HAIR LOSS ∙ 2 minutes read

The unusual history of hair loss treatments

By Kirsty Mason

If history has taught us well, it’s that the blood of a bull does not make your hair grow back. Unfortunately for the Victorians, they learnt that the hard way. The blood of a bull is just one of the many bizarre methods that have been used throughout history to treat hair loss.

Let’s rewind a little and dive into the history of hair treatments:

300BC: Fat from animals and plants

If you think an overenthusiasm for hair gel was saved purely for the 1960s, you’re wrong. Way back in the day, ancient Egyptians cooked up some inventive ways of styling their hair. Analysis of mummies has found that they used fat from plants and animals to make ‘hair gel’.

A less unusual treatment that’s stood the test of time, ancient Egyptians also used castor oil to moisturise their hair and promote growth. And a lack of hair dye didn’t prevent them from seeking those jet back locks, combining juniper berries and plants and massaging it into the hair to create hair dye.

1300: Lizard tallow and swallow droppings

The Renaissance era got even more creative with their methods of hair care, using a blend of lizard tallow and swallow droppings as hair gel.

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the only role lizards had in hair treatment in the 1300s, with boiled dead lizard in oil a unique method of hair conditioning.

1800-1900: The blood of a bull

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a pill marketed as a cure for baldness contained haemoglobin, which they thought would encourage hair growth. Haemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells. Simply put, it carries oxygen and carbon dioxide through the bloodstream. Deriving it from bulls’ blood, they swallowed a pill in the hope that this protein would encourage luscious locks.

But was it all a load of… Bull…? Perhaps.

Modern day: Minoxidil and finasteride

Today, hair treatment is much more advanced. The two main methods of treatment for hair loss are minoxidil and finasteride.

Minoxidil is multi-functional, promoting hair growth by stimulating blood flow to the scalp, which provides the hair follicles with nutrient-rich blood. It also increases the diameter of the hair follicle and extends the growth stage of the hair cycle, leading to thicker, fuller hair.

Finasteride works by blocking the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT plays an important role in male pattern hair loss, decreasing the cycle of hair growth. Finasteride works by inhibiting the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT, allowing the hair to flourish.

The bottom line

Throughout history, some bizarre methods of hair treatments have been tested. Ancient Egyptians created hair gel using the fat from animals and plants. Although the way we make hair gel is now much more advanced, they also used oil to moisturise their hair - a method still used today. In the 1300s, as the Renaissance era was approaching, lizards played a crucial role in the strange methods of hair care. For hair gel, they mixed lizard tallow with swallow droppings and boiled lizards in oil for conditioner. After the Victorians and Edwardians found that the blood of a bull didn’t promote hair growth, modern treatments became much more advanced. Finasteride and minoxidil are now thought to be the most effective treatments for hair loss.

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