The other night as I sat in the salon chair waiting for my hair color to process, I began thinking of hair trends and fashions of the 18th Century. Of course, by the Victorian era and following, no "decent" woman would color her hair, but as time went on, just as make-up and lipstick became more and more acceptable, so too did the notion of coloring one's hair, just for fun, or to disguise the greying of the head. Today, blue and green and pink are not only acceptable, but practically commonplace!
Well, contrary to what I thought, the idea of colored hair was quite acceptable in the 18th Century, not only of one's own tresses, but also with the additions of hair pieces to accentuate or add volume. During Marie-Antoinette's time, the ideal woman had black, brown or blond hair. Red was definitely out, so many women changed their "carrot" top.
To dye hair blonde or light, it would be soaked in alkaline pastes and then the person would sit in the sun. Also, lead could be used. To dye hair dark or black, a mix of wine and elderberries was applied, to the desired effect. Of course tinted powders could be used, but generally applied to wigs.
By the early 1800's, chemists had found a substance called para-phenylenediamine to create synthetic dye. True dyes from plant life were extremely expensive, and sometimes hard to find. Also, hydrogen peroxide was used, a gentler and safer chemical for bleaching of the hair. These solutions paved the way for the first chemical dyes used exclusively for hair, called "aureole". By the way, the product was later known as "L'Oreal".