Hair removal. Most people perform some form or other of this practice yet it’s not something as freely discussed; viewed as somewhat of a taboo, if you will.
First, let’s talk about the different types of hair. There are three types of hair found on the human body; Lanugo, Vellus, and Terminal.
Lanugo is very fine, soft, and usually unpigmented, downy hair that can be found on the body of a fetus or newborn baby. It is the first hair to be produced by the fetal hair follicles, and it is normally shed before birth, but is sometimes present at birth and disappears on its own within a few days or weeks. Lanugo hair will only be blue. Here’s an example of a newborn with Lanugo hair.
Vellus hair (endearingly known as peach fuzz) is short, fine, light-colored or sometimes even unpigmented (translucent) barely noticeable hair that develops all over a person’s body during childhood and either stays that way (as Vellus hair) or turns into Terminal hair once a person reaches puberty. Vellus in Latin means fleece or wool. Here’s an example of Vellus hair on Emma Watson. Note the short hairs on the back of her neck (nape), and the blonde hairs on her upper and lower lip. They are so fine, light-colored, and barely visible (hence the name “peach fuzz”) but when you zoom in (Sorry for the unflattering photo, Emma! I just found it google. I needed it to use as an example. Don’t hate me, Hermione!) with a powerful lens, it becomes much more visible. Aside from natural sunlight, different kinds of lighting can highlight Vellus hair.
Terminal hairs are thicker, longer, and darker in comparison to vellus hair. During puberty, the increase in hormones causes vellus hair in certain parts of the human body to be replaced with terminal hair while stimulating the growth of new hair in other areas. The hair on your head (as in scalp) and your eyebrows are examples of Terminal hair.
The three types of hair (Lanugo, Vellus and Terminal) all spring up from the same follicle which means that at any time, you might find yourself sporting Terminal hair on a body part that used to have Vellus hair. This is not just a guy “thing”. The fact of the matter is, everyone has hair almost everywhere on their body but the color, thickness and density is what makes it more visible (darker, thicker, dense, etc…) or less visible (lighter, finer, sparse, etc…). The color, texture, and density varies depending on your genetic disposition, ethnic background and evolutionary mutation.
By today’s standards of beauty, women are expected to have a well-groomed bikini area and well-groomed eyebrows but completely hairless legs and underarms yet Vellus hair also known as peach fuzz, is somewhat acceptable. In Arab culture, peach fuzz is not acceptable. In Kuwait, apart from eyelashes, well-groomed eyebrows and the hair on their head, women are expected to be hairless.
Contrary to popular belief, this is not something imposed on women by men nor is this a recent phenomenon. As easy as it would be to blame the media for brainwashing people all over the world for this practice, hair removal can be traced all the way back to the Stone Ages when men and women used seashells as tweezers and sharpened rocks to scrape off the unwanted hair.
The men and women during ancient Egyptian times took it a step further by removing all their body hair (including that of their head) only to wear wigs and extensions on their bald heads. Aside from pioneering the circular razor (sharpened rocks) they used pumice stones to buffer the hair off. The ancient Egyptians were the first to develop hot wax by creating a sugar-based paste (basically caramel, right before it reaches the crystallizing stage) to rip the hair out by it’s roots. This method is now known as sugaring. In Kuwait, we call it Halawa (which means literally means candy in Arabic). It’s also known as Shera (yes, pronounced exactly like the name of He-Man’s girlfriend), Arabic Wax, Persian Wax, Egyptian Wax, Sugar Wax, Body Sugaring, and other variations of the aforementioned.
During the Roman empire, excess hair was considered uncivilized so the wealthy men and women of the time used flint as razors to remove the hair. They also used stones, tweezers and depilatory creams and even improved on the Ancient Egyptian’s circular razor design. If you take a look at Greco-Roman Art and you will notice that the women shown, while nude, are not portrayed to have any excess hair/body hair.
Nobody knows where (Central Asia/India) or when (6,000 years according to one theory) the art of “threading” originated but it has since become extremely popular in the Middle-East, Persia, Egypt, China, and Korea to name a few. Threading is mainly used to shape the brows but it is also used as a method of removing unwanted hair on the entire face and upper lip area using nothing but a cotton thread. The thread is pulled along unwanted hair in a twisting motion (effectively trapping the hairs in a mini lasso) and lifting the hair right out of the follicle hence the name threading.
