History of waxing, hair removal and the bikini line

Unwanted hair, waxing, tweezing, threading, depilatory creams through to laser hair removal. That little inconspicuous hair causes us to go to extraordinary lengths to fix it.

This article is all about the history of hair removal, many think removing body hair and specifically, hair from the nether regions is a modern concept, but the truth of bikini line and body hair removal goes back, a very long way.

Hair removal through the ages

It all begins a very long time ago in ancient Egypt; the Egyptians took beauty and body image very seriously and invented many of the beauty routines we still use today. Egyptian women removed hair from the entire body including the head. Tweezing, yes you read that right they made tweezers from seashells, pumice stone in use for exfoliation and would you believe they even waxed. A mixture of beeswax and sugar-based waxes used in their beauty routines.

It was nono hair for the Romans

When the Romans were roaming around, social status in the community was important. It was considered a sign of high social standing to have no body hair. Grecian women removed body hair in a variety of ways, similar to the Egyptians, tweezing and scraping off the hair with sharpened flint. If you ever wondered why so many artworks, status and alike of Greek women were depicted with no pubic hair now, you know why. It only takes a single word to understand if body image was important to the Greeks. Gymnasium, we might argue that modern media has proliferated bikini hair removal although the Greeks were just as bombarded with aspiring imagery.

You only have to consider the names of places to gain insight into what it would have been like walking down the roads of Ancient Greece and Rome. Nimes Arena, The Colosseum, Herculaneum, Troy, Sparta, Olympia. You gain the picture, strength, heroism, statues of democratic and legendary warriors littered the streets.

The male and female form regarded as holding importance to the Romans too. Despite very immoralists picture being painted by the church in later times. Romans took virtue, social position and strength of character very seriously, especially the women. Educated, confident and able to run affairs was the expected norm for women of social position. You could argue all was progressing fine and dandy for women until Christianity. By the time, we come to the 3rd century all notions of sexuality had all but been squashed. Celibacy had become so integral to Religion that fathers of the church debated if sex should even be allowed within marriage for procreation. Some of the worst disfigurement and atrocities to women happen in these times.

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The Hammam could it be today's Spa

The Romans and Greeks had their baths, but it took the Ottoman Empire to create the Hammam, a possible prelude to not only today’s Spa but also the local pub. Took an idea and ran with it best describes the Ottoman’s and the Roman baths. Not content with just a place to bath it was over time transformed into an integral part of society. Ultimately becoming a place of meeting, family and enjoyment there is some speculation it was the catalyst for the modern day public house or pub. Furthermore, it was integral to female society with it being best described as a visit to the Spa. Women would use wax & sugar mixtures for removing hair, and this is also where we find Fatlah, or in Arabic Khite. You may recognise this easier by threading, the art of hair removal with thread. In the Islamic Faith, there is a branch called The Hanafi this includes the Sunni Turks and within this faith, it is given to remove all body hair, including pubic hair.

no no hair removal

In recent times, some conjecture has arisen for the removal of pubic hair. The Porn industry has been front and centre in that sentiment of why women have been ‘pressured’ to go bare down there. Despite the facts just do not add up. In many cultures we have discovered, it is the norm to remove pubic hair. We have even seen here that removing pubic hair goes all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians.

Can you imagine your husband to be, rejecting you and not consummating the marriage? John Ruskin and Effie Gray in 1848 famously bring this to light. Although we do not have solid facts, it is surmised the sight of Effie’s pubic hair, affected John so much that he had no want, of consummating the marriage.

A celebrated art critic and historian of the nineteenth century it is fair and reasonable he had a differing mental image in his head of how his naked wife was going to look. He would have expected his bride to be all Hollywood, as all depictions of women were hairless down there. Granted we will never actually know for sure if it was the site of the pubic hair that caused the memorable event. However, historians have accepted this is most likely the case.

Around the sixteenth century, we have a proliferation of interest in body image, spurred by books circulating about housekeeping. Hidden within these books were secret recipes some of the books even being named, ‘books of secrets’. Home remedies, become a ladies way of waxing, the making of depilatory creams and all sorts of skin remedies.
If there was a renaissance in literature, art and music there certainly was a renaissance in hair removal and cosmetics too.

