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History of Hair Dye

Dhanashree Patane
Hair dye is ruling the cosmetic market like no other. With its popularity increasing by the time, we wonder about the inspiration behind its discovery and trend. This story takes you through the history of hair dye and hair colors.

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After 1968, Americans stopped listing their hair color on their passports, as more people were coloring their hair often, which made the information worthless.
The hair is perhaps the most striking feature for any person. For a long time, hair has been considered more than just a biological feature, and is more often the center for beautification.
For women, it is an ornament that has transformed their beauty at a much higher level. It is also known that the color of the hair is as important, and has defined cultures and class. It has been symbolic in the revolution of many social perspectives.
Hair color now makes a fashion statement. It defines the visual appeal of an individual. The market for hair color has taken new heights. More people are convinced with the visual transformation that hair color gives them.
Another advantage is that, it has become an easy and affordable treatment that can reach one and all. Add to this the psychological benefits like a younger and new look that hair dye gives its users. So, how did humans get to the idea of hair dye and color? Let's take a look at its history...

History Behind Hair Dye

With so much importance that hair color has today, we wonder what motivated humans to beautify their hair and invent hair color. Well, the journey of hair dye, right from ancient times when people used natural ingredients like flowers, roots, and minerals to color hair, to the invention of an array of synthetic and man-made hair dyes and colors, is indeed thrilling.
✦ Archaeologists found evidence that suggests hair dyeing was practiced as early as during the time of Neanderthals. For many years, people used natural ingredients, like plant and flower extracts, walnut shells, tree barks, henna, and minerals for coloring their hair.
✦ Gaul and Saxony people used to dye their hair in dark and vibrant hues. It was believed that they did so to show their ranks in the clan. It was also done to instill fear in their enemies during war.
✦ The trend to dye and color hair took pace when the Babylonians used gold dust to color, which they would sprinkle on their hair and beards. It was considered as a sign of their wealthy status and beauty.
✦ During the earlier days, hair dye could only darken the hair color, but soon, people found many ways to lighten the color of their hair. This was mainly achieved by exposing the colored hair to sunlight for many hours. The hair would get bleached to blond color with this process.
✦ Ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks began to use hair color which was made from plant and animal extracts, regularly. The earliest records of hair dyeing dates back to 1500 B.C., when Egyptian women colored their hair using 'henna' plant extracts.
✦ The Romans believed that hair dyeing and coloring was a symbol of a woman's eroticism, and highlighted her gracefulness and elegance. By 27 B.C., hair dye became a much-accepted trend, and both men and women in Rome used hair color as a way of enhancing their looks and appearance.
Later, when blond hair was introduced to the Romans, it soon got associated with prostitution, as only prostitutes were forced to color their hair blond, which would distinguish them from other women.
✦ The Greeks considered dyeing the hair in blond shades as a symbol of a woman's high status and superiority. It portrayed her innocence and sex appeal.
✦ The Middle Ages saw another theory, when red hair was considered a sign of witchcraft. Red hair was perhaps a result of a genetic mistake. It was during this time that the first naturally-born redhead was believed to be born in Scotland.
✦ However, red hair caught up to be the most popular trend, when Queen Elizabeth I's auburn shades of hair made a mark. It was then considered to be a royal status. More women were seen coloring their hair red, to imitate the Queen.
✦ During the Baroque period, more colors were introduced, and colored wigs gained popularity. Blond hair got increasingly popular, with dyes being made from potassium lye and caustic soda.
✦ Dyes were made using henna, crushed nut shells, berries, and vinegar. People would also use weird ingredients, like leeches that were fermented in vinegar for two months. This concoction was applied on the hair, which was then exposed to the sun for hours.
✦ During the Victorian times, women would expose their colored hair to the sun for a long time, for bleaching it. A mixture of alum, honey, and black sulfur would be used to lighten the hair. They would wear hats which had an open top for sun exposure.
Blond hair gained a lot of craze back then, as it gave women an angelic look. To darken the hair color, people used silver nitrate during this time. As a result of excessive and overuse of silver nitrate, a purple shade of hair color was created.
✦ The Medieval and Renaissance Eras saw women using apples, alum, tea barks, and walnut shells to change their hair color. Women would also use a mixture of sulfur, lead, and quicklime cooked together, to give a brown color to their hair. Another option was, they would pile roots and leaves on top of their head, tie all this together with a sinew, and leave it on their head to rot for 2 days.
✦ In the 1860s, hydrogen peroxide was a common option for hair bleaching. With time, this came to be known as blond dye, until the 1930s. It was used along with other ingredients like ammonia and soap flakes. However, this resulted in hair damage. The hair would often break, and even scalp burns made this process unsuitable for everyone.
✦ Hair coloring and dying took a major leap when paraphenylenediamine (PPD) was discovered by Dr. August Wilhelm in 1863. This was the magic substance that was used in creating the first synthetic dye. This, along with hydrogen peroxide, which was a gentler option for hair bleaching, together led to a major invention.
✦ Eugene Sculler, a French chemist, created the first commercial hair dye in 1907. This product was named 'Aureole'. This name was later changed to 'L'Oréal'. The product became very famous, and L'Oréal kicked off as the brand making history in hair dye and color.
✦ The invention of this synthetic dye resulted in further research and development in hair colors. In 1932, a New York chemist named Lawrence Gelb, created a hair dye that would actually penetrate the shaft of the hair. His product was launched under the brand name of 'Clairol'.
✦ In 1950, 'Clairol' launched a new product, named - Miss Clairol Hair Color Bath. This again was a significant invention of hair dye and color, where no harmful effects of lightening the hair with bleach would be experienced. Now women could lighten, color, shampoo, and condition their hair in just one easy step, and in 20 minutes.
✦ After this invention, the market for hair color reached the skies. More women were opting for hair dyeing. This was also the first-in-its-kind product for dyeing hair at home.
✦ With soaring markets for hair colors, another feather in the cap was an Ad campaign by a copywriter named Shirley Polykoff. Her tagline for the campaign which read, "Does she ... or doesn't she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure", created a huge consumer base, including the average woman.
This long-running Ad campaign made a bold statement, and 'Clairol', for whom the campaign was designed, became a concrete name in the world of hair dye and color.
✦ By 1970, covering grays with hair dye no longer remained a private and shameful affair, when L'Oréal launched their hair coloring products, with a slogan that inspired women. In 1973, Ilon Specht wrote the slogan, "Because I'm worth it", which gave women an attitude shift and elevation at the same time.
The hair dye and color industry has rightly created a mark in the fashion world. And it will forever remain a revolutionary move, that has given the beauty of hair and color a new dimension.