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Grin and Bare It: 11 Facts About Hair Removal

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The millennia-old quest for fuzz-free skin has been surprisingly, well, hairy. In ancient Egypt, for example, people relied on tools like seashell tweezers and pumice stones to keep their skin smooth, while cat poop was the depilatory of choice for the British in the 17th century. We’ve rounded up 11 more facts about the history of hair removal, which just might make you feel better the next time you decide to grin and bare it.

1. BEING HIRSUTE IN ANCIENT GREECE AND ROME WAS CONSIDERED GAUCHE.

At the time, if you had little hair it also probably meant that you had heaps of cash. Wealthy women used tweezers, stones, and early razors to remove all body hair, including pubic hair, which was considered unsightly. That’s why many Greek statues depicting the "ideal" female figure are devoid of any fuzz. (It's not believed to be related to paint flaking off the marble, as statues of males feature pubic hair that has been carved in.)

2. GOING BARE SOMETIMES INVOLVED ARSENIC.

One Renaissance-era DIY depilatory, according to a recipe from 1532, involved mixing one pint of arsenic and an eighth of a pint of quicklime, then smearing all over. “When the skin feels hot,” the text read, “wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.”

3. QUEEN ELIZABETH I WAS ALL ABOUT THAT FACE.


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Queen Elizabeth I removed most of the hair from her face—including eyebrows—but kept her body hair untouched. She was also in the habit of plucking the hairline around her forehead in order to make her face appear elongated. Naturally, her female subjects followed suit. Their depilatory products of choice: walnut oil, which was better than what women (and men) would soon be using. In the mid-17th century, Peter Levens gave a recipe titled “For to take away hair” that suggested the following: “[Get] hard cat’s dung, dry it, and beat it to powder, and temper it with strong vinegar; then wash the place with the same where you would have no hair to grow.”

4. THE PROCESS BECAME (A LITTLE) EASIER IN THE 1800s.

One of the first mass-produced depilatory creams, called Poudre Subtile, was created in the 1840s by the (fictitious) "Dr. T. Felix Gouraud." Not surprisingly, it could cause skin damage if applied incorrectly or left on for too long. In 1901, King Camp Gillette patented his first disposable razor for men. Fourteen years later, he crafted a razor specifically for women, delicately titled the "Milady Decolette."

5. BUT THE EARLY 1900s WERE THE PITS.

Around 1915, sleeveless dresses became fashionable. But with exposed armpits came societal pressure to remove decidedly unstylish underarm hair. That May, Harper’s Bazaar featured an ad of a young woman showing off her fuzz-free pits. The text read, “Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.”

6. WORLD WAR II GAVE WOMEN THE RIGHT TO BARE LEGS.


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A wartime shortage of nylon meant women had to go barelegged more frequently, which led to a slew of new hair-removal products—including the first electric women’s razor in 1940. It also launched a new trend: Women would draw stripes on the backs of their bare legs to give the appearance of stocking seams.

7. THE ADVENT OF THE BIKINI POSED NEW CHALLENGES.

When the two-piece first appeared the United States in 1946, women began to tweeze and shave the hair outside their panty line, too. Writes Sarah Hildebrant in The EmBodyment of American Culture, “As this history illustrated, the more clothes women were 'allowed' (or expected) to remove, the more hair they were also expected to remove.”

8. NEW METHODS TOOK ROOT IN THE '60s.

Although waxing itself is thousands of years old, the method took off again in the 1960s with the introduction of wax strips. Early laser technology was also harnessed in the battle against body hair, but these lasers weren't yet refined enough to avoid damaging surrounding skin and were quickly abandoned.

9. AND THEN THERE WERE THE BRAZILIANS.

In 1987, seven J-monikered siblings opened the J. Sisters nail salon in New York City. There, in 1994, Jocely, Jonice, Janea, Joyce, Juracy, Jussara and Judeseia introduced the States to South America’s go-bare-or-go-home philosophy. “In Brazil, waxing is part of our culture because bikinis are so small,” Jonice explains on the salon's website. “We thought it was an important service to add because personal care is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity.” Today, Brazilian bikini waxing is the salon’s most requested service.

10. SOME CREDIT SEX AND THE CITY WITH GENERATING A BRAZILIAN BUZZ.

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In a 2000 episode of the HBO hit, Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw feels decidedly bare after getting an accidental Brazilian bikini wax. Ildi Gulas, a wax and laser specialist at New York City's Spruce & Bond salon, told Refinery29 that scene gave the procedure “a major boom” in clients seeking out the service. But whether you credit the rise of pubic hair grooming to Sex and the City, the J. Sisters' NYC takeover, or the spread of pornography, the fact is that the majority of American women today either trim, shave, or wax the hair down there. In one survey, published in JAMA Dermatology earlier this year, 84 percent of the 3300 respondents said they've always groomed their pubic hair, while 62 percent admitted to getting rid of all of it at least once in their lives. (Back in 1968, 40 percent of women had never touched their pubes, while just 10 percent had ever gotten rid of it all.)

