There’s a link between Socrates, Napoleon, Aristotle, Gandhi, Darwin, Churchill, Shakespeare and Hippocrates – they all suffered from hair loss! Hippocrates even has a type of male pattern baldness named after him – the hippocratic wreath.
Clearly, the fear of a shiny head has plagued men since the beginning of civilisation. Along the way, humans have come up with some strange, foul and downright frightening ways to fight it off.
Pyramids, Pharaohs, and bald spots
Long before today’s medical methods, the Ancient Egyptians took a somewhat cruder approach to treating hair loss. A preserved medical document from 1550 B.C.E, known as Ebers Papyrus, gave an insight into the huge array of Ancient Egyptian medicine, including a few ‘interesting’ recipes for treating hair loss.
The document advised using a mixture of fats from a hippopotamus, crocodile, tomcat, snake and ibex. Alternatives included porcupine hair boiled in water and applied to the scalp for four days, or the leg of a female greyhound sautéed in oil with the hoof of a donkey. I think we’ll pass!
What did the Romans ever do for us?
Although they were indeed masters in sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, fresh water, and public health – ancient Rome never could quite crack the secret to arresting hair loss.
In fact, Caesar himself was follically challenged, and would take to growing the back of his hair fairly long, in order to sweep it over the front of his head. Perhaps he invented the combover!
Apparently this didn’t really cut it though, and Cleopatra recommended a home remedy consisting of ground-up mice, horse teeth and bear grease. Unfortunately, this didn’t work either, so he covered his scalp with that famous laurel wreath.
Although he’s known as the greatest physician of his time, as well as the founder of modern medicine, you probably wouldn’t want to consult Hippocrates about your hairline issues.
The Greek legend’s go-to solution was to apply a topical concoction of opium, horseradish, pigeon droppings, beetroot and spices. The result? A strange smell, and not a lot else!
It gets worse – the Greek doctor also thought castration would cure baldness, after noticing eunuchs never went thin on top. It may have been safer for his patients to pretend his aforementioned concoction was working, so he didn’t upscale their treatment to something more intrusive!
Although it sounds like a bizarre theory, an unlikely twist occured when a 1995 study by Duke University actually proved him correct! They noted that “while castration may be a cure for baldness, it is not commercially acceptable”. We think we’ll stick to our friendlier hair loss treatment!
Go-go gadget hair grower!
Fast forward a couple of thousand years, and the advent of electronic products beckoned a new era of devices, including a few designed to aid hair loss. Sadly though, they were no more effective than their ancient counterparts.
One such device was introduced in the 1920s by America’s Allied Merke Institute. Dubbed the ‘Thermocap’, their ‘revolutionary’ invention was essentially a bucket to be placed over the head, which blasted the scalp with heat and blue light for 15 minute intervals. Apparently, this stimulated the ‘dormant hair bulbs’ – a little wide of the mark!
A few years later, in 1936, American radio and car manufacturer The Crosley Corporation branched out to release their own hair loss device. Known as the Crosley Xervac, this huge machine was available to rent for home use, or could be found in local barber shops. It was essentially a vacuum tethered to a helmet, that alternated between sucking and blowing air onto the head. This was all in a misguided effort to fix the poor circulation that was apparently causing hair loss. Even the legendary Fred Astaire had his own Xervac machine, but it didn’t do any wonders – if only Cornerstone were around in the 30s!