Monday, May 23, 2011

Historic Hair Care Remedies

Beautiful hair has been prized in nearly every culture throughout history. Each has had its own unique recipes to prevent hair problems and promote healthy hair growth, depending on the natural resources available to them. Many of these remedies are still used today, while others have been discarded for being hazardous to human health.

Egypt (Northern Africa)

Ancient Egyptians used citrus juice to clean their hair and scalps. The acid cut the oil and sealed the cuticle to leave hair shiny and smelling fresh.

To the Ancient Egyptians, shiny black hair was the beauty ideal. They used a formula of juniper berry juice that darkened the hair and kept it from turning gray.

To stimulate hair growth, the Egyptians applied chopped lettuce patches to bald spots. Lettuce was associated with Min, the Egyptian god of virility.

Another hair growth formula included a scalp massage preparation made from Fir Tree extracts. The Egyptians extracted the resin, or made an infusion from the needles, then massaged it into their scalps.
The Egyptians also used Castor Oil to encourage hair growth. They mixed it with Sweet Almond Oil to improve the aroma and make the oil smoother and easier to spread.

The Ancient Egyptians believed that thick hair was best and often improved on their own growth with hair extensions and wigs made from human hair or sheep's wool.

Sub-Sahara Africa

They also steeped herbs in Avocado Oil for a rich hair conditioner. The astringent properties of Avocado leaves also made infusions that were ideal for treating scalp problems.

African Shea Butter, also known as Karite Butter, comes from the nuts of a tree found in Central Africa.

When used to condition the hair and skin, shea butter moisturizes and protects against ultraviolet rays.

Ancient Africans steeped flowers in Olive Oil to make fragrant hair tonics.


The Eastern Indian culture has used Ayurvedic medicine for 5,000 years to cure a variety of ailments, including hair and scalp problems. Ayurveda was developed by ancient Indian holy men and emphasized prevention over cure. To stimulate hair growth and natural pigmentation, followers of Ayurveda boiled sage leaves in coconut oil and applied the blackened residue to the hair and scalps.

To treat head lice, Indians mixed Neem Oil (oil extracted from seeds of Margosa or Neem Tree) to the hair and scalp at night and rinsed with an infusion of Neem leaves in the morning. Neem Oil was also used to treat scalp fungi and to promote hair growth.

For an excellent hair conditioner, a centuries old tradition was to soak Fenugreek seeds in water overnight, then apply the paste to the hair. The mixture was left on, then thoroughly shampooed out.

Fenugreek was also used to combat hair loss. Indians mixed coconut milk with a pinch of black pepper and Fenugreek powder.

Amla Oil (made from Indian Gooseberries) boiled in coconut oil was used as a hair tonic to stimulate growth.

Native Americans

Native Americans in the Southwest used jojoba oil for centuries to moisturize their skin and hair.
The Chickasaw Indians made a solution of wood and twigs from willow trees to prevent dandruff and other scalp conditions.

The Hopi Indians washed their hair in an infusion made from leaves of Rocky Mountain Juniper to keep it shiny and to prevent gray.

Mexicans applied aloe vera to add luster and manageability to their hair. The natural gel also protected their hair and scalp from the sun's rays.

The Amazon
In the rainforests of South America, the Taiwano Indians treated scalp problems with heated extract of banana.


For more than 2,000 years, Polynesian women have treated their hair with Monoi Oil, a blend of highly refined Nucifera Coconut Oil and Tiare flower. The Tiare is macerated, or left to soak in the oil, for weeks before it's ready to be used. This maceration gave the oil extra moisturizing properties.


"Shampoo" comes from the Hindu term Champo which means "to knead." By the 1870s, English hairdressers refined the term to include massaging and washing the scalp with soap, water and soda.

Lead combs were used in the 17th century to turn wet hair black. This method of "hair coloring" promoted lead poisoning and kidney failure.

16th century Venetian women applied caustic soda to their hair and sat in the sun to turn it a red-gold color.

In the 1500s, English women applied sulphur powder and saffron to their hair to create a fashionable red tint. The mixture also led to headaches, nausea and nosebleeds.

Victorian America

In the Victorian Age, women made a shampoo from white Castile soap and water.

Victorian women often rubbed eggs into their scalps to remove dandruff and to condition the hair and scalp.

To create shine, women rubbed Vaseline into their scalps and brushed it through their hair.

Table salt was rubbed into hair and brushed out to clean the scalp and revitalize the hair.

To treat oily hair, Victorians mixed Bay Rum with tincture of Catharides (A toxic preparation of the crushed, dried bodies of the beetle Lytta vesicatoria once used as a counter-irritant for skin blisters and as an aphrodisiac). This mixture was rubbed into the hair and scalp each day.

Hair loss was treated by applying a mixture of cologne, spirit of camphor and tincture of cantharides to hair roots each night. Another preventative measure called for mixing tincture of cantharides with Jamaica Rum, Glycerine, Sesqui-Carbonate of Ammonia, Rosemary Oil and Distilled Water.

Straight hair was artificially curled by applying a mixture of borax, gum Arabic, hot water and spirit of camphor to hair before rolling it.

Hair was lightened by washing with bi-carbonate of soda.

Vigorous brushing was the most prescribed hair care treatment. Using a stiff brush was supposed to keep the hair soft and shiny, while a soft brush was believed to stimulate hair growth.

Hairpieces and extensions were popular to enhance a lady's assets and could be purchased via mail order for $3-$5.

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