Beauty throwback: The story behind hairspray

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It all started with some bugs and a can.

During World War II, aerosol cans were developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to better distribute insect spray among soldiers and protect them from Malaria. After the war, the beauty industry caught on to the potential of aerosol cans. The first to package a sticky, hard, resin-based spray was Chase Products in 1948.

The beauty titan Helene Curtis was the first to use the term "hair spray" in 1950, with the release of her wildly successful product: Spray Net. Along with its competitors, such as Aqua Net, hair spray quickly became the best-selling beauty product for women. Through the 1950s and '60s, the bouffant and beehive hairstyles simply wouldn't have been possible without it. By 1964, it was said to have outsold even lipstick.

The late '60s into the '70s saw a drastic decline in hairspray sales. This was a result of a few factors. First, the "flower child" of that era chose much simpler hairstyles, just as the pixie cut of Mia Farrow was not as demanding a style as Jackie O's bouffant. Secondly, it was discovered that aerosol cans contained Chlorofluoro Carbons (CFCs), which were harmful to the environment -- particularly the ozone layer -- as well as the women using the products.

Through the 1950s and '60s, the bouffant and beehive hairstyles simply wouldn't have been possible without it.

Before the 1970s, hair spray contained the propellant "vinyl chloride." This is a known carcinogen linked to cancer of the liver. What's most shocking is that according to reports from PBS, brands knew about its dangers for nearly a decade before removing products with VCM in them from the market.

It was reported as early as April of 1964 in Aerosol Age, a trade magazine, that the amounts of vinyl chloride found in salons might be higher than the amounts that caused cancer in laboratory animals. Later, in 1971, the company Union Carbide sent a memo acknowledging that VCM exposure caused tumors. A year later, they speculated that beauty operators were likely at a higher risk than chemical workers, because of their constant exposure to hair spray. Many different brands knew of these things and discussed it amongst themselves, but no public statements were made for a long time.

Eventually, new rules and regulations came forward for the production of these products, and CFCs were removed from aerosol cans completely. And just in time, too, because as these sprays adapted, they found new success in the '80s. With punk and rock and roll, the higher the hair, the higher the glam. Through the years it's seen fairly consistent use, and now comes in an array of holds, bottles and scents.

Click through the gallery above to see more from the history of hairspray -- through pictures!

Photo Credit: Frank Martin/BIPS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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