cures involving potions or pills are an old favorite with scam artists.
Snake oils for hair regrowth have been advertised and sold for hundreds,
if not thousands, of years. The number of potions available was
so numerous at the turn of the 19th century that old glass bottles
in which the oils were sold are widely available and some people
specifically collect these types of bottles. Some of the snake oils
from the turn of the century were extremely popular and very profitable.
With no real legislation in place to stop false advertising, the
potion sellers could be very open and direct about the their claims.
The sellers could easily claim guaranteed hair regrowth for their
potion without fear of being arrested and brought to court.
Potions and pills are still popular products used in scams today.
Potions and pills are cheap to produce, easy to store, and cost
little to ship to the customer. The packaging may be more sophisticated,
and the hair growth claims may be more subtle and complex, but what
is actually in the bottle or the pills may well be exactly the same
as the fillers used at the end of the 19th Century. They may contain
entirely innocuous substances but occasionally the fillers in quack
products have been found to be potentially dangerous.
One famous example is "Whittem's rosemary and cantharidine
hair tonic for loss of hair and dandruff" available in the
late 19th century. For those of you who may not know, cantharidin
is a chemical derived from the pulverized bodies of an insect known
as the "blister beetle". It produces a blistering effect
when in contact with human skin. Any compound that included cantharidine
would certainly have been very stimulating to the scalp! It would
have caused a lot of pain for any user who applied too much, but
unfortunately the pain and expense was in vain. Cantharidine does
not stimulate hair growth. Cantharidine was most frequently used
as an aphrodisiac in both humans and livestock. For more on old
hair snake oils see the "historical
quackery" pages on this web site.
When scam artists say they want to keep the ingredients secret
"to protect their product from their competitors" they
could be hiding some important health facts from you.