Living History Experiment: 1940s Hair Care

Me trying to look vintage

As a curious person, my love of experimentation is not limited to cooking. While I normally don’t show my face on my blog, I’ll be making an exception because of the nature of this experiment.

I’m hooked on the German TV show “Babylon Berlin” at the moment. While watching a “Making of” video, the hair person of the show said that hair in the 1920s behaved differently, because hair care back then was done differently. That piqued my curiosity. How could hair “behave” differently? I mean, hair is hair, right?

So I thought, why not make an experiment out of it? Would my hair behave any differntly with the absence of modern silicone-based surfactants ?

For a whole week, out of sheer masochistic curiosity, I will be doing a 1940s hair care routine as what it would have been like in wartime Manila and wartime Germany. I have spent the past few weeks reading history and vintage style blogs, watching vlogs of costume historians and the like to see what made hair care different from that of my grandmother’s.

My grandma Juanita Llorente in the 1950s

So first, I tried to recall as much as I could about my grandmother. I am the eldest of three grandkids, she basically raised my from the age of three, so I am the grandchild who knows her best. She smelled of Heno de Pravia or Sandalwood Soap. She used modern shampoo when I knew her, so I tried to remember her wartime stories. She once told me that she used Perla soap in her youth, since there was no other soap available. It shocked me as a teen, since I only knew Perla to be a mild laundry detergent bar.

She also used the bark of the Gugo tree (Entada phaseoloides), a tropical tree which has a lot of saponin in it, to wash her hair. She treated her hair with coconut oil every once in a while. I had used Gugo as a child, but try finding that in Germany!

Then came research, research, research. Perla soap is known as Kernseife in Germany. They used it as toilet soap, to wash hair, to wash their bodies, to wash delicates. To set their hairstyles, I asked my friend Inez to ask her mother, and her answer was…beer! Flat beer as hair setting lotion! So that has to be experimented with.

Then came the procurement of the necessary materials. Kernseife? Check. Coconut oil? Check. Rollers? Check. Beer? Check.

So first…hair.

I have unprocessed hair, meaning I haven’t dyed or done anything with it. I have a few gray hairs, but they are mostly still jet black, grows straight but curls at the ends. It tends to get oily after a day without washing it, and I have a sensitive scalp.

My hair: grows straight, curls at the end.

This experiment will also simultaneously go on my Facebook feed and on my Instagram, which I will make public in the week of this experiment. To be continued tomorrow!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.