770, Jean-Jaques Perret wrote a treatise in which he proposed the idea of a “safety razor,” which ultimately was manufactured in a crude form.

In the early 1800s, men began following the fashion of London’s “Beau” Brummel, who meticulously shaved several times a day, removing any missed hairs with tweezers. During that same period, the straight razor became popular, followed by the safety razor which, in the 20th century, grew to two blades, then three, then four in a cartridge.

Despite these eons of concern over hair removal, however, neither razors nor depilatories have offered a permanent way to eliminate unwanted hair. Now, though, 21st century science gives both men and women the opportunity to once and for all be rid of excess hair through the use of lasers that are literally on the cutting edge of technology, incorporating both heat and light.

In the skilled hands of a clinician, these new lasers destroy hair follicles virtually without pain and without causing damage to the skin. Interest in laser hair removal is growing rapidly. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery found that, between 2002 and 2006, the number of laser hair-removal treatments in the United States among both men and women increased 100 percent. In 2007, nearly 1.5 million laser hair removal procedures were performed.

Damaging the follicle is the only way to permanently reduce the amount of unwanted hair, anywhere on the body. The comfortable and effective technology used today for laser hair removal with new technology heats hair at its roots, killing the follicle without irritating the skin. Optimally, laser hair removal entails several sessions. Follicles produce hairs at different rates and are most effectively destroyed in the hair’s growth stage. To catch each set of hairs at the right point in their growth cycles, and to ensure that a proportion of the follicles will not keep producing hair, physicians normally recommend a series of hair-removal treatments over a period of months. While an individual evaluation is important for each patient, most laser hair removal centers recommend, on average, a minimum of six treatments, with each of them delivered about two months apart.

Consumers should avoid some of the older equipment used in non-specialty clinics, since treatment with these devices may be somewhat uncomfortable. The newer lasers in clinics specializing in laser-based treatments offer procedures that are virtually painless and highly effective. These modern devices combine pulsed, high-intensity light with precisely controlled radiofrequency waves to damage follicles.

It’s been a long time coming, but an effective treatment for permanent removal of unwanted hair now is a growing business and a safe, welcome treatment for consumers.

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