As millennia whiled away, humans continued to spread out all over the earth, Dan says the pattern of hair heritage can still be seen across the world today. “If you think about a globe with the lines across it, there is a commonality in the hair of the people where that line sits, because the environmental conditions are similar.” To name a few examples, the equator cuts through Indonesia, Northern Brazil, Ecuador, and Kenya. The Tropic of Cancer lies across Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and Southern China, whereas the Tropic of Capricorn penetrates Northern Australia, Chile, Southern Brazil and South Africa. “So it’s all sort of the same conditions, it's just the land masses are in different locations.”
Colour me intrigued
Our natural hair and skin colour is determined by the pigment melanin, and more importantly the amount of it. Scientists suggest that ‘darker’ skin tones produce more melanin as it forms a stronger barrier against harmful UV rays, whereas ‘lighter’ skin and hair has less melanin because it allows our body to more easily absorb sunlight and therefore produce vitamin D which is needed to keep bones strong and healthy. So where all human life started out in Africa, we needed protection from the sun on a daily basis, so our skin and hair was naturally dark, packed to the brim with protective melanin. But, as humans migrated north up through Europe, as ‘recently’ as 42,000 years ago, where the sun isn’t as strong, our skin and hair adapted, over many, many generations, to a level that balanced UV protection with the need for Vitamin D.
Scandinavia was the last area of Europe to be settled, after the last bit of ice had melted from the eponymous age, leaving the path clear for settlers just 11,700 years ago. As one of the places on earth to receive the least amount of sunlight, Scandinavians traditionally have the palest skin and lightest hair. “If we look at the classic hair type of North Africa and Southern Mediterranean, it’s obvious they are pretty similar,” Dan says. “Then as we move up from the Mediterranean into central Europe we start to see more traditional Anglo-Saxon hair types: lighter browns, reds and blondes start to emerge. Then as we move over from Britain, to countries like Denmark, the hair begins to lose its colour even more and becomes softer, flater, finer. Then as we go further and further up we lose more and more pigment from the hair to Scandinavia, where most of the people are blonde, and they’re blonde for a reason, they don’t need the pigment in order to protect their hair and skin.”
God loves a redhead
So a decreasing spectrum of pigmentation explains black, brown and blonde hair, but what about redheads? Well it turns out there are actually two types of melanin: the brownish, black of eumelanin, and the reddish yellow of pheomelanin. A lack or a low concentration of one will leave your hair colour a shade of the other. Red hair is the rarest of the hair colours and has the highest amount of pheomelanin, and very low levels of eumelanin, the varying quantities of which will decide whether a person is strawberry blonde, copper or red (least to most eumelanin).
Redheads are predominantly found in the Celtic nations of Ireland (10% of their population), and Scotland (5%), but the Volga region of Russia also celebrates a large concentration of gingers. Dan explains: “The way colour works is light comes in and depending on the chemical makeup of the thing the light wave hits, some light will be absorbed and the light that is reflected back gives you the colour. So you have different chemicals in your hair that reflect light at different wavelengths and that's why you get different colours. So as one type of protein is diminished you start to see different colours coming through, which gives you the blonde red of someone like Lily Cole, which is more Northern European, Scandinavian, whereas someone like Julianne Moore has more of a browner tone to her hair which is more Celtic.”
So where does that leave me?
“If you have diversity in your family, its really good to know because it will help you understand what your hair can and can’t do. We know about it because we formulate products based on it, but I don’t think the cosmetic industry does, because for the most part it tries to works around a standardised ‘one size fits all’ idea of what beautiful is. In order to be able to achieve what you want with your hair, having a knowledge of what it will respond to, will help you to achieve what you want to.”
Just like the old culinary manifesto of ‘what grows together, goes together’, Lush believes knowing your roots, can point you in the direction of which ingredients will be most effective on your hair. “I think that the answers always exist in nature,” Dan explains. “I’m a big believer in using ingredients in harmony with what you naturally have, so when I formulate and recommend products what I'm really interested in is using ingredients that are grown where those people come from in order to elicit the particular desired effects. I find it incredibly inspiring that people were able to develop and survive using what they had around them. Now, just as throughout history, people have wanted to look good, and they would have used whatever was around them to do that. The genetics that will have been passed on, will come from decisions based on attraction. So if these natural materials helped make our ancestor more ‘attractive’, why wouldn’t it work for us?”
As well as concocting an inspiring collection of products, Dan and his colleagues are in the process of taking Lush’s Hair Lab (a deeply bespoke and luxurious hairdressing experience), nationwide, where fully understanding the client’s hair is the order of the day. “With the Hair Lab, we are trying to do something different. There's loads of hair dressers who would give you lots of poor product that’s not right for your hair, wash your hair in cold water, and give you a crap haircut. So you go to the next hairdresser, and the next, and the next. What we’re trying to do is give people a place where they’ll always feel comfortable and belong, rather than how much money can I take trying to make you look like someone you will never look like.
“At the Hair Lab, part of what we do is based on the old BBC principle of ‘inform, educate and entertain’ so we go beyond just asking ‘so what are we doing for you today?’ Because there’s more to it than that. There’s more to know and more to talk about. Cut, colour and condition are the most important things to people when it comes to their hair. It can be helpful to know things like where you’re from or knowing what your hair says about your heritage, because it will help us suggest something that your hair will best respond to. Of course, the heart wants, what the heart wants, but when you embrace what’s natural about you, knowing what your heritage is is really important because it allows you to work with what you’ve got, rather than against it.”
Now you've brushed up on your hair knowledge, you can find the perfect tools for your tresses here.
By Natalie Denton