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vintage shampoos from the 1970s

Did Vintage Shampoos Have the Right Idea?

Reviewed by Christina February 10, 2015 26 Comments

The recent announcement that Vidal Sasson is bringing back the cherry almond scent of its original 1977 shampoo filled me with hair nostalgia. It seems that the 1970s was synonymous with hair — fluffy, bouncy, shiny hair cascading from impossibly gorgeous women like Farrah Fawcett, Jacklyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd, inspiring us to hit the closest salon and demand a "feathered" haircut. Hair commercials with silly-yet-catchy jingles filled the airwaves — to this day, I still remember Faberge Organics' "If you tell two friends, then they'll tell two friends, and so on and so on and so on." Yet this blogger's thoughts that scientific advances in cosmetic chemistry make those original formulas obsolete got me to thinking: Would we still really want to use those classic shampoos we remember so fondly? I decided to take a trip down memory lane and find out.

Wella Balsam

Wella Balsam

Its claim to fame: "It repairs split ends"

In 1972, Wella Balsam was the first shampoo specifically produced for retail sales. And they certainly knew how to work that market — the ad campaign grabbed people's attention by featuring the stars of Charlie's Angels. Wella Balsam claimed that its "special formula unites with the hair shaft," protecting strands and preventing damage and actually repairing split ends. In 1976, Wella developed the ingredient chitosan and launched "a new generation of styling products." A deacetylated form of chitin, a natural biopolymer, chitosan has a film-forming ability to bond to the hair. So it does appear that Wella's claims had some legs to stand on — though of course, we know it isn't really possible to repair split ends.

Your TIA update: Try Nutra-Lift Shampoo ($36), a sulfate-free and detergent-free shampoo in seaweed base with marine extracts. It gently cleanses, moisturizes and strengthens hair, while also restoring damaged hair and promoting healthy growth.

Breck

It's claim to fame: Breck Girls

Breck Girls

This shampoo's unforgettable ad campaign (which actually began in the 1930s and continued through the 1980s) featured beautifully illustrated portraits of "Breck Girls," who were meant to look like real-life women instead of glamorous models. (Real-life women with spectacular hair, that is.) Breck dismissed other leading shampoos as "basically synthetic detergent," promising that their natural formulas would not over-strip your hair. Their campaigns also focused on offering three formulas or "expressions" for dry, normal or oily hair. However, seeing that the ingredients list of Breck's Gold Formula contained ammonium lauryl sulfate, DMDM hydantoin, and FD&C Yellow No. 5, we're not quite sure we'd label this a "natural formula" today. Although, it was interesting to note the inclusion of benzophenone-4, a water soluble UVB absorber that offers broad spectrum protection against UV radiation.

Your TIA update: Try Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Co-Wash ($32 in the shop), which cleanses, conditions and detangles with natural vegetable derivatives, quinoa extract, shea butter and aloe.

Faberge Organics

Faberge Organics

It's claim to fame: The overwhelming urge to tell two friends about it

The "organics" in this brand's name was derived from its signature ingredients of pure wheat germ oil & honey. Ads proudly proclaimed their "exclusive patented ACP," but never spelled out exactly what that was. Tracking down a vintage bottle for sale on eBay (seriously, why do people still own 30+ year old shampoo?), I discovered that ACP stood for Allantoin Calcium Pantothenate, which is a soothing and healing conditioning agent in hair and skin products. Wheat Germ Oil and Honey were indeed listed in the ingredients, but after more questionable conditioning and antistatic agents like stearalkonium chloride and Quaternium-15. On the plus side, the shampoo was acid balanced and contained no phosphates, and promised not to strip color.

Your TIA Update: Try Osmotics FNS Revitalizing Shampoo ($21), which contains wheat amino acid, algae, vitamins and extracts of avocado, carrot, cucumber and ginseng.

Body on Tap

Its claim to fame: Beer

This beer-enriched shampoo debuted in 1978 had a formula that was 1/3 real beer. According to this article by the company's former purchasing manager, the beer used was none other than Budweiser, but it had to be denatured so as not to be taxed as alcohol. This was first accomplished with formaldehyde, but later changed to Bitrex after concerns were raised. See if you can recognize a young Kim Basinger in the shampoo commercial, which cheerfully warned people "don't drink it!"

