There has been a resurgence, of sorts, to reclaim the products of years ago for men’s grooming. Men have began to reinvent or reclaim many of the “old school” barbershop techniques.

Guys are preferring the straight edged, single blade shave at the barber shop. They want the oils and shaving creams of yesterday applied to their faces to do so. No truer definition of going “retro” with grooming products are as obvious as that of the hair tonic.

The hair tonics often associated with the Leave It To Beaver and Happy Days generations are becoming more and more popular with young guys.

What is Hair Tonic?

Men have, since their inception, always been the primary users of hair tonics. These are unique from most hair care because they are almost always in liquid form (pomade is sometimes considered a tonic in some respects).

They, for years, have contained mineral oil or a liquid petroleum as the dominant ingredient though some modern adaptations do not include either. It makes the hair look shinier or greasier. These oils, also, work to hold hair in place while allowing styling freedom (it was like mousse before mousse existed). Some other ingredients included were ethanol and fragrant rich oils such as rosemary.

In the 1960s, hair tonics and pomades all but dropped from most men’s daily regime with the introduction of styling gel and mousse. This was largely the case because items like mousse and hairspray held stronger than tonic.

Not until recently has there been a push to, as previously stated, rekindle traditional barber and grooming techniques. Hair tonics are a huge part of that push.

Some common ingredients found in tonics

Nettle  Nettle as a cosmetic additive works great on any hair, prevents hair loss and stimulates hair growth.

White Marigold  Marigold is great for sensitive and irritated scalps. White marigold also helps with regenerating the hair structure.

Wild Chestnut – Not all hair types and styles have the same needs. While some of them require more fats and minerals, others need a gentle care for the scalp or require daily care for the excessive dry and brittle hair. However, for almost all of them, wild chestnut improves hair’s condition, adds volume and helps with hair loss prevention.

Rosemary – Rosemary for all sorts of hair types and scalp conditions and it has been used in all kinds of hair care recipes for hundreds, if not thousands of years already. Besides hair tonics, you can also find rosemary in hair loss shampoos as well as in shampoos for dandruff.

Why use one?

What is hair tonic and how to use it

Image courtesy: photo credit: gfpeck Vaseline Hair Tonic (license)

Claims have long been made about the wonders of hair tonics. Bottles of yesteryear listed that they could reverse the effects of male pattern baldness or that it would give one hair thicker and longer than ever imagined. These claims, while rooted in some sporadic result, were unfounded and unproven for the most part.

The primary function of hair tonic was and will always be as a method of holding hair in a desired spot for styling purposes.

Still, using hair tonic is not without secondary benefits. It serves to moisturize dry hair and dry scalps.

It is proven to reduce split ends. It result in less broken and damaged hair due to its moisturizing capabilities and it reduces and stops dandruff.

On top of that, most hair tonics are usually scented and leave the hair smelling very well in addition to looking nice. Several of these benefits are detriments of other hair holding products.

For example, many hairsprays and hair gels have a fairly high alcohol content with no additional moisturizers resulting in dry, brittle after application.

How does one use Hair Tonic?

When your father or grandfather went to the barber, often hair tonics were called massage lotion or friction lotion. This is largely because they were used to give the customer a stimulating scalp massage. It served as a double whammy for hair health as the blood was stimulated to react with the hair follicles and the tonic infused the hair and scalp with moisture for conditioning purposes.

Just as barbers have done for years, hair tonic is intended to be massaged deep into the hair and onto the scalp. This allows the tonic to interact with every part of the hair and scalp.

Quickly after massaging the lotion deep into the hair, it is time to style the hair as one sees fit. The tonic will hold the hair in the desired location and give it that shine most often associated with hair tonics.

It is worth noting, hair tonics should be used with restraint because overuse results in a nasty buildup on the hair.

Safety Concerns with Hair Tonics

Hair tonic containing ethanol and other harmful oils is poisonous if swallowed. The digestion of hair tonic will make one vomit, diarrhea, give the feeling of drunkenness, and has even made some have a comatose state for long periods of time. If for some reason hair tonic is ingested, seek medical help as soon as possible. While waiting for help, the victim should be given water or milk quickly to try to flush the tonic out of the system as soon as possible.

