What is ‘Champooing,’ and Why Isn’t it in the Dictionary?

Story of an Indian who introduced the idea of the shampoo you use every day

Ajay Sharma
Oct 17, 2020 · 4 min read
Shampoo, India, Sake Dean Mahomed, Massage Therapy, Champi, Champooing, Shampooing
Photo by Ali Mahmoodi on Unsplash

Dean Mahomed was only ten years old when his father died in battle fighting for East India Company in Bengal. Dean became an orphan. An Anglo-Irish officer in the Company, Captain Godfrey Evan Baker, took him into his guardianship. Later, Baker got him appointed in the Company army when he was in his teens.

In an unexpected turn of events, Baker had to resign from the Company service in 1782 on the charge of embezzlement of funds. Now his close associate Dean Mahomed followed him. He also resigned from the Company service the same year. Baker decided to leave India and with Dean Mahomed accompanying him, they traveled to Ireland. It was the year 1784.

Baker took him to his home in Cork, Ireland. Dean Mahomed had picked up English, but he had no formal education. Baker got him admitted to a school where Dean met an Irish girl — Jane Daly. He fell in love with her. Jane’s family was against their friendship. Both of them left home and got married in 1786. Dean Mahomed had already converted to Christianity by then.

Without any job in hand, they moved to London. Dean belonged to a barber family in India and grew up learning champi, a technique of head massage. Armed with this skill, Dean Mahomed started assisting Sir Basil Cochrane, a Scottish civil servant, and businessman, at his vapour bath. He fused his idea of champi or therapeutic massage to the vapour bath he was running. Cochrane’s bath soon became popular in London.

Dean Mahomed had an understanding and entrepreneurial spirit in himself. Now he realized that it was all due to his technique of champooing. He left Cochrane’s job and shifted to Brighton with his family. There he opened a bath on the seafront at East Cliff. He named it Mahomed’s Baths.

Shampoo Surgeon, Sake Dean Mahomed, Sheikh Dean Mohammad, Shampoo, Brighton, Mahomed’s Bath, England, Britain
Sake Dean Mahomed’s spa at Brighton, UK — (Source: British Library, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Presenting himself as an Asian medicine man offering remedies through his herbal medicine and champooing, i.e. shampooing, he gave stiff competition to the Turkish bath, already famous at that time. Newspapers termed his venture as “Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (a type of Turkish bath), a cure to many diseases and giving full relief when everything fails.”

Champooing treatment of Dean Mahomed was therapeutic, and he became popular in the city as Doctor Brighton. However, he preferred calling himself the Shampooing Surgeon.

As this news reached King George IV, Dean Mahomed was invited to the royal court. He provided the King with shampooing and vapour bath and received Warrants of Appointment as royal Shampooing Surgeon. He dressed in an imperial Mughals style when in King’s court. Later, King William IV continued his position in court. Now, he became a celebrity. Dean Mahomed continuously published advertisements in the newspapers.

He published a book about his achievements. In his book, Shampooing; or, Benefits resulting from the use of the Indian medicated vapour bath, As introduced into this country by S. D. Mahomed, he elaborated about his art and craft and included testimonials from his patients. He also supported his claims by using descriptions by Seneca and imperial Rome, where massage was a common thing.

That is how shampooing started in Europe. But the story doesn’t end here.

Dean Mahomed got fame but no credit. He died in the year 1851. After his death, shampooing became hugely popular in Britain. The meaning shifted from the massage to that of applying soap to the hairs. People forgot Dean Mahomed.

Hairstylists of the late 19th century in England added herbs and fragrance to the soap boiled in water and applied to the hairs of their customers. Although shampoos as we know today started entering the market from the turn of the 20th century. The word shampoo entered the English language during the colonial period in the 1760s.

Dean Mahomed also left his autobiographical account. His book The Travels of Dean Mahomet, a Native of Patna in Bengal, Through Several Parts of India, While in the Service of the Honourable the East India Company includes stories of his battles, the people he met and his journeys.

He is also credited to open the first Indian takeaway restaurant in London where you could enjoy Indian Hookah with Chilam tobacco.

Here is an important thing about Indian Shampooing.

Champi as head massage and malish as body massage was widely practiced in India for hundreds of years. Hindi word ‘champo’ comes from the Sanskrit ‘chapayati’ meaning, to soothe. Moreover, Indians have been using several Ayurvedic extracts to rinse their hairs with Amla (Indian gooseberry), Shikakai (Acacia concinna), and Ritha (Indian soapberry). But they did not use the word champi to this hair washing technique.

You watch actresses advertising about shampoo brands in the media and apply it to your hairs almost daily for the health, softness and shine. Hardly have you ever wondered about its name. And rarely have you ever thought about that it has any connection with India. This story is about that non-descript Indian Dean Mohamed. If he had not opened his spa in the British city of Brighton, you would never know about shampoo.

Freethinkr

Think, explore, amuse, be a thought leader.

Sign up for Freethinkr Letters

By Freethinkr

A bi-weekly deep-dive into the minds of free thinkers across Medium and the world wide web. Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Ajay Sharma

Written by

Media professional | Interested in history, psychology, genealogy | atajaynet@gmail.com

Freethinkr

Freethinkr is a place where creatives with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives explore ideas and thoughts through the written word. Whether your outlook is on dissecting the minutia of the day or seeing the humor in life, strive to be imaginative and inspired.

Ajay Sharma

Written by

Media professional | Interested in history, psychology, genealogy | atajaynet@gmail.com

Freethinkr

Freethinkr is a place where creatives with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives explore ideas and thoughts through the written word. Whether your outlook is on dissecting the minutia of the day or seeing the humor in life, strive to be imaginative and inspired.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store