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Old-fashioned haircare tips for more beautiful hair, the way they did it 100 years ago

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How women from 100 years ago got such beautiful hair (1918)
No doubt, this first author’s admonition that “in no case should the hair be washed more frequently than once in two weeks” will cause most of us to shudder. But read on, and you’ll soon see her advice for those dealing with dandruff… and then a two-week interval between shampoos won’t seem quite so bad anymore.

Reminder: This is seriously old-timey stuff, and very few of these tips would be recommended nowadays. Also, the information about other things (like balding) should be taken with a large grain of salt.

1902 The Delineator hats

Old-fashioned haircare tips: Her crowning glory

How she may keep it bright and glossy, how prevent it from falling out, and by what means she can keep away the white locks that tell of age’s advance.

by Marion Martineau

Woman’s crown of beauty is her hair!

No need to tell her of it. She knows it and recognizes it. Let a woman’s hair begin to fall out, and away she rushes to the druggist to get a tonic. Let it continue to fall, and she goes to a massage operator, a head masseuse — one who understands the art of manipulating the scalp in such a manner as to stimulate the roots of the hair.

Let her hair grow gray, become faded in tone, or in any way get “out of sorts,” for hair can really get out of sorts, then there is real trouble, for well a woman knows that her best beauty is threatened.

There may have been some time a beautiful woman afflicted with a bald head. But if so, her name is not on record. All the world’s famous women have had heads of hair, or at least they have had hair that could be prettily arranged, and the records have yet to tell of a woman who could be pretty in spite of poor hair.

The low-growing hair, giving the forehead that wide, calm look which is demanded by certain types of beauty, does not belong to all. Nor are the curling side locks within reach of everybody. High foreheads are an American affliction, but the American woman overcomes the evil a little by the tasteful ways in which she dresses her hair.

Pretty hair should be fluffy, it should be glossy, it should be sufficiently abundant to clothe the head nicely, and it should be even in color.

Her crowning glory: Tips for more beautiful hair (1902)

The color question

The question of color is one that bothers every woman with a head of hair. Her hair may be uneven in tone, shading from light to dark and looking faded in places. Again, it may be actually streaked with a long light lock trending its way through hair much deeper in color. Or the whole head, while of the same color, may have a curiously drab and dull look, without “bloom,” as the French put it.

Gray hair offers still another problem, one of the most serious of all hair problems.

To meet the color question fairly and squarely there is only one thing to be done. If the hair has been neglected and has grown gray, or if it is decidedly streaked, or if it is in any way peculiarly marked by nature, a light streak and a dark one, there is but one solution — and that solution is hair dye.

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The hair must be made all of one color, and to do this select the best dye obtainable and follow directions. There are home-made dyes that are not as good and it is unsafe to experiment with them. Buy, therefore, the best and do not deviate as much as one hair’s breadth from the printed rules for use.

But these cases are the extreme ones, the cases that occur only once in a while. And the rules which hold for these rare ones are not applicable to the others. For the majority of women, the best treatment for the hair consists in the right kind of a shampoo, in a skillful massaging, in a little clever handling afterward — and that is all.

Hair that is faded and drab-looking has been known to reclaim itself under the familiar egg shampoo: Take a half cake of oily soap. Select one that is recommended for its oily properties, and put it on the stove to melt, cutting it first in little pieces. Let it rest in a double boiler and cover it with a pint of water. When melted, remove from the fire and let cool. Beat into the cold soapy water one egg and add a few drops of ammonia.

Tips for more beautiful hair (1902)

Old-fashioned haircare tips: A brisk shampoo

In dealing with mixtures in which there is ammonia or melted soap, a great deal of care must be taken that the eyes are not injured. It is best to have an assistant who will operate the soapy mixture while the patient rests her head against the edge of the wash basin, a towel held to her eyes.

This mixture should lather easily and is intended for the massage of the scalp and hair. Never rub soap directly upon the hair, for it sticks and cannot be removed with ever so many washings, but the mixture, on the other hand, is easily managed.

