It may be strange to think about, but people have cared about their looks since ancient times. Caring about hair, makeup, and clothing isn’t a new concept. Many use their appearance to signify wealth, status, and personality—and for far longer than you might think. While beauty standards have changed across time and cultures, people have always found ways to beautify themselves using their available resources and knowledge of the world to guide them. Continue reading to learn about the history of hair care products around the world to better understand our ancestors.
While the first version of liquid soap was credited to the inventor Hans Schwarzkopf in 1927, it would be inaccurate to say there weren’t versions of shampoo long before him. In fact, one of the first recordings of shampoo comes from an Indian subcontinent known as the Indus Valley. This early shampoo was made of soapberries, such as Sapindus, Indian gooseberry, and other herbs and extracts. It’s no surprise that the origin of the word shampoo itself entered the English lexicon in 1762, originating from the Hindi word cā̃po.
However, it was Sake Dean Mahomed who was credited with the invention of shampoo or “shampooing” when he introduced Mahomed’s Steam and Vapor Sea Water Medicated Baths to England in 1814. From then on, English hair stylists boiled soap and herbs in water to supplement their lack of bathing and make the hair appear shinier. Then, in 1900, Josef Wilhelm Rausch created (Shampooing)Champooing—one of the first liquid shampoos. From there, we circle back to Hans Schwarzkopf, who helped invent and mass-produce liquid shampoo.
But it doesn’t end there! What we know as shampoo today was invented by Proctor and Gamble in 1934, who created the first synthetic, detergent-based liquid to become the first synthetic shampoo.
Conditioners help moisturize the hair by adding moisturizing ingredients and locking in natural oils. For thousands of years, people from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and so on have been using hair oil to do just this, but this does not fit our modern definition of conditioner. What we know as conditioner today didn’t come around until the 20th century when Edouard Pinaud invented and presented it as a product called Brilliantine at the 1900 Parisian Exposition Universelle. It was a perfumed, greasy liquid made of fatty alcohols and silicone and was originally marketed for men’s hair, beards, and mustaches. 80 years later, Proctor and Gamble would once again make history by creating the first 2-in-1 shampoo in 1987.
One of the earliest renditions of what we know as dry shampoo can be traced back throughout what we know as Asia during the 15th century. Women would apply a dried clay powder to their hair to remove oil, and the people of the Elizabethan era did the same. In the 18th century, men would use starches to freshen their wigs, which is why they were often referred to as “powdered wigs.” It wasn’t until the 1940s that the Stephanie Brooke Company of New Jersey City invented Minipoo, mainly consisting of talc and magnesium carbonate.
In the 1970s, Klorane created the first sprayable dry shampoo, but it was marketed towards hospital patients or those who were bed-bound, mainly mothers! But this product took the world by storm, and it was Batiste that ran with it in 1975, making it the most popular dry shampoo brand on the market.
As previously mentioned, hair oil has been used for an incredibly long time and is considered an ancient science. Because of how old the application of hair oil is, it is hard to give one period or region credit for its invention, but we can begin by looking at Africa. Africa is a vast continent consisting of 54 distinct countries, but we know that many have used castor oil for myriad applications.
Because of the continent’s often sunny and dry conditions, castor oil was the popular choice for keeping hair moisturized. Some historians date it back to 1500 B.C. in ancient Egyptian medical texts, but at the time, it was used to treat eye irritations, so its first use as a hair product is uncertain.
Stylists use pomade, or hair wax, to style the hair and keep it in place. In the past, animal fat was used as a pomade. Once again, we can credit this invention to the ancient Egyptians, who used it to style intricate braids, waves, and curls. Romans and other European tribes did something similar, still using animal fat as the main ingredient. It wasn’t until the 20th century that other ingredients started to replace animal fat. During this time, ingredients such as petroleum jelly and beeswax became more popular, although lard was still used. Even then, it wasn’t until the 2010s that water-based pomades were invented, which are much easier to remove.
The first hair relaxers were credited to a man named Garret Augustus Morgan, Sr., in 1913, when he invented a product he called G.A. Morgan’s Hair Refiner. This relaxer was a mixture of alkaline chemicals and lye, but lye-based relaxers weren’t commercially processed and sold until the 1970s. As you may well know, lye is a dangerous chemical and would damage the hair if left on for long periods or not washed out completely. However, this does not negate the cultural significance of and the revolution caused by hair relaxers when they were introduced to the African American community.
In 1981, Johnson Products Company (who also invented the first permanent hair relaxer in 1965) invented and sold the first non-lye-based hair relaxer known as Gentle Treatment. While it still used alkaline chemicals, it contained chemicals that were less harsh, such as potassium hydroxide and lithium hydroxide.
Ultimately, what we can take away from this history of hair care products is that caring for your hair is loving your hair and a huge part of self-care and self-love. Looking for hair care products that will take you back to the basics? Essential Wholesale & Labs sells wholesale shampoo with superstar ingredients like aloe, chamomile, jojoba oil, and meadowfoam oil. Our dedication to formulating products that make you look and feel your best is incomparable.