History of pubic hair depilation

(Middle Ages extend from the 5th to the 15th)
Not the best of times for women and hair removal took a slight back seat in some parts of the world.

If she has plucked hair from her neck, or brow or beard for lascivious or to please men. This is a mortal sin unless she does so to remedy severe disfigurement or so as not to be looked down on by her husband.

If we step into the renascence period, there is a considerable debate that the proliferation of images of the female form began the self-discipline of the ‘image’, of the female body. Postmodern women with an anything goes is believed to be more common or accepted in that period. However, crossing cultural boundaries produces conjecture again with the Ancient Egyptians, for example, removing body hair and having a conscious self-image of beauty.

Through medieval history, we find much conflicting information. On one side, we have the Church and the sure wish to disallow any removing of hair. In the other we have tweezers and texts indicating removal of hair was common. Trotula de Ruggiero 11th century, De Ornatu Mulierum (About Women’s Cosmetics) advises a hair removal remedy for women:

In order permanently to remove hair. Take ants’ eggs, red orpiment, and gum of ivy, mix with vinegar and rub the areas.

Contemporary art also depicting women with no hair was common amongst artists of the time. A seeming contradiction illustrates that just because sectors of society demand life lived a certain way it does not mean people are going to listen.

Made famous by Queen Elizabeth I, the removing of hair from the forehead to make it seem larger along with eyebrow hair removal, we begin to see a change again in Western European Culture. Throughout this time quite questionable recipes were popular for removing blemishes on the skin. Everyday UV Sun Spots, Pigmentation and Birthmarks seen as marks of the Devil. Makeup was worn, but the balance between lady and whore was fine indeed. Wear enough to tempt that of your husband, although not that will seduce his friend.

Hair Removal in the 17th centuary

Venturing more into the 17th century and The Nude Maja is a name given to a c. 1797-1800 oil on canvas painting by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya accredited as the first life-size dude of the 17th century. The controlling times of the earlier middle ages given way the arts flourishing along with literature. We can clearly see some manicuring of body hair is, of course, commonplace and too with today’s woman some preening would be expected, before being immortalised in oil and canvas.

Between 1800 and 1900 coined the golden era of straight razors for men. It was in 1901 though that pure genius did the simple solution of putting a blade within a much easier to use configuration. The safety razor was born and completely transformed the face of shaving. On the 19th of November 1904, a Patent was granted to Gilette. Women would wait another ten years and finally in 1914 the first ladies safety razor came into production.

The first ladies safety razor 1914

A great deal of advertising at this time reinforced the need to remove excess body hair. With Silk for stockings being hard to find, women were venturing out far more with bare legs. The raging 20’s were just around the corner, and slinky sleeveless dresses were all the rage.

Hair removal with a epilator

A TV commercial that made the use of an Electric Epilator look like, an excellent option. In 1986, an Israeli invention came onto the market. The Epilady burst onto our TV screens in a quiet and background music peaceful way. On purchasing an Epilady Epilator, the reality was far removed from the TV commercial. A noisy device that used a similar spring to manual epilators and motored across the hair. Grasping at the hair and trapping it then pulling it out by the root.

Waxing hair removal

There are not many ladies that are not familiar with waxing. The Wax Strip despite being invented in the 1880’s quickly lost favour, often removing much more than the hair it would be some years before it once again gained acceptance. Strip wax evolved considerably over the years, synthetic waxes and combinations achieving a much more efficient and less painful in the application. Irritation, ingrown hairs and infections have also decreased with the advancements in waxing techniques.

Hard wax or Hot wax a method of waxing that does not use the strip was a further advancement in waxing. Rolled out of a handheld waxing applicator or applied to the skin with a spatula the wax sets without adhering to the skins surface, to the same extent as a waxing strip. A far better choice for sensitive areas like the face and bikini line, hard waxing is considered by many as the only waxing technique to use.

Hair removal of the bikini line has a much longer history than many knew. We have discovered through the ages hair removal from the body including the pubic area was not only common it was widespread. Waxing has good and bad sentiments attached to it; as with many treatments that require some skill, experience and good quality products, results clients gain, vary considerably.

