While shampooing has become a non-negotiable part of our showering routine, these days the focus is all too often on foam rather than the root of hair health — the scalp — and, indeed, of shampoo itself. For the modern practice of shampooing has its roots in the ancient Ayurvedic practice of head massage. Known as champi, this type of head massage, which is still practiced in India today, traditionally uses a blend of oils and herbs to balance the crown chakra, stimulate blood circulation to the scalp and nourish hair roots. The word shampoo meanwhile is derived from the Hindi word chāmpo, which means to knead or press and can be further traced back to the Sanskrit word chapayati, which means to soothe.
In a parallel thread, the origins of hair washing extend even further back in time to the 14th century BC on the Indian subcontinent and the Bronze Age Indus Civilization who created herbal pastes made from boiled reetha (Indian soapberry), amla (gooseberry), hibiscus and shikakai (acacia) to nourish the scalp and condition the hair. Around the world, other ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians used citrus juice and water to cleanse the hair, while the Greeks and Romans used vinegar rinses. In North Africa rhassoul clay, derived from the Arabic word ghassala, which means to wash, was used to clean the hair. Pre-Columbian civilizations in the Andes rinsed their hair using saponin-rich water left over after rinsing quinoa, while in Japan they used rice water.
Just how shampoo became synonymous with hair washing, however, can be traced back to the 1800s, when an Indian entrepreneur known as Sake Dean Mahomed introduced the practice to Britain. In 1820 Mahomed opened a bathhouse in the seaside town of Brighton offering aromatic vapor baths infused with Indian oils and herbs combined with a head and body massage: a treatment he called “shampooing.” To publicize his services, he published a pamphlet called Shampooing; or Benefits resulting from the use of the Indian medicated vapour bath, which contained “a brief but comprehensive view of the effects produced by vapour bathing : also a detailed account of the various cases to which this healing remedy may be applied, its general efficacy in peculiar diseases, and its success in innumerable instances, when all other remedies had been ineffectual.”
As word spread, the bathhouse succeeded in attracting the great and the good of the period seeking cures for their various ailments, and by 1825 Mahomed had been appointed “shampooing surgeon” to King George IV. Perhaps in an effort to jump on the shampoo trend, English hairstylists soon began offering services that combined boiled shaved soap in water with various herbs to give the hair shine and fragrance. Then, in 1927, the German chemist and pharmacist Hans Schwarzkopf created the first commercial liquid shampoo.
The rest, they say, is history, but after decades of harsh detergents and artificial fragrances, shampoo — as it was originally intended — full of nourishing oils, healing herbal extracts and mineral-rich clays that support scalp health and hair growth, is back.
But don’t forget to make time for that head massage; without it, have you even really shampooed?