During the Middle Ages, women would remove their eyebrows and front hairs from their heads to give the illusion of a larger forehead. To achieve a fashionably elongated forehead, they used bandages soaked in walnut oil, vinegar, and ammonia. It is reported that Queen Elizabeth I was the one who set this trend.
In the 1760’s Jean Jacques Perret, a barber in France, created the Perret razor. The significance of this was huge because it meant that men no longer needed to go to the barber for a shave. With Perret’s invention men (and by extension women, although they weren’t as up front about it back then) could shave in the privacy of their own home.
In the 1880’s King Camp Gillette introduced the first modern day razor for men and thus a revolution was born! The Gillette razor was efficient, disposable, and affordable. During World War I the U.S. Government issued Gillette safety razors to the entire armed forces. Recruits were supplied with Gillette shaving equipment, along with their uniforms and weapons, creating a base of customers who kept coming back for refills long after the Treaty of Versailles. Not only that, but as soon as the war was over, the opposing side eagerly went out and got their own Gillette razors after jealously watching the Americans shave so effortlessly during wartime.
The early 1900’s saw ads for depilatory creams hit the masses. Among them was X-Bazin depilatory cream which promises to remove “humiliating growth of hair on face, neck, and arms”. This was the start of “The First Great Anti-Underarm-Hair Campaign,” in which ads told women to clean up their “objectionable hair.” At the same time, sleeveless dresses were beginning to be deemed acceptable so completely bare underarms were a new “necessity,” as emphasized in this Harper’s Bazaar ad from 1915. The ad shows a woman in a sleeveless dress, her arms raised, and her armpits bare. In 1915 the first women’s razor called Milady Décolleté was introduced by Gillette.
By the 1940’s stockings had become an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe. At the time, silk stockings were expensive and didn’t last, neither cotton nor wool were dressy, and rayon sagged which made nylon the favorite by far because it looked great, fit great, and best of all was affordable. During World War II there was a shortage of nylon (no more stockings) because it was one of the many materials being diverted towards the war effort so advertisers focused on getting women to shave not just their armpits but their legs as well. Many products and techniques for hair removal hit the market because women were forced to go bare legged more often. Women started to use leg makeup to “fake” stockings, complete with a fake seam down the back of the leg drawn on with an eyebrow pencil. Smooth hairless legs made this illusion much easier to achieve. Max Factor was the first brand to introduce leg makeup; stocking cream (a cream with a tint designed to give the illusion of wearing stockings) to the cosmetics world.
Wax strips were introduced to the market in the 60’s and quickly became popular with the masses. Unlike shaving, waxing removed hair by the root which gave a smoother look and feel to the skin. Also, it took longer to grow back (regrowth).
Electrolysis although around for awhile only became safer around the 70’s. Electrolysis is the only permanent hair removal treatment but the results from laser hair removal (a form of photoepilation) can sometimes be permanent too. Electrolysis utilizes electricity to damage the hair whereas Photoepilation utilizes light. There are three types of photoepilation; laser hair removal (lasers and laser diodes), intensified pulse light (high-energy lamps), and diode epilation (high-energy LEDs but not laser diodes). Electrolysis is a treatment for permanent hair removal whereas Photoepilation is a treatment for hair reduction.
The first manual epilator was released in Israel in the 80’s and was called Epilady. An epilator is an electrical device used to remove hair by mechanically grasping multiple hairs simultaneously and pulling them out.
There are two different types of hair removal; Depilating and Epilating.
Depilating is the removal of part of the hair above the surface of the skin such as shaving, depilatories (creams or powders which chemically dissolve hair), or friction (to buff away the hair). These methods are all painless but the effects can last anywhere from several hours to several days.
Epilating is the removal of the entire hair by the root such as tweezing, waxing (the wax itself is classified as depilatory though), sugaring, threading, and manual epilators. These methods are all relatively painful but the effects can last anywhere from two weeks to two months.
Bleaching is not a form of hair removal but it can serve to lighten or camouflage unwanted facial hair or body hair.