In washing clothes, it is the custom to allow them to remain awhile in the suds. So, in washing the hair, the head should remain saturated for a few minutes that the soapy water may do its cleansing work.  Let the operator manipulate the suds for, say, five minutes.

The rinsing should be done with a spray. The little sprayer with which flowers are sprinkled is better than nothing, but it really costs so little to own a pipe of rubber with a sprinkler attached to it that most women are willing to afford the little luxury.

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The water should be hot at first, then cold. With homemade contrivances, it is difficult to regulate the heat, but it can be done, and the result is a clean, smooth, sweet-smelling scalp.

The matter of drying is managed in various ways, one of which is by continual fanning. Stretching the hair out in the sun is good, while hanging it before a grate fire, if the weather will permit, is best of all. However it is done, the hair should be well-dried and there should be no thick, clinging feeling to it. A dainty custom of scenting the locks comes from Paris. A little cap of fine muslin, filled with sachet powder, is slipped on over the head and the hair bundled up into it, a permanent scent is thus imparted.

1902 The Delineator bright dresses fashion

Scenting the hair

An excellent scent for the hair is made from oil of rose geranium. Take a few drops of the oil and add, a third of the quantity of glycerine. Pour upon absorbent cotton and roll the cotton round and round until quite a piece is moistened. Now spread out the cotton until it makes a flat piece like a pancake and sew it into thin silk. This can be placed in the crown of the little scented cap to impart extra fragrance to the hair. Be careful, and remember that you are dealing with an oil. If left on more than fifteen minutes, it will oil the hair too much.

All sorts of devices for perfuming the hair are employed, one of these being the tying of a ribbon around the head at night to which are attached little soft sachet bags, all hanging from ribbons of different lengths.

No hair scent is ever permanent. It must be often renewed. Just as your dinner must be eaten daily, so also must your scent sachet give forth its daily supply. When you come to think of it, perfumery should not “last” — it should not be expected to do so. But it should be renewed every day.

Hair which shows dandruff in an unpleasant manner needs shampooing. That is the first step in its cure. Often that which is mistaken for dandruff is merely dust and will disappear if the hair be treated frequently to a shampoo. But in no case should the hair be washed more frequently than once in two weeks. Nothing cures dandruff as quickly as oiling the head. This seems to heal the scalp and remove all tendency to a scaly condition.

But oil, on the other hand, is unpleasant, and the scalp must be cured without causing the hair to become greasy or to suffer in any way.

A famous singer applied to a hair specialist for treatment, complaining of excess of dandruff. The specialist began by manipulating the scalp very thoroughly, though lightly, with almond oil. The quantity used was small and the scalp was thoroughly gone over. Perhaps a few drops did the whole work. After a week of this treatment, massaging the scalp every other day with the tips of the fingers anointed with the oil, the singer’s scalp was entirely healed.

The whitened locks

While gray hair is honorable, it is not always pretty or becoming. Seldom does the possessor enjoy it. To prevent gray hair, there is nothing like taking care of the hair while the roots are young and vigorous. A shampoo once a month, a little light brushing twice a week for five minutes with a soft brush, letting down the hair at night, dressing it in different ways so that the pins do not come always on the same spots, nourishing the roots with a good tonic — all these things tend to keep the hair from growing gray.

Roots that have grown feeble can be stimulated by a light massage. Lift the hair lightly with the fingers, just so that the scalp is massaged by the fingertips. This is the treatment advised for those who find the hair gray or out of condition.

Golden hair is frequently produced by shampooing the hair with hot water, to which a little kitchen soda is dissolved. The soap should be kitchen soap, and after it is rinsed off, then the washing soda is used. Finally, the hair is well rinsed and dried in the sun. This will generally brighten hair that is inclined to be of a drabbish hue, instead of the ruddy gold that is so much admired. But the process is apt to be harmful and is not recommended.

