Why medieval people didn’t wash their hair, and how it stayed clean | Historical Myth Busting


Medieval people didn’t bathe or wash their hair, right? Hair care in the middle ages involved no shampoo, but they still kept their hair clean. As a professional hairstylist, I think this historical myth needs to be debunked. Busting this myth comes down to understanding what resources Medieval people had for personal care, and reveals that historical people were actually quite clever about working with what knowledge they had.

Washing hair with soap or shampoo is a modern idea, dating from the early 20th century. Shampoo wasn’t even invented until the 1930s! In the Middle Ages, contaminated water, harsh soap, and needing to use some other rather gross things to clean your laundry meant that washing hair to clean it wasn’t a regular possibility. Instead, medieval people used a combination of styling choices, headwraps, and combs and brushes to keep hair as clean as possible. Long hair was work braided and pinned up, keeping it from getting tangled or suffering breakage, similarly to protective styles in Black haircare. Hair was usually worn in braids and pinned to the head, covered in a clean linen veil or cap which was changed as often as possible, and thoroughly brushed or combed out twice a day, all of which helped to keep it surprisingly clean and tidy!

Medieval people did sometimes wash their hair, although only in exceptional circumstances. The Trotula, a collection of medieval medical texts, has an entire book devoted to personal care and cosmetics, including several recipes for hair washes, conditioners, styling products, and even hair color. A recipe from a 13th century physician was still being used 700 years later in Edwardian times! Even though Medieval people couldn’t clean their hair with shampoo and water the way we do, they still took very good care of their hair with the resources they had available.

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About agogo22

Director of Manchester School of Samba at http://www.sambaman.org.uk
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