Bear grease, onion po­made and other men’s hair prod­ucts

The restora­tion of hair loss has long been an ob­ses­sion – as old ar­ti­cles and ad­verts in ‘The Ir­ish Times’ show

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health From The Archives - Louise Ní Chríodáin

Even the most hir­sute hip­ster might be awed by the groom­ing habits of the late 19th century, when Ir­ish men worked hard to cul­ti­vate the hair on their face, and to keep hold of the hair on their head.

Hair-brush­ing by ma­chin­ery was just one trend, avail­able to Dublin­ers in 1864 at a num­ber of city cen­tre lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the Gar­ri­son and Univer­sity Hair Cut­ter on Grafton Street, and Mons Pru­vot’s on D’Olier Street where “Ro­tary Mo­tion – Cap­il­lary At­trac­tion” could be en­joyed while listening to “first class mu­sic on a first class Paris or­gan”.

In 1873, men at­tached the “Pa­tent Mous­tache Pro­tec­tor” to their cups, “to pro­tect the mous­tache from liq­uids while drink­ing”, and by 1890 the “Mous­tache Trainer” “for con­trol­ling and cor­rect­ing this highly prized mas­cu­line ap­pendage” had ap­peared.

How­ever, from the 1860s to the turn of the century it was the pre­ven­tion, and restora­tion, of hair loss that was cen­tral to the prof­itable busi­ness of male – and some­times fe­male – groom­ing.

Prepa­ra­tions of­ten served a dual pur­pose.

Mr Fox promised: “Lux­u­ri­ant Whiskers or Mus­taches – My for­mula forces them to grow heav­ily in six weeks upon the smoothest face . . . and a sure rem­edy for bald­ness.”


JJ Gra­ham & Co Med­i­cal Hall “had much plea­sure in in­form­ing the No­bil­ity, Gen­try, and pub­lic gen­er­ally that they have suc­ceeded, af­ter con­sid­er­able re­search, in dis­cov­er­ing a most ef­fec­tual rem­edy for Bald­ness . . . ” Gra­ham’s em­pha­sised that their Alope­cian Balm “had no in­ju­ri­ous in­flu­ence on the skin”. This was to dis­tin­guish it from con­coc­tions which had been found to fea­ture poi­sonous lead, mak­ing hair loss the least of a cus­tomer’s wor­ries!

One such sus­pect prepa­ra­tion was Mrs S Allen’s “World Hair Re­storer and Zy­lob­al­sa­mum”. Jux­ta­posed un­der re­ports of Fe­nian con­spir­a­cies, court re­ports and lit­er­ary so­ci­ety notes, for decades this for­mula vowed to “re­store faded Gray or Faded Hairs to its youth­ful colour” and “cause hair to grow on bald spots”.

Other hair and hair loss prod­ucts had of­fen­sive, if not dan­ger­ous, in­gre­di­ents. Bear grease was one com­mon com­po­nent, and King’s Span­ish Onion Po­made – “It Never Fails” – noted in 1878 “all ob­jec­tion­able odour re­moved, re­tain­ing the won­der­ful stim­u­lat­ing prop­er­ties of the Span­ish Onion”.

An­other more toxic Ibe­rian in­gre­di­ent, Span­ish Fly – the bee­tle more com­monly known as an aphro­disiac – was har­nessed as the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent in Alex Ross’s Can­tharides Oil, “which speed­ily pro­duce whiskers and thick­ens hair”.

Crushed bee­tles retained their pop­u­lar­ity. Recipes for the preser­va­tion of hair in an 1877 column in­cluded: “Mac­er­ate a drachm of pow­dered can­tharides in an ounce of spir­its of wine. Soak it well dur­ing a fort­night, and then fil­ter. Take 10 parts of this tinc­ture, and rub it with 90 parts of cold lard. Add a lit­tle essence of berg­amot, or any other scent. Rub this po­made well into the head night and morn­ing. In ninety-nine cases out of a hun­dred, this ap­pli­ca­tion, if con­tin­ued, will re­store the hair.”

Ten years later a Bally­bro­phy reader was ad­vised to ap­ply “bone mar­row with 60 drops of tinc­ture of can­tharides to the ounce”.

