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Caring for your hair in the tropics

To celebrate #hairyarchives, part of the Explore your Archives campaign, we thought it would be appropriate to quickly highlight one of our archival manuscripts on sanitary care in the tropics. Written by Dr James Balfour-Kirk to his godson who was travelling through the tropics with his family in 1925, Kirk provides a candid point by point guide to surviving in the tropics including chapters on personal hygiene, keeping cool, rest and disease. Chapter 15 is titled ‘The Toilet’ and covers personal appearance and hygiene, he has some advice on ‘whether women proceeding to the tropics should cut their hair or not’.

His advice is as follows:

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Page from Balfour Kirk manuscript

‘The hygienist’s answer to the question is a vigorous affirmative. Luxuriant tresses should not be encouraged in the tropics, because in these regions the head is much more exposed to dust and vermin than it is in temperate climates. When a woman has long hair there is a limit to the number of time she can shampoo it, and if she should happen to become infected with head lice the infection may become well established before it is detected. The suggestion that they might become infected with head lice would probably be indignantly repudiated by nine ladies out of ten who had never resided in the tropics; but one has only to remark the frequency with which one sees the natives meticulously combing through each other’s heads to realize how widespread the infection is, and to recollect the number of times one has been called in consultation by some indignant European sufferer from the infection to appreciate how easy it is to pick up these unwholesome parasites.

I do not mean to imply that merely cutting the hair short will diminish the risk of infection, but I do say that the infection will be discovered earlier and will be eradicated more quickly if that is done.

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Staff from the Ross Institute in the Far East, c.1930s

Fortunately, it is fashionable nowadays for ladies to crop their hair, so that I can recommend this hygienic measure to Marjorie secure in the knowledge that hygiene and fashion combine to make it acceptable.’

There is plenty more advice in this fascinating manuscript, please contact: for more information.

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