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The History of Hair Color (image)

The History of Hair Color

by Minnesota Jodi

Minnesota Jodi headshot (image)It is interesting to me how far we’ve come with technology, social norms and social stigmas when it comes to coloring one’s hair.

The ancient Egyptians would use henna to color gray hair. In ancient Rome hair was lightened with wood ash, unslaked lime, and sodium bicarbonate. They would darken the hair with copper filings or leeches marinated in wine and vinegar. In the Dark Ages, red hair was considered evil until Elizabeth I made red hair popular. People would use borax, saltpeter, saffron and sulfur powder to dye their hair red. This would cause nausea and nosebleeds. During the Renaissance gold and blond hair was favorable because it was considered angelic. They used alum, honey and black sulfur on the hair and then would wear a hat with a hole in the top and wide brim so they could lay their hair out evenly and let the sun do its work. Men would darken their mustaches in the 1800s with silver nitrate mixes with water. The only problem with it was after prolonged use it make the hair purple.

In 1907 Eugene Schueller, a French chemist, developed a synthetic hair dye which he called Aureole, which became L’Oreal. Lawrence Geld, a New York chemist, developed a penetrating color and started a company called Clairol. He invented Miss Clairol hair color bath that could lighten and tint the hair in one process.

In the 1930s people’s attitudes changed and coloring your hair meant you were a hussy. Hair dye at this time was harsh and proper ventilation wasn’t considered. People would get bad headaches, blisters and swollen eyelids. In an interview Vidal Sassoon told Vogue, “We used to make these diabolical bleaches, mixing 20-volume peroxide in a bowl with three drops of ammonia. The number had to be exact, and I was so terrified my hand would shake–it was as primitive as that.”

In 1931 the term platinum blond was used to describe Jean Harlow’s hair in the movie of the same name. People have been trying to get platinum blond ever since. To be fair, it was a black and white movie so for all we know her hair was banana yellow. Shirley Polykoff created the infamous ad campaign “Does she… or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” This campaign caused the number of women who colored their hair to go up 40% more than 20 years. It sort of broke the sigma of coloring hair. Basically saying, ‘look, we all do it even if we don’t admit it.’ They took this further with the ad “Because I’m worth it.” Now instead of color being about covering gray it was about having fun and changing your look for the heck of it. Now a days we have vivid colors like red, pink, purple, and blue. Most people don’t try to hide the fact that they color their hair. Chemists are constantly coming up with new ways to color hair with higher health and safety standards. So go ahead and be a blond bomb shell, a sexy read head or an exotic brunette. It’s your right, “because you’re worth it.”

Minnesota Jodi hails from Duluth Minnesota. She’s been an Arizonan for six years all in the White Mountains. She owns North Star Salon, LLC.