Shaving is still the method of choice for hair removal by 99% of men and an unknown percentage of women.

Male shaving

At puberty male humans begin to grow facial hair, a beard. Most non-muslim men shave to remove all or most of this facial hair.

There are two methods of shaving, with a straight razor that uses blades or with an electric shaver.

The first straight razors were 'cut throat' razors, a blade that was attached to a wooden, bone or steel handle. You could quite easily, literally, cut your throat using one of these primitive straight razors, with its unprotected blade. Using a 'cut throat' razor was a skill that only barbers possessed. Men used to go to a barber's shop for a shave.

Barbers still use a straight razor, but it is one with a sheathed, replaceable blade, so a deep cut is not possible while using it.

The safety version of the straight razor was invented in the 19th century. It had a sheathed blade to prevent deep cuts. Less than a millimetre or so of forged steel was exposed.

In 1903 King Gillette started production of his safety straight razor with disposable blades. These blades were stamped, rather than forged, so were cheap enough to be disposable. Straight razor blades were one of the first disposable consumer products.

Carbon steel was used until the 1960s, you might remember old rusty straight razor blades. The British straight razor blade company Wilkinson Sword introduced stainless steel blades in 1965. These could be reused for about a week without going rusty, until they became blunt. Gillette had to follow suit and switch to stainless steel razor blades to compete. All straight razors took a standard razor blade design, so competition drove down prices and razor manufacturers' profits fell.

There were only minor changes in straight razor design until the 1970s. Bic disposable razors were introduced then, with a tiny strip of steel, rather than the double-sided razor blade used in the safety razor. You can still buy Bic disposable razors, in their characteristic yellow/orange plastic color, exactly the same as ballpoint pens that Bic make. Luxury, pivoting versions and similar competitors' systems were popular for the next ten years or so. Many people found that these early throw away razors were very uncomfortable to use.

A parallel development was the introduction of the first cartridge twin blade system by Gillette in 1971. The big two straight razor manufacturers, Gillette and Wilkinson both switched to cartridge systems in the 1970s. Each manufacturer's system would only accept their own, patented cartridges, removing the possibility of competition from cheap suppliers of compatible cartridges.

There has been an 'arms race' in razor design since then. The first triple blade straight razor cartridge was introduced in 1998. Since then we have seen four blade and most recently five bladed cartridges. Batteries have also been added to produce a vibration effect in the razor head.

Female shaving

Women have shaved under their arms for a long time. In the past thirty years or so some women have started shaving their pubic hair. Skimpy bikinis were the stimulus for this; nobody wanted pubic hair to stick out from underneath the bikini bottom.

An unknown percentage of women choose to shave their pubic hair, either totally or to trim it.

Women's straight razors have followed a similar trend to men's, with a tendency to multi-blade cartridge systems in recent years. Women's razors are available in pink, mauve and turquoise, rather than the black, red and silver men's razors come in. They also have a higher emphasis on moisturizing strips around the razor blades.

Even with a cartridge system, it is possible to cut yourself with a corner of the blade in a man's straight razor. Women's razors have smaller blades and the most recent designs have no corners you can nick yourself with in sensitive areas.

Electric Shavers

Electric shavers were developed in the early part of the twentieth century. There are different systems, but essentially there are two parts; a device to hold the hair and a moving cutter to cut it off while it is held. An electric razor does not cut the hair as close as using a straight razor.

Philips razors use two or three rotary cutting heads. Other manufacturers use one or a series of perforated foils with lengthwise cutting blades.

How to Shave

Facial Hair

Cut any long hair with scissors then use an electric shaver to remove any full-grown beard.

Wet the face and apply shaving foam or soap. Keep the skin taut while shaving each part of your face. Using a new straight razor of your choice, make slow strokes over the remaining stubble in the direction of hair growth, usually towards the mouth. Be careful around your nose and lips not to cut yourself. Lastly use the straight razor against the direction of hair growth, up the cheeks, down the chin and down the neck.

Under-Arm Hair

Use an electric shaver to remove long hair, then apply shaving oil and shaving foam. Using a sharp straight razor blade system of your choice, keep the skin and use short strokes of the straight razor in the direction of hair growth. Finish by using the razor against the direction of hair growth.

Pubic Hair

Remove as much hair as possible using scissors.Use an electric shaver and its trimming attachment to remove most of the remaining hair.

Apply shaving oil and foam, but be careful to keep foam out of the vagina as this will cause irritation. Use a new straight razor blade cartridge and a hand mirror, if necessary. Use short strokes of the razor in the direction of hair growth. Finish with razor strokes against the direction of hair growth.

Waxing and Electrolysis

Many women use waxing as an alternative to shaving the pubic hair around their bikini line. Waxing pulls the hairs out by their roots, so is quite painful, though the effects do last longer than shaving.

Electrolysis and laser hair removal systems are also available, but these are designed for professional use and are not available as home systems.