Today's man may suffer from shaving rash, razor burn and sensitive skin but compared to our forefathers he's in the lap of luxury. This article takes a brief look at how men coped with their facial fungus in days of yore . .
Did you know that the average man's beard hairs have the same tensile strength as copper wire? It's a fact. So maybe it's not so surprising that in remote antiquity most mature men resembled a badger peering out of a hedge! Why? Simple - their beards stubbornly refused to stop growing and they had nothing sharp or tough enough to cut them with!
Some of the really ancient ways of coping with excessive beard growth were not only painful, they were downright dangerous. Research indicates that one of the first ways of de-bearding (it can't in any way be called shaving) was to simply set the beard on fire. No, it's not a joke but the first practitioners of the craft probably didn't intend to do it anyway.
Picture the scene. It's a warm summer's day sometime in the Old Stone Age. There stands your average 'caveman', looking like a mobile haystack. He ambles over to his spouse who's got a fire going and is cooking something he knocked over the head earlier. Mmm - that smells good. He bends lower and lower, trying to pinch a succulent piece while she's not looking (some things never change, eh?). Suddenly - whoosh! Up goes his beard and most of his hair in flames. The resulting tumult is best left to the imagination.
After he's been extinguished and calmed down he notices something - he can see a lot better and he's much cooler, several pounds of matted hair having been removed from around his face. All his mates jeer at him for looking like a boy but soon they realise that the figure of fun can not only see better to throw his spear, he can keep a better eye out for the lions and bears that want to eat him . . .
Maybe that's how shaving was born. Maybe our caveman's better half, seeing his near-naked face, thought how he looked a darn sight better than the wooly mammoth he was beginning to resemble. Who knows? Yet a less traumatic method of removing beards, whereby they are singed off with a small firebrand, is thought to have persisted in many tribes right up until the age of copper. We can only guess at the state of those poor guys' skins after having a 'shave' in those days!
Next along the deforestation route was a method probably no less painful but considerably less dangerous: hair plucking. Now we all know that modern ladies pluck their eyebrows and various other body areas but guys! let's face it! - they're not trying to drag hairs out that grow out of your face but seem to have roots in the vicinity of your knees, are they? No. That's a reason that this was, amongst certain Native American tribes, considered an activity that only real men took part in and persisted way after much better shaving tools were to be had.
The Romans, by the way, abhorred all bodily hair and spent hours at the baths having their entire bodies plucked - and I do mean the lot. No wonder they had such an empire - had to get rid of all that pent-up aggression somewhere or other (it wasn't considered manly to howl in anguish whilst some sadist with tweezers went to work on your tender bits, by the way). So they just went out and overran Gaul instead, where all the men had beards and probably much better temperaments.
Next came flint knives and obsidian, a kind of very hard natural glass. An edge could be produced on tools made from these materials that was certainly sharp enough to give a near-shave, perhaps to a fraction of an inch or so, without removing large chunks of skin in the process. Shells were also used for the same purpose. Yet it wasn't until the Bronze Age that razors that could be called anything like efficient were made - some of these survive today, found in archaeological digs.
Once it was discovered that bronze could take a good edge that was also smooth, something like modern shaving began to take place. Yet think of this: even at this time men shaved 'dry' - that is, without the lubricating benefit of soap. It wasn't until the start of the Christian era that soap was in common use for washing and, for shaving, it was thought to have been a while longer before some genius decided to give it a go. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, men of the World, think yourselves lucky. No longer do you need to have a bonfire to remove your beard, or have to undergo what in most places would be condemned as something best befitting the worst exploits of the Spanish Inquisition. Shaving rash? Won't seem so bad now, will it?