A barber (from the Latin barba, "beard") is someone whose occupation is to cut any type of hair, give shaves, and trim beards. In previous times, barbers also performed surgery and dentistry. In more recent times, with the development of safety razors and the increasing rarity of beards, most barbers primarily cut hair.
Although many barbers may still deal with facial hair when requested, in American and Commonwealth culture most barbers specialize in the simple cutting of men's hair. They do not generally offer significant styling or 'fancy' haircuts when compared to hairdressers working in hair salons.
The place where a barber works is generally called a barbershop, or simply a "barber's".
A hairdresser is a universal term referring to someone whose occupation is to cut or style hair in order to change or maintain a person's image. This is achieved using a combination of hair colouring, haircutting and hair texture techniques.
Some barbers prefer to see themselves as hairdressers or hairstylists. There is a common misbelief that barbers do not perform any service other than hair cutting and that cosmetologists perform all coloring and perms. In fact, barbers can cut hair, trim beards, color, perm, provide facials and shave. They are also licensed to work with artificial hair replacement products (toupées, etc). Many working stylists are legally barbers. There is some professional rivalry between barbers and cosmetologists, both of which are licensed and regulated. At one time, both groups were allowed to cut hair, but only barbers were allowed to shave or trim beards: this required mastering the arcane technique of using a straight razor. Today, barbers and stylists may be found working side by side in establishments known as male salons. Male salons have afforded the barber the opportunity to remain traditional in all aspects of the term, yet also progressively contemporary as fashion and trends evolve. In male salons, hairstylists and barbers seek to accommodate the modern male hairstyle trends by employing traditional hair styling and straight razor shaves with modern practices such as texturizing techniques and color.
The barber's trade is an ancient one. Razors have been found among relics of the Bronze Age (circa 3500 BC) in Egypt, and barbering is mentioned in the Bible by Ezekiel who said "Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber's razor to shave your head and your beard. (5:1 NIV)"
Shaving, either of the head or face, was not always a voluntary act, for it has been enforced by law in England and elsewhere. Cleanliness and vanity were therefore not the sole reasons for a "clean shave"; the origins lie deeper.
Barbering was introduced to Rome from the Greek colonies in Sicily in 296 B.C. and barber shops quickly became very popular centres for daily news and gossip. A morning visit to the tonsor became a part of the daily routine as important as the visit to the public baths, and a young man's first shave (tonsura) was an essential part of his coming of age ceremony.
A few Roman tonsores became wealthy and influential, running shops that were favorite loci publici of high society; most were simple tradesmen, owning small storefronts or setting up their stool in the street and offering shaves for a mere quadrans. Some had reputations as clumsy butchers who left their patrons scarred about the cheeks and chin; their dull bronze or copper (never steel) razors must share some of the blame. The better barbers offered depilatories for those customers who refused the razor.
The barbers of former times were also surgeons and dentists. As well as haircutting, hairdressing, and shaving, barbers performed surgery, blood-letting, cupping and leeching, enemas, and the extraction of teeth. Thus they were called barber surgeons and they formed their first organization in 1094.