1930s Beauty: Jean Harlow and the Rise of the Peroxide Blonde

Jean Harlow 1930s Peroxide Blonde

Jean Harlow 1930s Peroxide Blonde

Jean Harlow, the original blonde bombshell, started the trend for bleaching hair in the 1930s. Before this it was very much just prostitutes woman of ill-repute who coloured their hair, it certainly wasn’t something done by ‘nice girls’

When Harlow exploded onto the silver screen in the early 1930s her white blonde hair caused a real stir. Throughout the 1920s fashions had favoured dark-haired girls, and the movie stars of the 20s reflected this, jut think of the 20s style icons Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Theda Bara etc. All ‘natural’ dark haired beauties.

But Harlow changed all this. Throughout her career she maintained that her hair colour was completely natural, but was ‘outed’ by her hairdresser who said he used a toxic mixture of peroxide, ammonia, Clorox (domestic liquid bleach) and Lux flakes to colour her hair.

Whether her hair colour was natural or not (it wasn’t) it started off a huge change in hair fashions. By the end of the 1930s pretty much every Hollywood star had blonde hair, even Bette Davis and Joan Crawford went platinum blonde for a while (see the gallery of 1930s platinum blondes below)!

On a more sinister note there’s a suggestion that Harlow’s drastic weekly hair bleaching contributed to her early death. She died in 1937 aged just 26 from kidney failure, by which time her hair had started to fall out and she was wearing a wig. The hair dye Harlow used really was toxic, if you mix together Ammonia and Clorax it creates hydrochloric acid, which when inhaled can cause kidney damage.

Who knows whether was her platinum blonde hair that ultimately killed her, or whether it was caused by one of the other rumoured contributing factors (which ranged from her party-lifestyle to alcoholism, to extreme-dieting, sunstroke, a botched abortion or various venereal diseases).

Either way, by the time of her tragic death, Jean Harlow had changed the way we think about hair colour forever. The platinum blonde was here to stay!

Images source and copyright: 1, 2, 3:This work is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and although there may or may not have been a copyright notice, the copyright was not renewed. 4: This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.5, 6: Some rights reserved by pds209, source

5 thoughts on “1930s Beauty: Jean Harlow and the Rise of the Peroxide Blonde

  1. Pingback: The first celebrity car-crash life: Starlet Jean Harlow, the 1930s man-eater who never wore underwear | Mail Online | StrawberryCouture Hats

  2. Blaise Williams

    White henna as it was then called was not entirely different from modern hair bleach . Both contained ammonia and hydrogen peroxide , the soap flakes acted as a thickener . Absent were chlorine bleach , which has little effect on hair pigment , and also any modern hair conditioner . Due to the the long contact with the scalp to lift dark hair to a pale level scalp blisters were common . To over come the yellow tones a rinse of laundry bluing was commonly used .

  3. Suzanne Merlo

    I can’t believe anyone is still perpetuating the Jean Harlow myth. None of your speculation is true, and she was nothing like the “man eating, heavy drinker” you’ve so sadly described. Please- take the time to read any one of the several well written biographies about her before writing such lies, garbage. She was so much more than that, and it’s a shame that you write so many articles including her, only to trash the crap out of her. Btw, she died of kidney failure from repercussions of having Scarlet fever as a preteen.


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