Hair | Its Structure, Function, Growth, Beauty, Management – The Vintage Woman.
The hair is not only invaluable as a protective covering of the head, but it gives a finish and imparts unequalled grace to the features which it surrounds. Sculptors and painters have bestowed on its representation their highest skill and care, and its description and praises have been sung in the sweetest lays by the poets of all ages.
Whether in flowing ringlets, chaste and simple bands, or graceful braids artistically disposed, it is equally charming, and clothes with fascination even the simplest forms of beauty. O wondrous, wondrous, is her hair!A braided wealth of golden brown,That drops on neck and temples bare.
If there is one point more than another on which the tastes of mankind appear to agree, it is that rich, luxuriant, flowing hair is not merely beautiful in itself, but an important, nay, an essential, auxiliary to the highest development of the personal charms.
Among all the refined nations of antiquity, as in all time since, the care, arrangement and decoration of the hair formed a prominent and generally leading portion of their toilet. The ancient Egyptians and Assyrians, and other Eastern nations, bestowed on it the most elaborate attention.
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The ancient Jews, like their modern descendants, were noted for the luxuriance and richness of their hair and the care which they devoted to it. Glossy flowing black hair is represented to have been the glory of the ancient Jewess, and in her person to have exhibited charms of the most imposing character; whilst the chasteness of its arrangement was only equalled by its almost magic beauty.
Nor was this luxuriance, and this attention to the hair, confined to the gentler sex, for among the pagan Orientals the hair and beards of the males were not less sedulously attended to. Among the males of Judah and Israel, long flowing ringlets appear to have been regarded as highly desirable and attractive.
The reputed beauty and the prodigious length and weight of the hair of Absalom, the son of David, as recorded in the sacred text, would be sufficient to startle the most enthusiastic modern dandy that cultivates the crinal ornament of his person. Solomon the Wise, another son of David, conceived the beauty of hair sufficiently dignified to express figuratively the graces of the Church.
The hair, though devoid of sensibility and unsusceptible of expression under the influence of the will and the ordinary mental feelings, like the mobile portions of the face, and though it may be popularly regarded rather in the light of a parasitic growth than as an essential portion of the body, is capable of being affected by the stronger emotions and passions, and even of aiding their expression in the features.
Who is there that, at some period or other of his life, if only in childhood, in a moment of sudden terror or horror, has not experienced the sensation popularly described as “the hair standing on end?” Or who is there that, at some time or other, has not witnessed the partial erection of the hair in children or females under like violent emotions, or seen the representation of it in sculptures or paintings?
Those passions, so aptly styled by Gray the “vultures of the mind,” frequently affect with wonderful rapidity the health of both the body and the mind, which wreck the hair soon sympathizes with and shares. Instances are recorded in which violent grief in a few weeks has blanched the hair and anticipated the effects of age; and others in which intense terror or horror has affected the same with even greater celerity, the change having occurred in a few days or even in a few hours.
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Besides daily attention to the hair, something else is necessary to insure its cleanliness and beauty and the perfect health of the skin of the head from which it springs. For this purpose the head should be occasionally well washed with soap and water, an abundance of water being used and great care being subsequently taken to thoroughly rinse out the whole of the soap with the water in which the head has been washed.
The water may be either tepid or cold, according to the feelings or habit of the person; and if the head or hair be very scurfy or dirty, or hard water be used, a few grains of soda (not potash or pearlash) may be advantageously added to the water. This will increase its detersive qualities.
After the hair has been washed, which should be done quickly, though thoroughly, it should be freed as much as possible by pressure with the hands and then wiped with a soft, thick towel, which should be done with care, to avoid entangling it. After laying it straight, first with the coarse end of the dressing comb and then with the finer portion, it may be finally dressed.
In ordinary cases once every two or three weeks is often enough to wash the hair and head. The extreme length of ladies’ hair will sometimes render the process of washing it very troublesome and inconvenient. In such cases the patient and assiduous use of a clean, good hairbrush, followed by washing the partings and the crown of the head with soap and water, may be substituted.
