HOME A MEDIEVAL WOMAN'S LIFE - BIRTHS - WEDDINGS - DIVORCE - DEATHS - MANNERS - EDUCATION - EMPLOYMENT - RECREATION
CLOTHES - ITEMS OF CLOTHING - DRESS ACCESSORIES FABRICS & SEWING BEAUTY, HEALTH & HYGIENE BIBLIOGRAPHY LINKS SITE MAP ABOUT ME

BEAUTY, HEALTH & HYGIENE


SKIN CARE

COSMETICS

HAIRSTYLES

BODY HAIR


CLEANLINESS

HAIR CARE

ORAL CARE & DENTISTRY

FEMININE HYGIENE

GENERAL HEALTHCARE

Medieval Hair Care
grooming tools, treatments, colouring

BRUSHES, COMBS & GRAVOURS - HAIR BALMS & TONICS
HEADLICE & DANDRUFF TREATMENTS - COLOURING THE HAIR

Brushes, Combs & Gravours
Hairbrushes as we know them today do not appear to be mentioned during the middle ages, although combs are widely depicted and written about, not only as a grooming tool, but as a suitable gift from a lover to his beloved lady. Such combs were often very elaborately carved or painted with scenes of courtly love or birds and animals and could be a part of a toiletries set.

Some folded out to form a kind of X whilst others were rigid and flat like the combs of today. Many show a high degree of fine workmanship.

Archaeologists have uncovered some very beautiful examples of boxwood, bone and ivory combs like the 1320 ivory comb depicted above at right. It is believed to be of Parisian workmanship. The design is typical of those of the period and it is likely to have been owned by a woman in the upper classes.

Another hairdressing aide widely used in the middle ages was the gravour. The gravour was a long, slender instrument used for parting the hair and probably also used for partitioning the hair whilst plaiting or styling some of the more elaborate hairstyles. Some gravours had beautifully carved handles as seen here at the left in this 1330 Paris example. The carved tip shown here is 7cm in length.

A French Royal account from 1316 describes a set of four grooming instruments: mirror, comb, gravour and leather case purchased for the sum of 74 shillings, which was quite substantial.

Hair balms and tonics
Many herbal preparations were used to cleanse and protect the hair. As with older persons of today, hair loss was a concern which was attended to with balms and tinctures. Aloe vera, when mixed with wine, was believed to prevent hair loss by rubbing into the head. Hound's Tongue leaves bruised or the juice boiled in hog's lard and applied to the head was another recipe to help with the falling away of hair.

Other hair tonic remedies included- the juice of Onion allium cepa rubbed on the head then laid in the sun; Peach tree kernels bruised and boiled in vinegar until they become thick applied to the head is a restorative and causes hair to grow upon bald places or where it is thinning; Quince Tree cotton or down of quinces boiled and laid as a plaster made up with wax, brings hair to them that are bald or assists with hair loss; the ashes of Southernwood or Old Man Tree artemesia abrotanum mingled with salad oil causes hair to grow again whether on head or beard; Walnut juglans regia kernels, shown at right, burnt and taken in red wine stay the falling of hair on the head and make it fair, being anointed with oil and also White Maidenhair

The lee made thereof is singularly good for the skurf, and stayeth the falling of the hair, causing it to grow thick, fair and well-coloured. For this purpose, boil it in wine, put smallage seed and afterwards, some oil.

Headlice and dandruff treatments
Headlice was as much an issue to the medieval woman as her modern counterpart and herbal remedies were used to help combat them. The detail at right is a detail taken from a 15th century French manuscript by Boccaccio, the de Claris Mulieribus showing a woman using a medieval comb with close set teeth on one side not unlike our modern headlice combs.

The juice of the young branches of Broom-Rape made into an ointment with hog's grease and heated as oil was one remedy to kill body and head lice. Parsley petroselinum crispum repelled head lice, as did the oil from the seeds of Spurge or Garden Spurge. Staves-Acre seeds coarsely powdered and strewed in the hair was also remedy for head-lice.

To treat dandruff, an infusion of Cleavers galium aparine not only helped clear the skin but made a wash for dandruff. It was also believed that the leaves or bark of the willow tree in wine would take away dandruff by washing with it and a wash of the juice of beets with water and vinegar cleansed the head of dandruff and was warded off the shedding of hair as would the head washed Lesser Field Scabious.

Colouring the hair
According to treatises which contain herbal remedies, medieval women did indeed dye their hair. Although blonde was the preferred and most fashionable colour, recipes for darker hair were known, perhaps to disguise grey hairs as they are today. One assumes that these recipes were intended only for townswomen who had access to such ingredients or the funds to purchase them.

Recipes to turn the hair yellow include- The hair when washed with the lie made of ashes of the Barberry tree and water, will make it turn yellow. To dye the hair yellow, honey and white wine left overnight on the hair then a mixture of calendine roots, olive-madder, oil of cumin seed, box shavings and saffron was recommended. Wash off after 24 hours. Schroeder says...

women in Germany use the buds of Black Poplar to make their hair grow thick and ornamental.

although he does not state how.

Both Hortus Sanitatis and Dioscorides claimed that sage tea salvia officinalis dyes the hair black, although the Tacuinum Sanitatis indicated that Sage removes dark colour from the hair.

Other recipes to dye the hair black include- Gall Oak omphacitis coals of burned galls being quenched in wine or vinegar; the leaves of bramble boiled in rye, a recipe which was perhaps available to poorer women who lived in the countryside and did not have the stuffs of the towns freely available to them. A more complicated and time-consuming recipe is as follows: To dye the hair black, a mixture of iron, gall nuts and alum boiled in vinegar and left on the head for two days was recommended.

Saffron or Saffon or Saf-Flower crocus sativus, shown at right, was a popularly used hair dye, although to produce which colour is uncertain. Opal necklaces were a favourite with blonde ladies as it was considered that opals protected fair hair from fading or darkening. The advice from the Old Women in the popular medieval manuscript the Roman de la Rose offers this advice for colouring the hair:

..and if they need colour, she should dye them with many different plant-extracts, for fruit, wood, leaves, bark and roots have powerful medicinal properties.

Copyright © Rosalie Gilbert
All text & photographs within this site are the property of Rosalie Gilbert unless stated.
Art & artifact images remain the property of the owner.
Images and text may not be copied and used without permission.