Hair powders have a long history. When the term is mentioned, people frequently think first of the founding fathers and their powdered wigs… but hair powders for men existed about 200 years before the Revolutionary War and are still used today.
While the fashion faded away, hair powder still exists today. Now, however, hair powder is used to add texture to hair for styling purposes. Hair “chalk” is also sometimes used as a temporary hair coloring.
Hair Powder’s History
Though a popular fashion in 1700s England, France, and America… powdered hair originally began with Henry IV of France in the late 16th and early 17th century. However, he wasn’t using the white powder we associate today with powdered hair. Henry IV wanted to hide his gray hair so he started using brown powder to keep his hair dark. Nobles copied him to curry favor.
Powdered hair had another benefit – it made hair less greasy. In a time when regular hair washing was rare, powdering one’s hair was a benefit.
The type of powder used varied according to the wearer’s budget, location, and available materials. Cheap hair powder was made from flour. High-quality hair powder was fine-milled starch or Cyprus powder.
Contrary to modern popular belief, hair wasn’t always powdered white and – even when it was – the result was rarely the pure, snowy white we see in movies. For one reason, white powder applied to brown or black hair produces a gray result.
Hair was also powdered black or brown. Hair powder for men was frequently white or gray powders while women used off-white or bluish-gray. Women might also wear pastel hair powders in colors including pink, pale blue, and violet. Fancy hair powder was also scented lavender, rose, jasmine, or orange blossom.
What Does Hair Powder Do?
Modern hair styling powders (commonly called texturizing powders or mattifying powders) are used to add volume and texture to hair. Packaged in small shaker bottles, they’re a finely ground and usually white powder that feels a bit tacky to the touch. This is due to the silica silylate that is the primary ingredient. A little typically goes a long way in creating big volume when styling dry hair.
Silica is part of the silicon family, but silicon hair products usually add a film that makes hair look sleek and shiny. By contrast, silica silylate has a rough texture which creates a matte look and increases friction between hair fibers.
Some people refer to hair chalk as a “hair powder” though usually hair chalk is packaged in a compact or as a bar – like sidewalk chalk. This product is used on wet or dry hair to change its color.
Is Volumizing Powder Bad for Hair?
Hair styling powder for volume or texture is considered safe for hair so long as it’s only left in one to three days and then washed out. It’s also not recommended for long-term, consistent use because it can dry out hair strands. Used periodically and according to instructions, styling powders are considered perfectly safe for hair.
However, adding baby powder to hair to create volume or texture is not safe. Baby powder frequently contains talc, which has been proved to cause lung damage and respiratory problems. While it’s best to use actual volumizing or texturizing powder, if a substitution is tempting, be sure it’s 100 percent cornstarch.
Are Hair Powders Bad for Hair?
As explained, volumizing or texturizing hair styling powder is fine for hair so long as they’re used properly. Similarly, hair chalk (which people often refer to as a hair powder) is also fine for hair so long as it’s used properly.
Any powder applied to hair will be drying but is fine for occasional use. In fact, hair chalks are less damaging to hair than dyeing it because the hair chalk sits on the surface whereas dye opens the hair cuticle and can weaken it.
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