British people spend £5 million every year on hair removal products1. From ripping it off with strips, to zapping it with lasers - it seems we'll go to any lengths to rid our bodies of unwanted hair. In fact, the average man is thought to spend a whole month of his life shaving his beard1 and the average women removes about 1.5 miles of hair every year2.
For thousands of years we've been preoccupied with waxing, threading and buffing our body hair into submission. Today there's a huge range of hair removal treatments available to choose from - all developed for optimum safety and effectiveness. On this page you'll find everything you need to know about hair removal, from Ancient Egyptian sugaring right up to the modern techniques used in salons today.
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Human body hair: the mystery
Along with pigs, hippos and elephants, humans are particularly hair-free mammals. The little body hair that we do have is most dense on our scalps, under our arms and between our legs. However, the only completely hairless parts of our bodies are our lips, our palms and the soles of our feet. Our limbs, torsos, necks and backs are still covered in hairs but these tend to be shorter, finer, lighter and therefore less noticeable.
We haven't always looked this bald. In fact, six million years ago we were almost completely covered head to foot in dark, course hair - a little like our chimpanzee cousins are today. Exactly why we lost our body hair is something of a mystery to the scientific community. However, there are a number of different theories bounding around, including:
Hair loss theory 1 - 'water babies'
Some scientists believe that eight to six million years ago, our early ancestors lived a semi-aquatic lifestyle, meaning they waded through shallow water to look for food sources and other resources. A thick covering of fur is great for protecting animals against the elements - but completely useless when they're in the water. Think of whales, dolphins and porpoises. They're not furry, and yet some of them live all year round in the freezing waters of the poles. These creatures had to develop a far more effective form of insulation, in the form of huge internal reserves of blubber. Supporters of the semi-aquatic theory believe that our early ancestors lost their hair for the same reason - to keep them warm in chilly waters.
Hair loss theory 2 - 'hot stuff'
Many scientists criticise the semi-aquatic theory for lacking sufficient evidence. An alternative theory is that our early ancestors lost their hair when they migrated away from shaded woods and swamps and towards the open savannah. A thick hairy coat would not have been ideal for life beneath the hot savannah sun. The individuals with the least hair would have been more likely to prosper in this environment, leaving them free to pass their hair-free genes down to the next generation. Over many generations our ancestors lost their fur and instead developed cooling systems. This explains why even today our skin produces cooling sweat, which evaporates to regulate the temperature of our internal organs and prevents us from overheating.
Hair loss theory 3 - 'itchy and scratchy'
The third theory states that we lost our hair as protection against the parasites that liked to nestle and breed in our fur. The prevalence of creatures such as lice, ticks and biting flies was not only an irritation but also a dangerous breeding ground for life-threatening diseases like malaria. The individuals most likely to avoid these deadly viruses would have been the ones with the least hair, and the ones most likely to survive were also the ones most likely to reproduce, and therefore pass their hairlessness to the next generation.
All of these theories are treated in the scientific world as speculations only and the actual reason we lost our excessive body hair could be a combination of all three, or it could be something completely different. All we can say is - thank goodness it happened, or we'd all be spending a lot more money on beauty treatments now.
Why do we remove body hair?
Humans aren't particularly hairy creatures anymore. In fact, out of all the land mammals walking the earth, we're probably one of the baldest. So why is it that we dedicate so much of our time, effort and money on painstakingly removing every strand of the little amount we actually have left?
Contrary to popular belief, body hair removal is not a modern phenomenon. Although there seems to be huge media pressure on all of us- men and women alike, to have smooth, streamlined, blemish-free and hair-free skin, the truth is that materialistic pressures like this have always existed in some shape or form.
The whole premise of life is to find a mate to procreate with in order to further the species. Searching for a mate with the healthiest, most robust genes is something we all do, whether we know it or not. When you fawn over Johnny Depp, or Scarlett Johansson, all you're really doing is identifying those characteristics we subconsciously associate with good genes: strong jawlines, fit bodies, symmetrical faces, clear skin - all the marks of disease-free, healthy individuals likely to produce disease-free, healthy babies. Over the years we seem to have developed the association of health and sexual attraction with being hairless. Some people believe this is a cultural phenomenon encouraged by the flawless people we see on TV and in magazines, but really our peculiar dislike of body hair is something we can trace all the way back to prehistoric times.
