Tag Archives: History of Hair Colouring

A Short History of Hair Colouring – Part 1

Every time you come to our South Melbourne hair salon for a haircut and style, colour, blow dry, or specialty treatment, you know you will be looked after beautifully and leave our salon feeling like a million dollars.

But did you know that people have long loved to have their hair done – from intricate styles to hair colouring? Hair colour has been attached with meaning and significance too – from demonic significance being attached to red hair by some cultures to blondes being decreed as higher on the social ladder by others.

Hair colouring is nothing new – though today’s techniques and products are the best and safest we have ever had access to.

A short history of hair colouring…

Humans – and women in particular – have had a love affair with personal adornment for millions of years. This included finding ways to adorn and colour their hair…

Stone Age man used minerals, insects and plants to paint the body and hair.

Ancient Egyptians used henna to colour their hair.

The Gauls dyed their hair red to signify rank and higher social class

During the Dark Ages, red hair was attributed to witchcraft. The first natural born redheads were born during this period in Scotland, a result of genetic mutation. Some natural redheads coloured their hair to hide its natural colour.

Blonde or yellow hair was at one point associated with prostitution, so natural blondes would colour their hair darker with plant extracts and minerals.

Ancient Assyrians dyed their hair with henna and dusted their hair with gold dust.

Germanic warriors dyed their blonde hair red so they’d appear more fearsome.

In ancient Greece, noble women dyed their hair lighter, while poor women dyed their hair black. Roman women, in an attempt to divert the attention of men from Scandinavian slaves, dyed their hair lighter than their natural dark colour.

Renaissance-era women coloured their hair blonde for its angelic connotations a mixture of honey, sulphur, and alum was spread throughout the hair to encourage bleaching by the sun.

People have used many different mixtures to achieve their hair colouring results. Five thousand years ago, woad (a member of the mustard family) was mixed with henna to dye hair a dark brown colour. Scandinavian recipes for blonde hair included strong lyes made from goat fat and beechwood ash, followed by saffron toners. These not only lightened the hair; they also burned the scalp and often resulted in total hair loss.

Venetian women in the 1500s slept in a scarf-covered mixture of egg yolk, honey, and some nasty substances. In the morning they’d wash the hair in olive oil and then sit in the sun for hours.

Lead sulphur and quicklime was used in the early 1700s to achieve a chestnut hair colour; this was both caustic and poisonous. This is part of the reason for the fashion of huge powdered wigs, as hair loss was common from attempts at colouring.

Next time we’ll look at more modern colouring methods over the last 150 years…