The hair loss industry has a lot of issues. Its marketing tends to boil down to the same concept: a bad thing will happen if you don’t buy their product. It attempts to stoke and then feed on fear, promising that throwing a deluge of chemicals at your scalp is the only way to fix it. Soapbox alert: our position has been the same for a long time – we think an issue that occurs naturally should be treated naturally. So, yeah, we have a lot of problems with the industry, but there’s a (sort of) silver lining. It used to be a lot worse.
At the dawn of popular hair loss treatment, various companies engaged in increasingly outrageous, ethically dubious advertising campaigns. From cocaine scalp treatments to hair-raising suction helmets, each 'remedy' for hair loss was as strange as it was ineffective. A lack of proper research and results didn't stop them from raking in mounds of gold. Some were immorally abject, some unbelievably bizarre, some just plain funny. Join us as we alternate between gazing in horror and guffawing in retrospective glee.
The Evans Vacuum Cap - The Evans Vacuum Cap Co.
We’ll admit that it is rather easy to look back at vestiges from the past with a sardonic eye. Hindsight’s 20/20, and once an idea has had many decades to percolate it usually winds up looking rather silly. The Vacuum Cap doesn’t deserve that courtesy – it looked insane when it was invented, and it looks insane now. Their H.R. Giger-esque contraption promised to promote new hair growth within 30 days; by the time that month elapsed, we imagine that most users said it worked out of embarrassment. The only thing worse than wearing a bonkers metal contraption on your head for 30 days after all is wearing one that didn't even work.
Wildroot Hair Tonic – Wildroot Cream Oil
This veers into territory we’ve unaffectionately termed 'Fears of Spousal Inadequacy'. Selling your product within the context of how happy it will make your partner is pretty rough, and it's still worryingly present. During a time where rigid gender roles were as societally entrenched as ever, we imagine this advert would have resonated with a lot of people, for all the wrong reasons. People in relationships aren’t exactly biting their nails at the mere prospect of their partner losing follicles, so we're glad this ad has been consigned to history.
Baldine Treatment For the Hair and the Scalp – Baldine Manufacturing Company
The composition of this American advertising push is vaguely alarming; are they about to try and pop this man’s poor head? Oh, our bad, they’re simply going to massage it until the hairs concede defeat and start re-sprouting. We especially love the juxtaposition of ‘A common sense, rational method’ with the assertion that follicular regeneration is merely a case of rubbing the head in just the right way.
Cocaine dandruff cure – W. B. Frame and Ardmore Drug Company
We really, really, desperately wish we were making this up, but there was a time when the apparent key to reducing dandruff and promoting hair growth was found in cocaine. Admittedly, around then it wasn't uncommon to be prescribed the drug for everyday issues like toothache – we’re not kidding – as doctors saw it as a viable treatment option for a multitude of conditions.
So it’s not surprising that it eventually made its way into the realm of hair treatment, and there’s actually some interesting information to be gleaned from the text itself. Hair loss is to this day still a perplexing topic, albeit one in which progress is being made. And that was unsurprisingly the case back in the days where doctors were giving one of the most vilified drugs in the world to toddlers. An oft-repeated claim was that dandruff was a reliable predictor of hair loss: as depicted in the ad, the formula ‘cures dandruff, preventing inevitable baldness’. We love the push to ask barbers about it, suggesting that they were the ultimate arbiters of hair-based truth in the 1800s. Now of course, hairdressers are merely the ultimate arbiters of truth generally instead.
Carbo Magno - Carbo Magno Laboratory
It takes a special kind of chutzpah to proudly hold what looks like a toilet seat aloft and declare it’s the key to bald heads being rehaired. Carbo-Magno Laboratory’s hair-raising hat supposedly secretes a patented vapour, which quickly gets to work in, and we quote, ‘vitalising the hair bulbs.’ In all honesty, the confidence of the mustachioed man is pretty bewitching, and we're sure he shifted many a cranium cover.
Ward’s Formula – Ward Laboratories Inc.
Maybe we’re a bit punch-drunk, but we have a soft spot in our heart for this one. The imagery is genuinely striking, evoking schlocky 50's era monster movies. It’s direct, and at least has a basis in science – this may be TMI, but our heads are indeed littered with a staggering assortment of invisible crawlies. But, then again, so is the rest of our body. While the suggestion that killing these bacterium with their hair treatment will treat hair loss is untrue, it’s still infinitely better than ‘go on, stick a vacuum on your head pal’.
Contrary to what these adverts might want you to think, we are more than our hair. That might seem like a counter-intuitive thing for a company like ours to say, but it’s the truth. They play on the fear that is often explored within hair loss literature; if your hair changes, the relationships around you will also change. It’s a highly demoralizing vein for companies to repeatedly strike, and we understand why people fall into it. But the truth is that who you are is infinitely more important than the hair on your head.
Still, if you are looking to promote hair growth, thankfully there are many, many better options in the here and now – the future's looking brighter and more follicle-packed than ever. If you're interested in attempting to do that naturally, then, would you look at that, we might just be able to help.