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Underarm hair (Sometimes called axillary hair or armpit hair) is the composition of hair in the underarm area.

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Development and function

This hair, as most of the other body hair, normally starts to appear at puberty and growth is usually complete by the end of teen age. The release of pheromones from the axilla at this stage of human development suggests association of armpit hair with sexuality. The positive response to olfactory stimulus in mammals and the consequent intensification of the sex drive caused by release of pheromones offers useful clues as to the purpose and importance of axillary hair in humans. It has been suggested that the hair itself acts with a natural "anti-friction" quality between the upper arm and the thorax. More importantly, armpit hair naturally wicks moisture away from the skin, which aids in keeping the skin dry enough to prevent colonization by odor-producing bacteria.

Cultural attitudes

Today, in many countries, especially in much of the Western world, it is more common for women than men to shave off their underarm hair regularly for aesthetic reasons, a practice that may be connected to the overall body hair distribution of sexes. Prevalence of this practice varies widely, though. Religious reasons are sometimes cited; in Islamic culture, both men and women practice the removal of underarm hair for religious guidelines of cleanliness.

Competitive swimmers remove all body hair, including underarms, to make their bodies more streamlined before taking part in races. It is also common amongst bodybuilders and in erotica for aesthetic reasons.

History of underarm hair removal

First advertisement for depilatory powder in "Harper's Bazar" from 1915.

Removal of the hair from the underarms was part of a collection of hygienic or cosmetic practices enjoined by Muhammad (570-632) as consistent with Fitra for both men and women and has since usually been regarded as a requirement by most Muslims.[1]

In the West, the practice began around 1915 in the US and UK, when one or more magazines showed a woman in a dress with shaved underarms. Regular shaving became feasible with the introduction of the safety razor at the beginning of the 20th century. While underarm shaving was quickly adopted in English speaking countries, especially in the US and Canada, it did not become widespread on the Continent of Europe until well after World War II.[2]

Effects of shaving

It is a commonly believed myth that shaving hair will cause it to grow thicker over time.[3] There is nothing about the practice of shaving that produces new follicles for hair to grow out of; this myth most likely persists because stubble does not taper like hair that is allowed to grow long and because short hairs feel coarser than longer hairs of the same thickness. However, shaving does increase the likelihood of developing ingrown hairs. Armpit hair removal must be performed more frequently than arm and leg shaving, as underarm hair grows faster than arm or leg hair, and if not done consistently, stubble can appear. The armpit area can darken over a period of time, and even with a close shave, a 5 o'clock shadow may be visible. Because hair under the skin can contribute to a dark appearance of the underarm, waxing, by removing the hair from the root, can effectively reduce this darkness.[4] Removing armpit hair, whether by shaving or by any other method, decreases the amount of moisture allowed to cling to the skin by reducing the surface area for hydrogen bonding and is an effective way to reduce body odor.

Appearance of underarm hair in puberty

A 2006 study of 15,000 Americans aged 11–18 gave the following results:[citation needed]

Age  % with some growth  % with full growth
11 3 <1
12 13 2
13 42 8
14 77 21
15 96 48
16 99 81
17 >99 90
18 >99 95

The survey concluded that nearly all 15-year-olds have underarm hair, and 4 of 5 Americans begin to grow hair under their arms at 13 or 14. Most have underarm hair that is adult in quantity at age 16, but 20% do not until 17 or 18.

Axillary hair in art

The axillary hair in art is usually removed; not doing so is a mark of modernism. This is in contrast to the depiction of pubic hair in art. Rarely, pubic hair is portrayed in art created in the Middle Ages. Depiction of pubic hair gradually became more common in the Renaissance, and quite frequent in modern times.[5]

See also

References

  1. ^ USC Compendium of Islamic Texts, retr. 09 May 2009: http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/hadith/muslim/002.smt.html#002.0502
  2. ^ The Shaving Historical Timeline
  3. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Shaved Hair Grows Darker
  4. ^ Dark Underarm
  5. ^ jstor







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