What Did People Use Before Shampoo? [Victorians, Edwardians, Romans]

Have you ever gotten into the shower to wash your hair and wondered for a moment what would happen if shampoos didn’t exist?

Think about it for a second; what did people use before commercial shampoo became popular in the 1930s. Did generations before us have to depend on soap, water alone, or some other means to wash their hair?

Let’s take a walk through history and find out what people used in place of shampoo over the years. We’ll take a walk-through ancient time, the medieval period, through the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Get ready to discover the famous hair grooming habits of people from times past!

How Did the Ancients Wash Their Hair?

Did the ancients ever get bothered by stinky hair and think of a way to wash their hair? Surely, they did.

There were all sorts of methods and practices on hair washing amongst the ancients, but some of such practices were more widely accepted than others.

In ancient China, people washed their hair with the Cedrela plant– a fragrant woody plant that could get the dirt out of the hair. 

In Sumeria, most people used only water to wash their hair and then applied oil after to improve its shine. Could water really be enough? Maybe that’s why women often put perfume cones on their heads to keep their hair smelling nice.

The Greeks used vinegar rinses to wash their hair and lighten its color. As for Egypt, they didn’t wash their hair at all. Instead, they had an interesting practice of shaving all their off to prevent lice. Instead, they wore wigs, which they washed with citrus juice to seal the hair follicle and remove oil. 

What Was Used in The Middle Ages for Shampoo?

Before we proceed, can you make a weird guess about what people in the Middle Ages used as soap? Done? Well, people in the middle ages had several options for their hair wash, so let’s discover them all.

First of all, only nobles washed their hair often in the middle ages. Commoners only washed their hair on Saturdays because they wanted to wait till the end of the week’s activities to wash off all the sweat from the week’s work and look nice on Sunday when they worship.

Also, you needed assistance to wash your hair back then to wash your hair. Women had to remove their blouses and have someone apply minerals, herbs, and oils on their hair and scrub before pouring a pitcher of water to wash it off.

For some others, a mixture of egg whites, ash, and soap did the job well and washed their hair clean. People who could afford brandy or rum added it to beaten eggs and used it to wash their hair.

Women in some parts of Europe made tea with elm bark, reed root, willow root, and goat milk or water, and used the tea to wash their hair, believing that it would make their hair thicker. 

Hair wash options were abundant back in the middle ages, and some persons used thyme, mint, rosemary water, nettles, and vinegar to wash their hair.

Plain lye soap, whether hard or soft soap was also in the picture. It was scented to taste and used after it had been left to dry for a bit.

What Did Victorians Use for Shampoo?

In the Victorian era, shampoo recipes were often homemade, so you would find lots of them, including various ingredients. From Castile to egg, wheat bran, quillaia bark, and the like, let’s discover what the Victorians used for Shampoo.

According to the Scientific American Supplement Volumes of 1883, pure white soap and water was recommended for washing hair once or twice a 

Tar or castile soap and tepid water were also used at the time for a clean wash and to prevent slippery hair. For very oily hair, people often used soda or ammonia in small quantities.

Women also had a special monthly hair wash using eggs to lather their hair and then rinse out with water.

Vinegar and water mix was another common hair wash for women. Vinegar helped to balance their hair ph levels and improved hair shine. Some women would mix vinegar and water and use it after a Castile wash, but some others would use it alone.

Black tea was also common for washing hair, especially for people with medium to dark hair. Some persons would apply it to their hair roots before bedtime every day instead of doing a full wash. It was said to make the hair fuller. 

Rum was more than just a drink in the Victorian era because people used it to wash their hair frequently to keep it clean, disease-free, and improve hair growth. A few persons used brandy, but reports at the time said brandy tended to dry out the hair even though it strengthened the hair roots.

Rosemary was also a cleansing hair wash ingredient and had a knack for improving hair shine. Rosemary tea was a common hair wash, but the spice was also used in other ways.

How Did Edwardians Wash Their Hair?

One thing that stands out amongst the Edwardians is the fact that there was no singular rule about how often to wash your hair. In fact, the timing ranged anywhere from thrice a week to once in three weeks for Edwrdians. Let’s find out how and why.

First, German green soap was recommended as the best soap back in 1902. However, Castile soap was still famously in use.

People with oily hair also massaged their hair with alcohol three times a week to remove excess oil. As for dry hair, it was common practice to wash their hair once in three weeks to avoid losing all the natural oil and suffering from dry hair.

However, the 1905 edition of a famous publication, the Fountain of Youth went advised people to shampoo their hair once a week or as soon as it feels stick or starts to mat together.

Some techniques and ingredients for washing hair in the Edwardian era were very similar to the Victorian era, so it was common to find homemade shampoos gotten from Castile soap, wheat bran, eggs, or quillaia bark.

Beyond Castile soap, Ivory Soap made by Procter and Gamble was another option. 

What Did Romans Wash Their Hair With?

The Romans made lye soap by mixing lard, ashes, and several fats and oil and used the soap to wash their hair. Lye soap was a popular shampoo option since ancient Egyptian times.

Although the Romans bathed rather frequently, they didn’t wash their hair as often as they showered. Instead, Romans would cover their hair with caps to prevent water from getting in. But whenever they washed, of which there was no particular time, they used lye soap.

The Romans also had a customary practice of washing their hair every August 13th in honor of Diana, even if you had just washed it the night before.

Final Comments:

History is always interesting, even when you’re learning about the history of washing hair. A lot has changed over centuries and what we call ‘shampoo’ is one of such things.

While we’re thankful for the easy-to-use shampoos we have today, it is fascinating to discover what used to be the norm before the 1930s.