In the past, women had their hair and bodies anointed with fragrant pomades and botanical oils, assured of their medicinal or spiritual power.
An important benefit of kinky, curly or wavy hair is its ability to hold up to applied hair dressings without going limp or appearing greasy. The fact is, thick, full-bodied hair, especially tightly coiled hair of people of African descent as well as others from around the world, (especially those from Latin, Middle Eastern or Southern European descent) takes on a wonderful luster from the oils and natural substances used historically in those areas such as shea butter, aloe, rose, olive and honey.
Moreover, all types of hair benefits from a spritz or two of a flower-scented water called hydrosols. Hydrosols have other important rewards discussed later. Refined ladies who prefer up-do’s, chignons or French braids can incorporate heady scents into their grooming regime as well, by scenting aloe vera gel with essential oils. This article is focused on our day of love, St. Valentine’s Day. It contains historic information and advice for creative ways of adding the alluring aphrodisiac scents, rose, neroli, ylang ylang and patchouli to your hair care regimen.
The idea of scenting the hair to yield various results is age-old. Unguents, which have evolved into what we now call pomades, were used as early as 5,000 years ago according to cave art on the Tassili plateau, in the Sahara and Algiers. Depicted on the cave walls are ancient women, with what appears to be corn-rowed hair, having what is assumed to be unguent applied in between their braids on the scalp.
In the past, women had their hair and bodies anointed with fragrant pomades and botanical oils, assured of their medicinal or spiritual power. Women also perfumed themselves by sitting near burning pots of sandalwood, (a very sexy fragrance) or other aromatic woods and resins smudging themselves with a smoke bath. Fragrant flowers, among other objects worn on the body, served as protective charms and natural attraction devices.
In ancient Egyptian stele (a stone slab with an inscription or design), papyri and murals, women are depicted wearing cone-shaped unguents on their heads. These cones are believed to have slowly melted from body heat, perfuming and conditioning the hair in the process. Ancient Egyptian papyri list hundreds of physical healing properties of oils, indicating that they were used as medicines. It seems as though they also stimulate the mind and spirit.
Madame C. J. Walker became the first black millionaire in the United States in the early twentieth century from her miraculous, herbal hair growth pomades and other botanical hair care formulas. Afro Sheen, Dixie Peach, Dax, Bergamot as well as cocoa butter, lanolin, bees wax and herbs, have been used for decades by African Americans to treat scalp disorders as well as soften, detangle and condition the hair; it's also used to encourage hair growth. Over the years, synthetic and fossil fuel-derived petroleum products came to dominate these formulae and their use dwindled when it became known that these substances are not good for the scalp or hair.
Today, there is a virtual hair pomade renaissance sparked by both corporate and entrepreneurial, women-owned ventures -- many of which advertise all over this website. African Pride and African Root Stimulator prominently feature aromatic herbs like sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, neroli, patchouli, lemongrass and kola nuts, in a shea butter or olive oil base. Aveda has a line of delightful, naturally scented styling aids as do companies such as Carol’s Daughter (a delicately scented line). Hairdressings are full of variety explaining its popularity – a popularity that transcends sex, ethnicity or race. In my second book, “Four Seasons of Mojo: an Herbal Guide to Natural Living,” I suggest soulful ways of incorporating herbs into all aspects of daily life. I want to share some of those ideas and inspirations with you in this article.
Aphrodisiacs and the Hair
A good working definition of an aphrodisiac is something that arouses, increases or intensifies sexual desire. Clean, healthy, vibrant hair has always had a way of being captivating. A healthy crown of intriguing tresses draws attention, admiration and sometimes even potential lovers. Hair care products can accentuate this ability of natural hair, serving as aphrodisiacs when the herbal substances used contain specific stimulating qualities. Understanding how aromatherapy and aromachology works helps us envision how putting botanicals on hair can work together forming a powerful, synergetic, alluring feature.
Aromatherapy is a term tossed about with great frequency, but what is it? Aromatherapy is a term coined by a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in the early 20th century.He is believed to have burned himself and grabbed the nearest thing to him, which happened to be lavender oil. He noticed his burn healed quickly, and he launched a full-scaled study of the healing qualities of aromatic botanicals.This field of healing with aromatics is called aromatherapy. While there have been no definitive, large-scale, scientific study pointing out the specific benefits of aromatherapy, it has a time-honored tradition in holistic health.
Aromatherapy is a technique utilizing the release of aromatic plant substances; the release of aromatic substances from plants is typically used therapeutically as fragrant water, (a bath) or formulated into a hydrosols. Essential oils, smoke from burning frankincense, aloeswood, cinnamon bark, cedar and sandalwood (among many others) also provide aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is used in a variety of ways to affect the mind, body and spirit. With sexuality being a vital human concern, many different types of aromatics have been used across the globe to yield an aphrodisiac result.
