hair snake oils
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Wonder 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.