Who Invented Shampoo?

As long as there have been people there has been bathing of various kinds, and as soon as people began to settle down and begin to form settlements, towns and civilisations, people found new ways to keep their bodies clean.

Whilst we often think of shampoo as a relatively modern product, often credited to Bengali entrepreneur Sake Dean Mahomed, natural shampoo has a much earlier and more diverse history than this, with various different ancient hair cleaning traditions predating modern formulations.

The Early Candidates

Shampoo, much like early soap, was often the byproduct of a lot of native foods and grains, so different continents would have very different traditions.

For example, in Indonesia, early shampoo was made from the husks and straw of rice plants that could not otherwise be eaten. These were burned into an alkaline ash and when mixed with water formed a lather that worked more like a hair scrub.

It cleaned the hair but needed an additional dose of coconut oil to keep it moisturised, whilst later modern shampoos.

On the other hand, Filipinos traditionally used the bark of St Thomas’ Bean to create a lather to clean the scalp. This technique, known as Gugo in the Philippines is still used to this day in hair tonics.

As well as this, Native American tribes, particularly those in what is now coastal California, used extracts from plants such as the spreading wood fern for shampoo purposes, whilst civilisations based near the Andes instead used a byproduct of quinoa.

Quinoa seeds are a very popular protein-rich grain around the world, but before they could be eaten, the saponins needed to be washed off otherwise the raw seeds could cause minor poisoning and intestinal pain.

The byproduct, much like soapwort, creates a soapy lather that Andean civilisations used as a shampoo.

However, possibly the earliest direct descendent of modern shampoo came from the Indian subcontinent, often taking advantage of similar saponins to those found in quinoa.

The earliest effective shampoo that we are aware of used soapberries, also known as Sapindus, that created a lather that in early Sanskrit texts was known as “phenaka” when combined with Indian gooseberry and a range of other herbs.


Shampoo Goes West

The man widely credited with bringing shampoo to the United Kingdom is Sake Dean Mahomed, who was a surgeon and travelling entrepreneur.

Mr Mahomed, who was the first Indian to publish a book in English and also introduced the curry to Europe, introduced with the help of his Irish wife Jane Daly the concept of shampooing, eventually creating a massage bathhouse in Brighton in 1814.

Initially, shampooing was seen as a service and not a product to buy, so a person wanting their hair shampooed would go to a stylist and get it washed there, often using a range of different concoctions.

Shampoo was also primarily a solid, much like some modern solid shampoos, where a stylist (and later a customer once commercial shampoos started being sold) would create a lather and use that with water to make it softer, silkier and more manageable.

It would take until 1900 for Josef Wilhelm Rausch to develop Champooing, a liquid shampoo.

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