Xrays were used in the early part of the century to remove hair!

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Xrays were used in the early part of the century to remove hair!

This great article looks at the history of hair removal using medical Xrays. Now an unwanted byproduct of procedures such as chemotherapy, back then it was seen as a beauty technique to remove unwanted hair from the body.

I wonder what we are doing to ourselves now that will shock the future generations?

FOLLOWING Wilhelm Roentgen's discovery of X-rays in 1895, doctors around the world turned their primitive X-ray machines on everything from their own hands to patients with cancer and tuberculosis. To Albert Geyser, a brash German immigrant who graduated from a New York medical school in that heady year of discovery, X-rays were clearly the future of medicine.

Researchers quickly noticed that exposure to X-rays had a remarkable side effect: it made hair fall out. In Austria, physician Leopold Freund recommended it as a treatment for excess body hair, or hypertrichosis.
... Quote:
Hair begins to fall out in thick tufts when lightly grasped, or it is seen on the towel after the patient's toilet, we possess in the Roentgen-treatment an absolutely painless method of epilation
He observed in 1899.

Tests followed across Europe and North America with apparent success, even "curing" a "bearded lady" in Louisville, Kentucky. There were already hints that all was not well, however. In France, some doctors reported that their patients had fallen ill. Loath to admit that X-rays were responsible, Freund blamed "the hysterical character" of French patients.

Now working at Cornell Medical College in New York, Geyser embraced X-rays with enthusiasm. Like many others, he paid a high price for his zeal: radiologists were belatedly realising that frequent exposure to X-rays could be dangerous, and Geyser suffered bums that claimed the fingers of his left hand.

Undeterred, he invented the Cornell tube - an X-ray vacuum tube of leaded glass with a small aperture of common glass, meant to direct lower-energy, or "ultrasoft", X-rays directly onto a small area of skin. With the Cornell tube, "the X-ray is robbed of its terrors", declared The New York Times. By 1908

Geyser had administered about 5000 X-ray exposures with his tube, for a variety of skin ailments. Others remained suspicious of Xrays, and the County Medical Society's lawyer warned Geyser that "the time is coming soon when if a man is burned, the doctor will be held liable... Don't use the X-ray unless you know what you are doing with it

Confident that he did know what he was doing with it, Geyser announced in 1915 that he had treated 200 people for hypertrichosis.
... Quote:
Roentgen therapy is the treatment for hypertrichosis," he insisted in the Journal for Cutaneous Diseases, explaining that "when using the Cornell tube no protection of any kind, either for patient or operator, is needed
He carried on experimenting, and his doctor son Frank even began offering treatments from his own Manhattan surgery. By 1924, the elder Dr Geyser was ready to formally unveil his hair-removal treatment, and the Tricho Sales Corporation was born.

Ads for the Tricho System were soon everywhere.
... Quote:
Superfluous hair gone for good," one proclaimed in the Oakland Tribune. "Newest method... Absolutely painless. No needles.
Hundreds more adverts extolling the virtues of a "New Electrical Invention" followed in newspapers across North America. "Artistically reproduces the process of nature... no injury to the skin will result," promised the Syracuse Herald; "women of refinement" in Erie, Pennsylvania, were told of a "radio vibration" treatment, and in Canada the women of Winnipeg were promised "a hair starvation process" so safe that "Tricho treatments have been even to wives; daughters and sisters of physicians".

What exactly was this treatment? "Nothing but a ray of light touches you," the ads assured readers - though theyy were curiously vague about just what those rays were.

The Tricho clinics that sprang up in more than 75 American cities gave little away either. Clients sat at a mahogany cabinet with a small front window for the treatment area. The operators, fresh from two weeks' training with Geyser, threw a switch, and then - nothing happened, save for a faint hum and a whiff of ozone.

After a few minutes the machine automatically shut off and the patient booked: her next session. Sure enough, their hair fell out. Women were delighted: the New York City clinic alone boasted 20,000 clients. With fees for a course of treatment ranging from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars, the Tricho business was extraordinarily lucrative.

Tricho's triumph was short-lived. The first sign of trouble was in 1926, when Ida Thomas of Brooklyn sued Frank Geyser for a staggering $100;739 -the cost of her facial treatments plus $100,000 in damages.

The reason? After young Frank's prototype treatments in 1924 to; "cure" her facial hair, her skin had inexplicably thickened and wrinkled. The case attracted little attention, but Geyser's son found himself in the news again two years later when he was arrested following a similar complaint. The Geyser family's troubles were beginning to look more serious.

By now doctors were seeing a growing number of women with the same symptoms: wrinkling mottling, lesions, ulcers and even cancer. The signs of X-ray damage were unmistakable; "In their endeavor to remove a or blemish, they have incurred a major injury," concluded the ]ournal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In luly 1929 the JAMA decided it had seen enough, and formally condemned the Tricho treatment. Unbowed, Tricho played its trump card: an endorsement by Ann Pennington, glamorous star of that year's hit film Gold Diggers of Broadway.

Inevitably, more Tricho victims appeared in ]AMA, including a patient in Washington DC "so depressed as a result of the disfigurement of the X-ray burn that she attempted suicide".

Geyser, it seemed, had either been too, greedy to heed any warnings, or had convinced himself that his Cornell tubes really were safe. Whatever his motivation, he had installed poorly regulated X-ray machines across the country, and tens of thousands of women - perhaps even more-were exposed to massive doses of radiation on their faces and arms. They had also received wildly varying doses: some women had as few as four treatments, others as many as 50. And because X-ray exposure rises as an inverse square of distance, even a slight shift in sitting position could double or treble a client's dose.

With the prospect of being sued for millions of dollars, the Tricho Sales Corporation collapsed in i93o. But the Tricho story didn't end there.

Emboldened by Tricho's quick profits, copycat operations sprang up in beauty parlors across the US and Canada, bearing such innocent-sounding names as Marton Laboratories, Hair-X and the Dermic Institute. One operator questioned by the authorities in Vancouver could scarcely name a single major technical specification of her machine, let alone who built or serviced it.

Pressure from local medical and business groups drove these operators from view-but not out of business. In 1940, detectives in San Francisco raided what they thought was an illegal abortion clinic. It turned out to be a ' backstreet hair-removal clinic. Such clinics operated as shadowy cash-only enterprises until at least the 1950s.

Decades later, a second wave of Tricho related injuries emerged: telltale scarring, wrinkling and cancers that, as one doctor in Toronto put it, were "obvious stigmata of radiation exposure". One 80-year-old woman arrived with a grapefruit-sized tumour in her head; another refused treatment until she had "a huge and deep crater occupying practically the whole lower half of the breast and the chest wall immediately below it". By 1970, US researchers were attributing over one-third of radiation-induced cancers in women to X-ray hair removal.

Given cancer's long latency and the many years that Tricho parlors and their ilk persisted, the procedure may not yet have claimed its final victim. Tricho's most famous customer, though, had reason long ago to regret her endorsement. After spending her final years as a recluse in a small hotel room off Broadway, Ann Pennington died in i97i. Her cause of death, it was reported, was a brain tumor.

Paul Collins •8 September 20071 NewScientist I 69
By netchicken: posted on 6-1-2008

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