Ask the Past: male pattern baldness

Is there anything I can do for male pattern baldness? I know the drugs are supposed to be effective, but I'd prefer a natural remedy.

Well, as long as you're willing to risk a bit of pain and light poisoning, there are lots of good choices. Most of the old remedies include cantharides, which is a chemical harvested from the blister beetle that used to be sold as a poison as well as an aphrodesiac and a cure for baldness. If that appeals, you can try it in this recipe from Enquire Within Upon Everything (1890):

Pomade against Baldness. Beef marrow, soaked in several waters, melted and strained, half a pound; tincture of cantharides (made by soaking for a week one drachm of powdered cantharides in one ounce of proof spirit), one ounce; oil of bergamot, twelve drops.

Australian Etiquette (1885) doubles down on the poisons with the addition of ammonia, as well as instructions for use:

Ammonia one ounce; rosemary one ounce; cantharides four drams; rose-water four ounces; glycerine one ounce.

First wet the head with cold water, then apply the mixture, rubbing briskly.

Regular readers will be unsurprised to hear that ammonia is a popular ingredient in cures for baldness, even the ones that eschew cantharides. Here's another one from Hyleigh's Medical and Stock Book (1932):

Liquid ammonia, 1/2 oz; Olive oil, 1/2 oz; Spirits of Rosemary, 4oz.

This should be rubbed into the scalp gently at first, but more vigorously as the scalp becomes accustomed to it.

And finally, we have this prescription from Lady Hackett's Household Guide (1940), which seems quite similar to the one in Hyleigh's, but with the soothing power of chloroform:

A splendid lotion for falling hair is that used by the late Sir Erasmus Wilson, to be rubbed into the scalp with a small sponge every other day, consists of: Strong liquor of ammonia, 1/2 oz; chloroform, 1/2 oz; oil of sesame, 1/2 oz; oil of lemon, 1/2 oz; and spirits of rosemary, 4 ozs.

I'm sure that will help.

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