What You Don't Know About Shampoo

The history behind lather, rinse, and repeat. 

woman-washing-hair
Photo by Plamen Petkov

This article originally appeared on MIMI

Shampoo is good for many things. It makes you smell good, it can give you an extra little bounce, and it's a delightful substitute for bubble bath in a pinch. But where did this miracle stuff come from?

We owe a ton of gratitude to the people of ancient Egypt, who invented many of our favorite beauty products way, way back in the day (thankfully we've improved on some of their formulations, though! Eek!)—but shampoo got its start somewhere else: India.

As early as the 1500s, people in India used the pulp of a fruit called soapberries combined with some herbs and even hibiscus flowers to keep their hair on point. When British colonial traders were going back and forth between India and England, they knew a good thing when they saw it and brought the notion of shampooing your hair to Europe. Yes, it's true, prior to that, strands in the Western world were left to their own — probably quite dirty — devices.

Even once shampoo arrived on European shores, it still wasn't available in the mass market. Pretty much, it was only used by professional hair stylists — and it came in a solid form, similar to a bar of soap. Much to the delight of Jane Austen and her contemporaries, I'm sure, the ability to lather up at home became a thing in the 1800s, but people were still using the stuff very sparingly. We're talking washing your hair only once a month sparingly. These were grim times.

The New York Times announced in a 1908 article that it was fine to wash your hair every couple weeks (one would hope). Then, in the late 1920s, liquid shampoo was finally invented, making it far simpler to wash that man right out of your hair.

Dermatologists and beauty experts alike advise against daily shampooing, saying it's best to only lather up a couple times a week at most — and the NoPoo anti-shampoo movement has caught on with certain people — but I still say few things feel better and make me feel more confident than shiny clean hair.