Hair Care Products

Since  ancient times,  natural and  formulated substances have  been  used  to care for and  style hair.  Products were designed as cleansers, treatments to regrow  or remove  hair, styling elements like stiffening agents, or beautifiers imparting shine, curl,  or color.  From  shredded vegetables, to bear  grease,  to Dippity-do, hair  care products run  the gamut through shampoos, conditioners, stylers, and colorizers.

The  hair product with the longest history is likely henna. Made  from a flowering plant  native  to warm  regions, its leaves are dried,  ground, and  mixed  with an acidic  substance, producing a natural dye. When used  on  hair,  it imparts shine and  a  warm  brown/auburn color.  Believed  to  have  been  first  used  in  ancient Egypt,  henna has  experienced a resurgence over  the  years  and  remains in wide use  today.  Other natural and  ancient hair  products include ancient Egyptians’ use of shredded lettuce placed  on the head to encourage hair growth or regrowth. Also recorded is Cleopatra’s use of a gel made from bear grease to control her hair, while  her  contemporaries, besides  using  henna, also  used  cow’s blood, oil, and crushed tadpoles to recolor graying hair. In ancient Rome,  people  used  a mixture of natural materials to cover  gray hair  that  included ashes,  boiled  walnut shells, and earthworms.

Today, the  hair  product industry is a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry. Because  the  products are  used  on  humans, they  are  also  widely  regulated for safety. In the United States,  products are monitored by the U.S. Food  and Drug Administration (FDA).


The  name  for a product to wash out the buildup of natural oils from the hair, the word  shampoo actually  comes  from  the  Indian word  cha-mpo (or Hindu champoo), which  means “massage.” The  word  was brought into  English use in the  mid-to late 1800s,  when  colonial India introduced the practice of therapeutic scalp massage to Great  Britain.

Ancient  Egyptians, Native  Americans, and   Native   Latin   Americans record some  of the  earliest  substances used  to cleanse  the  hair,  made  by accessing the substance saponin from  soapwort and  soapberry plants. Those cultures without plants containing saponin found other similar substances to formulate a soaplike product; in Africa,  mixtures of clay and  fragrant oils  were  used,  while  Ancient Romans combined animal  fat with ashes  to cleanse  their  hair.

In the Western world,  soap  was generally  used  to wash  both the  hair  and  the entire  body. British hairdressers at the turn of the 20th  century developed a mixture  of soap, water, and fragrant herbs that  was less harsh than straight soap, and applied  it to their  clients’  hair  in a massaging technique. Soon  both the  mixture and  the  process became known as a shampoo. The  first commercially available cleansing shampoo was created in Germany in the 1890s. In the United States, by the early 1900s, shampoo was available in several name  brands. Some  of the earliest to be mass  marketed came  out  in the  1930s  and  included Wella (established 1880) and Breck (established 1930).

While  these  early  shampoos contained soap,  modern shampoos often  use  a synthetic surfactant as a base  for their  formulas. Chemistry continues to evolve and  shampoo manufacturers continue to  research new  ways  for  shampoos to impart shine  and  improve hair condition. In fact, one  product, Neutrogena, specializes in the removal  of residue left by other hair products, and advertisers use a slogan  advising  customers to use Neutrogena once  a month so that  their  regular hair product choices work better. New markets have emerged in recent years with renewed interest in natural or organic ingredients, and expanded into  a variety of hair  textures, including products specifically  formulated for African  Americans’ needs.

Shampoo comes  in many product forms,  including solid (usually  a bar), liquid, gel, or powder. A very wide variety of shampoo products exists today,  from  those available  at grocery  and  drug  stores, to beauty  supply  stores  catering to professional hair dressers, and through salons. Paul Mitchell’s products, originally  available only through salons, still carry the warning label that  their  guarantee is only valid if bought via a salon  professional.

Shampoo products are formulated for a wide variety of hair types, including the Short and Sassy, and Long  and Silky brands, as well as for fine, coarse, oily, dry, or damaged, all with their  special ingredients to cleanse  and improve hair. Touted as medicated shampoos, Head  and Shoulders (owned  by Procter and Gamble) and Selsun Blue (owned  by Abbott Laboratories) are widely available  shampoos for dry, itchy, and flaking scalp conditions, also known as dandruff.

Shampoos and  their  product identifications have made  their  way into  popular culture references. Clairol  products have long  capitalized on  pop  culture trends, with Long  and  Silky drawing  on the  culture of jeans  and  long  hair  trends of the 1970s; recent advertising campaigns for their  Herbal Essence Organics line referenced the “yes, Yes, YES” lines from  the  film When Harry Met Sally (1989) as a “Totally  Organic Experience” to boost their  sales.


