From Italy, the habit of blonding hair travelled to France, bringing back the fashion of tinting hair, which had been stopped for a while. At the beginning of the reign of Henri IV, it was still there. Under Louis XIII, it continued.
Eyebrows were not only drawn with pencils, they were also tinted with the colours used for beards and hair. Monsieur d’Humieres used it for his son, tinting his red hair, black.
The use of wigs finally relegated tinting to the apothecary’s shop, or the alchemist’s laboratory. It isn’t really until the Second Empire that we see the fashion of tinting hair re-appear.
The colour is brassy blond, as they said at the Hotel Rambouillet. Or, as Eugene Sue’s heroine has since said, the Cardoville colour came back into vogue. People competed to see who could display the most beautiful red hair, or who could obtain the most golden tone.
Two personalities, each famous in his or her way, were victims of this mania, which was not as inoffensive as generally thought. The first is Mlle Mars, who tinted her hair in the hope of conserving her youth. She succumbed, in one night, to a series of cerebral accidents, which had been set off by an application of dye.
The second victim – less proven – is supposedly the Duke de Mornay. He apparently expired in the same way. A victim of his desire to continue, in spite of his age, to be seen as the most accomplished cavalier, the most distinguished gentleman, the one who set the tone at court and in town.
At the beginning of the XXth Century, the art of tinting made considerable progress. Unfortunately, it must be recognized that it was to the detriment of hygiene and public health.
In one way or another, all of the liquids employed in France for tinting hair had a lead, copper or silver base. To fix the colour, or to produce it, solutions of either alkaline sulphides or of tannin, of gallic acid or of pyrogallic acid were used.
The reaction is easy to understand. If a lead comb, for example, was used, the metal finished by combining with the sulphur which was naturally exhaled from the scalp, either as sulphuric vapour, or mixed with the sebum.
This sulphur, in contact with the lead, produced lead sulphide, black. The lead salts exercised two sorts of actions. One local, the other general. Locally, they dried out, wrinkled and aged the skin. The general effects were those of saturnine intoxication. Trembling, paralysis…
Copper salts were even more irritating, more caustic than the lead salts. Under their influence, rashes, dermatitis or skin inflammations were very often produced.
Pewter salts and bismuth salts, which coloured hair dark brown, rather than black, were not used very much. On the other hand, frequent use was made of dyes with a silver salt base, mixed or not with copper salts.
This way of tinting hair with silver preparations, gave immediate results, which were called instant dyes, in opposition to the progressive dyes obtained with lead salts.
However, at the time, the products for tinting hair were extremely noxious. To the point that several reports were drawn up, alerting users.
The director of the Laboratoire municipal wrote: “Hair dyes all contain violent, toxic minerals… They all contain substances such as silver nitrate, copper sulphate, lead acetate, mercury bichloride… It is useless to continue this enumeration: it shows to what dangers the public is exposed, in having confidence in all the products which pretend to be real remedies.”
The same note is given by one of the members of the Conseil d’hygiene, Dr Dubrisay. “If dyes are good for tinting hair, they also contain violent poisons.”
A dye containing a substance derived from peat and which was followed by the application of a wash with oxygenized water (hydrogen peroxide), provoked intense itching of the skin, swelling of the eyelids and plaques of rash on the forehead, on the scalp, on the cheeks, on the chin, on the neck, and on the ears.
In the same way, certain eczemas appeared after the use of dyes. It is true that, given the great number of people who used them, accidents were relatively rare.
Tomorow, we shall look at powdered hair.