According to Joseph Dallal and Colleen Rocafort, who wrote the 1997 book "Hair Styling/Fixative Products in Hair and Hair Care," hairsprays are fine mists of a chemical compound that are propelled from an aerosol can or pump container. The chemicals, or polymer, make the shafts of hair stick together. The polymer was originally called resin, because the first hairspray in the 1940s was developed from a resin-like substance that resembled shellac. The chemicals hold the hair strands together, because they create layers of sticky film when dried.

First Commercial Hairspray

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The actual hairspray can was not invented until 1943 during World War II, when aerosol sprays were used to kill insects. After the war, the beauty industry recognized the "power" of the aerosol containers, which were pressurized by a fluorocarbon, or liquefied gas. In 1950, Helene Curtis became the first to use the generic term "hairspray" for its newly developed aerosol product called Spray Net. By 1955, the company was selling it across the world.

Competition Starts Growing

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Meanwhile, the competition started growing at a fast pace. Leonard and Bernice Lavin, who had been selling their Alberto-Culver haircare products to the movie industry in California, started giving Helene Curtis a run for its money. Both companies expanded the variety of their beauty products, in addition to hairspray. They found that aerosols also worked well with antiperspirants, and sales soared in this product line, too. When chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) aerosols were found to be detrimental to the ozone layer in the 1970s, countries began phasing them out. This did not stop the beauty manufacturers, which quickly found alternative approaches. In 1977, Alberto VO5 Hair Spray became the first nationally advertised premium brand to introduce an aerosol free of CFCs. Today, aerosol cans use several different propellants like petroleum gas.

1950s and 1960s Hairspray Styles

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In the 1950s, the bouffant hairstyle increased the use of hairspray. In the 1960s, the use of curlers, hairpieces, heating irons and teasing continued to enhance the spray's popularity. Companies began making a variety of formulas and strengths for different types of hair. By 1964, hairspray was the leading beauty product in beauty product sales, reports Victorian Sherrow in the "Encyclopedia of Hair." During these decades, women would spray their hair heavily and then leave it untouched until it needed to be combed out and washed. The lacquer in the spray was so sticky that the floors of beauty salons and home bathrooms became quite tacky.

Late 1960s and 1970s

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The abundant use of hairspray ended in the mid- to late '60s with changes in women's hairstyles and political outlook. The long straight hair and natural look worn by the flower children, hippies and women libbers did not lend itself to being teased and sprayed. Later, women began spraying their hair with a light- to medium-hold spray that kept their hair in place but did not look and feel stiff and unnatural. In the 1980s, heavy hairspray made a comeback with the male punk rock music enthusiasts, who used very strong sprays to spike their hair and mohawks.

Hard-Hold Hairsprays

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These days, most females only use hard-hold hairsprays when they do not want their hairstyles to move or become unruly. Normally, this is when there is a major celebration, such as a wedding or special event. Unlike in the past, however, women usually will wash their hair as soon as the occasion is over, rather than going several days with a stiff hairdo. They appreciate the natural look and feel.

Men's Hairsprays

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In the late 1800s and early 1900s, men's hair had a "wet look," which came from using some type of grease or product such as "Brylcreem" hair gel, says author David Mansour in "Abba to Zoom." Then, in the 1980s came some of the spiked hairdos. Now, many men who do not have crew cuts or even completely bald heads appreciate the "dry look." They use their hairspray to hold their styles in a natural and relaxed way, just like the women. Some men also use waterproof hairspray the color of their hair to cover gray areas, such as at the temples or roots. No matter what, it appears that hairspray is "hair" to stay.