I have just seen a post on Facebook where someone is wondering about how much beer they need to put in a beer shampoo. They aren’t very sure – in fact they are considering anything between 5 and 50%. That’s a lot of beer! The only thing they are sure of is that they need to open the beer the day before to let it go flat.
Well it triggered off some memories for me of actually making beer shampoo back in the eighties. The recipe made me laugh at the time. In between the trade names for things like cocamide DEA and ammonium lauryl sulfate was “Watneys Party Seven”. This is a long forgotten product from a now defunct brewery. Watneys was in its day, i.e., the sixties, one of the biggest beer brands in the UK. It may well have been the biggest at one point. Its trademark red barrel was certainly a common sight when I was growing up. The party seven was a large tin that contained 7 pints of beer, which was enough to lubricate a party.
It was also enough to support a claim of being a beer shampoo. I never thought to work it out at the time, but the batch size was 1000 tonnes, so the beer content was just under 4%. There was no need to let it go flat prior to addition.
Beer shampoos are in fact a long standing tradition in the UK. Beer has quite a high protein content, and for some reason or other the proteins in beer are well suited to coating the hair shaft. The choice of beer was important, with darker beers being favoured. This might just be because they looked like they were more effective. But it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that darker beers like stout and brown ale have a higher protein content than bitters or lagers. Watneys bitter was always a shade darker than its competitors which might be why that one was chosen.
Water soluble proteins in general tend to be charged and so are good at attaching themselves to damaged hair shafts thus improving its condition. Other protein sources have been used over the years – notably eggs. Obviously these are folklore rather than science. The conditioning effect was determined by empirical observation. It isn’t unknown for people who have been drinking a lot of beer to pour it over one another’s heads.
Now that we understand how the hair works it is possible to come up with much better ways of conditioning the hair. I have a feeling that my Facebook friend will find that 50% is going to do a better job than a lower level. It may not be the most conditioning shampoo ever made, but it is nice to keep a tradition going.