Always remember to wash out hair before bedtime when using a tonic. Due to the oils with in hair tonic, it can stain the pillow and sheets and served as a magnet for dirt and debris.

Who should use it?

Hair tonic works on every hair type and works for most short hair styles as well as long ones.

It works well with dry hair and thin hair. It moisturizes and thickens the hair’s appearance with that added moisture.

It is great on heads that are dandruff prone and it could be easily used next to your favorite dandruff shampoo. For mean who use use mousses or pomades, hair tonic serves as a greaseless alternative. Pomade and mousse are notorious for making the hair appear overly greasy.

What to look for in Hair Tonic?

A move has caused many modern hair tonics to move to an alcohol and ethanol free formula.

Alcohol and Ethanol serve to counteract the effects of moisturizing ingredients of the tonic by drying out the hair and scalp while other ingredients attempted to moisturize. Some is lost with the loss of alcohol in tonics though, they tend to dry more slowly than they used to and alcohol really cleans the hair and scalp.

Ethanol and certain alcohols are also known to stimulate hair growth as well.

If ones hair is not particularly dry, using alcohol with care can still be done. Never use alcohol on dry or damaged hair.

Some of the most popular hair tonics

Clubman Pinaud Eau de Quinine Compound Hair Tonic (12.5 oz.)

Clubman has made fine men’s grooming products since 1810. Today they offer a wide range of products that remain true to the brand’s heritage that are still somehow relevant and extremely effective. They have considered of high, timeless quality and do not disappoint.

This must be one of the most popular hair tonics available today. The tonic is intended to be applied daily and massaged deeply into the scalp and hair. It removes dandruff, leaves the hair looking healthy and easy to style.

It aides in hair growth as it stimulates surface circulation of the scalp. It is so effective the bottle is still labeled, “For Professional Use Only.” This should not scare one off because it is safe for home use but it old days these products could not be bought over the counter and the package has not changed must since then.

It smells like an old school barber shop. It is medicinal with floral hints. Some think the alcohol smell is overbearing and last too long. The price is pretty standard for hair tonics. (Overall rating 4.0)

Reuzel Grooming Tonic (11.83 oz.)

Reuzel products come from the origins of a men-only barbershop in Rotterdam. As looking for quality ingredients for their clients, these barbers researched and came up with what they believe are the world’s finest. Reuzel is a Dutch word for lard and serves as a wink to the past when hair care products were made with animal fat.

This product is great for all hair types and gives a perfect environment for styling. It can be sprayed to make the hair look wet or brushed in for a more natural look. It instantly adds life and volume and gives a lingering shine.

It has the most natural looking hold of any of the listed tonics. It is said to apply like a standard tonic but set like a light gel.

It is not greasy and smells great. It contains PVP for hold and witch hazel for healthy hair. It does contain benzyl alcohol but does not seem to overly dry out.

A highly recommended product that have left many satisfied customers all over the globe the past few years.

Vitalis Hair Tonic for Men (7 oz.)

This has been the standard for many hair tonic users for years. It debuted in the 1940. It was revolutionary as it found out have to provide a shine without the grease because of its discovery of a product called V7.

This Vitalis hair tonic gives a handsome sheen to the hair and makes it easier to comb and style. Still, it does not provide much hold. It requires continued application for the wet look.

It has a high alcohol content that leaves the hair with the usual antiseptic smell. It is worth mentioning that it is a fire hazard due to its high alcohol level so beware of open flames. It comes in that classic glass bottle most are accustomed to seeing their grandfather used. It is cheap and a great entry into the hair tonic world. (Overall rating 4.0)

Closing thoughts

Many men are familiarizing themselves with the benefits of hair tonic, again. It gives a beautiful shine and little, subtle hold for styling. It takes one back to a place when barbershops were one of the most important, relaxing places for men.

If looking for a product that provides many of the benefits of pomade, hair clays, gels, and hairsprays without the high cost and greasy aftermath, try hair tonics.

It, like your dad or grandfather, maybe exactly what you are looking for. After all, many men have used these tonics for decades for desired hair styling and health and live with the motto, “if it isn’t broke, why fix it?”


Main image courtesy: Yura White/