Cleaner  Faster   Smoother

When considering hair removal options, it is important to remember that waxing, sugaring, tweezing and electrolysis methods all remove hair from the roots. Depilatories chemically destroy the hair, and shaving merely slices it off at skin level. Within each category there have been several developments through the years.

Shaving

Gilette found in a 1990 survey that 92 percent of women 13 or older in the United States shave their legs, though not necessarily exclusively. Of those women, 66 percent shave the entire leg and 33 percent shave from the knee down. While 98 percent of the women surveyed shave their underarms, only 50 percent of them shave their bikini line. (However, in Mediterranean and South American countries, depilatories have been used for decades as the preferred method of hair removal.)

In any case, shaving is not to be overlooked. The first shaving revolution was launched almost single-handedly by a traveling salesman-inventor named King Gilette. Although he came up with the concept for a razor with disposable blades in 1895, it took until 1903 and a collaboration with William Nickerson, an M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) professor, to bring the product to market--to overwhelming success. In 1915, Gilette introduced Milady Décolletée, a razor created especially for women.

In 1931, the year King Gilette retired, Jacob Schick challenged the razor blade with the invention of the electric shaver. Schick's shaver was in turn challenged by Remington, who in 1940 introduced the dual-headed shaver and the first electric shaver designed especially for women.

Gilette introduced Gilette Daisy, the first disposable razor for women, in 1975; in 1992 it introduced Gilette Sensor for Women, and in 1995 it came out with the first non-soap-based moisturizing shave gel.

Tweezing

After the development of tweezers, there was little advancement in "mechanical" hair removal until the invention of electronic tweezing in the late 1950s. Although electronic tweezing employs an electronic current during the tweezing process, the results are no more effective than regular tweezing and can be costly.

Electrolysis

In the late 1800s, physicians tried killing the hair root by inserting and twisting a barbed needle with sulfuric acid into the hair follicle. During the 20th century, this process was refined into what we know as electrolysis. It involves inserting a fine needle into the hair follicle and electronically charging the root of the hair to kill it; however, a new root cell can form in the same area, causing regrowth. Compared to other hair removal methods, it is relatively new, time-consuming and expensive.

Depilatory Lotions & Creams

Depilatory lotions and creams dissolve the protein structure of the hair. The birth, in 1940, of the first modern depilatory, Nair® Lotion from New York-headquartered Carter-Wallace, Inc., was the result of wartime shortages. Stockings were scarce and legs went bare. Neet®, another old-time depilatory, was imported to the United States from France. Although the product is still produced in France and distributed in the U.S., the company has been sold several times, which may account for its loss of market share. Another brand, Sally Hansen, introduced its Facial Hair Creme Remover in 1981, followed by Lotion Hair Remover with Baby Oil in 1985.

While creams and lotions are still the most popular at-home method of depilation, their popularity among consumers is being challenged by longer lasting, more modern methods, such as wax strips.

Waxing

Waxing uproots the hair from its follicles for the longest-lasting (up to eight weeks), smoothest results of all temporary hair removal methods. Long popular in Europe, it was introduced to American women primarily through beauty salons (hence the phrase European Hair Removal, frequently used today in skin care salon advertising, and European Salon Formula, used to describe some at-home waxing products). Indeed, the popularity of waxing is increasing with the variety of in-home products that offer convenience and affordability.

The original waxing method involved heating up a tray of solid wax derived mainly from tallow and resins. Once the wax was hot, it was applied to the skin and pulled off--almost as if it were a layer of skin with hair (from the roots) attached to it. This painfully slow method is still used in some salons today.

There are two kinds of wax more commonly used today, warm and cold. Both methods remove hair at its root below the skin's surface.

What we call warm wax or hot wax was developed in the 1980s in Australia. Actually, it is a sugar mixture, heated, applied to the skin and then removed with muslin or cotton strips which absorb the wax, allowing it to grip the hair.

The invention of the microwave oven revolutionized the warm wax treatment, improving the process by speeding it up and allowing it to stay warmer without continuous reheating. In 1990, Marzena, market leaders in Australia and New Zealand since 1994, introduced its Sugaring Wax. This product can be heated in a microwave or conventionally on a stove.

Cold wax, in either paste or gel form, is applied to the skin without heating. However, most cold waxes are messy to apply (delivery from container to skin is difficult) and thickness of application cannot be controlled. The colder the room temperature, the more difficult the application and removal; what's more, the product is not in contact with the skin long enough to be warmed to maximum effectiveness.

The wax strip system was introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although it involved what were called wax strips, the process was actually derived from the ancient Middle Eastern sugaring process. The modern sugaring method, incidentally, failed to take off commercially until the late 1960s and early '70s.

During that time, a chemist produced a sticky substance attached to paper and used it to remove the hair, roots and all. There were a couple of inherent problems. Although the hair was supposed to come out attached to the sticky substance, not only did it break off because the grip was too weak, but the pulling action also caused severe stinging and irritation.

Many companies still market the "sticky tape" version, which actually discredits the cold wax system. Many so-called "cold wax strips" are not wax at all, but rather chemicals that form a kind of gel, and their delivery can be impeded by changes in temperature.

During the 1980s, Marzena introduced natural wax into the wax strip system and refined the process, making it the quickest and most efficient method of hair removal on the market today.

Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal is a costly procedure in which a laser beam is used to disable hair follicles. Not only is it the newest method of hair removal to be marketed, but it is also among the newest cosmetic laser treatments available in the U.S. and must be performed in a physician's office or in a special salon that is licensed to operate a Class II medical device. In the United States, manufacturers are prohibited by the FDA from claiming the hair won't grow back, but some estimates say one treatment can eliminate 30 to 40 percent of the hair for up to a year (the rest may grow back, but with a finer texture). While the number of treatments required to effectively remove the hair depends on the size of the area involved, typically two to four sessions are needed.

See also Hair Removal Throughout the Ages