The occasional washing of the head is absolutely necessary to preserve the health of the scalp and the luxuriance and beauty of the hair when much oil, pomatum or other greasy substance is used in dressing it.
Medical writers have frequently pointed out the ill effects of the free or excessive use of oily or greasy articles for the hair; but their warnings appear to be unheeded by the mass of mankind. Some object to their use altogether. There are, however, exceptions to every rule, and some of these exceptions are noticed elsewhere in this volume. The ill effects referred to chiefly occur from their being used when not required, and in excess, and are aggravated by the neglect of thorough cleanliness.
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To improve the growth and luxuriance of the hair, when languid or defective, the only natural and perfectly safe method that can be adopted is to promote the healthy action of the scalp by increasing the vigor of the circulation of the blood through its minute channels.
For this purpose nothing is so simple and effective as gentle excitation of the skin by frequent continued friction with the hairbrush, which has the convenience of ease of application and inexpensiveness. The same object may be further promoted by the application of any simple cosmetic wash or other preparation that will gently excite or stimulate the skin or exercise a tonic action on it without clogging its pores.
Strong rosemary water or rosemary tea, and a weak solution of the essential oil of either rosemary or garden thyme, are popular articles of this kind. They may be rendered more stimulating by the addition of a little ammonia or a little spirit, or both of them. The skin of the head should be moistened with these on each occasion of dressing the hair, and their diffusion and action promoted by the use of a clean hairbrush.
Aromatized water, to which a very little tincture or vinegar of cantharides (preferably the former) has been added, may also be used in the same way, and is in high repute for the purpose. When the skin is pale, lax, and wrinkled, astringent washes may be used. Strong black tea is a convenient and excellent application of this kind.
When the skin and hair are dry, and the latter also stiff and untractable, a little glycerine is an appropriate addition to each of the preceding washes or lotions. The occasional use of a little bland oil, strongly scented with oil of rosemary or of origanum, or with both of them, or with oil of mace, or very slightly tinctured with cantharides, is also generally very serviceable when there is poorness and dryness of the hair.
When the hair is unnaturally greasy and lax (a defect that seldom occurs), the use of the astringent washes just referred to, or of a little simple oil slightly scented with the essential oil of bitter almonds, will tend to remove or lessen it.
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All the articles named above promote the glossiness and waviness of the hair, and are also among the simplest, safest, and best applications that can be employed when the hair is weak and begins to fall off.
To impart some degree of curliness or waviness to the hair when it is naturally straight, and to render it more retentive of the curl imparted to it by papers or by other modes of dressing it, various methods are often adopted and different cosmetics employed.
The first object appears to be promoted by keeping the hair for a time in a state intermediate between perfect dryness and humidity, from which different parts of its structure, being unequally affected in this respect, will acquire different degrees of relaxation and rigidity, and thus have a tendency to assume a wavy or slightly curly form, provided the hair be left loose enough to allow it.
For this purpose nothing is better than washing the hair with soap and water, to which a few grains of salt of tartar (carbonate of potash) have been added; or it may be slightly moistened with any of the hair washes mentioned in the last paragraph, in each half-pint of which a few grains of the carbonate (say ten or twelve), or a teaspoonful [of glycerine, has been dissolved.
The moistened hair, after the application of the brush, should be finally loosely adjusted as desired with the dressing-comb. The effect occurs as the hair dries. When oils are preferable to hair washes, those strongly scented with the oil of rosemary, to which a few drops of oil of thyme or origanum may be added, appear to be the most useful.
To cause the hair to retain the position given to it in dressing it, various methods and cosmetics are commonly employed. When the arrangement is a natural one and the hair healthy and tractable, the free use of the hairbrush will usually be sufficient for the purpose. When this is insufficient, the application of a few drops of oil, or, better still, moistening the hair with a little simple water, will effect the object satisfactorily.