11. EVEN THE GOVERNATOR HAS DARED TO GO HAIRLESS.

While announcing his candidacy for governor of California on The Tonight Show in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger told Jay Leno, “It’s the most difficult [decision] I’ve made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.” Today, manscaping isn't limited to bodybuilders like Ahh-nold looking to show off their hard-won physiques. According to Inc., men's grooming pulls in $4 billion a year in the U.S.—$1 billion of which is from hair removal products. With those kinds of deep (cultural) roots, there's no way the hair removal industry will be going the way of, say, those errant hairs stippling your upper lip anytime soon.

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25 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle
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According to the EPA, Americans generate 254 million tons of waste each year. Here are a few things you may have been throwing out that, with a little effort, you can actually recycle.

1. DENTURES

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Grandpa's choppers may hold $25 worth of recyclable metals, including gold, silver, and palladium. The Japan Denture Recycling Association is known to collect false teeth, remove and recycle the metals, and discard the rest of the denture (which is illegal to reuse). The program has donated all of its earnings to UNICEF.

2. HOLIDAY LIGHTS

Bundle of holiday string lights

Got burnt out holiday lights? The folks at HolidayLEDs.com will gladly take your old lights, shred them, and sort the remaining PVC, glass, and copper. Those raw materials are taken to another recycling center to be resurrected. (In 2011, the State of Minnesota collected and recycled around 100 tons of dead lights.)

3. SEX TOYS

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The first step in recycling your toy is to send it to a specialty processing plant, where it's sterilized and sorted. There, all "mechanical devices" are salvaged, refurbished, and resold. Silicone and rubber toys, on the other hand, are "ground up, mixed with a binding agent, and remolded into new toys," according to the aptly titled website, Sex Toy Recycling. Metals, plastics, and other leftovers retire from the pleasure industry and are recycled into conventional products.

4. HOTEL SOAP

Hotel bathroom counter with cups, shampoo, and soap

Not all hotels throw out that half-used soap you left in the shower: Some send it to Clean the World. There, soap is soaked in a sanitizing solution, treated to a steam bath, and then tested for infections. Once deemed safe, the soap is distributed to less fortunate people across the globe. So stop stealing soap from hotels—you may be stealing from charity.

5. MATTRESSES

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You don't need to dump your old box spring at the landfill. Equipped with special saws, mattress recycling factories can separate the wood, metal, foam, and cloth. The metal springs are magnetically removed, the wood is chipped, and the cloth and foam are shredded and baled. In its future life, your saggy mattress can become a summer dress or even wallpaper.

6. COOKING OIL

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When you’re finished making French fries at home, it can be tempting to toss the spent frying oil down the drain. But you shouldn’t—approximately 47 percent of all sewer overflows are caused by fat and oil. There are a few curbside programs in the United States that accept used cooking oil, which may send the oil to a biodiesel plant that will transform it into fuel. To see if there’s a collection point near you, check this website.

7. DIRTY DIAPERS

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The average baby soils 6000 diapers before being potty trained—that's one ton of diapers rotting in a landfill per child. But not all poo-packages have to suffer this fate. The company Knowaste collects and recycles dirty diapers at hospitals, nursing facilities, and public restrooms. After sanitizing the diaper with a solution, they mechanically separate the "organic matter" from the diaper's plastic, which is compressed into pellets and recycled into roof shingles. Meanwhile, paper pulp in diapers grows up to become wallpaper and shoe soles.

8. CDS

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CDs are made of polycarbonate and won't decompose at a landfill. But if you send your discs to The CD Recycling Center, they'll shred them into a fine powder that will be later melted down into a plastic perfect for automotive and building materials—even pavement!

9. SHOES

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Send your beat-up sneaks to Nike Grind and you'll help build a running track. Nike's recycling facility rips apart worn shoes, separating the rubber, foam, and fabric. The rubber is melted down for running track surfaces, the foam is converted into tennis court cushioning, and the fabric is used to pad basketball court floorboards. So far, Nike has shredded more than 28 million pairs of shoes.

10. SHEEP POOP

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Why turn sheep poop into fertilizer or manure when you can make it into an air freshener? The folks at Creative Paper Wales do that, plus more—they can transform sheep poop into birthday cards, wedding invitations, bookmarks, and A4 paper! Sheep dung brims with processed cellulose fiber. The poo can be sterilized in a 420 degree pressure cooker, which separates the fiber from a smelly brew of liquid fertilizer, allowing the fiber pulp to be collected and blended with other recycled pulps, creating tree-free paper.

11. TROPHIES

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Is your room full of plastic bowling trophies from fifth grade? If the thrill of victory fades, you can recycle your old trophies at recycling centers like Lamb Awards. They'll break down your retired awards, melting them down or reusing them for new trophies.

12. HUMAN FAT (WARNING: ILLEGAL)

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If it weren't for legal complications, America's obsession with cosmetic surgery could solve its energy problem. In 2008, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon lost his job when police caught him fueling his car with a biofuel created from his patients' liposuctioned fat. (Convicting him wasn't hard, since he advertised the substance online as "lipodiesel.") That's not the first time fat has powered transportation: In 2007, conservationist Peter Bethune used 2.5 gallons of human fat to fuel his eco-boat, Earthrace.

