Anthropologist Harry Shapiro: “So universal is this urge to improve on nature.. That one is almost tempted to regard it as an instinct.”
The process of dying hair has been adopted across time and space for reasons that go beyond just fashion.
Hair dye itself can be traced all the way back to the Paleolithic period when early humans used the iron oxide found in dirt to paint their bodies and hair red. Forms of natural pigmentation have since been used on hair for a multitude of reasons. For the Ancient Egyptians, hair was shaved off the head, curled or plaited and then dyed black to be worn as a wig to protect their bald heads from the sun. The concept of ‘hair dying’ was also found within Roman and Greek societies where black hair dye was created by fermenting leeches for two months in a lead vessel.
It wasn’t until the 1700s that the concept of bleaching hair entered into the mainstream. Venetian women began experimenting with this process by lying on specific ‘sun-trap’ terraces and soaking their hair in a corrosive solution. But even long before this, in the early Roman Empire, women working as prostitutes were made to have ‘yellow’ hair as an indication of their profession. Most wore wigs but many resorted to dying their hair with the ashes of plants or nuts.