Archaeologists have found evidence of depilation tools being used since 4000 B.C. Excavations have proved that men used to shave their faces using sharpened stones or shells to remove unwanted hair even 2000 years ago.
Sumerians used tweezers to remove hair and ancient Arabs used threads, a process we call “threading”. Some women wrapped cotton threads around their fingers and quickly passed them over their leg hair in order to surround the hair and pluck them.
The Egyptians, including Cleopatra, also did the same thing. Some of them used bronze razors which they even took to their grave. Some others depilated themselves using sugar or bees’ honey. It is worth noting that among ancient Egyptians, a shaved face was a symbol of status.
According to Herodotus, Egyptians who were always shaven, used to let their beards and hair grow after the death of a person close to them. Both women and men were completely shaved and wore wigs. The practice of hair removal was not only limited to the face and head. Egyptians used wax or other depilatory products made from starch, arsenic or limestone on their legs. This desire for hair removal was related to hygienic issues since the hot southern climate favored the survival of germs and the spread of diseases. Depilating the whole body was a way to prevent the proliferation of viruses and infections.
The people of Asia Minor used a hair removal method called sugaring. This method referred to the application of a natural ointment made from lemon and other natural ingredients based on sugar. Using this soft mixture, they were rubbing off or plucking their hair. The high sugar content prevented the growth of bacteria in warm climates. According to rumors, this method of depilation was used as part of the pre-wedding rituals in Asia Minor.
The night before the wedding, brides would remove all their body hair except for their eyebrows and hair. According to the rumor, the bride kept a hairless body throughout the marriage as a symbol of cleanliness and respect towards her husband. The Mesopotamians used to remove their eyebrow hair with tweezers. During some excavations at Ur, the capital of Chaldea, archaeologists found a 3500-year-old pair of tweezers in a tomb. Tweezers have also been found in ancient Mycenae of Greece.
Roman men used to shave their faces. It is also noteworthy that the emperor Julius Caesar, would pluck his facial hair with tweezers. In Roman times the first time someone shaved his facial hair was considered the beginning of his manhood. The shavings were offered as an oblation to their favorite god.
In Pakistan, in the valley of Indus River, hygiene was kept religiously by the ancient Indians. In ancient India, chest, pubic, chin and lower lip hair was shaved every 4th day.
A hairless body was the European ideal inspired by the Greeks and Romans. The Anglo-Saxons were using tweezers to remove eyebrow and body hair. In the 15th century, it was fashionable to have plucked eyebrows and a widely shaved forehead. The fashion of having a wide forehead continued throughout all Elizabethan years. If a woman did not possess a wide forehead, she would remove her front hair in order to achieve it. It is said that women would often apply almond oil on their children’s forehead in hope of hairlessness. They also used to soak cloths in vinegar and cat feces and apply them to the same area to inhibit the growth of hair.
It is also said that the Duke of Newcastle, would pay 50 pounds weekly in order to have his wife constantly depilated on the face. But in a 1755 letter, Horace Goulapol says that once the Duke “retired” he finally let his beard grow and become … even longer than his Duchess’!
Lemery’s early 18th century (1711) book «Curiosa Arcana», gives the following recipe: To remove your unwanted hair, get 52 egg-shells, crush them to a powder and heat them up over a fire. After mixing the hot powder with water, apply the paste on the area you want to depilate. For the ladies, he suggested cat feces soaked in vinegar in order to get the same effect.
We had to get to the late 18th century in order for the first tool designed specifically for hair removal to appear, it was the razor! Invented in 1762 by Jean Jacques Perret, a French barber, it had the form of a metallic sharp blade positioned along a piece of metal in order to protect the person holding it.
The Indigenous Americans would depilate themselves with forceps (tweezers), while their women applied poultices of caustic lye.
Waxing was a ritual for Brazilian women too who were using the sap from the Coco de Mono tree in order to remove unwanted hair. Today’s women teach their daughters the process of depilation with cold or hot wax, at the age of 15.
The first revolution in shaving was made by King Gillete, a salesman who invented the razor. While he got the idea for disposable razors in 1895 he had to wait until 1903.That was when he worked with William Nickerson, a professor at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) who helped him, with great success, put the final product on the market.
In 1915 Gillette introduced the first razor especially for women. In 1931 Jacob Schick invented the electric shaver. In 1940 Remington introduced the first electric shaver specifically for women on the market. In 1975 the first disposable razor for women made an appearance, while in 1995 we have the first soap-less shaving gel.
The first modern depilatory product was Nair® Lotion, which was born in New York by Carter-Wallace Inc. in 1940. It was the result of the limitations due to the war, since socks were in shortage and people’s legs were uncovered. Additionally, another firm (Sally Hansen®) imported similar products from France. Sally Hansen® introduced the Facial Hair Removing Crème in 1981 and the Hair Removing Lotion with baby oil in 1985.
The hype with cold wax depilatory strips begun in the late 1960s. The process was similar to the hair removal method with sugar which was used in the ancient Middle East. A chemist re-introduced this method to modern times when he synthesized a sticky substance which he later put on a piece of paper used to remove hair from its roots. There were certain issues though. While the hair was supposed to stick on this substance and get removed from the roots, not only it would break in half but also cause skin irritation and redness.
Wax was well known in Europe for many centuries. America though, was mainly introduced to it through beauty salons. So they named it “European Hair Removal” or “European Salon Formula”. The reputation of wax was constantly growing with such a great variety of products available for household use. This made it easy and economical. The first technique of hair removal with wax, which still has a large audience, was heating solid wax to warm it up, spreading on the skin and pulling to remove hair.