The elements of materia medica and therapeutics: Hair Dyes

The elements of materia medica and therapeutics
by Jonathan Pereira, M.D. F.R.S. & L.S.
Fourth Edition, enlarged and improved, including notices of themost of the medicinal substances in use in the civilized world, and forming an Encyclopædia of Materia Medica.
Vol. I.
London: printed for Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, Paternoster Row.


1 Paulus Æginela, translated by Mr. Adams, for the Sydenham Society, vol. i. pp. 342-4, 1844. — See also Galen, De Compos. Medicam. Secundum locos, lib. i.

2 Medea is said to have been acquainted with the art of dyeing grey hairs black, and partly in consequence of this she had the reputation of being able to restore youth to old people.

3 Galen, supra cit.; Paulus, supra cit.; and Alexander Trallianus, i. 3.

4 The use of a composition of this kind, called Poudre d'ltalie, is said to have produced ophthalmia (Lond. Med. Gaz. Nov. 18, 1842).

5 See Gray's Supplement to the Pharmacopoeia, by Mr. Redwood, p. 740, Lond. 1847. Also, Journal de Chimie Médicale, tom. ii. p. 250, 2ndo ser.

6 Phoebus, Handbuch der Arzneiverordnungs-lehre, Th. ii. p. 148, 3tte Ausgabe, 1840.

7 Pharmaceutical Journal, vol. iii. p. 585.

8 Devergie, Médecine Legate, t. ii. p. 931, Turis, 1836; and Dr. Cummin, Lond. Med. Gaz. vol. xix. p. 215.
Hair Dyes (tinctura capillorum) are chemical agents; but they are included in this class, because their employment usually devolves on the hair-dresser. Yet, occasionally, a knowledge of them is useful to the medical practitioner. "Galen, when about to treat of compositions for the hair, remarks that the application of these does not belong properly to the physician; but that he may sometimes be obliged to furnish them to royal ladies, whom, under certain circumstances, he cannot venture to disobey."1

Hair dyes were in use by the ladies of antiquity;2 and numerous recipes for their preparation are to be found in ancient medical authors.3

Various substances, — some mineral, others vegetable, — have been used as hair dyes. The base of most of the powders, pastes, and liquids sold in the shops, is either lead or silver. A mixture of finely-powdered litharge or carbonate of lead, and about an equal weight of slaked lime (to which starch is sometimes added) is frequently used.4 It is then put on to prevent evaporation, and in four or five hours is removed, and the dye washed out. The water causes the oxide of lead to unite with the lime, forming a plumbite of lime. The lime is useful by removing the grease of the hair, while the lead combines with the sulphur contained in the hair, and forms the black sulphuret of lead. Leaden [] on the same principle. Nitrate of silver is also extensively used as a hair dye. Hair, impregnated with a solution of this salt, blackens, partly by the reduction of the silver, partly by the formation of the black sulphuret of silver. Sometimes a solution of hydrosulphuret of ammonia, to which caustic potash has been added, is applied to the hair previous to the use of the nitrate, but a solution of gallic acid is preferable, and acts better than the hydrosulphuret. Other formulae for hair dyes have been published.5 The objections to the use of mineral hair dyes are, that, they commonly communicate a reddish or purplish tint, and render the hair dry, crisp, and brittle.

Various vegetable substances have been employed; as the green shells of walnuts (cortex nucum juglandis viridis). These are used in the form of decoction, or of the so-called walnut liquor. The "Tinctur zum Schwarzfärben der Haare" is an alcoholic tincture of these shells scented with oil of lavender.6 Pyro-gallic acid has recently been proposed as a hair dye.7

The detection of stained hair is sometimes an object of medico-legal research.8 Lead may be recognised in hair by boiling the latter in nitric acid, and applying the tests for lead to the nitric solution. To detect, silver, the hair must be treated with chlorine, to form chloride of silver, which is soluble in ammonia. From the ammoniacal solution the chloride may be precipitated by nitric acid, and its nature ascertained by the usual means.

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