How Sake Dean Mahomed Birthed “Shampoo”

The rise and fall of an Indian man from Patna who changed hygiene forever.

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Sake Dean Mahomed, oil painting by Thomas Mann Baynes, 1810 (Brighton & Hove Museums)

Sukhada Tatke

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May 13, 2024

Jonathan Morgan, a British man suffering from “inward and outward piles,” had tried everything to no avail. Finally, in 1818, he wrote effusively about a novel treatment: “I had been under the care of several professional gentlemen…but was afforded no relief. I repeat, I am now perfectly cured.” This supposed cure could address afflictions ranging from epileptic fits and sore thumbs to rheumatism and spinal accidents. The miracle? “Shampooing,” namely massage or vapor baths that were the precursors to spas. 

By 1826, one could find numerous accounts of these spectacular recoveries in a book published in the British seaside town of Brighton: Shampooing, or, Benefits resulting from the use of the Indian medicated vapour bath. It touted the advantages of a warm bath and specialty ointments that only the author — S.D. Mahomed, whom the cover described as “a native of India” — knew. The man from Patna had somehow translated a traditional practice from India to Britain, finding fame, fortune, and a clientele that ranged from Jonathan Morgan to kings. And this is his story.

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