As anybody who’s gone down the deep, dark rabbit hole of Google on this subject would already know, there are some wacky theories out there about how to keep your hair.
Since man started losing the hair on his head, so did he start to find ways (or rather, try to find ways) to stop this from happening. A look back through the annals of hair loss history reveals some pretty bonkers solutions for male pattern baldness.
Luckily, most of these (particularly the literally ancient ones) have since been debunked and people now know better than to rub actual crap into their scalp (we’ll come to this. Promise).
And sadly, the primary goal of these products is more often than not to separate desperate men from their hard-earned money, rather than offer a tangible solution.
Ointments, creams, laser caps, tonics, exorbitantly priced shampoos, and spurious vitamin tablets are all examples of things you will find on the market today that lay claim to being able to retain or regrow hair.
And they all seem to work—not at what they claim to do by actually giving you more hair, but in what they are designed to do: make money for their creators.
The truth is that only two things have been proved to work at retaining your hair, and they are both available from any GP or pharmacy. Because they’re prescription treatments, they can’t be named here (it’s against the law, and irresponsible). But they do exist.
Given these laws, “Hair Loss Clinics”, an exclusively Australian concept it would seem, have been able to market all sorts of rubbish for decades on the basis of serving up the same stuff you can get a lot cheaper elsewhere and garnishing it with fancy names and gimmicks that have no proof of efficacy.
So, from greyhound limbs to snake oil and everything in between, here are some of the weirdest attempts to cure hair loss that we could find.
The ancient Egyptians ate dog legs
While some of the more modern “cures”, as you will read, are steeped in flawed science, they are at least based on an attempt at a solution based in logic.
Flawed logic, yes, but logic nonetheless.
The ancient cures for hair loss are not only based on superstition and not much else: they are also pretty disgusting.
The Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian text written around 1,500 years BCE, calls for a topical preparation of fats from a hippopotamus, crocodile, tomcat, snake and ibex—a species of wild goat. And if that didn’t work (assuming you could safely procure such beasts), it recommended single porcupine hair, boiled in water, and applied to the scalp for four consecutive days.
Failing that, you were to consume the leg of a female greyhound that had been sautéed in oil, with a donkey’s hoof on the side for good measure.
The godfather of medicine used birdshit
One thousand years later, when Hippocrates, the OG MD, came along, things might have started looking up. To this day, he is still considered to be the father of modern medicine. Surely he could shed some light on the topic! After all, he suffered a balding scalp himself.
Alas, the best he could prescribe was a vile ointment made of opium, horseradish, pigeon droppings, beetroot and other undisclosed spices. So: heroin and birdshit. Sounds more like a Rolling Stones album than a cure for hair loss, but each to their own.
It certainly never caused any harm, though we’d wager you wouldn’t want to share an elevator with him.
Caesar’s spurious (and lovelorn) solution
Lastly in the ancient times of hair loss cures we have Julius Caesar. With hindsight, losing his hair was probably the least of old mate’s problems, but at the time he was pretty stoked on the idea of keeping his locks.
So much so that he accepted some advice from his lover, Cleopatra. Cleopatra was known for her beauty, not her knowledge of the endocrine system, and as such, her suggested cure was absolutely nuts.
Anyway, we’ll wager that Caesar would have done just about anything she said, because he went with it and as a result ended up rubbing ground-up mice, horse teeth, and bear grease into his bare head which, very obviously, did not make his hair grow back.
Eventually he took to wearing a laurel wreath to cover his baldness which, it could be argued, became his signature look anyway. Hence, Julius Caesar was the first person to make baldness a fashion statement, making him very much the Jason Statham of his time.
Ye Olde Snake Oile
The 18th and 19th centuries conjure many thoughts, but few more so than that of the travelling sideshow. Roll up, roll up, we have a whole barrage of cures for everything, and hair loss is right at the top of the list.
There are many examples of tonic, potions, and cure-alls that came out of the Wild West. The most famous is probably Coca-Cola, but if we listed them all here, you’d be reading all day.
Arguably, though, the most notable tonic for growing lots of hair (and we mean LOTS) was peddled by a travelling act known as The Seven Sutherland Sisters. Travelling with the world-famous Barnum & Bailey Circus, these singing sisters all had hair down to the ground. Physical anomalies such as these were commonplace in circus sideshows, but this particular quirk allowed the family to manufacture and sell their very own line of hair and scalp care products.
"The Seven Sutherland Sisters Hair Grower" was mostly just witch hazel and bay rum, but it quickly became a bestseller, and the line eventually extended to other products and even bricks-and-mortar parlours across the country.
Of course, seven women deciding to never get a haircut and millions of men’s follicles packing it in are two very different things, and none of their efforts, though commercially successful, ever amounted to a cure for hair loss.
The 1920s were a thrilling and terrifying time, if not for the fact that jazz existed and polio was still a thing, then for the fact that “curing” hair loss looked very similar to copping the electric chair.
Allied Merke Institute’s device, named the “Thermocap”, was a contraption that sat atop the head and emitted heat and blue light into the scalp, ostensibly stimulating hair growth.
Not to be outdone, in 1936 radio and automobile manufacturer The Crosley Corporation released the “Xervac”, a machine that could be hired for the home or used in a barbershop, that used the veritable power of suction to literally suck the hair back out of your scalp (did they think it had recoiled instead of fallen out?!).
While man has clearly sought a cure for an ailing scalp since time immemorial, it’s unlikely that an actual “cure” will ever be a reality. What is true, though, is that more than 80 per cent of men who start a treatment plan early get to keep (and in most cases, regrow) their hair.
It’s no silver bullet solution, but effective treatment for hair loss can be as simple as a chat with a local GP.
And whatever you decide; to shave your head and rock a new look or start on a sensible treatment plan that doesn’t involve scammy laser caps and actors in lab coats, please don’t rub pigeon poop into your head.
It didn’t work 2,500 years ago and it won’t work today.