In ancient times the most civilised and polished nations were passionately fond of red hair. The Gauls had this predilection for a colour which is held in abhorrence by their descendants.
In Germany, in remote days, very light hair was considered desirable, and those to whom nature had denied this highly valued advantage employed various means to produce a resemblance to it. One of their methods was to make use of a kind of soap composed of goat's tallow and ashes of beechwood. This soap, which was called Hessian soap because it was made in Hesse, was used also to stain thegerman wigs in order to give them a "flame" colour.
Ovid tells us that the peruke-makers of Rome bought up all the spoils of German heads to gratify the caprice of the petits-maitres, who were determined to conceal their fine black hair under a light wig. The Emperor Verus had such a fondness for light hair that, in order to keep his own of that colour, he sprinkled it from time to time with pure gold, that it might be of a more brilliant yellow.
Henna is a very ancient dye. It was used, says Godfrey, by the Egyptians, then by the Hebrews, and called kopher, imitated by the ancient Greeks under the name kupros, and termed by the modern Greeks schenna. It is produced from a fragrant plant which grows luxuriously in Egypt, India, Syria, Persia and Kurdistan.
In some of the old toilet books of the eighteenth century one finds some interesting and curious recipes for hair dyes. We should not care to endorse many of these recipes. Some of them are very complicated, and not a few would be highly injurious in their effects. In a toilet handbook of the early part of the nineteenth century, entitled " The Toilette of Rank and Fashion," a recipe for staining the hair black is given as follows:
"Take of bruised gall-nuts, one pound; boil them in olive oil until they become soft; then dry them and reduce them to a fine powder, which is to be incorporated with equal parts of charcoal of the willow and common salt prepared and pulverised. Add a small quantity of lemon and orange-peel, dried and reduced to powder. Boil the whole in twelve pounds of water till the sediment at the bottom of the vessel assumes the consistence of a black salve. The hair is to be anointed with this preparation, covering it with a cap till dry, and then combing it."
Another recipe from the same book gives these directions: "Boil for half an hour, on a slow fire, equal parts of vinegar, lemon-juice and powdered litharge. With this decoction wet the hair, and in a short time it will turn black."
Science has come to the aid of the modern manufacturer of dyes, and the hair may be stained almost any colour without seriously injuring it. It may, however, be stated that no artificial colouring of the hair can in any way equal the natural tint, and that no dyes have any permanent effect. They must be continually renewed, as they only stain the hair and do not affect the natural pigmentary matter. The continued application of hair dyes has also frequently a drying effect upon the hair. Emollients, therefore, should be used in conjunction with dyes.
The following is a recipe for a very satisfactory dark brown hair dye:
Pyrogallic acid, 1/4 ounce.
Distilled water (hot), 1 1/2 ounces.
Dissolve, and when the solution has cooled, add gradually:
Rect. spt., 1/2 fluid ounce.
Another dark brown hair stain may be made up from the following prescription:
Green sulphate of iron, 2 dr.
Common salt, 1 dr.
Bordeaux wine, 12 fl. oz.
Simmer these ingredients together for five minutes in a covered glazed pipkin, then add:
Aleppo nut-galls (powdered), 2 dr., and simmer again, stirring occasionally. When the liquid has cooled, add a table-spoonful of French brandy, cork the liquid up in a bottle, and shake it well. In a day or two decant the clear portion for use.