Shampoo, like a lot of the cleaning products we use on our bodies, has had a rather unique history of starting as a collection of natural treatments, before getting increasingly industrialised and chemical-laced, before a return to more natural products like the organic shampoo bar.
However, the name and indeed the concept of shampooing your hair dates back a lot longer and spread quite slowly.
Soaking Through History
A lot of early civilisations had their own traditions and ways to create shampoos from the byproducts of common staple foods.
For example, Andean civilisations in South America would wash out the bitter saponin coating from quinoa grains before they ate them, using this as a shampoo, whilst in early Indonesia, the ashes from the husks of rice were mixed with water to create a lather which could be used with coconut oil.
However, the shampoo that can be traced back the furthest and has the greatest influence on modern hair washing is on the Indian subcontinent.
As far back as five thousand years ago, the early civilisations of the Indus Valley had a treatment made with dried gooseberry, soapberries and several other herbs that created the lather "phenaka".
This was used for thousands of years because the natural ingredients were relatively widely available and the result was a silky-soft sheen that helped hair stay manageable.
It also became the basis for even more hair-washing traditions as soon as traders started to make the trip to and from Europe.
Early colonial traders during the Age of Discovery that reached India would not only trade goods but also ideas.
During their daily bath, many of these traders would learn about body massage and hair cleansing, known in Hindi as cā̃pō (pronounced sha-po), which was defined as “to knead, press or soothe”.
This morphed into “champu” when the traders returned to Europe with natural hair tonics in hand and this was the first use of the term in the English language, but it would take one man to turn it from a habit known primarily by colonials to a national phenomenon.
The Travelling Shampooist
Before he would receive the honorific Sake, Dean Mahomed was a Bengali travelling surgeon and businessman who would blaze many trails, becoming the first Indian to publish a book in English, introducing Indian food to Europe and introducing Britain to shampoo.
Originally advertised as an alternative to the popular relaxing Turkish baths in the early 19th century, Mr Mahomed’s shampooing would become the most popular part of the treatment, and it would not be long before word spread beyond Brighton.
It was part showmanship and part marketing puffery, but there were genuine benefits and a lot of chemists and hair stylists started to make their own mixtures of soap, water and herbs, which eventually became the shampoo industry we know today.