Aromacology is a newer term, which focuses more on the mind/spirit connection as it relates to mood and wellness. Aromacology utilizes aromatic botanicals to facilitate mental and spiritual wellness.
Aromatherapist and founder of the Aromatic Plant Project Jeanne Rose coined the term hydrosol, though they are also referred to often as floral waters. (Out of respect for Rose and her extensive work in aromatherapy, I utilize her terminology). Hydrosols are the essences of fragrant plants extracted and preserved in distilled water. They are the lightest, natural hair spray/moisturizer available. Hydrosols work like a charm with Afros, puffs and other curly 'dos, especially when the emphasis is on enhancing natural curl, not controlling it. They can be used successfully on oily hair or dry hair and are generally safe for children’s hair. For the looser curl, wavy or thinner hair hydrosols are highly recommended because they will not weigh down the hair. Each has specific qualities and I have stated them out using perfumery/aromatherapy language. Using your imagination and carefully identifying your needs and preferences will enable you to chose the right scent.
- Rose (formerly called rosewater): astringent, energizing, calming, classic and romantic
- Neroli (also called orange flower water): energetic, cheerful, hydrating, exotic and confident
- Lavender: balancing, unisex, uplifting, quiet, earthy yet slightly minty – a little old-fashioned.
Essential Oils for Healthy Hair
Essential oils accentuate the effects of unscented shampoos, conditioning and finishing products. These precious oils are the condensed essences of plants, prepared as oil. Aromatic essential oils are regaining the popularity they enjoyed with our ancestors. They are well-respected for their ability to address a variety of issues, such as dull, dry, and thinning hair, as well as itchy, irritated scalp–these are aromatherapeutic benefits. The scent of essential oils provides a therapy of its own, sometimes referred to as aromacology because they affect our psychological make-up and mood. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, only a few drops are necessary to achieve great results. I suggest applying a light dab of the essential oils listed below to the nape of the neck, scalp or temples to serve as aphrodisiacs.
- Sandalwood: unisex, earthy, bright yet sultry
- Patchouli: unisex, musky, brings out animal instinct
- Ylang/Ylang: high energy, very sweet, uplifting
- Neroli: balances mood, joyful, attractive, easy-going and uninhabited
- Geranium: a balanced floral with a suggestion of earth and fruit; hints at individuality
3-5 drops of these essentials oils (choose 1-3) added to a quarter sized dollop of pure aloe vera gel will serve as an alluring styling gel perfect for a romantic up-do, chignon, French braids or twists. It also works well for tightening the roots of freshly washed locs. As a finishing touch you might also securely pin a fragrant gardenia, opened rose or lily in your hair behind your ear before going out to a Valentine’s Day party or date. As a finishing touch, mist face and hair with lavender hydrosol before you step out the door – especially if inhibitions and tension are coming between you and a potential soul mate. Treasure the day!
You’ll notice that I suggest applying aromatic substances to clean hair. Here is a wonderful way of connecting with the earth while cleaning the hair. This hair mask features a combination of earthy and floral scents:
Relaxing Rhassoul Hair Mask
- 1 cup Moroccan Rhassoul mud
- 1/4-cup rose water
- 1/4-cup orange flower water
- 7 drops neroli, 5 drops sandalwood, 3 drops patchouli
Put Rhassoul mud in non-reactive bowl (Pyrex or glass). Slowly whisk in hydrosols. Drop in essential oils. Whisk until smooth. Cover hair. Massage gently. Cover with plastic cap. Leave on 15-30 minutes. Rinse well. (You may need to double or triple this recipe for very long, thick or locked hair).
- Egyptian Perfumery: Manniche, Lise (1999) “Sacred Luxuries: Fragrance, Aromatherapy in Ancient Egypt” and “An Ancient Egyptian Herbal” (1989)
- Ancient African Beauty techniques: “Black Women in Antiquity,” an anthology edited by Ivan Van Sertima, Brooklyn: Transaction Publishers; 2nd edition (February 1, 1988)
- Aromatic Plant Project: (learn more about hydrotherapy, study aromatherapy with Jeanne Rose)
- Online Catalogs offering Aromatic Herbs, Oils and Waters: Rainbow Meadow and Liberty Natural Products
- Ample Handmade Hair Care Recipes, Ideas Featuring Hydrosols and Essential Oil: Donna Maria’s Handmade Beauty Network, (requires membership for full access)