Tints of time: the history of hair color

Tints of time: the history of hair color

If you are rockin’ a hair color that isn’t what your momma gave you… you have malaria to thank for that. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Hair dye, much like shaving and barber poles, has had a colorful history.

The history of hair color

So let’s go back, waaaaaaay back, to the first reported uses of henna-based hair color from about 1500 BCE in Egypt. The motivations for this milestone are not particularly exciting: to solve the age-old problem of grey hair. The hair color options were similarly thrilling: you could get black, black, or…

The trend continued in Greece and Rome, leading to the first permanent hair color. First they tried plants, but later found those were toxic and used a fermented leech mixture instead (yum!).  As soon as different colors came into play, it became a way to mark members of a given class. Around 300 BCE in  Rome, noblewomen would dye their hair red, middle-class woman chose blond, and poorer women were left with darker options. There was a similar trend in 100 BCE, when high class members of the Celtic Gauls would use red hair dye to demonstrate their elite status or other unnatural colors to intimidate their opponents on the battlefield.

Changing with the time

By 27 BCE, hair color played a very different (and interesting) role in Rome… that was legally enforced! All prostitutes in the Roman Empire were required to have blond hair as a mark of their profession. If you didn’t have a wig, you used ash and plant mixture to achieve this look But, as quickly as hair trends change, so did the meaning of different hair colors. Remember how popular red was among the nobles? That was true until a genetic mutation resulted in red hair occurring naturally in Scotland. While you’d think this would be celebrated given all the hype it got for centuries, it was instead associated with witchcraft. So… red is out (until Queen Elizabeth the First says otherwise). Now blond is totally the color associated with angelic innocence.

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You ain’t seen nothing yet

Still wondering what this has to do with malaria? Well, you’ll have to come back to find out! New cultures, concoctions and colors will emerge… in the second part of our series. While you wait for more exciting facts on the history of hair color, take a minute to read our other interesting stories on our blog!

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