Conditioner is a hair product that  is generally  used  to restore moisture and shine following  a shampoo. It is also  called  cream  rinse.  Conditioners first  appeared commercially in the  1950s  as a way to  reduce tangles  and  dryness after  shampooing hair.  Older  home recipes  range  from  oils, such  as olive oil—a historical favorite—through organic mayonnaise combining both oils and eggs, to the beer/raw  egg  concoction. Commercial products range  from  deep  conditioners specially formulated for occasional use  and  to restore damaged or dry hair,  such  as Wella’s Kolestral, and  hot  oil treatments, to daily treatments often  referred to as crème rinse, and  the  leave-in  variety of conditioners, which  blur  the  lines between conditioners and styling agents. In addition, herbal  oils have also become a recent consumer favorite,  often  mixed  with  daily conditioners to impart both their  essential  oils and their  scent.

Conditioners are marketed in tandem with specific shampoo and styling products, to create  a line where they are touted as working best. They  are advertised as being  formulated to work together, thus  also ensuring that  when  one  in the  line runs out, the customer will buy more  of the same in order  to remain in line.


Products that  change the  color  of the  hair  have been  used  for centuries, both to cover  gray hair  and  appear  to restore a previous natural color  or to completely change the  color  of a person’s hair.  Early  experimentation with  human-made concoctions and  procedures for hair  coloring were sometimes toxic to the  user. In  ancient Rome,  when  lighter  hair  became fashionable, women who  experimented with  harsh  bleaching mixtures experienced partial   or  total  hair  loss. In the second century, Claudius Galen,  renowned physician and researcher in the Roman Empire, described the use of a combination of lead oxide and slaked  lime to  color  hair  black.  The  chemical reaction that  occurred when  these  elements combined with  human hair  formed sulfur  and  allowed  the  lead to penetrate the shaft  of the hair. This  process is what  some  hair color  products are still based  on today.  In Elizabethan England, in order  to mimic  their  queen, men  and  women used  a red coloring agent  for the  hair  that  contained sulfur  and  caused physical illness. Although they were successful in attaining color  change in the  hair, early hair  coloring attempts involved  chemicals that  were toxic  to human health and life. In 1907  a French chemist, Eugene Schuller, is credited with  developing the first commercial hair color product that was safe for human use. The  company he founded became L’Oréal.

Temporary colors  that  fade  or  wash  out  over  time  can  be  found in  various forms,  including rinses, shampoos, gels, sprays,  and  foams. Temporary hair  color does  not  penetrate the  shaft  of the  hair  and  thus  can  generally  be removed with repeated shampoos. If the hair shaft  is damaged in any way from  over-dryness or previous permanent color,  temporary color  can  permanently penetrate the  hair shaft and become semipermanent or permanent. Henna hair coloring is still used today as a temporary colorizer, available both in pure  powder form and in natural product mixtures. Other temporary dyes are widely marketed as less damaging to hair than permanent coloring, and are even lauded as conditioning agents.

There are various  levels of temporary coloring. Most  dyeing  agents  fade over time,  and  therefore even  those   marketed as  permanent are  not  really  permanent. Clairol’s  products have  been  categorized into  four  levels  that  exemplify the  differences: permanent—those  which  retain  their  color  beyond 28 shampoos; demi-permanent—through 28 shampoos; semipermanent, the natural coloring agents; and  touch-up and  highlighting products. The  temporary categories of coloring agents  might  best be described as blending dyes, as they are meant to blend  away the  appearance of gray hair,  enhance natural color,  or disguise  graying  through highlighting and touch-up products. These dyes have to be regularly  reapplied in order  to maintain coverage.

Permanent hair  color  does  penetrate the  hair  shaft  through a chemical reaction  with  the  hair.  During this  reaction, which  generally  occurs simultaneously, ammonia is used  to open  the hair  shaft,  peroxide to remove  existing  color,  and  a pigment is deposited on the open  shaft. The  chemical process is then neutralized, and a conditioning agent  is applied  to restore the appearance of health and shine. Hair bleach  is generally  hydrogen peroxide, which  is used  to lighten or remove  all pigment from  the hair, and  is frequently used  prior  to changing dark  hair to very light hair color, such  as black to blonde.

The  products extensively  marketed as permanent are simply those  that  change the  existing  hair  color,  and  must be reapplied as hair  grows  or as the  dye fades. Both  temporary and  permanent hair  color,  in reality, have  about the  same  staying power  in terms  of numbers of shampoos or weeks of wear; they differ mainly in the  harshness of the  chemical process used.  Permanent coloring cannot wash out;  it must be allowed  to grow out  or be covered  with  another dye job. Permanent coloring agents  are  developed for  a wide  variety  of hair  color  ranges  and highlighting combinations, as well as for men  and  for ethnic hair types, to which Clairol’s  Textures and Tones is targeted. Included in the  permanent category  are also mustache and beard-dyeing products.

