One of the very worst cruelties of ageing is hair loss. While it is not rare to see a woman with a thinning scalp or less than lustrous tresses, it is obviously far, far, worse for the male of the species. For youths that prized their flowing locks but as bald-pated middle-agers stand wistfully looking at old photographs of their unrecognizable selves, it is a painful shift in identity; a slow trauma that is not much talked about (you are supposed to just accept it, or else get a full false sewn on thatch like Elton John); get on with your life.

Statistically speaking, it is well known (and obvious to the eye) that male pattern baldness is by far the most common among Caucasian men; in terms of ethnicity, Chinese and Japanese people apparently have the lowest rate. Hair in Japan tends to be much thicker and there is far more of it – none of this wispy blonde and light brown business, as ephemeral as farm straw in the summer; a lot of older men stand proudly on the trainplatforms in the morning in their perfect suits and shoes with frankly gorgeous hair, tailored precisely the way that they want it, slicked back, black as crow’s feathers, and clipped at the sides – and I can only walk by in envy or admiration ( I can hardly imagine what it must feel like). Japanese barbers use drastically thinning scissors in their salons in order to tame hair, thin it out and make it more manageable – in the past, I have come out of barbers looking like a newly born gosling or someone that has escaped from a hospital in a nightgown because of this treatment (since the pandemic I have been cutting my hair myself, not having been even once to have it seen to, and am currently in the middle of a ‘non-style’ that I actually don’t mind).

Here, there is actually almost a stigma attached to losing hair or being bald that verges on prejudice. As though there were something lacking in your personality that caused it in the first place; a weakness; something to be ashamed of – the most notorious example being of a vicious and abusive politician who was brought down for maltreatment and haranguing of her staff and was one day caught on tape shouting at a hapless administrator: ‘kono hage!!’ – you bald bastard…..and which has now become something of a well-known catchphrase and guaranteed to make the students laugh should I use it in the right, ironic, context. It is also very clearly rather mean, and demonstrates the scorn shown here for the hairless ; the subconscious need to hold on to it for as long is humanly possible.

Given this follicular fascism- whenever I leave Japan and arrive at any European airport it is like strolling through fields of tall potatoes, as I am painfully reminded of my genetic destiny – all of my male cousins are either fully bald or virtually, and I am myself receding at the front and have been for a while, so it does just seem like a matter of time until I have to accept that reality. I do still seem to be fine on top, though, for the time being at least, and with the right hair care can even on certain days sometimes pull off a half decent show. If it happens it happens (and thankfully, when offset with facial hair particularly, I think it can actually be pretty sexy): I am not obsessed with this issue , but at the same time I think you might as well preserve it as long as you can.

Both of us in this house regularly use virgin coconut oil on our hair at night – as a scalp treatment, and for hair growth. In my case, employed with a particular, natural lavender and rosemary shampoo I like for some shine and a less wispy overall appearance – (oh the recent dismay, with all the strong gales we have been having, of having dealt with your barnet in the morning and then it being totally ruined by a megagust as you walk along an urban air tunnel – —witness the loon shouting at the sky fruitlessly like Don Quixote – fuck you ! !! ! – screaming at the wind like tumble weed in a ghost town. ) and it seems, from using this combination over the last couple of weeks or so, that ylang oil is definitely another potent weapon in one’s overall anti-baldness artillery.

Ylang ylang is one of the few essential oils that it takes me a long time to get through. It is so strong. It is powerfully optimistic, calming the heartbeat, sweet, luscious, but headache-inducingly sickly if you are not quite in the right mood. I think of this essence as an atom bomb of joy, to be used sparingly (I remember when I first encountered natural living ylang ylang growing on someone’s tree in a neighbourhood of the East Javan city of Malang when we were just strolling around one sunny afternoon, I just couldn’t help myself stealing some from their garden without skipping a heartbeat or thinking of the Indonesian police – I was so beside myself to be seeing it in creamily yellow flesh). The flowers smell abundantly lovely, of course, in perfumes and in ointments, but the extract from them is also very good for the skin. A couple of weeks ago I had a long and luxuriant bath using the original frangipani monoi, created with flower-infused coconut oil from Tahiti (have you tried this stuff?) with some extra ylang ylang oil poured in for good measure – an absurd, tropical steamhouse that resulted in quite astonishingly good skin the next day (the kind of wrinkleless is that me? effect when you look in the mirror). This is not something I could do on a regular basis, as you would erupt in tropical pimples; the oil from the monoi stayed on the skin, in every crevice, the smell lingered oddly. But there was the incontrovertible evidence visible on the face the following morning that this combination just naturally does something; moisturizes, smooths, brightens; deflects.

