Hair Care Crisis: "Shampooing" Circa 1883

Hair Care Crisis: "Shampooing" Circa 1883

Jennifer Hunter
Jul 31, 2014
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We love chatting about how we live now, but even more fascinating sometimes are the day-to-day lives of regular people in the past: their relationships, their jobs, their hair care? Just as we have alarmist health scares now, an 1883 New York Times writer took on one such scare with a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek essay on the hotly-debated topic of "shampooing." As he quipped, "It is astonishing that anybody is alive."

It seems that doctors of the day had come to the conclusion that shampooing was "extremely injurious to the health, and especially apt to produce diseases of the brain." The claims were that it not only irritated the eyes, but caused deafness and insanity.

The writer goes on to point out that people who were shampooed more often were likely ones who already had a condition of the scalp, leading them to seek out regular shampoos in the first place. Additionally, soap and water were perfectly fine on other parts of the body, so why should they be problematic for the scalp?

And, he says, while irritation of the eyes was, no doubt, a common side effect, the lunacy and deafness the doctors warned about could just as easily be caused by a lengthy session with an overly-chatty barber — causing your ears to shut down and your sanity to call it quits.

It feels good to know that sassy writers have and will always question crazy claims.

Read the 1883 article in the New York Times Archives.

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