The strange story of shampoo: the origin & science of clean hair

Written by Robbie Salter

Shower thoughts - where would we be without them? It’s a question worth pondering next time you’re scrubbing and lathering. And here’s another one, while we’re at it: what’s the deal with shampoo? Where does it come from and how does it work?

It turns out shampoo isn’t just a modern luxury. People have been setting time aside to care for their hair with ingenious treatments for thousands of years, using all kinds of surprising natural materials. Let’s take this question out of the shower and see what history says about the origin and science of shampoo.

Shampoo's global roots

In India, routine hair care products have been around for millennia. People of the Indian subcontinent would historically boil saponin-rich soapberries with a mixture of herbs and fruits, then strain it for an effective, lathery shampoo. This product would clean hair and keep it manageable. As travel between India and Europe became more common, the practice of shampooing spread throughout the western world. In fact, the word shampoo is derived from the Hindi word chāmpo, which means “to kneed” or “to soothe.”

Of course, other cultures invented different methods for making hair care products. Indigenous people from the Andes Mountains region would save the foamy water they used to rinse quinoa, which was full of saponins, to clean their hair. And people of ancient Greece used vinegar rinses to clean and lighten their hair, followed by olive oil as a conditioner. 

Ancient Egyptians preferred to skip the hair care routine altogether. Instead, they would shave their heads and don wigs to avoid lice. But these wigs were washed meticulously with citrus juice, then coated with almond oil to keep them soft and shiny. 

These early examples of shampoo were not much different than soaps. Modern shampoos, many of which use synthetic surfactants, were first introduced in the 1930s. Today, nearly a century later, there is a wide variety of specialty shampoos to choose from. Whether you’re looking for baby shampoo, treatments for damaged hair, shampoo for color-treated hair, or even pet shampoo, the modern beauty industry has you covered.

Shampoos that over-dry your scalp, lead to hair product build-up, or clog your pores can ultimately throw off the natural balance of oils in your hair and on your scalp.

The science of clean hair

Skip a few showers on a camping trip, and you’ll notice the difference pretty quickly. The greasy feeling in your hair is excess sebum - an oil your body produces to protect the skin from moisture loss. This excess sebum can cause your scalp to get irritated, there may be an unpleasant smell, and you might have to deal with ingrown hairs. This is due to oil in your hair capturing dirt, pollen, and odors it comes into contact with. 

Once these foreign substances are trapped in, no amount of water will rinse them away. That’s because sebum is hydrophobic. Like most oils, it doesn’t mix with water. (Think of an oil-and-vinegar dressing.) To cut through the sebum and truly clean your hair, you need a surfactant. That’s the magic behind modern shampoo and detergents. Surfactants are simply chemicals that help water bind to your body oils and wash them away. Of course, this leaves your hair and scalp exposed, hence the need for conditioners to keep you protected.

Most modern shampoos also contain a range of additives. Some of these are purely for aesthetic purposes, like pleasing fragrances, while some affect the look and feel of the product. Others have properties that nourish and strengthen your hair, repair damage to the hair shaft, moisturize your scalp, keep your hair soft and shiny, etc. Bringing these ingredients together into a single product has become a true art and science in the 21st century.

Finding the best dandruff shampoo

Of course, there is a wide diversity of hair types - and not everyone’s hair responds well to the same treatment. Products free from harsh surfactants and foaming agents have gained popularity as more and more people are becoming mindful of the ingredients in their hair products.

Many commercial shampoos use sodium lauryl sulfate as a cheap and effective detergent and foaming agent. But this and other harsh surfactants can leave hair frizzy and dry. People with curly hair generally have more pores that can trap these agents, making it more difficult to rinse out the harsh chemicals.

And if you have dandruff? Unfortunately, conventional shampoos can actually worsen the problem. Dandruff is simply flaking that results from irritation of the scalp. Shampoos that over-dry your scalp, lead to hair product build-up, or clog your pores can ultimately throw off the natural balance of oils in your hair and on your scalp. This only escalates the irritation, feeding unhealthy scalp fungus and causing more flaking.

The best shampoo for your flakes is one that is free from sulfates, parabens, and phthalates and uses Zinc Pyrithione for its proven anti-dandruff properties. Not only can it prevent Malassezia yeast from reproducing on your scalp, but it can also boost the levels of zinc present in your scalp, which can stave off seborrheic dermatitis and dry scalp.

Jupiter: shampoo reimagined

If you’re looking for a new dandruff shampoo, you’re probably wondering why the industry is stuck in the past. From product packaging to that medicated smell, dandruff shampoos have stubbornly refused to evolve for generations.

Jupiter is different. We’re the first elevated dandruff and scalp care brand creating products that actually work - and that you’ll seriously love to use. Formulated by expert chemists and dermatologist-tested, our dandruff care products work at the root to stop your flakes for good. And our scalp and hair care products use beautiful, natural luxurious like coconut oil and lavender to nourish and moisturize your scalp and hair.

But Jupiter isn’t just about banishing your flakes and soothing your scalp. We create a luxurious shower experience - so you can enjoy your ‘me-time’ and get back to things that matter.

Balancing Shampoo

Meet our medicated head honcho. This soothing cleanser gets to the root of dandruff (flaking, irritation, dry scalp), thanks to our star active ingredient, Zinc Pyrithione. Proven to also reduce hair breakage by 30% - with a lush aroma of mint, vanilla, sage, and lavender - it’s bound to elevate your mood and your shower.

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The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.

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