Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Ever run out of shampoo or be without and have no choice but to wash your hair with soap? As most of us know, that doesn’t always work as well as we’d like. The problem is, ordinary bath soap lacks the component necessary for cutting the natural oiliness of scalp hair.

Dirty or greasy hair in normal cases is a result of sebum oil released naturally from the scalp, and is something we all share. Unfortunately, ordinary soap is not enough to thoroughly remove the sebum oil. Starting with the Egyptians and popular for centuries were preparations made of citrus juice and water. Acid in the citrus proved to be an effective way of removing the oiliness. In time, people began mixing citrus and other fragrances with water and adding small quantities of soap. That worked as an effective shampoo until sometime during the Middle Ages when a detergent-like alternative was found to work better. Chemists hit upon the basis of our modern shampoos when they boiled water with soap and added either soda or potash, an alkaline potassium compound. This gave the mix a high concentration of negatively charged hydroxyl ions. These mixes were handed down for generations, and for a long time were the best answer for washing hair.

In the 1870s the British government took over control of India from the British East India Company and this gave Hindi-speaking Indians a larger voice in local affairs. Suddenly Indian art and fashion, along with Hindi phrases became popular in England. Hairdressers of the day took the Hindu word champo, meaning “to massage” or “knead” and fashioned the word “shampoo.” Around the same time German chemists were experimenting with the true detergents that would become modern shampoos. As for bottling, that had not yet happened. For fashionable ladies of London, a shampoo meant a wet, soapy hair wash and a scalp massage, but only under the hands of their favorite hairdresser.

Detergent-based shampoo was first produced in Germany in 1890, but the first commercial hair-cleansing preparations came along after World War I and immediately began using the name “shampoo.” In the US John Breck was the man who helped launch the shampoo business. His first goal was in finding a cure for his encroaching baldness, and following that he opened a scalp treatment center. As shampoos became more popular, he added those to his store’s shelves. In 1930 he introduced a shampoo for normal hair, and three years later one for dry hair, another for oily hair. By 1940 his stores were nationwide and Breck Shampoo became a leading seller.


  1. Another very informative post on the history of shampoo. I can remember a time when I was out of shampoo as a teenager and washed my hair with, believe it or not, Lifeboy soap. Mama couldn't believe I did that. It took lots of rinses to get it out.

  2. Having flown in with as few liquids as possible because of regulations and displaced you from the master bathroom, and even with a trip to the drugstore before even unpacking to get body wash and shampoo, I always manage to get into the shower without that purchased shampoo since it is in the other bathroom. No choice but to use the Coconut Milk shampoo on the shelf. Sure beats that brand purchased quickly at the drugstore upon arrival. Good news (for you) is that it doesn't take much on my thinning hair.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America