The Interesting Story of Hair and Hair Loss Remedies Throughout History


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that an estimated 50 million men and 30 million women suffer from complete or partial loss of their hair.

How one prepares and presents their hair is inextricably tied up with one’s self-esteem and confidence. While not garnering that much attention, partial or complete hair loss can be devastating, and it is an enormous problem. Read on for a brief discussion on the history of regrow hair products and treatments, with a quick look at how evolutionary biology pertains, and finally a look at where the hair loss remedies and research currently stands.

Factors, as varied as religion, politics, social norms, cultures, and sub-cultures have all played a big part in the complex and always evolving interplay that informs which hairstyles are in vogue at any given time and location.

Two threads, though, run through all of the above influences. These two commonalities can be viewed across the continents and through the ages, mainly because they are rooted in human evolutionary biology.

The first thread is that a good-looking head of hair often denotes youth and fundamental well-being.  

The second thread has to do with how men and women have historically used their hair. Men tend to use their hair to impress upon potential adversaries, friends and potential mates a virility and an all-encompassing well-being and health. Women have historically aimed for beautiful and feminine qualities in the presentation of their hair.

Male and female pattern baldness, which accounts for much of shockingly high numbers above, can cause much distress. This can take the form of embarrassment, loss of confidence and, especially for men–whom usually see their hairline begin to recede much earlier in life than women—-an early reckoning with the realities of getting older.

The history of people trying to find better methods of hair care and deal with hair loss stretches back into the mists of pre-history. Up until about the beginning of the 19th century, wigs were typically worn as a cosmetic fix for baldness. King Louis XIII in the 17th century popularized the use of large and elaborate powdered wigs by judges, governors, courtiers and the wealthy. To these people, such wigs represented a level of power and prestige far removed from the common folk.

The American and French Revolution spelled the demise of wigs worn as this kind of status symbol, as the nobility and royalty entered into a permanent decline in popularity and relevance.

The next 100 years or so of the 19th century saw the height of the much-satirized “snake oil” era of charlatans and conmen. These traveling showmen and salesmen touted up the “modern medical” and “miraculous” qualities of their hair growth oils, pills, lotions, shampoos and nutritional supplements.

As the industrial revolution began to enter into early adulthood towards the turn of the 20th century, these and countless other sham products slowly lost their market share. With the development of germ theory and the expanding application of the scientific method to medicine and other fields in the West, attention was soon finally being turned to evidence-based hair research. The search was then on for a legitimate treatment for hair growth.

The past 100 plus years of legitimate research into pharmaceutical remedies for hair loss–along with the cutting-edge research going on currently into gene therapies and the promising tentative results from stem cell research– is at last bearing some fruit. While the days of the prototypical snake oil salesmen are gone, the same idea that forms the basis of these pitches is finding a second life on the internet, in infomercials and especially on the radio. The devices getting pitched, such as LEDs, lasers, and electronic shocking gadgets, are really just a more modern take on the old oils and lotions. Research studies have found these products to be ineffective in the two main aims of hair loss treatment: stopping hair loss from happening and aiding in regrowing hair.

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