Body hair through the ages
Ask a child to draw a prehistoric person and he or she will probably draw a man with wild hair, a long, straggly beard, a leopard skin sash and a big wooden club. Unhygienic, backwards and hairy is the way we've been depicting prehistoric man in cartoons, books and films for years. However, more recent archaeological evidence suggests that our early ancestors were in fact a lot more image-conscious than we give them credit for. Not only did they use plants and herbs to treat ailments, practise dentistry on one another and adorn themselves with decorative jewellery, they also went to great lengths to maintain their body hair. It's thought they shaved using sharp flint as razors and plucked stray hairs with two shells pushed together like tweezers3.
Ancient Egypt and Greece
If you're lucky enough to have seen some of the beautiful sculptures crafted by the Ancient Grecians, you may have noticed something interesting... none of the statues seem to have any pubic hair. This led the Victorian art critic Ruskin to believe that women from Ancient times were simply unable to grow any. Of course, it's probably safer to assume that they did have pubic hair but removed it like the Ancient Egyptians did, with a paste made of beeswax, ripped off with strips of cloth (a treatment known as 'sugaring').
In Ancient Rome, hairless skin was indicative of good social standing. Only the rich had time to pamper and maintain themselves every day, while the poor were too busy toiling in the fields to worry about a bit of excess armpit hair. Upper class Romans used pumice stone and volcanic glass to shave and rub their body hair away.
The 'Dark Ages' were so termed because they were seen as a cultural deterioration after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476AD. During these times, people were too busy avoiding the plague and ploughing the fields to worry about body hair. However, literary experts suspect that men associated untamed female body hair with wantonness and sexuality.
During the reign of Elizabeth I, women plucked their eyebrows into high, thin arches and also plucked their hairlines to create a high hairline known as an 'aristocratic brow'.
Homemade depilatories were concocted from quick-lime, a substance that comes from limestone and shells which, when mixed with water, activates and burns hair off. This is essentially the early version of the chemical hair removal creams and mousses we use today.
Shaving brand Gillette launched the first ever female-marketed razor, impressing the idea that body hair was unsightly and unfeminine. Harpers Bazaar, the high-end women's magazine, published an ad the same year which featured a woman with her arms flung in the air, exhibiting smooth, hair-free armpits. The ad read: “Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.”
Wartime rations on stockings meant women were more likely to shave their legs to achieve a smooth, silky look even with bare legs.
The first disposable razor was created by Baron Bich, who also invented the Bic pen a few years previously.
Brazilian women began waxing most of their pubic hair apart from one neat strip so that they could wear G Strings on the beach.
The J. sisters of New York caught onto the Brazilian fashion and introduced the first 'Brazilian wax' to their city salon, which immediately became incredibly popular across both America and Europe.
Laser hair removal became commercially available.
Hair removal increased in popularity and by 2010, was a £1.2 billion global industry5.
Body hair FAQs
For something so seemingly innocuous, body hair has caused quite a stir over the course of human history. It's been cultivated, trimmed, shaped, revered, shunned, sexualised and even politicised. For example:
- Feminists have denounced hair removal as an objectification of women. Many leave their body hair to grow as a symbol of their rejection of female oppression.
- Imperial China thought body hair was animalistic and barbaric, leading them to remove it for fear it represented a rejection of civilisation.
- Anti-capitalists believe hair removal is a symptom of a ruling-class trying to make us feel insecure about our bodies so we spend more money perfecting our 'imperfections'.
There's no denying it, whatever it really stands for, body hair is a taboo. Even today so many men and women feel confused about where they should remove hair from, how they should go about removing the hair and whether they should even remove it at all. Should men wax their chests? Should women shave their bikini lines? Does having hair make you more masculine? Does having body hair make you appear unkempt and lazy? Is body hair unhygienic?
We understand you'll have lots of questions about body hair, especially if you're thinking about removing it. Below we've compiled an FAQ answering all the questions we could think of about body hair and hair removal, from the obvious to the downright obscure.
Why do men have more body hair than women?
Men and women actually have around the same number of hair follicles across the body, so men do not have more hair than women. The only difference is that men tend to have thicker, longer, courser body hair than women. This is because hair growth is modulated by testosterone, a hormone that kicks in during puberty. Boys tend to have higher levels of testosterone than women (about eight to 10 times higher), causing their body and facial hair to grow longer, thicker and generally more visible.
Why do dark-haired people seem to have more body hair?
Again, dark-haired people don't actually have more hair than fair-haired people, it's just that the hair they do have is more noticeable. For instance, all women have 'moustaches', a coat of hair on their upper lips. For dark-haired women with pale skin, the lip hair will be more noticeable, often causing them to feel abnormal or masculine even though they probably actually have the same amount of hair as everyone else.
