Burnett was born in Southboro, Mass, in 1820. He became a fully
qualified pharmacist and became an importer of toilet articles and
flavoring extract manufacturer in Boston. In 1857 he invented his
most profitable product - the famous Burnett's Cocoaine for the
hair - a product that was sold for over 40 years. In naming his
product Cocoaine, Burnett might have been hoping to capitalize on
the popularity of various medicinal products available at the time
containing cocaine and their association with "modern medicine".
Burnett's Cocoaine (c. 1880) actually contained coconut oil not
cocaine as its primary ingredient. Cocoanut" is a variant spelling
of "coconut," and hence the aptly named product.
Some extracts from the text of an advertisement for Cocoaine show
many of the hall marks of a quack product that are still used to
today to promote hair treatments.
"The inventors of the Cocoaine - knowing that when the loss
of hair occurs, it is generally from that part of the head from
where the greatest heat is necessarily generated, and that animal
fats, as bears grease, lard, etc., etc., by their nature induce
heat rather than alleviate it - turned their attention and pharmaceutical
science, towards vegetable oils, as a basis of the medicament, to
promote the growth, and preserve the beauty of, the hair. The Oleum
Cocos, or Cocoa-Nut Oil, presented itself most strongly as possessing
many properties peculiarly adapted for the purpose; but its odor
was objectionable and its density (except when exposed to heat)
seemed for a long time to defy all efforts to render it available
in the cooler climates, for popular use. By a scientific selection
of other ingredients, those which will chemically combine with the
oil have been discovered, and they together have produced a topical
compound, which is unqualifiedly pronounced to be the best that
has yet appeared.
In the form here presented, the oil is permanently deodorized,
and held in a combination which peculiarly adapts it for the Toilet;
it is unrivaled in delicacy and agreeableness, - cooling in its
nature, - and possesses such a penetrating affinity for the secretions
of the skin, that it is rapidly absorbed.
Its greatest efficacy is best secured by a perfect cleansing, before
its application, of the hair and scalp, (for which purpose the Kalliston
is recommended, because its ingredients are cooperative with those
in the Cocoaine,) under which circumstances this oil, allays irritation,
removes all tendency to dandruff, and invigorates the action of
the capillaries in the highest degree. Its effect upon the glossiness
and richness of appearance of the hair is such as cannot be surpassed,
and it is now offered to the public, in the firm belief that it
only requires to be known to supersede all other preparations. We
are confident that no one who may make a trial of its efficacy,
will be willing to return to the use of any other preparation."
This is then followed by a number of testimonials and abstracts
from other publications in support of Cocoaine. One states:
"Burnetts Cocoaine. This is the name of a new
and elegant preparation for dressing the hair, just introduced into
the market by Messrs. Joseph Burnett & Co. It combines all the
properties which have long been desired in an article of the kind,
and is the result of a careful research, and reiterated experiment.
It contains a very large proportion of the famous Cocoa-nut oil,
the use of which is so universal among the Eastern Archipelago.
The luxuriance and abundance of hair which adorn the natives of
those remote regions, are attested by all travelers, and are mainly
to be attributed to the use of this oil. The aim of Messrs. Burnett
& Co. has been to free it from the peculiar odor which it has
in this condition, and to unit with it some approved tonics which
stimulate the hair to a healthy and vigorous growth. It will be
found on trial to be the blandest, cleanest, and most desirable
preparation ever offered to the public - Boston Transcript."