Hair To­day, Gone To­mor­row

Pick ex­pen­sive Ro­manov lus­tre for thin­ning locks. Or bravely bid goodbye to sham­poo. Vi­jay Vergh­ese combs through a mod­ern dilemma

Hong Kong Tatler - - View From The Back -

In the palae­olithic age when I was grow­ing up, when pan­sies were flow­ers and we shouted at girl­friends over crack­ling lines for all to hear—“did you call me a MO­RON or Mor­mon?”— my grand­mother was per­fect­ing an evening rit­ual. I was scoured with co­conut husk, rubbed with aw­ful-smelling oils and then doused with cold wa­ter, some­times with the mod­est lux­ury of a bar of Pears soap. Com­posed of caus­tic soda, tal­low and glyc­erol, the soap was a fra­grant lifesaver after the pre­ced­ing trau­mas.

Strange tur­baned men would show up with bit­ter pow­dered roots that would be mixed with wa­ter and spooned down our stoutly re­sist­ing throats. My grand­mother ob­served with keen in­ter­est as her wards mu­tated from pim­ply pre-teen to ten­u­ous adult­hood. It cost us noth­ing but our pride. My younger brother has a per­ma­nent glow, though this could be on ac­count of my smack­ing his head fre­quently.

To­day this is called a spa ex­pe­ri­ence. Peo­ple cough up for­tunes to be slathered in Dead Sea mud, pum­melled and ex­fo­li­ated (which is as fright­en­ing a word as you can find in any dic­tio­nary). Cof­fee is con­sumed not at Star­bucks but in “colonic ir­ri­ga­tion” rooms while oth­ers mas­sage caf­feine sham­poo into their hair. The Mayan In­di­ans had it right when they in­vented al­co­hol en­e­mas that pro­vided an in­stant high with­out that ter­ri­ble hang­over—sen­si­ble, but prob­lem­atic if you crave a Hot Brandy Alexan­der.

One way or another, we have been trav­el­ling back in time. The blush­ingly named “anti-poo” move­ment seeks to elim­i­nate sham­poo and chem­i­cals al­to­gether. It seems a wor­thy ef­fort, and not just for ha­bit­ual tight­wads. The chief tar­get is sodium lau­ryl (or lau­reth) sul­phate, a common sham­poo in­gre­di­ent. The fer­vent green scream, “car­cino­gen,” has prompted neo-lud­dites to plod back to their Palae­olithic pas­tures de­mand­ing we all switch to bak­ing soda, vine­gar and wa­ter. It’s that sim­ple to trans­form into a gnarled-hair Ne­an­derthal.

Or you could fight back with the most ex­pen­sive sham­poos in the world, many of which have dropped the evil lau­ryl twins in favour of rose­mary, net­tle and chamomile, as with Rus­sian Am­ber Im­pe­rial (a hefty US$140 for 12 ounces of the nec­tar). Far from promis­ing a nu­clear hair melt­down, Al­terna Ten’s in­gre­di­ent list seems right out of a Tatler Restau­rant Guide, with a hint of caviar, Ital­ian white truf­fle oil and African ca­cao ex­tract.

Soap is great. Ex­cept for that shrinkwrapped stuff in ho­tel bath­rooms that can make grown men cry. A good hairdryer, like a scream­ing Pratt & Whit­ney en­gine, should leave you con­fi­dently bouf­fant. Be­ware of the timid de­signer mod­els at bou­tique ho­tels. That’s where I met the “hair whis­perer.” The ma­chine tick­led my eye­lashes and then died. That’s when you need that Rus­sian Am­ber Im­pe­rial to work its Ro­manov magic.

Vi­jay Vergh­ese is the ed­i­tor of Smart Travel Asia, smart­trav­e­la­

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