Are women attracted to hairy men?
Recent findings suggest that women's preference for hairy men changes according to their menstrual cycles. According some research6, women are attracted to hairier, bigger, deeper-voiced men during the final stage of their menstrual cycle, known as the 'late follicular' stage. Of course, all women are different. Some are attracted to abundant coats of chest, back and facial hair, and some prefer men to wax everything.
Follow this link if you're a man looking for more information about hair removal for men.
Are men attracted to hairy women?
Again, the answer to this question will differ from person to person. Most western women feel like they have to shave their legs and underarms because it's become a social norm, it's what they see in magazines and on TV. If a female celebrity decides she doesn't want to shave for a while, she'll make front-page news, like Julia Roberts did at the 1999 premier of Notting Hill when she raised her arms to show off liberal armpit hair. The picture caused an uproar and, a decade later, it's still being discussed all over the world. In a recent poll of 3,000 women, underarm hair was voted the fifth worst fashion faux pas ever.
Female body hair is such a cultural taboo that it's often met with disgust, despite it being a completely natural and normal part of all of us. Some men are attracted to smooth, hair-free women, and some like women to look more natural. Whether a man likes female body hair or not is really entirely up to him. Whether a woman bows to what she thinks a man wants is entirely up to her.
Should women get rid of pubic hair?
To remove or not to remove, that is the question. There is a certain message in the media right now suggesting that 'downstairs hair' is unattractive. Boys are exposed to online porn from a young age and because most female porn stars are waxed and plucked to an inch of their lives, there's no wonder so many lads grow up with the idea that female body hair is not at all sexy.
In a poll of 600 woman who do shave their pubic hair, the most common reason for their choice was 'to look good in swimsuit', closely followed by 'to feel attractive'5. In another study, researchers found that women between the ages of 18-24 were the most likely age group to shave all of their pubic hair5.
Whether or not you choose to get rid of your pubic hair is of course entirely up to you. There's a wide variety of hair removal treatments available at salons. Remember that shaving can cause ingrown hairs, cuts, rashes and stubble. You are generally advised to seek help from a professional for pubic hair removal.
Why is body hair shorter than the hair on our heads?
The hairs on the head can keep growing for years and years. In fact, the longest hair in the world belongs to a woman from China and measures at a staggering 18ft 5in. So how come the little hairs on our arms and legs don't grow so long? Quite simply, body hair has a different cycle to the hair on our heads. All hairs go through a cycle of growing and falling out, and it just so happens that the little hairs all over our bodies have a much shorter life-span than the longer hairs on our head, meaning they fall out before they get too long.
How many hairs do we have across our bodies?
We have around 5 million individual hairs across our bodies6.
Types of hair removal
If you have decided that you would like to remove some or all of your body hair, it's worth considering all of the different options. Each hair removal technique has its risks and its benefits and different techniques will work better on different parts of the body. To find out more about the treatments listed below, simply follow the links.
Different types of hair removal include:
Hair removal for men is nothing new - men have been traditionally shaving their beards and moustaches for thousands of years. In some cultures, facial hair is respected as a sign of wisdom and greatness and in others it is seen as shabby and unclean. Over the last decade, the removal of male body hair has edged its way from the upper lip and jaw right to the very ends of the toes. In the UK today there are even whole spas dedicated to male hair removal. Some male clients go to have hearts and initials waxed into their pubic hair in time for Valentine's Day, and some go for the 'Back, Sack and Crack' - a complete overhaul, obliterating everything between the legs and beyond.
According to sex columnist Zoe Margolis, some benefits of male pubic hair removal include:
- a more 'pleasant' experience for sexual partners
- gives the appearance of a larger appendage
- exposes sensitive nerve endings, heightening pleasure in that area.
Some men naturally have thicker, darker, denser hair across their chests, legs and backs. If you're unhappy with the look of the hair on your body, there are many hair removal options available. With respected celebrities like David Beckham embracing the smooth and sculpted look, we're sure that more and more men will be prompted to take a trip to the salon for a spot of chest waxing or laser hair removal in the near future.
1Daily Mail, 'My Lifelong Battle with Body Hair'
2Permanent Beauty, 'Research into Women’s Hair Removal Habits'
3Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History By Victoria Sherrow
4HellonHairyLegs, 'a History of the Removal of Body Hair'
5SexualityAndU, 'Pubic Hair Removal'
6Science How Stuff Works, 'Human Body Hair'
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