A Short History of Shaving
Luckily for us, humanity has made some pretty major advancements over the course of history, and there is no doubt that technology has made our lives way easier than nature intended. While nowadays we can see evidence of these technological breakthroughs in virtually every aspect of our modern lives, we often tend to focus mostly on computers and other electronic devices as being the most important advancements people have made.
However, when we begin to look at the history of shaving, we can see that this is another area where humans have made a great deal of progress—with the most important developments coming in the last 100 years or so. While you may not think of your best safety razor or multiple blade cartridge as being that technologically advanced, just imagine how much more painful your daily routine would be if you were still forced to pluck out your facial hair or scrape it away with a sharpened shell or pumice stone? Doesn’t sound very pleasant does it?
While our modern shaving tools, including the razors, best shaving soap or shaving cream, and shaving brushes may definitely still not be perfect, the following infographic covering the history of shaving should show you just how lucky we are compared to our historical counterparts.
From Stones to Steel: The Evolution of Shaving
Although Homo sapiens are thought to have evolved more than 2 million years ago, it wasn’t until the last Ice Age around 100,000 years ago that man first began removing their facial hair. During this extremely cold period of human history, hair suddenly became a huge liability as having wet hair could quickly lead to frostbite and potentially death if our ancient ancestors weren’t careful. Unfortunately for these distant relatives, man had not yet entered the Stone Age.
Having not yet developed the technological ability and knowhow to create even the most rudimentary stone razors, these early humans were left to resort to other measures to take care of their potentially dangerous facial hair problem. Without any tools to help them with the task, they resorted to simply plucking out their facial hairs one painful hair at a time.
It is thought that this practice continued for well over 60,000 years, and in fact it wasn’t until around 40,000 years ago that humans first began actually shaving—generally using flakes of rock or sharpened seashells to scrape away their facial hair. There’s no doubt that this was still an incredibly unpleasant experience, which is something to remember the next time you complain about the pain and irritation you experience with our fancy modern shavers.
Nowadays hair removal creams are generally thought of as belonging to the realm of female hair removal products, but that wasn’t always the case, as amazingly the ancient Egyptians are thought to have invented the first hair removal creams over 6,000 years ago. In fact, the ancient Egyptians were quite famous for removing all of their hair from head to toe—usually first with creams and then by rubbing rough pumice stones to eliminate the remaining stubble.
Eventually the stones were replaced by the first metal razors, which were still incredibly basic and obviously incapable of providing nowhere near the quality of shave as we expect today. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop the Egyptians from continuing with their hair removal practice. Strangely though, despite their insistence on all hair being removed, no one ever went out in public without wearing a wig. Many men as well as women also wore beard wigs, and in fact all hieroglyphic depictions of Egyptian pharaohs—both male and female—depict them with a fake beard.
The Romans and Greeks both picked up this habit for shaving from Alexander the Great, who forced all soldiers to shave both their faces and heads. Alexander saw long hair or beards as a huge liability, as they could be used by the enemy to pull the soldier off balance.
From this point onward, shaving tools really didn’t undergo that much improvement. The only major changes were in the quality of steel, as we slowly began developing more refined methods for producing better quality steel—although the general design of razors remained the same. In fact, up until at least the 18th century, the rudimentary shavers available were quite difficult and dangerous to use, and for this reason, most men visited a professional barber every time they needed a shave. These original barber shaves were really the beginning of what we would today label as wet shaving, which as you can now see, is the ultimate way to go.
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Ben Rose is the founder and senior editor at Prim&Prep, the definitive guide to male grooming. He is a wet shaving expert, body grooming aficionado, and skincare guru. His work has been featured on many other prominent men’s publications including AskMen, Men’s Health, and GQ.