“Celebrity” in­flu­ence was a com­mon ploy to en­tice cus­tomers. Mrs Birch, Hair Cut­ter and Per­fumer To HRH the Prince of Wales, rec­om­mended Par­alachne Hair Re­storer “. . . for weak, fall­ing off hair, or Bald­ness, and for the growth of Whiskers and Eye­brows.”

Fans of the Crown might also be per­suaded by: “The Queen’s Hair Em­bel­lisher – Beethams Cap­il­lary Hair Fluid is now used by many of the Royal Fam­ily, and most of the Ladies and Gentle­man at the Court . . . ”

Mean­while, Mrs Terry, “pa­tro­n­ised by the Royal Fam­ily, No­bil­ity and Fac­ulty” reg­u­larly vis­ited Dublin to as­sist in the re­cov­ery of hair lost through “ill­ness, or res­i­dence in warm cli­mates, ca­sual bald­ness, or gray hairs resulting from so­lic­i­tude or mor­bid af­fec­tions, hair that is in­clined to weak­ness, or fall­ing off from the head by con­tin­ual part­ing, or any other cause”.

Ad­vice from med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als was al­ways news­wor­thy, like that from Prof Cameron at the 1873 Dublin Ex­hi­bi­tion: “as long as the skin be­came rosy on fric­tion it was pos­si­ble to lessen the ten­dency to bald­ness. Fric­tion was an ex­cel­lent rem­edy – gentle but long-con­tin­ued. If any ap­pli­ca­tion was re­ally of use, phos­pho­rized oil was the most likely.”

In 1876, a Bri­tish con­sul in Rus­sia vouched for a dis­cov­ery: “One of his ser­vants, whose head re­sem­bled the egg of an os­trich, was amazed to find a fresh crop of mag­nif­i­cent hair to ap­pear. When trim­ming the lamps he was in the habit of wip­ing his hands, be­smeared with petroleum, upon his bald head, and hence the ‘fresh crop’. . .”

“It’s A Fact”, de­clared the ads for M’Master’s Uni­ver­sal Hair Re­storer “that the hair will never fall out if the skin of the head be kept free from disease, such as dan­druff . . .” Sci­en­tist M. Ser­bouraud took a sim­i­lar po­si­tion in 1898, blam­ing a bac­te­rial mi­crobe for poi­son­ing the hair at its roots. His proof? A rab­bit in­oc­u­lated with the mi­crobe “was en­tirely bald”!

Count­less other sup­po­si­tions on hair loss were ad­vanced. Dr Startin told the Hair­dressers Guild in 1887 that, “or­di­nary bald­ness in men and women, apart from the nat­u­ral fall­ing off of the hair in old age, was due to fever, gout, much study, vi­o­lent emo­tion, in­di­ges­tion, want of proper at­ten­tion in dress­ing, cut­ting and wash­ing, tight hats, ex­treme heat or cold, tight plait­ing, and the wear­ing of heavy pads or head-dresses.”

And in 1895 Dr Les­lie Philips warned “. . . the ‘New Wo­man’ against wear­ing her hair short. The cause of bald­ness in man, he says, is the fact that he cuts hair . . . by clip­ping the hair we re­move the gentle trac­tion on the bulb and fol­li­cle which the nat­u­ral weight of the hair ex­er­cises, and which con­sti­tutes the es­sen­tial and nat­u­ral stim­u­lus to sup­ply the hair-pro­duc­ing struc­tures.”

Fi­nally, in 1899 a hair trans­plant ex­per­i­ment is re­ported to the Con­stantino­ple Med­i­cal So­ci­ety. Me­na­hem Ho­dara “bores a hole in the scalp and in­serts a hair, which some­times takes root and grows”.

The time and pain in­volved in this pro­ce­dure led our re­porter to de­duce that: “the rem­edy is worse than the disease.”

When trim­ming the lamps he was in the habit of wip­ing his hands, be­smeared with petroleum, upon his bald head, and hence the ‘fresh crop’

From the 1860s to the turn of the century, the pre­ven­tion and restora­tion of hair loss was a money-spin­ner. Left: San­dell’s Hair. The Ir­ish Times – , De­cem­ber 8th, 1877. Right: Fri­day, April 9th, 1875. ■


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