The evolution and history of hair removal is an interesting journey, fed by many technological influences and social changes. From ancient civilizations to modern-day medical spas, hair removal practices have been created and constantly re-invented to suit our society's aesthetic needs and preferences.
By following this hair removal timeline, we can read how our earliest ancestors solved their unwanted hair problems, and which hair removal techniques have transcended from past to present. Tracking our hair removal history might also prove useful or helpful in solving your own current hair removal misconceptions and/or indecision.
30,000 B.C.: Prehistoric man allegedly used flint razors to shave at this time. However, the flint would dull quickly, and cuts were extremely common.
In the same era, women reportedly created some of the first depilatory creams, made from harsh substances like quicklime and arsenic. These abrasive materials burned off unwanted hair, but would frequently harm skin in the process.
3,000 B.C.: Some of the first non-disposable razors were used in Egypt and India. Possible through advancements in metalworking, these copper razors were often customized and decorated with carvings and designs.
500 B.C.: Alexander the Great's shaving obsession increased the practice's popularity, leading to the construction of some of the first barbershops. At this same time, Roman women were starting to use shaving razors too, as well as tweezers, pumice stones and depilatories.
60 B.C.: It was around this time that Ancient Egyptian women, like Cleopatra herself, reportedly began using the sugaring hair removal method. This natural mixture was said to effectively remove hair in a harmless and relatively comfortable manner.
Ancient Egypt, and early Middle Eastern and Asian cultures were also the first users of threading hair removal; a process that removes unwanted hair by twisting it between taut cotton threads.
In the early Middle Ages, it was very fashionable for woman to be completely hairless—even on their heads, which allowed them to wear the large, ostentatious wigs and headpieces that were in style. To remove hair on their eyebrows, heads and necks, women plucked and shaved nearly every day. Sometimes, even the eyelashes were plucked out.
1500: The Aztecs in Central and North America were using shaving razors fashioned from volcanic obsidian glass, which was sharp and effective, but sometimes fragile.
1600s: European women kept their faces, foreheads and eyebrows plucked or shaved, in the trend of Queen Elizabeth.
1770: A French barber named Jean-Jacques Perret writes and publishes "The Art of Learning to Shave Oneself," which is where the concept of a safety razor was first introduced.
Late 1700s: The first L-shaped razor blade with a wooden guard was created. Named the Perret Razor, the hand-held guard made it easier to keep the blade steady while shaving, but it still couldn't be called a proper safety razor.
Early 1800s: Women continue to use homemade depilatories in addition to shaving and tweezing.
1847: William Henson, an English inventor, created the first shaving razor with a blade that runs perpendicular to the handle. This redesign made handling of the razor much easier for shaving the face and other body areas.
Late 1800s: The straight razor, or open razor, was created in England and quickly became the most popular razor to use. Because of the razor's tendency to dull quickly, however, the razors needed to be frequently sharpened or "stropped" to achieve effective hair removal results.
During this period was also when consumers first started to see shaving amenities for men, such as after-shave lotions, shaving soaps and shaving creams.
1875: Reportedly when the use of electricity for hair removal was first recorded. Allegedly, an opthalmalogist from St. Louis, Dr. Charles Michel, was credited with using electrolysis to treat ingrown eyelashes (trichiasis) and had been doing so since 1869.
1880: The Kampfe brothers in the U.S. created the first safety razor. With a small wire running across the razor edges on one side, the razor's featured skin guard enabled greater shaving ease and less propensity for nicks and cuts.
1901: Gillette and an MIT engineer create a double-bladed safety razor that features replaceable, disposable blades. This revolutionary invention forever changes the hair removal industry.
World War I (1914-1918): Gillette makes a deal with the Armed Forces that puts Gillette razors into every soldier's standard issue gear, forever helping solidify Gillette as a leading razor brand for male hair removal.
1915: American women are influenced by a marketing campaign in Harper's Bazaar magazine that paints underarm hair as unfeminine, unhygienic and completely unfashionable for the latest sleeveless women's styles. The adoption of razor blades by more women following this campaign, helped fuel a major push in female body hair removal.
1916: New Yorker Paul Kree develops the multiple needle galvanic electrolysis method that is still well-known and used in a varied form today. Galvanic electrolysis is considered best for treating the bottom two-thirds of hair, and creates a chemical reaction in the hair follicle that effectively disables it.
1931:, Col. Jacob Schick obtains a patent for the Schick Dry Shaver, the world's first electric shaver with motor-powered razor blades.
1924: The thermolysis method of electrolysis was officially developed by a Frenchman. Thermolysis, also known as short-wave or high-frequency electrolysis, uses an alternating current to generate heat quickly to destroy hair. This method is rumored to be faster, but not as thorough as galvanic electrolysis.
1940s: The invention of Nair, which became the most successful depilatory cream to date. This product led to an increase in female hair removal consumers, as well as a stronger interest in female body hair removal altogether.
1948: Blend electrolysis received its first patent, and was created by Arthur Hinkel and Henri St. Pierre. The blend electrolysis method utilizes both previous electrolysis technologies to create an even more powerful hair removal technique.
1960s: The birth of cosmetic laser technology. Lasers for hair removal were first developed in the form of laser epilators in the 70s, but these were largely proven to be ineffective and painful according to FDA testing.
1980s: Electrolysis becomes even more popular and widespread as computerized electrolysis equipment is developed. This makes electrolysis treatments safer, more convenient, more reliable, and much easier to use—albeit still quite painful.
Late 1980s: Sisters from Rio de Janeiro open a salon in NYC and introduce America to the Brazilian wax.
1995: The FDA approves the first laser for hair removal, the Nd:YAG laser. This laser was quickly distributed for use in upscale spas and by cosmetic providers, but the product was inaccurately marketed as a permanent hair removal device. Laser hair removal technologies would later come to be labeled as permanent hair reduction devices.
1997: New laser hair removal devices were cleared by the FDA for distribution. The new devices' laser technology proved more successful at targeting hair melanin. This meant that the laser could be more easily focused on unwanted hair, and thus greater avoid burning or damaging surrounding skin tissue, which was a problem with some original designs.
Early 2000s: Developments in hair laser technology have now given way to several different hair removal lasers that can treat varying skin types and hair colors. These lasers include:
2008: The TRIA system becomes the first FDA-approved, at-home laser hair removal device. It utilizes a diode laser to remove unwanted hair within a hand-held applicator.
Given how far we've come and how varied our hair removal choices are today, it's not surprising that the available options can cause confusion as to which one is the best.
The smartest way to make an informed hair removal decision is to discuss your options in greater detail with a hair removal professional, in addition to completing some treatment research of your own. A qualified hair removal provider will have greater insight into possible triggers for laser hair removal side effects, be knowledgeable in local hair removal costs for waxing, electrolysis, etc., and know more specifics about the kind of hair removal treatment results you can personally expect.
In other words, the best way to ensure you come out looking your very hair-free best—no matter which historical hair removal treatment you choose—is to research your chosen hair removal method well in advance, look into individual factors that could interfere with your results, such as skin conditions, allergies or certain medications, and only trust a highly experienced provider to perform your treatments.