Edwardian woman hairstyles

Thinning hair or baldness

A correspondent who signs herself Mrs J R writes that her hair is getting thin and that she dreads baldness. “I wash my hair often,” says she, “and brush it for fifteen minutes every night before retiring. Yet it continues to come out.”

The latest theory in hair preservation is that hair can be best preserved by letting it alone. A limited amount of neglect improves the hair.

This is particularly demonstrated in the case of men who become bald, universally, at an early age. Poor men, who work hard and have no time to spend upon shampoos and fancy brushes, do not complain of baldness.

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It is the man of wealth, the one who washes his head at least once a day, and maybe three times. Who brushes it vigorously a dozen times a day with a stiff hairbrush, who puts on perfumes and who otherwise ill-treats his scalp — this is the man who becomes bald. The man with less time and opportunity preserves his head of hair all his life.

The woman who finds herself getting bald should not use a hairbrush any oftener than is absolutely necessary. She should not wash her head more frequently than once in six weeks; she should use no alcohol on her head; she should not wear a switch if she can help it, and she should give her hair a chance.

Don’t worry the roots. Hair is the hardest thing in the world to kill. Let it alone and you will never be bald, or your chances will be greatly lessened.


More questionable advice from the olden days on how to make your hair more beautiful (1914)

Reader question

Dear Mrs Thompson: Please give me a good shampoo or tonic that is not harmful for falling hair. I am only twenty years old, have no scalp disease or dandruff, but have falling hair. Also, will too frequent shampooing cause falling hair?

Please tell me how I can have pretty hair and lots of it. Tell me what to use to make it look alive and make it grow.

How to make your hair more beautiful (1914)

Answer from columnist Mrs Elizabeth Thompson, for Heart and Home Problems:

It may be that your general health needs to be improved. You can not hope to have good healthy hair unless your whole body is good and healthy. Take plenty of outdoor exercise (not too violent), eat nourishing food, sleep at least nine hours every night, keep clean inside and out.

Now for the hair: The great secret of pretty hair is cleanliness and muscle. The cleanliness applies to your brushes and combs as well as to the hair. The muscle applies to brushing. Get a medium stiff brush which will reach through the hair to the scalp, and brush your hair thoroughly every day, giving it at least 100 good, firm strokes. This means EVERY day.

Once a week, dip this brush in kerosene (coal oil) and brush the hair thoroughly with it. Kerosene is about the safest germicide you can use, and a little kerosene on the brush is good for the hair. [Modern day editor’s note: This is really not a good idea.]

Beauty for women from 1911 - Ladies Home Journal magazine cover

To take out the superfluous oil, rub the scalp daily with a mixture of alcohol, two ounces; witch hazel, two ounces; resorcin, 14 grains.

Every night, before retiring, rub a little bit of castor oil into the scalp and gently massage the scalp. Let your hair have plenty of air and light.

The hair may seem to come out a bit worse at first, but in a month you will see an improvement.

Once every three or four weeks is often enough for a shampoo. Use eggs for shampooing. Beat up two eggs, rub well into the hair and scalp, let dry. Then rinse out the eggs with lukewarm water into which you have put a little ammonia or baking soda. Rinse the hair several times in clear lukewarm water after this, then brush it dry.

By following these directions carefully, you will find yourself a quite different looking person in three months. But you must keep at it everlastingly if you want to be and stay good looking.


Chicago Tribune hairstyles 1911

Advice on how to help grow and manage your hair (1911)

We have many calls for a tonic which will stimulate the growth of the hair. There are so many good preparations, that one hardly knows which to recommend; but more depends on the person using the tonic, and the state of health, then I can tell you.

Washing your hair

The hair should be kept clean and the scalp, also, and this will require more common sense than anything else. In some localities, or vocations, the hair will require oftener shampooing than in others. Then, too, a shampoo that is excellent for one kind of hair is not good for another, or, the shampoo that is beneficial at one time, or for one condition is not suitable for an other. This is one reason why directions often fall to bring desired results.