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In very elaborate and unnatural styles of dressing the hair, and to cause it to remain in curl or to retain its position during dancing, or violent exercise, bandoline and cosmetique or hard pomatum are the articles commonly employed in fashionable life.
Mild ale or porter has a similar effect, and is often substituted for the preceding expensive cosmetics. The frequent use of any of these articles is objectionable, as they clog up the pores of the skin and shield both it and the hair from the genial action of the atmosphere, which is essential to their healthy vigor.
They should, hence, be subsequently removed by carefully washing the head with a little soap and tepid water. Their use may be tolerated in dressing for the ballroom, but on no other occasion. Simple water skillfully employed, as noticed elsewhere, is the best and safest mixture, and under ordinary circumstances is amply sufficient for the purpose.
The practice of artificially changing the color of the hair, and particularly of dyeing it, has descended to us from remote antiquity, and though not so common in Western Europe as formerly, is still far from infrequent at the present day.
This might be inferred from the multitude of nostrums for the purpose continually advertised in the newspapers, and from the number of persons who announce themselves as practicing the art, even though the keen and experienced eye did not frequently detect instances of it, as it now does, in the hair and beards of those we see around us.
The recent rage after light auburn or reddish hair in fashionable life has, unfortunately, greatly multiplied these instances. The consideration of the subject, however, in its ethical relations does not come within the province of the present work, and I shall confine myself to pointing out how the color of the hair may be changed in the safest and most satisfactory manner.
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To change the color of the hair various methods and preparations are employed. The principal of these are intended to darken it, but sometimes the contrary is aimed at. Whichever object is desired, it is necessary that the article or preparation employed to carry it out be not of a caustic or irritant nature, capable of injuriously affecting the delicate skin to which it is applied, or that it may be liable to come in contact with, as is the case with many of the nostrums vended for the purpose.
Some of the substances that necessarily enter into the composition of hair strains and hair dyes, or that are used in connection with them, possess these objectionable properties in a high degree, and can, therefore, only be safely employed in a state of proper dilution and combination. If any doubt exists respecting such an article, it is a wise precaution to regard it with suspicion and to test its qualities before applying it for the first time.
This may be done by placing some of it on the soft skin of the inner side of the wrist or fore-arm, and allowing it to remain there as long, and under the same conditions, as it is ordered to be left in contact with the hair or skin of the head or face. In this way the injury or loss of the hair, sores, and other serious consequences that too often follow the use of advertised and ill-prepared hair dyes may be generally avoided.
To gradually darken the shade of the hair on these principles, provided its normal sulphur be still secreted by the hair-bulbs and be still present in its structure, it will, therefore, generally be sufficient to occasionally employ a weak solution of any of the milder salts of iron as a hair wash.
The menstruum may be water, to which a little spirits and a few drops of oil of rosemary to increase its stimulating qualities have been added. In applying it, the head being first washed clean, care should be taken to thoroughly moisten the whole surface of the hair and the skin of the head with the wash; and its absorption and action should be promoted by the free use of a clean hairbrush.
Wine is the favorite solvent for the iron; ale and beer are also sometimes so employed. Most of the fashionable ferruginous hair washes also contain a few grains of acetate of copper or distilled verdigris, the objections to which have been already pointed out.
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The daily use of oil or pomatum, with which a few grains of carbonate of lead, lead plaster, or trisnitrate of bismuth, have been blended by heat and careful trituration, has generally a like effect on the hair to ferruginous solutions; so also has a leaden comb, but its action is very uncertain.
None of these last are, however, safe for long-continued use. Atrophy of the scalp, baldness, and even local paralysis, have sometimes, though rarely, been caused by them.
When the normal sulphur of the hair is absent, or deficient, the preceding substances fail to darken the hair. In this case the desired effect may often be produced by also moistening the head, say twice a week, with water, to which a little sulphuret of potassium or hydrosulphuret of ammonia has been added.
