Most of us take shaving with a razor for granted, but there was a time when you couldn’t simply go to the nearest shop for replacement blades.Men and women have used a variety of methods to trim their body hair over the years. And this now-mundane task was particularly tough before razors were invented. The average man has more than 25,000 hairs — each one as tough as copper wire. Shaving was once a painful, bloody experience.
Despite this daunting challenge, history tells us that the art of shaving was mastered by the Ancient Egyptians. But the very first tools used to remove body hair are thought to date back to at least 30,000 B.C. The history of shaving is fascinating, and it begins during the time of the earliest humans
Archaeologists have discovered cave drawings depicting early humans using sharpened flint and clam shells to remove body hair. There are also examples of primitive shaving tools fashioned from obsidian, which is a volcanic rock that has extremely sharp, glass-like edges. It seems that hair has always been an issue for humans, and the creation of tools to remove it has been happening for as long as mankind has walked the earth.
In Southern Asia and the Middle East, people developed a form of hair removal that still exists today. Threading was widely performed in these regions more than 3,000 years ago. This ancient procedure involves using rolled strings to pluck hairs from the face. Meanwhile in Persia, the art of hair waxing was being perfected by rich and powerful merchants and political leaders. Waxing and threading may still be practised today, but little has changed in terms of the pain they both cause.
Like so many everyday items we rely on today, the first sophisticated razors were created by the Ancient Egyptians. Archaeologists have discovered bronze, circular razors in Egyptian tombs — proving just how important they were to the rich and powerful at the time. In Ancient Egyptian society, hair was considered to be barbaric and uncivilised, which is why pharaohs would shave both their head and their face.
From the Graeco-Roman Era to the Industrial Revolution
It was during the 4th century that shaving reached Europe. By that time, both the Greeks and the Romans shaved regularly. The practice caught on throughout Europe thanks to Alexander the Great. He used to force his men to shave their faces and heads in order to prevent enemy soldiers from grabbing their hair during close-combat battles. However, shaving was still the enclave of the rich and powerful at this time, and the most widely used instruments were made from expensive copper, iron and gold.
It is believed that Roman women used to shave as well, using pumice stones and their own depilatory creams made from ancient natural medicines. Historians also know that during this era, women would use tweezers to pluck their eyebrows.
During the rule of the Roman Empire, the most common design of shaving implements changed from a curved shape to the straight edge we know today. However, Julius Caesar didn’t use sharp blades at all — he would have his facial hairs individually plucked out, one by one.
The Romans took their personal hygiene and appearance very seriously indeed. The wealthy would often have their own live-in servant, whose only responsibility was to shave his master and perform various beauty treatments. Others would start every day with a visit to the barber (called a tonsor in Ancient Rome), where facial hair would be removed with an iron novacila. This primitive hair-removing contraption resembled a knuckle-duster, but all too often it would become blunt and rusted, causing severe cuts and infections.
For hundreds of years, a basic, straight-edged blade made from various metals was used for shaving. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the development of Sheffield steel in the United Kingdom that razor blades started to evolve into what we use today.
So it’s been quite a journey for the humble razor. From the early use of clam shells by prehistoric men to the quadruple-bladed marvels of engineering we know today, the razor has come an awfully long way.