Macassar oil

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A young man in Herne Bay, Kent, England, around 1903 to 1914, showing hair groomed with Macassar oil

Macassar oil is a compounded oil used primarily by Western European men throughout the 1800s and early 1900s as a hair conditioner to groom and style the hair.[1]

It was popularised by Alexander Rowland (1747-1823), a celebrated London barber. It was then not uncommon for barbers to make their own hair preparations, and around 1783 Rowland began offering Rowland's Macassar Oil. Within two decades it had become hugely popular, and was aggressively advertised with extravagant claims of its effectiveness, becoming one of the first nationally advertised products.

The words Macassar Oil were registered as a trademark by A. Rowland & Sons, in 1888. Rowland's son (also named Alexander) later stated that a relative living in the island of Celebes in the Dutch East Indies had helped in procurement of the basic ingredient.

Macassar oil is often made with coconut oil or palm oil or that of Schleichera oleosa,[2] combined with ylang-ylang oil (obtained by processing the flowers of the ylang-ylang tree, Cananga odorata) and other fragrant oils.[3]

Macassar oil was so named because it was reputed to have been manufactured from ingredients purchased in the port of Makassar in the Dutch East Indies.[4] The poet Byron facetiously called it "thine incomparable oil, Macassar" in the first canto of Don Juan, and Lewis Carroll also mentions "Rowland's Macassar Oil" in the poem "Haddocks' Eyes" from Through the Looking-Glass.

Illustration by Thomas Rowlandson from around 1814 making fun of the false claim in some advertisements that Macassar oil would stimulate hair growth on balding men.

Due to the tendency for the oil to transfer from the user's hair to the back of his chair, the antimacassar was developed. This is a small cloth (crocheted, embroidered or mass-produced), placed over the back of a chair to protect the upholstery.[5]


  1. ^ "Men's Hair Care Lesson: How Conditioner Works". Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2014-06-22. 
  2. ^ Ghosh, P; Chakraborty, P; Mandal, A; Rasul, M G; Chakraborty, Madhumita; Saha, A (Mar–Apr 2011). "Triterpenoids from Schleichera oleosa of Darjeeling Foothills and Their Antimicrobial Activity". Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 73 (2): 231–233. doi:10.4103/0250-474x.91568. PMC 3267311Freely accessible. PMID 22303070. 
  3. ^ "Ylang-ylang essential oil information". 2014-05-29. Retrieved 2014-06-22. 
  4. ^ "Macassar Oil". Retrieved 2014-06-22. 
  5. ^ Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz 1836: Tales: Ch 4, The Tuggses at Ramsgate

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