I wonder why this never caught on…

i-b8b399fd020fec495ee88f74cf6139f7-lrg_xray_shave.jpgVia Modern Mechanix, from the pages of Popular Mechanics, April 1924:


Shaving beards from men’s faces, has been accomplished by a special mudlike paste that is undergoing experiments at the hands of a New York doctor. After the mass has been applied, it hardens and is torn off. To finish the operation, X-rays are then directed against the skin. The originator of the method claims that it is beneficial and if used regularly will remove scars and similar marks of long standing. It is also said that the sticky treatment does not leave any ill effects on tender skins.

It never ceases to amaze me what people used to use X-rays for before it was appreciated just how bad an idea it is, how X-ray exposure is cumulative throughout one’s lifetime, and how carcinogenic it is. In any case, the above treatment just looks like some sort of waxing (painful!), followed by the treatment of X-rays. Unless the dosage of X-rays was high enough to cause hair loss (and I’m guessing that the focusing ability and the ability to control the dose were pretty darned primitive in 1924, so I don’t discount the possibility that it may well have been), this doctors’ customers would have probably gotten the same result with just the paste. I’d love to see a followup study to see what the rate of head and neck cancers were among regular customers of this doctor. It must have been astronomical. In fact, I wonder what happened to the doctors. The one in the picture doesn’t appear to be protecting himself with lead shielding.


  1. #1 factician
    April 9, 2007

    My father used to tell stories about going to the shoe store, where they had an x-ray machine to measure the foot (and see the bones in the foot). He was a child when they were doing this, and later appreciated the ridiculous doses that they had to use to get them to work (they weren’t using the most sensitive x-ray detection devices after all).

    Ahhh… progress!

  2. #2 Dan
    April 9, 2007

    That’s the infamous Shoe-Fitting Fluoroscope. I seem to recall seeing somewhere that these were being removed from shoe stores into the 1980s. Nothing like a little ionizing radiation to brighten up your day.

  3. #3 arby
    April 9, 2007

    I remember seeing a book filled with pictures of hand and arm cancers on doctors. It seems that they would pass their hand in front of the X-ray tube to demonstrate to patients(in the early 1920s?) that they “wouldn’t feel a thing.” My mother had X-ray acne treatment at about that same time. It did work, although she had a thyroid tumor later in life. rb

  4. #4 gw
    April 9, 2007

    My mother told me that a doctor used an X-ray method to remove her acne when she was a teen. That would have most likely been in the early 1930’s. She later had radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid problems and died of a brain tumor.

    I can remember the X-ray shoe fitting machine from my early childhood, I’d guess it was around 1960.

  5. #5 SMC
    April 9, 2007

    X-rays? Bah. If you think using X-rays for casual body treatments is extreme, I’ve got two words for you.

    Radium Suppositories.

    NOW you can cringe…

  6. #6 Porl
    April 10, 2007

    Ionizing radiation to brighten up your day? The sarcasm doesn’t even do it justice. Think about it: A fairly high-powered and not very well aimed X irradiation, coming from below your feet, while the rest of your body (not to put it too indelicately) is directly above the radiation source, and you, you poor unsuspecting kid, are probably not wearing a lead jockstrap. (Mutatis mutandis for the Y-deficient.) Lovely. I think I had the good fortune to get only one of these, sometime around 1950; I thought they were all gone within a few years of that, but it seems I’m wrong.

    You know what I think is wrong with the kids today? They’re all mutants. [attempted humor. please do not attempt to set straight.]

    Oh, and lead aprons for dental x-ray procedures were an innovation well after that; and guess how rigorous were the protections for the dentists and the assistants. Feh.

  7. #7 TheProbe
    April 10, 2007

    A high school friend of mine went “prematurely grey” in his early 20’s and has always wondered why since it did not run in his family. A few years back we had a little shindig and while talking about this and that, he mentioned that he had a glow in the dark watch when he was a kid that he kept under his pillow at night.

    In college he was torn between majoring in physics and math. Good thing he chose math.

  8. #8 Ginger Yellow
    April 11, 2007

    That reminds me of a skit on a spoof of British seventies science programmes (specifically Tomorrow’s World). They had a machine which was supposedly the barber of the future. It lasered off your facial hair, stored it, and then fired it back on your face in a new arrangement.

  9. #9 Common Sense
    April 11, 2007

    It always cracks me up when Orac posts something like this. Some day (hopefully soon) doctors will be looking back on the days when nitwit doctors considered it ok to inject babies with mercury … a neurotoxin. Blahhhh… Dopes. I will never understand how moronic supposedly intelligent people can be. Explain that one, dopes….

  10. #10 Rope-a-dope
    April 11, 2007

    Sorry Sue, I don’t think this will help with the wild hair up your ass.

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