A lot of men nowadays may suffer from shaving rash, razor burn and sensitive skin but compared to our male ancestors, he’s in the era of luxury. This article seeks to take a brief look at how guys coped with their facial hair in the olden days…
Were you aware that the average man’s facial hairs have the same tensile strength as copper wire? This is a fact. So it’s probably not so astonishing that in remote antiquity, the majority of mature men looked like a badger peering out of a hedge! Why? Easy – their facial hair stubbornly refused to cease from growing and they did not have anything sharp or tough enough to cut them with!
Some of the very ancient means of coping with excessive beard growth were not only painful, but they were utterly dangerous as well. Research shows that one of the primary ways of de-bearding (it cannot in any way be termed as shaving) was to simply set the beard on fire. Nope, it’s not even a joke. However, the first practitioners of the job most likely did not intend to do it anyway.
Imagine the scene. It’s a mildly hot summer’s day sometime in the Old Stone Age. There stands your typical ‘caveman’, resembling a mobile haystack. He strolls over to his wife who has a fire going and is cooking something he killed earlier on. Mmm – that smells delicious. He bends forward lower and lower, trying to snatch a succulent piece of meat while his spouse is not looking (some things never change do they?). Then suddenly – whoosh! There goes his beard in flames. The uproar that comes about is best left to the imagination.
After the fire has been extinguished and the man is calmed down, he then notices something – he can see a lot more clearly and he feels much cooler, few pounds of matted hair having been taken off from around his face. All of his buddies taunt him for looking like a little chap but soon after they realise that the figure of ridicule can not only see better to throw his spear, he now has the ability to keep a better eye out for the lions and bears that want to eat him . . .
Perhaps that is how shaving was born. Probably our caveman’s spouses, seeing his near-naked face, thought how he looked a lot better than the woolly mammoth he was starting to look like. Who knows right? Yet a less traumatic way of removing facial hair, whereby they are burnt off with a small firebrand, is thought to have remained in many tribes right up until the copper age. We could only guess about the state of those poor guys’ skins following a ‘shave‘ in those days!
Next along the “debearding” path was a technique probably no less painful however much less hazardous: hair plucking. Now we are all aware that modern ladies do pluck their eyebrows and different body areas but men! Let’s keep it real! – They ain’t trying to take hairs out that grow out of their face but seem to have roots in the region of their knees, are they? Hell to the no! That’s one reason why this was, amongst some Native American tribes, thought to be an activity that only real men took part in and continued way after much better shaving equipment came about.
The Romans, by the way, utterly detested all bodily hair and spent many hours at the baths having their whole bodies plucked. It is no wonder why they had such an empire – they had to do away with all that pent-up aggression (it was not considered manly to scream in pain whilst some sadist with tweezers went to work on your tender bits, just saying). Thus, they just went out and invaded Gaul instead, where all the guys had beards and probably much better tempers.
Next along the route came flint knives and obsidian, a type of very hard organic glass. An edge could be made on equipment produced from these materials that was definitely sharp enough to give a close-shave, maybe to a fraction of an inch or so, without taking off large chunks of skin in the process. Shells were also utilized for the same purpose. Although, it wasn’t until the Bronze Age that razors that could be termed as something efficient were made – some among these survive until today, found in archaeological digs.
Once it was found out that bronze had the ability to take a good edge that was also smooth, something similar to modern shaving began to occur. Yet think of this: even during those days men shaved ‘dry’ – meaning, without the lubricating advantage of soap. It wasn’t until the beginning of the Christian era that soap was in common use for washing and, for shaving, it was believed to have been a while longer prior to some genius deciding to give it a go. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, to all of you men out there, think yourselves lucky. No longer must you use a bonfire to take off your beard, or have to go through what in most places would be condemned as something best suitable for the worst exploits of the Spanish Inquisition. Shaving rash? Won’t seem so bad now, will it?