Brown Bag Lecture: “Dyeing for Change:  A Historical Perspective on Tress-Altering Chemicals”

Brown Bag Lecture icon
Date: April 1, 2014
Time: 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Event Type: Open to the Public
Fee: Free
RSVP Online: No Registration Required

A talk by Rebecca Guenard

Personal-care products are steeped in dichotomy, evoking the radiance and natural beauty of youth through synthetic, prescribed means. Chemically formulated products promise to erase any evidence of time’s passage. Hair dye provides a unique service among these products. It can cover gray and restore youthfulness, but it can also establish a persona. A person’s hair is a predominant part of their overall aesthetic. They rely upon dye products to identify them as the person they perceive themselves to be: a fun-loving blonde, a devilish redhead, a counter-culture punk.   

Our cultural relationship with hair dye has not changed much throughout history, nor surprisingly has the product. Caustic chemicals (established centuries ago) are still the only means for stripping color from hair. And the dyes used in hair color today are the same substances derived from coal tar for use in the textile industry over half a century ago. This talk will reflect on the history of hair-dye formulas and their significance through the ages as a means of both adherence to and rejection of social trends.   

Guenard is a Société de Chimie Industrielle Fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry and is now a freelance science writer. Her regular gigs include curating a Tumblr blog called atomic-o-licious and writing for Kids Discover. She is also the cocreator of a television program geared toward a nonspecialized, adult audience. The series she is producing ties together sketch comedy and chemistry education. While at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Guenard aims to use the archives to bring historical content into the show.  

About Brown Bag Lectures

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of weekly informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of CHF staff and fellows and interested members of the public.

For more information, please call 215.873.8289 or e-mail

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