13. ALUMINUM FOIL

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Foil is probably one of the most thrown away recyclable materials out there. (Americans throw away about 1.5 million tons of aluminum products every year, according to the EPA.) But foil is 100 percent aluminum, and as long as you thoroughly clean it of any food waste, you technically should be able to recycle it with your aluminum cans (but first check with your local recycling plant to ensure they’re equipped to process it; some aren’t).

14. CRAYONS

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Don't toss those stubby Crayolas! Instead, mail them to the National Crayon Recycle Program, which takes unloved, broken crayons to a better place: They're melted in a vat of wax, remade, and resold. So far, the program has saved more than 118,000 pounds of crayons.

15. DEAD PETS

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When Fluffy bites the dust in Germany, you can memorialize your beloved pet by recycling her. In Germany, it's illegal to bury pets in public places. This leaves some pet owners in a bind when their furry friends die. A rendering plant near the town of Neustadt an der Weinstraße accepts deceased pets; animal fat is recycled into glycerin, which is used in cosmetics such as lip balm.

16. SHINGLES

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The EPA estimates that 11 million tons of shingles are disposed each year [PDF]. Most of them are made out of asphalt, which is why more than two dozen states pulverize the old shingles and recycle them into pavement. For every ton of shingles recycled, we save one barrel of oil.

17. PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

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You can—and should—properly dispose of expired prescription drugs. But what about unneeded pills that are still good? Some states let you donate unused drugs back to pharmacies. Some charities also accept leftover HIV medicine from Americans who have switched prescriptions, stopped medicating, or passed away. These drugs are shipped overseas and distributed to HIV victims around the world.

18. FISHING LINE

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Fishing line is made from monofilament, a non-biodegradable plastic that you can't put in your everyday recycling bin. At Berkley Fishing, old fishing line is mixed with other recyclables (like milk cartons and plastic bottles) and transformed into fish-friendly habitats. So far, Berkley has saved and recycled more than 9 million miles of fishing line.

19. WINE CORKS

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Your recycling center probably doesn't accept wine corks, but companies like Terracycle and Yemm & Hart will. They turn cork into flat sheets of tile, which you can use for flooring, walls, and veneer. Another company, ReCORK, has extended the life of over 4 million unloved corks by giving them to SOLE, a Canadian sandal maker.

20. PANTYHOSE

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Most pantyhose are made of nylon, a recyclable thermoplastic that takes more than 40 years to decompose. Companies like No Nonsense save your old stockings by grinding them down and transforming them into park benches, playground equipment, carpets, and even toys.

21. TOOTHBRUSHES

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If you buy a plastic toothbrush from Preserve (which makes its toothbrushes from old Stonyfield Farms yogurt cups and other everyday items), it will take back your used toothbrush and give it a new life—this time as a piece of plastic lumber!

22. TENNIS BALLS

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The company reBounces doesn’t really recycle tennis balls, it resurrects them. If you’ve got at least 200 balls sitting around, the company will send you a prepaid shipping label to help get the box on the road and repressurize the balls.

23. YOGA MATS

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Most yoga mats are made from PVC, the same material in plumbing pipes, heavy-duty tarps, and rain boots. While many local yoga studios will accept well-loved mats and find them a new home, the company Sanuk has an appropriately squishy vision for each mat’s future: It will transform your old yoga mat into flip flops.

24. DEFUNCT CURRENCY

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All governments have a way of dealing with old, worn money. (In 2016, the Indian government shredded old bills and turned them into hardboard.) But what about currency that is no longer legal tender? Ends up you can donate your old French francs, Spanish pesetas, or Dutch guilders to Parkinsons UK, who will recycle the old coins and banknotes.

25. PET FUR

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All of the pet fur on your sweaters, your couches, and your carpet could help save the ocean from oil spills. Hair is excellent at sopping up oil from the environment (hairball booms were used to soak up oil from the 2010 BP Oil Spill), so non-profit organizations such as the San Francisco-based Matter of Trust will accept pet fur to make oil-absorbing mats of Fido's fuzz.

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Move Over, Golden Toilet: Now There’s a $100K Louis Vuitton Potty
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In 2016, the Guggenheim Museum installed a one-of-a-kind, fully functional toilet made of solid gold, created by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan just for the museum. Now, there’s another insanely luxurious art-toilet to look out for—and this one you can take home.

Made by artist Illma Gore for the luxury resale platform Tradesy, the Loo-Uis Vuitton Toilet is covered in $15,000 worth of monogram leather ripped from Louis Vuitton bags. Everything but the inside of the bowl—which is gold—is covered in that instantly recognizable brown designer leather. It's one way to show your brand loyalty, for sure.

The toilet is fully functional, meaning, yes, you can poop in it—although that would require you (at some point) to clean the leather undersides of the seat, which sounds … gross. But then again, the leather is brown, so do what you will.

A toilet art piece stands under a pink neon sign that reads ‘No Fake Shit.’
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Does sitting on it feel like using those squishy-soft toilet seats your grandma has? Please let us know, because we don’t have the $100,000 it would take to buy it for ourselves. Note that while the site sells used goods, the description makes sure to specify that this one is new.

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