Hair coloring dates to ancient times, when Greeks, Romans, and others altered their hair by applying soaps and bleaches. Many Romans preferred a black dye that consisted of leeks and boiled walnuts, while Saxons added such unlikely colors as orange, green, and blue to their hair and beards. The initial chemical hair coloring was produced in France in 1909. It consisted of a mixture of ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and the chemical paraphenylenediamine.
During the post–World War II (1939–45) years, millions of American families were entering the middle class and more women had the luxury of spending money on themselves, including their hair. Initially, however, American women were reluctant to use hair dyes. Hair coloring products were purchased in stores and applied at home, or they were put on by a hairdresser at a salon. A disadvantage of home coloring was that instructions could be misread or a mishap might occur, resulting in the hair turning an unwanted or even garish color. Another downside to early commercial hair coloring products was that they smelled awful, often like rotten eggs.
In 1950 only seven out of every one hundred women colored their hair, with most doing so primarily to eliminate gray and restore their natural color. In 1956, however, the introduction of a dyeing product called Miss Clairol brought hair coloring into the mainstream. Accompanied by a well-known advertising campaign that said "Does she or doesn't she? Hair color so natural only her hairdresser knows for sure!" Miss Clairol made hair coloring very popular.
For years only small numbers of men, in particular, aging movie stars, were known to dye their locks, but the process became increasingly popular among males in the 1990s. Still, hair coloring mostly is the domain of women. In the twenty-first century over 75 percent of all American women reportedly color their hair.
Adams, David, and Jacki Wadeson. The Art of Hair Colouring. London, England: Macmillan, 1998.
Gladwell, Malcolm. "True Colors." New Yorker (March 22, 1999): 70–81.
[ See also Volume 1, Ancient Rome: Hair Coloring ]