In  an  uncertain category  of hair  coloring is the  recent use  of home recipes such  as Kool-Aid and  food  coloring to  achieve  startling colorations in modern punk styles,  spike  formations, and  vivid streaks. The  Kool-Aid trend has  led to some  mainstream commercial products that  have been  willing to invest in developing  the  hot  colors  sought by current consumers. Use  of these  products often requires the  removal  of prior  hair  color  through bleaching in order  to attain  the most  heightened final color.  Hair  salon  professionals have also pursued this new market through their  offerings  of highlighting streaks and  more  vivid and  made-to-order color  combinations.

Methods of dyeing  or bleaching hair  have  been  demonstrated in popular released  films for decades. Ginger  Rogers  demonstrated touching up  roots  for her bleached blond hair  in the  1930s,  while  many  recent films and  TV shows, such as The Fugitive and  NCIS,  have  included the  changing of hair  color  as part  of a disguise. Hair  color  has  also  been  extensively  used,  as well as style, to  define  a person’s character or grouping in society.

Styling Products

Styling  products fall into  three  main  categories: fixatives  (hairspray and  gels), smoothers (pomades and  gels), and  texture agents  (relaxers,  straighteners, and curlers).

Hairspray is a fixative product that is sprayed  in a mist on a completed hairstyle to hold it in place or is used during the styling process. The  first hairspray became available commercially in the United States in the 1920s, but the product was not widely commercially successful until  aerosol technology was used  with  it in the 1940s.  Styles then came  to rely on the  mixture of lacquer and  alcohol to achieve new  dimensions. The  popular bouffant styles of the  1950s  and  1960s  relied  on liberal use of hairspray and many were held in place for a week and then washed, restyled, and  sprayed  for the  following  week. In the  1970s,  when  hairstyles became more  soft and supple, hairspray use declined, though smoothing agents  like gels and  conditioners replaced them. The  industry was  regulated in  the  1970s when  it  was  determined that  aerosol hairspray released   environmentally toxic chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into  the atmosphere. Manufacturers found alternate mechanisms for the spray function, including manual pumps and alternative propellants, although CFCs are still used  in hairspray production in some  countries.

Hair  gel is a jelly-like  fixative product that  is used  on  wet or dry hair  to help create  a style and thereafter to hold a style in place. Mousse is a very similar product  in a foam  delivery  form.  Hair  gels vary in delivery  systems, from  spray  form to jelly consistency and  everything in between. Sometimes referred to as setting gels, products like Dippity-do, by Gillette  and  now  owned  by White  Rain,  were very popular in the  1950s  and  1960s  and  were applied  to wet hair, before  rolling the hair on curlers, and their  setting  quality would  hold the style in place after the hair dried. Still extensively  used  in various  forms  today, gel and mousse products are often used as alternatives to hair spray by both men and women. Products like L.A. Look are unisex, while those  that target curling may be considered more gender specific. Various weights  of hair gel are available, from light style to hold down flyaways, to curl sets like Shirley Temple ringlets, to heavy sets that  often  contain added  wax like ingredients capable  of stiffening hairstyles such  as Mohawks.

Pomades are those  products that give a wet look to hair and are most frequently used  to relax or smooth down  coarse  or very curly hair. Marketed often  to Latin men or African Americans, products such  as Brylcreem  (1928), “a little dab will do ya,” Murray’s Hair  Dressing Pomade (1925),  and  Royal Crown are still available at some  consumer locations, but  also  have  found a continuing market through Internet sales. Many  of these  types of products contain petrolatum and  mineral oil as their  primary ingredients. Highly  reminiscent of ancient hair  oiling  techniques, these  types  of products easily reference the  continuity of hair  grooming interests and product ingredients that  people  have used  over millennia.


Straighteners/ relaxers  are chemicals applied  to the hair to make the texture or appearance of curly  hair  smoother. Pomades (usually  derived  from  grease)  were the earliest  forms  of this  and  offered  a temporary smooth appearance by slicking  the hair  to the  head.  More  permanent straightening solutions came  when  oil was applied to the hair followed  by an iron  or hot  comb;  this created a straight look until the  hair  came  in contact with water  or high  humidity. In the  mid 1800s,  chemical straighteners were released  that  frequently contained very harsh chemicals, including  lye, and  offered  a more  permanently smooth result. Around the  turn of the 20th century, Madam C. J. Walker became a well-known entrepreneur who formulated, advertised, and sold a variety of hair straightening products for African Americans. Scientific  advances have resulted in today’s hair straightening products, which are much less harsh and more  effective at achieving permanently smooth hair.

A permanent wave is a combination of curlers and chemicals applied  to the hair to change the texture but instead of changing curly hair to straight, it makes straight hair curly. Available at hair salons, as well as through home products like Ogilvie’s Home Perm,  permanents have  frequently been  the  butt  of jokes  when  their  results  don’t  match the intent. Quite damaging to hair, both straightening and  waving products today attempt to mitigate their  damage  by conditioning the hair with separate procedures after  the  curling or  straightening agents  have  been  washed away. Many of the conditioners mentioned in various  shampoo/crème rinse combinations target  hair that  is damaged or dry due to permanents and straighteners.







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