Shampoo Is Dead, Long Live Shampoo
The sudsy soap isn't dying; it's returning to its roots as smelly stuff you rub into your head.
The forefront of hair care today is to refrain from washing it every single day. A rinse in the shower is allowed but in this brave new world, popular hair-care products—shampoos, conditioners, etc.—are to be used intermittently, if at all.
Curly-haired woman have been given this advice for years (for the love of your scalp and your boingy curls, do not subject them to oil-stripping shampoos!), but in the past few years, straight-haired woman have been getting in on this, too. And in the past few months, a legitimate hair-care professional, Michael Gordon, who created Bumble & Bumble, has lifted this trend from its vaguely crunchy, no-poo adherents and launched it into the mainstream with $5 per ounce cleansing cream—an "'un-shampoo' with no detergent for frizz-free hair" and "a much happier scalp."
These products contain rosehip oil, primrose oil, aloe leaf juice, jojoba seed oil, sunflower seed oil, peppermint oil, plus a number of less "natural"-sounding compounds. "We just reinvented hair care," the company says, and it's certainly giving consumers a product unlike the one they're accustomed to. ("There are no bubbles. There is no lather," wrote one tester.) But go back far enough, and this new trend sounds a lot like the first "shampoos" to make it west from India.
The word "shampoo" comes from Hindi; it's an imperative of the word chāmpnā—to press. A shampoo, as the British came to understand it during colonization, involved a nice rub down of the head with fragrant oils. This sort of relaxing head massage came to Britain in the 1800s with Sake Dean Mohamed, who opened a bathhouse in Brighton that offered shampooing treatments, too. He eventually started treating British royalty and was designated "Shampooing Surgeon."
These early shampoos were a luxury that was much closer to the no-poo movements of today—rub various alkali, acid or nice-smelling things into your scalp every so often, and your head would benefit. The idea caught on, and by the 1930s, Procter & Gamble produced the first synthetic shampoo, Drene.
An early ad gives a clear sense of what the hair-care regime at the time looked like: "It isn't oil, it isn't soap—it isn't anything you've heard of before," the ad said. It promised to eliminate vinegar, lemon, and other "special rinses."
Instead, Drene introduced the feature perhaps most associated with shampoo today—"a glorious, billowy lather. Five times more lather than soap."
But, just like today's trendiest hair-care regimes, Drene was not for everyday use. "The Drene Way...simply calls for one or two shampoos a week," the ad said. That was actually a lot for the time; it wasn't until the turn of the century that women were told to wash their hair more than once a month. In the 1950s, the best beauty advice was still advocating for washing hair "frequently"—every two weeks, at least.
It wasn't until the 1970s, NPR reports, that shampoo manufacturers started advocating for an everyday wash. Today it might be time to start going back in time when it comes to hair care (although perhaps not when it comes to hair styles).