The Victorians were known for their famous Macassar oil (among other things), a punctiliously oleaginous combination of coconut and kusum oil with ylang ylang and other floral oils that became the rage through the empire ; arrogant, presumptive colonial dandies smoothing their pomades back with glistening and therapeutically scented oils (something I admit I find rather erotic; tweaked moustaches and starched white shirts and breeches complemented with the tremulous sweetness of flowers); but also of course necessitating the famous anti-macassars that were laid on the back of armchairs in order to avoid their being smeared and ruined in grease. Remembering this recently, I decided I would try using ylang ylang essential oil in my hair myself, just to see.

I will admit that my first experiment was not very successful. Being me, I naturally added too many drops to the shampoo, which deadened the bubbles of the foam and went back like brylcreem before rinsing (I should have realized). By the time I had reached the evening at work, this had turned into an embarrassing slimefest that made me feel like an old pervert combover (in Japan they call it a ‘barcode’) – a foul raincoat loitering on a street corner. Clearly, ylang ylang is deeply moisturizing : so if you have oily hair already it is probably best avoided (or just a tiny, tiny drop smudged into your shampoo for an extra sheen). It is definitely recommended though for anyone wanting a booster: significantly reducing the dosage the other day, I was quite pleased with the results; a thickening and strengthening sensation that gave me a pleasingly unfamiliar sense of hair security. The scent doesn’t overly linger; the feeling is natural; a ylang ylang ‘bounce’.

Edit : just got ready for work and tried it again ( for an ‘unfiltered selfie’ )- I would say two small drops is the ideal amount, at least for my personal hair quota. If you have it in abundance – go for it.


Filed under Flowers

14 responses to “YLANG YLANG & HAIR

  1. Julie Zam

    So distinguished! Not to worry re baldness-more room for kisses!

  2. OnWingsofSaffron

    “Hair security” — just love that!

  3. David

    You look very distinguished, very handsome. I recommend castor oil and amla oil to prevent hair loss. I went to the dermatologist a few weeks ago and she complimented me on my “hydrated” hair. That was the nicest thing someone has said to me since my general physician complemented me on my clean ears.

    I am impressed with myself because I have ventured away from my leather fragrances and I am deep into white flowers, the more indolic the better. I love ylang ylang. Very sensual. I ordered some soliflore fragrances from Hové (I love your post about your visit to the New Orleans shop…actually, your piece about New Oreans and Florida is one of my favorite things on your blog….yes, I fanboy your archives). I can’t get away with them when I am out and about and my husband locks me away in the spare room when I wear them, but I am having a grand old time exploring this aspect of fragrance (thanks to your archives).

    • This makes me so happy to read – I love the idea of having ‘archives’ – it has become quite the body of work in away and I am so happy that I started doing it (almost a decade ago!)

      Delighted you are swooning in white flowers. Which ones? I would love to know. Have you tried Francesca Bianchi’s Tyger Tyger? That is a good one. And I adore Heeley’s Bubblegum Chic/Jasmine OD. The other day I bought Suisen by Osaji – a super indolic jasmine narcissus that I love smelling but whose end notes smell like something dead on my skin. What does the husband make of this floral overload?!

  4. O Asian cultures and their prized thick, jet black hair. It’s the same here in South Asia too. I have the typical Northern European thin, baby fine, and wispy hair too. Whenever I’ve been to a hair salon in India or Nepal the hairdresser usually exclaims in horror, “Madame, you have very fine, thin hair!” Like I have some life-threatening comorbidity. Yes, madame knows all about her hair already, thank you very much. I do my own hair because the hairdressers here have no idea how to cut or color my “”Nordic” hair.
    I do have to laugh when Asians often ask to touch my hair. They marvel at how soft it is in comparison to their rather bristly, thick, and wiry locks. I tell them I have pashmina hair. 😝
    I think your Caesar styled crop looks quite chic, distinguished, and handsome. High foreheads give a serene and dignified appearance to my eye, and are yet another rarity (and possible beauty flaw?) in Asia.

  5. Goodness you look quite dapper!
    I have to try and find a hair cair line with ylang-ylang in it. I have super dry hair and I am sure that it would benefit it and smell divine as well.
    I have hair down to my knees, but it has become so unmanageable lately. I really need to find a new conditioner that may help. As I said, dryness, plus long hair does not equal a happy situation. The heavier and richer the products, the better.

  6. Robin


    “Barcode” got a chuckle out of me.

    I like my swoony-type tropical yellow/white florals as bit players in a scent, pretty much. Something like Songes or Intense Tiare makes me queasy. I always feel like a Palm Beach grandma on her fourth facelift.

    I don’t think I could do even a drop of oil in my shampoo. For me, that spells stringy lankness within six hours! Too bad, because it would be fun to play around with oils. I do always spray the nape of my neck and into the hairline with fragrance. It wafts, it lasts.

  7. What a detailed explanation! Indeed, Ylang-ylang essential oil can be used to help treat hair loss that is caused by stress or alopecia. People have been using it as an ingredient in Macassar hair oil since the Victorian era.

    Loved reading this piece!

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