Over the ages and across the world, we've sought new ways to cure baldness. Or failing a cure, for centuries we've come up with means to cover up bald patches: with wigs, hairpieces and transplants.
The modern version of the British barber and hairdresser emerged in the eighteenth century, when the barber no longer undertook medical procedures such as pulling teeth or letting blood, and the term "hairdresser" was coined. Since then, curious concoctions and contraptions have been marketed as solutions to hair loss. Here are just three...
Recipe books from the end of the seventeenth century onwards suggest bear grease: to be rubbed in with a bruised onion, after polishing the head violently with a flannel (until the bald patch goes red). Bear grease was made and marketed in Britain through to the beginning of the First World War. But if it wasn't bear fat that was the base for anti-balding products, it was another type of animal -- be it from the farmyard or man's best friend... A poem from 1777 laughs about "powder of orris, pomatum, a compound / Of hog's lard, and dog's lard, and tallow a pound".
In 1863, London's high-end hairdresser Mr Truefitt wrote a treatise on baldness, and pointed out that whatever type of grease barbers and hairdressers started out with, it had to be pure and "inodorous". He recommended taking fat from the loins.
An alternative to animal fats were plant-based oils: castor oil, for instance, or compounds. Most famous was what became known as "Macassar Oil", first widely advertised by London hairdresser Andrew Rowland at the close of the eighteenth century.
Macassar Oil was sold not only as a cure for baldness, but as an all-in-one product that could be put to all kinds of uses. It was said it repaired your hair after swimming in the sea, say -- and was a bestseller into the twentieth century.
By the way, the small cloths on the backs of chairs -- and nowadays, airline seats -- were invented to protect fabric from all sorts of oily hair products, but they were called antimacassars specifically. These typified nineteenth-century Britain and Europe. A character of the nineteenth-century German author Theodor Fontane enthusiastically rents a room just because there are no antimacassars, against which he had a strong aversion.
There have been times when hairdressing has tried to become more technologically savvy -- such as the invention of the mechanical rotary hairbrush in the mid-nineteenth century. (It didn't take off.) So in the 1920s, America's Allied Merke Institute launched its "Thermocap" device, which it claimed was based on the research of French scientists. Blasts of heat supposedly stimulated hair into growing again. Interestingly, "cold caps" are offered to some chemotherapy patients today, in an effort to prevent hair loss during treatment.
But if greases and oils sound gruesome and unpleasant, and hot or cold caps too painful, there is actually another, easier option. Even if it's ineffective. Andrew Rowland thought that one cause of baldness was too much exercise...