When it is desired to dye or darken the hair more rapidly, as in a few hours, or even a few minutes, plumbite of lime, plumbite of potassa, or nitrate or ammonia—nitrate of silver—is usually employed. The first is commonly produced by the admixture of quicklime with oxide of lead (litharge), carbonate of lead, or acetate of lead. These ingredients should be in appropriate proportions, but very generally the reverse is the case in those of the shops.
It may be laid down as a rule that when the lime is in greater proportion than about two to one of the oxide, and to the corresponding equivalents of the other substances mentioned, or when the lime has not been prepared in a proper manner, the compound is not safe, and very likely to prove injurious to the skin and hair-bulbs, and perhaps to act as a depilatory.
The effects of these lead dyes arise partly in the way previously described and partly by direct chemical action between the sulphur of the hair and the lead which they contain, sulphuret of lead being formed in the surfacial portion of the hair. It is on the last that their more immediate effect depends. If there be no sulphur in the hair, they will not darken it.
After the necessary period of contact, they should be gently but thoroughly removed from the hair and skin by rubbing them off with the fingers, and by the use of the hairbrush, the head being then washed clean with tepid water. Should the tint imparted by them not be deep enough, or be too fiery, it may be darkened and turned on the brown or black by moistening the hair the next day with a very weak solution of sulphuret of potassium, or of hydrosulphuret of ammonia.
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None of the compounds of lead stain the skin, an advantage which has led to a preference being given to them by many persons who are clumsy manipulators, and to the more extensive use of them than of other hair dyes. The salts of silver above referred to are more rapid in their action as hair dyes than those containing lead.
It is only necessary to wash the hair quite clean and free from grease, then to moisten it with a weak solution of one of them, and, lastly, to expose it to the light, to effect the object in view. Sunlight will fully darken it in a few minutes, but in diffused daylight it will take two or three hours, or longer, to acquire the deepest shade.
To avoid this delay and inconvenience, the common practice is, a few minutes after applying the silver solution, to moisten or wet the hair with a solution of sulphuret of potassium, or of hydrosulphuret of ammonia. The effect is immediate, and the full depth of shade which a silver solution of the strength employed is capable of imparting is at once produced.
A few minutes later and the hair and skin may be rinsed with tepid water, gently wiped dry, and the hair finally adjusted with the comb. The effect of its application, its rapid action, and the satisfactory nature of the effect produced, all tend to render a solution of nitrate of silver the favorite hair dye of those who have sufficient skill and steadiness of hand to use it properly.
It will be useful here to inform the inexperienced reader that all solutions and compounds which contain nitrate of silver stain the skin as well as the hair, if they be allowed to touch it.
These stains may be removed, when quite recent, by rubbing them with a piece of rag or sponge wetted with a weak solution of potassium, of hydrosulphuret of ammonia, or of iodide of potassium; but as this is attended with some trouble and inconvenience, the best way is to avoid the necessity of having recourse to it.
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The hairdressers commonly adopt the plan of smearing hard pomatum or cosmetique over the skin immediately surrounding the hair to be operated upon, in order to protect it from the dye. By very skillful manipulation, and the observance of due precautions, the hair may be thoroughly moistened with the silver solution without touching the adjacent skin; but this can only be done when the hair of the head is under treatment by a second party.
In reference to the tone and shades of color given by the substances commonly employed to dye the hair, it may be useful to state that the shades given by preparations of iron and bismuth range from dark brown to black; those given by the salts of silver, from a fine natural chestnut to deep brown and black, all of which are rich and unexceptional.
The shades given by lead vary from reddish-brown and auburn to black; and when pale or when the dye has been badly applied or compounded, are [generally of a sandy, reddish hue, often far from agreeable. However, this tendency of the lead dyes has recently led to their extensive use to impart that peculiar tint to the light hair of ladies and children which is now so fashionable. Other substances, hereafter referred to, are, however, preferable, as imparting a more pleasing hue.