Here’s a fact to make your hair stand on end: Somewhere between sixty and seventy million Americans use hair coloring products. Wow! It seems incredible, but it’s true. Seventy-five percent of women and thirty-eight percent of men color their hair on a regular basis—about every six to eight weeks. These days, with the rise of color-depositing conditioners, that number may be going up. That’s a lot of time, money, and effort the people of this country put into keeping their hair looking the way they want it!
Since ancient times, people have tried to change the appearance of their hair. In fact, we have found evidence indicating hair coloring dates back to ancient Egypt, and it may have existed even before that. As you might imagine, there’s quite a history behind hair coloring, so your friendly neighborhood hair salon in Lawton has done some research to give you a quick history lesson about hair coloring across the ages. Before we get into all the fascinating (and sometimes alarming) ways people used to color their hair, though, let’s make it clear we’re not recommending any of these methods. Even modern methods of hair coloring carry risk. Everyone’s hair is different! If you’re thinking about coloring your hair, you should absolutely consult with your Lawton salon hairstylist before jumping into anything radical, especially at home, and especially if you’re new to it.
Ancient Times. If you’re into changing your hair color you’ve probably heard of henna, a plant dye that can tint hair darker or a reddish color. People all over the world use henna, but ancient Egyptians are the first people we know of who used it for hair coloring. We also have evidence of ancient peoples using other plant-based dyes such as indica, turmeric, walnut hulls, and more. We also know they used rudimentary bleaches. Often such dyes were used to cover gray hair, but sometimes hair color carried class distinction, such as in ancient Rome. Romans loved their hair coloring, and they had ways of making hair black, red, and blonde. Some methods were quite toxic, though. Romans used lead oxide to dye their hair black until they realized it was poisonous.
The Middle Ages. Men and women alike indulged in hair tinting in the ancient world, but by the later Middle Ages it was something mostly women did. It became especially fashionable for women to have red hair during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. Her distinctive hair was the source of much imitation, and the tint became a way to show loyalty (and flatter the monarch, never a bad thing). Common dyes of the time were not particularly pleasant. Sulfuric acid was used to bleach hair. Later, lye was applied to hair strands, and women would lie in the sun to achieve a bleaching effect.
The 18th Century. Hair was a sign of status in 18th century Europe. People sometimes colored their natural hair with the usual assortment of plant dies and acids, but many people cut their hair short and turned to wearing wigs instead. Powdering a wig was a lot easier than dyeing one’s natural hair, so men and women had a greater range of options when it came to their appearances. In France, men and women alike wore wigs, but in England it was less common for women to wear wigs. Instead, they would thicken their own heads of hair with extra locks of hair made of horsehair or human hair.
The 19th Century. The first chemical hair dye was invented by Professor William Henry Perkin, a British chemist who was trying to come up with a cure for malaria. Unfortunately for the women of the 19th century, the dye was purple-pink. While that might be desirable to a lot of women today, that was a bit too radical for the Victorians. Thankfully, Perkin’s invention was studied and altered by August Wilhelm von Hoffman, a chemistry professor, who chemically altered the purple dye into a molecule called para-phenylenediamine. This chemical, shortened to PPD, is still used today in hair-coloring formulas!
The 20th and 21st Centuries. Today we know the company L’Oréal for all kinds of reasons: hair dye, makeup, and more. But all the way back in 1907, the founder of L’Oréal, Eugene Schueller, created the first commercial hair dye. Even so, society tended to frown on women coloring their hair, so it was fairly rare. By the late mid-century, however, it had become more common, with forty percent of women dying their hair (or admitting it) in 1970. But by 2015, around seventy percent of American women reported doing something to alter the color of their hair on a regular basis. These days, it’s more and more common to see bright, vivid colors like pink, green, and blue, even on movie stars.
Present Day. These days, dying hair is more prevalent than ever. It seems like there’s always some new TikTok or Instagram trend, from balayages to “milk tea” hair to Billie Eilish’s neon green roots to color-depositing conditioners that give you that perfect millennial rose-gold hue. We’re spoiled for choice, and that’s a good thing! It’s easier than ever for you to get the look you want, and social media provides plenty of examples.
It’s pretty incredible to think that the jar of henna you can pick up at your local health food store would be a familiar product to ancient Egyptians, isn’t it? While henna is still a pretty safe bet for a non-permanent, all-natural hair color, most of these methods of hair dyeing are no longer recommended, to say the very least! If you’re interested in changing your hair, why not give your local salon in Lawton a call? Talk to a professional, even if you plan on DIYing. Everyone’s hair is different, especially when you factor in age, texture, and whether you’ve colored it before. Let a professional help you manage your expectations and maybe even save you from heartache! Whatever you do, don’t use lead on your hair!
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