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What is Hair Tonic?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Hair tonic is a product which is used to style hair. Historically, hair tonic was in widespread use, but many people have replaced tonic with gel, mousse, and a variety of other styling products which tend to leave the hair less greasy than traditional hair tonic. Some drug stores and hair salons continue to carry hair tonic for customers who like to use it, and people can also make hair tonic at home.

Like other “tonics,” hair tonic is supposed to make the hair healthier. A wide variety of largely spurious claims were made on the packaging for hair tonic historically, including claims that using hair and scalp tonic could reverse baldness, or that hair tonic would make the hair grow longer and thicker. In fact, like most hair care products, the main function of hair tonic is to make the hair look better, and to make it easier to style.

When hair tonic is applied, it makes the hair glossier, something which many people view as a sign of health in the hair. The oils in the hair tonic also help hold the hair in place, making it easier to style, much like mousse or hair spray. For people with dry hair, using a hair tonic can help moisturize the hair, preventing split ends, broken hair, and dull hair. However, hair tonic also tends to weigh down the hair, and it can create a listless or flattened appearance, which some people consider undesirable.

In addition to an oil which coats the hair, many hair tonics are also scented, with formulations for both men and women being available. To use the tonic, people brush their hair out and massage the tonic into their hair and scalps. Massage helps to stimulate circulation to the scalp, promoting scalp health, while the tonic moisturizes the hair and scalp. Once the tonic has been applied, the hair can be styled, with the tonic holding the hair in place and giving it a shiny appearance.

This hair product cannot promote hair growth, reverse baldness, or make hair grow in thicker, but it can make hair easier to manage, while promoting healthier hair in people with a dry hair type. It should be applied in moderation to prevent a greasy buildup in the hair, and some hair tonics may need to be washed out at the end of the day, or they will stain bedding and attract dirt.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon990258 — On Apr 13, 2015

I've been using it for about four or five years now. I'm 55 and I find it makes my hair feel thicker, and I can style it, too. Even when the wind is blowing, it stays in place. I wear my hair a little long on top. It's funny how I notice when I'm out and about, some people look at me like what's on your hair, but they don't ask. I see their eyes checking me out! I love it!

By anon342996 — On Jul 26, 2013

Today I started to use hair tonic. After last week I discovered my hair was falling out like crazy. I'm using Aily Hair Tonic. Tonight I'm going to use it.

By anon331755 — On Apr 24, 2013

I discovered hair tonic about a month ago, and I really like what it does to my hair. I have long, straight brown hair, and it tends to frizz and look dull. I put it on dry hair at first, but it has made a much better difference when applied on damp hair. Hair feels and looks silky, not greasy. I like the smell of it too.

I'm 41 and I guess I went "old school" with this one. The brand I use is the generic Walgreen's version of Vitalis.

By anon325094 — On Mar 14, 2013

I'm slightly confused but what exactly can you use to make hair darker? The problem is I have a patient who wants her hair to be black so are there any tonics, tablets or pills available for her?

By anon315146 — On Jan 22, 2013

Quinine based tonics actually can stop baldness as much as Nioxin.

By sunshined — On Oct 22, 2012

I remember always seeing a bottle of Vitalis hair tonic in the bathroom when I spend the night at my grandparents house. I think my grandpa used this on his hair most of his life.

I prefer to use gel in my hair instead of hair tonic. I know many people that use hair tonic say it doesn't make their hair feel greasy, but I don't care so much for the look or the feel.

I am just glad there are several choices available for everyone. I know some men who would be pretty upset if they didn't have hair tonic, where I could easily go without it.

By Mykol — On Oct 22, 2012

I tried using a hair tonic for awhile as I wanted a glossy shine to my hair. Over time it seemed to weigh my hair down and made it feel too greasy. Maybe I was using too much but I quit using it.

I think there are a lot of newer products out there that will do a better job than what I was using. I tried the hair tonic first because that I what I always remember by dad using on his hair.

By SarahSon — On Oct 21, 2012

@anon162876-- I agree, I don't think there is any kind of hair tonic or cream that would slow down a receding hairline or reverse baldness. Too bad there wasn't an easy solution for that. I have tried everything from special creams to an herbal hair tonic and have never noticed anything different. I finally decided to stop spending my money on trying to find something and quit worrying about it.

By anon162876 — On Mar 25, 2011

Nice article. I use Truefitt and Hills Tonic Lotion Special which seems to make my hair feel healthier. It keeps it in place and although it has a bit of oil in it doesn't feel too greasy. In my 40's now and it basically makes my hair feel similar to how it did it my late teens. Doesn't make my hairline recede any slower though. Not sure anything does.

By anon154135 — On Feb 19, 2011

groom&clean by suave is better for dandruff. It's normally by the "touch of grey" hair dye at walgreens.

By anon103839 — On Aug 14, 2010

Does it also work for a very dry scalp? For years i could not do anything with it.

By LitNerd — On Jul 25, 2010

@subway11, Hair tonics and eating right are great ways to get healthy hair. There are also plenty of treatments for your hair that you can do quickly in the comfort of your own home! One famous hair "mask" is the avocado mask. After mashing the flesh of one ripe avocado, add 1 tablespoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix until creamy and then apply to your hair. Leave the mixture in for 20 minutes and then wash out with a gentle shampoo. This will help bring life back to damaged hair that tonics may not seem to be able to fix!

By subway11 — On Jul 22, 2010

Excellent article- I just want to add that hair loss can also be attributed to stress and a poor diet lacking the right amount of protein.

Adjusting your diet to add foods rich in protein such as meat and fish help, but if the problem continues you can also try Rogaine, which is available at most drug stores. There is no prescription necessary to purchase Rogaine.

Rogaine is applied to the top of the head in the areas in which the hair loss is most prominent. This is done twice a day for best results.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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