Your TIA update: Try Broo Craft Beer Shampoo ($10), which uses real handcrafted beer made in the USA and is free of sulfates, synthetics, and silicones.

Clairol Herbal Essences

Its claim to fame: "A garden of earthly delights"

Clairol Herbal Essences

Although still manufactured, today's revamped formula of Herbal Essences is different from the 1972 original that claimed to be "the most beautiful shampoo experience on earth." The iconic original green-colored shampoo, with its commercials featuring a flower-laden wood nymph, was a non-alkaline pH shampoo made with natural protein and the essence of 17 herbs and wildflowers. Now owned by Procter & Gamble, Herbal Essences seems to have strayed from the forest with ingredients that include Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Sodium Xylenesulfonate and Tetrasodium EDTA.

Your TIA update: Try Yarok Feed Your Volume Shampoo ($28), which is all-natural, 100 percent vegan, and free of alcohol, parabens, and sulfates. It nourishes hair its aromatic blend of organic herbs, flowers, vitamins, minerals and essential oils.

Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific

It's claim to fame: Um... terrific smelling hair

Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific

This fragrance shampoo touted its flowery, spicy scent as its key selling point. Though many might remember it fondly, we probably would be less enthused about its key ingredient of deer musk that was responsible for its famous scent. Alas, deer musk has since been deemed an unacceptable ingredient by the International Fragrance Association (IFA), leaving us with less fragrant hair but much happier deer.

Your TIA update: Try Shielo Hydrate Moisturizing Shampoo ($24), which moisturizes and protects hair with organic extracts of white tea and shea butter, soothes the scalp with hibiscus and vanilla cactus and has a peachy, tropical scent.

  • March 15, 2017

    by Trish

    Sure wish Clairol would bring back the Original Herbal Essence Shampoo...the new shampoos introduced a few years ago absolutely have NO RELATION to the fabulous fragrance of the Herbal Essence of the 1970s!! I use the 'Colour Me Happy' in the red bottle (have colour treated hair, and actually avoid using it most of the time....PLEASE bring back the original. Was it perhaps under a patent that can no longer be used?
    Also, looking at this page sure brings back memories: my mom brought me up on Breck and know I used the other shampoos shown...hair was really #1 then!!

  • November 27, 2016

    by Applegirl68

    I remember Timotei and Halo. I think in today's shampoos live-clean is not so bad and some of the herbal essences are pretty good too. From the professional brands ISO for color-treated hair leaves hair smelling nice. It is hard to find herbal/wildflower shampoos in the stores. I tried a shampoo made in Poland and it smelled very herbal. It is green and has a picture of horsetail herb on the bottle. They even have one with nettles. I think you can find those shampoos in a Russian or Polish store.

  • October 28, 2016

    by John

    I recently found a bottle of Clairol Herbal Essence Shampoo from 1981. I grew up using this product and the conditioner. The bottle I found at an estate sale had never been opened. I used it tonight and I can't believe the memories it brought back. The most amazing thing was the difference it made my hair feel. I think that we should get together and demand that the people who make this should bring it back. If enough consumers demand that the original formula be recreated I believe they will want to make the sales. I can't understand why they would have ever stopped.

  • October 10, 2016

    by Branka

    I also remember that shampoo Protein 21. I used that as a teenager and I used Faberge Wheatgerm and Honey (it was a bit sticky if I remember correctly), Alberto VO5, Beerontap (didn't like that one so much). The best was definitely Herbal Essence.

  • October 10, 2016

    by Branka

    I also miss that original Clairol Herbal Essence Shampoo with the girl on the bottle. I haven't seen it in Canada for 35 years. I don't know why it is so difficult for the company to make it come back. I did find a shampoo recently that had a similar scent. It is called Martina Collection-Jojoba Shampoo. It has that herbal smell and the way you hair smells after is so nice and fresh. Some shampoos actually make your hair smell moldy like Finesse (not my favorite) but not this one from Martina Collection. I highly recommend it. It is not expensive either. Google it.

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