Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Pick expensive Romanov lustre for thinning locks. Or bravely bid goodbye to shampoo. Vijay Verghese combs through a modern dilemma
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, smarttravelasia.com