If we venture for a moment on the styles of bikini line designs, this too gives some indication of the acceptance and proliferous of bikini waxing and other pubic hair removal methods.

Lemon Fuzz, the basic swimsuit bikini line removing only the hair that protrudes from the bathing suit. Generally, the top and sides are shaped to an elegant V design.

Similar to the French Wax, the Californian leaves a vertical strip of hair just above the vulva. Traditionally the Californian still left hair around the labia and peri-anal. Over the years, it has become the same as the French Wax.

Recommended for sheerer cut cozzies the extended or American Wax goes a little further in and down to the top of the thighs. The extended bikini line is recommended for most lingerie as the standard bikini line often still has protruding hair with the closer cut underwear.

More commonly known as the landing strip now, French Waxing is a typical two or three finger vertical strip starting just above the vulva. Varying in width to the clients personal tastes it is typically 4cm or (1 1/2in) wide. Also being called the G-String or Partial Brazilian Wax. Removing all hair including around peri-anal and labia areas earning the partial Brazilian name.

Similar to laser & IPL hair removal waxing too has contradictions either rendering people unable to wax or more often planning for the better time to wax.

People suffering from Varicose Veins should consider Laser or IPL hair removal.

Many older clients and some with heart conditions can be on blood thinning medications; this renders the client unsuitable for waxing in many cases.

Medication for Lupus & Autoimmune conditions also should not select waxing as their hair removal method

People suffering from skin conditions such as Psoriasis, eczema, or other chronic skin concerns should seek treatment with Zest and renders the client unsuitable for waxing although again laser and IPL is a treatment for the conditions as well as hair removal.

Rosacea and sensitive skin concerns should seek treatment with Zest and discuss other options for semi-permanent hair removal

Skin peeling agents including Tretinoin, Tazarotene, Adapalene, Azelex this also extends to chemical facial peeling agents glycolic, alpha hydroxy and salicylic acid.

Recent skin rejuvenation treatment with laser or IPL based light therapies.

If using Hydroquinone, this also renders the candidate not suitable for waxing.

Dare to go bare with the Brazilian Wax, all gone the Zest Lemon Tart, is removing all hair front and back. Leaving no hair in the pubic area and would you believe it coined the name Brazilian Wax in 1987 with 7 Sisters from Brazil. The sisters Jocely, Jonice, Janea, Joyce, Jussara, Juracy, and Judseia Padilha opened the aptly named J. Sisters salon in Midtown Manhattan. In America, the style of no pubic hair was not popular for many years to come. It would take TV and Sex in the City to remove the taboos and gain acceptance. The full bikini, Hollywood or even Sphinx wax is now as prevalent in Western culture as it is in Asian and Eastern cultures. Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that daring to go all bare down there, is very commonplace indeed.

Most forms of hair removal have a positive and negative set of values, and waxing offers a fast and effective method of hair removal. A wax lasts from 2 to 8 weeks although it is dependant on the individual’s rate of hair growth and the area being treated. With shaving and depilatory creams, the hair is back within days due to only being removed to the skin’s surface. Depilatory creams are not the kindest chemical to be putting onto our skin either, with many clients experiencing irritation and rashes from their use.

Often pain is cited as one of the major drawbacks with waxing even with the advancements in wax, technique and using hard or hot wax over strip wax it still often painful in treatment for many clients, in the more sensitive areas. Another drawback of waxing is often the ongoing cost. Being the most expensive of all hair removal methods over the long terms, many clients make the swap to laser hair removal.

Ingrown hairs are another consideration, the only type of hair removal that causes more ingrown hairs than waxing, is epilators. Although if you follow the Zest guide to waxing this is also kept to a minimum. Waxing is a long-standing fast method of hair removal and is still to today, one of the most popular methods of removing unwanted hair.

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Emma Ryall
Educator, Proprietor, Aesthetician at Zest Skin Clinic & Laser Hair Removal
Licenced Aesthetician, CIBTAC, ITEC and CIDESCO accredited professional therapist with over 14 years industry experience, specialising in skincare. Emma is also a master trainer City & Guilds – Accreditation No: 500/5753/4

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