Sometimes, and under some conditions, if the hair is washed with a soap lather, the soap is not easy to remove; for this condition, the juice of half a lemon may be added to the rinse water, or a half a teacupful of vinegar, and this will kill the sticky alkaline feeling, taking out the last trace of soap and giving the hair a silky lustre and prevent dryness.

If you will ask for the information needed, I will endeavor to answer your particular case. But for satisfactory results, you must depend on yourself. Treatment for oily hair should not be the same as for dry hair; if there is dandruff, this should be attended to. A slight amount of dandruff, the natural falling off of the scarf skin of the scalp, is natural, and frequent cleansing and care will remove it.

Movie actress Pearl White hairstyle 1911

For the hair, absolute cleanliness is imperative, and the better health of body one has, the cleaner the scalp and hair. For people who have time, and like to fuss with such things, there are endless recipes — though a good olive oil soap properly applied and removed is as good as anything.

Drying your hair

Much harm is done, too, in drying hair. Often it is exposed to great heat, which takes the life out of it; at no time should it be dried close to the stove or heater, and the hair should not be wiped by towels that cast on a fine lint. The towels should be warm and soft and the hair should be shaken while drying to make it fluffy.


How women from 100 years ago got such beautiful hair (1918)

By Lucrezia Bori, the Famous Spanish Prima Donna

Healthy hair should have a natural gloss, and this can be stimulated by rubbing the hair with the hands after it has been washed and dried. It is generally known to makers of fine furniture that the palm of the hand, if rubbed well on almost any surface, will give that surface a better polish than nearly any manufactured preparation.

How women from 100 years ago got such beautiful hair (1918)

Similarly, you can observe the careful manicure give the right kind of polish to your nails by finally rubbing them with the palm of her hand. If, therefore, you want your hair to have the beautiful gloss that is so admired, there are two rules to observe:

Keep the hair free from oil.

Keep the scalp in a healthy condition.

If you will do these things and then rub the hair with the palms of your hands after washing, you can have as lovely a gloss as any beauty who devotes most of her time to the care of her person.

Oily hair is a foe of healthy gloss. There are several ways of bringing to a normal state hair that is too rich in oils.

One is to increase the frequency of washing. We are getting away from the old idea that hair will be ruined if it is washed more than once or twice a month. Hair acquires dust and foreign particles more readily than the face and hands that we wash several times daily.

Good brushing removes some of this, but for thoroughly cleansing the hair and scalp, we must depend on the weekly bath of the hair. A good wash for the hair is the following:

A simple hair wash to help you get beautiful hair

Thoroughly mix one tablespoonful each of salt, glycerine, borax and powdered sulfur, dissolving the mixture in one quart of soft water or rainwater. Let this stand for a week, shaking every day. This water strained is one of the best washes for oily hair.

A simpler waah is to add one heaping teaspoonful of baking soda to one quart of soft water. Wash the hair thoroughly in it. Then rinse the hair in a quart of water to which one tablespoonful of salt has been added. Wash again and rinse in clear water twice.

How women from 100 years ago got such beautiful hair (1918)

Tip for beautiful hair: How to remove excess oil

Another simple remedy to remove oil from the hair and to stimulate a healthy, clean scalp is to rub ordinary table salt into the hair three times a week for a few weeks.

Here is a remedy that may be applied to oily hair:

2 cupfuls of distilled or rainwater

1 tablespoonful bicarbonate of soda

6 ounces of eau de cologne

Mix well and keep corked after it is bottled.

Rub this into the scalp with the tips of the fingers several times a week and it will help wonderfully to check oiliness.


Haircare questions answered: How to get beautiful hair

Please tell me of a dry shampoo that will keep my hair in good condition. It is very oily and an ordinary shampoo does not help. – Alta J.B.

Here is a splendid dry shampoo that is particularly good for an oily, moist scalp:

Alcohol (95 per cent): 1 quart
Table salt: 1 ounce
Quinine: 1-6 ounce

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