A Brief History of Hair Coloring and Dye Trends—From Coal Tar to Unicorn Tresses

History of Hair Coloring Trends

By Diana Nguyen, Taylor Stephan Aug 04, 2015 12:43 AMTags

Another day, another celeb hair color change.

It seems like every time a star dyes their locks, we have another news story. Sure, it's fascinating to see who will step out of their comfort zone, but, more importantly, it provides us plenty of inspiration for our next look.

Lately, we've seen a crop of stars opt for bold, colorful coifs that beauty bloggers have endearingly dubbed unicorn hair. But it wasn't always purple ombre and pink tips. In decades past, hair coloring was a lot more subtle…and taboo. Keep reading to find out more!

In an attempt to produce a remedy for malaria, an English professor named William Henry Perkin created the first synthesized dye (mauve, of all colors) out of coal tar and changed the textile industry forever. From Perkin's findings, August Wilhelm von Hofmann derived para-phenylenediamine, or PPD, which is the basis for many hair dyes in modern times.

You may not be familiar with the name "Aureole," but we're pretty sure you know "L'Oréal." French chemist Eugene Schueller was the first to bottle up commercial hair dye, which was first called Aureole and then changed to the latter—it's here that you have a beauty conglomerate in the making.

As time went on, formulas advanced. In the states, a chemist named Lawrence Gelb, under the brand Clairol, produced a dye that would access the hair shaft, creating a longer-lasting effect.

Gelb's brand appealed to the masses with Miss Clairol Hair Color Bath, a new hair lightening product absent of harmful ingredients (read: no more hydrogen peroxide!) women could discreetly use every day.

Public sentiments began to change, encouraging acceptance of openly using hair coloring product. Ad slogans like L'Oréal's "Because I'm worth it" showed a change in attitude toward outward beauty.

During the beauty industry boom of the ‘80s, many brands tapped Hollywood's biggest names to endorse their products, which was smart considering celebs, like Cybil Shepherd, provided hair inspiration for many in mainstream America.

The hair coloring inspiration ran the gamut in the ‘90s, with punk and rock influences (where unicorn hair first originated) mixing in with the popular coloring trend of highlights.

Today, hair dye products make up a large percentage of the beauty industry's revenue. "An estimated 70 percent of women in the U.S. use hair-coloring products," according to The Atlantic. With celebs like Katy Perry and Emma Stone, who love to surprise us with their drastic hue changes, and the pastel movement going strong, it seems like experimenting with hair color will surely be an ongoing trend.