Hair & Color Dyes History
I am Javier Aranda Hair Color Technician (colorista) at the Hair Color Clinic Buenos Aires.
Many men and women color their hair, but have you ever considered the history and chemistry behind the art? It is very interesting and well worth sharing.
I intend to share my knowledge and love of my craft over a couple of articles to give my clients a better understanding of the how chemicals change your hair.
It might help explain why I must sometimes say, ”please do not consider coloring your hair for at least X months”, when clients come to my Hair Color Clinic in Buenos Aires for hair color correction that without sometimes strong but necessary counsel is a disaster in the making.
Man has colored hair for millennia. Archaeological autopsy and anecdotes found in ancient texts prove that hair dyes of plant and metallic oxide origins were used 1000s of years ago.
Adorning, improving and transforming one’s look with body piercing, dyes, paints and tattoos seem an almost ‘’instinctual’’ part of man’s psyche.
We trace hair dyes and color back to the greatest ancient cultures. The Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, Hebrews, Hindu and Persian peoples all record the use of hair colors for art, aesthetics, ritual, transformation and war.
Early hair dyes (sometimes toxic) were prepared by soothsayers, priests and alchemists from plant matter, metallic compounds and mixtures of the two; rock alum, quicklime and wood ash bleached Roman hair, and plant dyes made of mullein, birch bark, saffron, myrrh, and turmeric added brash streaks of color.
Henna is probably the best known and safest of the body art colors used from ancient times in many parts of the world to produce a brick-red dye.
In almost every part of the world, when foraging the forests and digging deep into the earth, ancient man harvested Mother Nature’s wonderful natural colors seen throughout our incredible planet – some of that wonderful flora a sad and distant memory.
Ancient man used many different plant extracts to dye hair throughout Asia and Europe long before modern hair dyes appeared.
Indigo, known primarily as a fabric dye, combined with henna to make light brown to black shades of dye we still use today – because it is safe and does not dry the hair. It is particularly useful for Afro-hair.
Extracts of the flowers – like chamomile to lighten hair form part of complex modern hair treatments – the barks, leaves, or nutshells of many trees combined with metals to produce many colors that still dazzle our 21st Century world.
When the ancients heard voices and recorded the words of god in books, people used powdered gold in their hair. The use of powdered gold and silver powder would again become fashionable among wealthy Europeans in the 19th century.
During the sixteenth century, hair color preparations of lead, quicklime, and salt, or silver nitrate in rose water colored hair.
Some hair colors became the rage of their age and were captured by artists. European women artificially produced golden red hair captured by many Renaissance painters by combing a solution of rock alum, black sulfur, and honey through their hair that they dried and then baked, sometimes for days, in the hot Italian sun.
Powders are not ideal to color hair, but white starches for the wealthy and chalks for the poor were all the rage during the 17th Century.
Art and craft often mixed with hair and beauty. Many waxy and soapy hair preparations found their way from the artist’s studio to a lady’s boudoir – rubbed in, washed in or applied with a wet brush, they must have been an unholy mess.
At the Hair Color Clinic Buenos Aires, all treatments come with my personal guarantee – what more can you ask – no mess, no fuss, just great color work.
My next article takes us into the 19th century, a time of great scientific advancement when chemical discoveries such as Hydrogen Peroxide (1818) provided the tools for modern day hair coloring.