Mother Earth Living

An Herbal Guide to Healthy Hair

This botanical beauty regimen will help tresses shine and feel soft at any age.
By Melinda Minton
July/August 1999

Did you know that long hair, damaged hair, chemically treated hair, and the hair of people older than thirty will all benefit from a deep conditioning pack once a week.
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Throughout time, hair has served as a bodily adornment, protector from the ­elements, and part-time obsession. Growing only one-tenth of an inch per week and shedding roughly forty to eighty hairs per day, hair is lusted after by many who simply wish they had more of the stuff.

Hair that’s only one foot long (approximately shoulder length) is more than two years old at the ends; truly long-tressed beauties carry living histories in their hair. Like the rings of a tree, the hair shaft reveals its experiences over the years—pregnancies, environmental changes, stress, chemical damage, dietary habits, and a host of other life happenings.

During one’s twenties, hair is at its fullest, most lustrous stage. Excessive oiliness at this time of life can be remedied with astringent herbal shampoos that contain witch hazel, lemongrass, grapefruit, or tea tree.

By contrast, as the first gray appears during the thirties, hair begins to grow finer in texture and thin out through loss. This pattern picks up speed as people reach their forties and fifties. Plucking out gray hair is futile because the original hair has become thinner, drier, and duller. For women, as menopause sets in, hormonal fluctuations trigger radical changes in hair growth patterns, textures, and total hair mass. Special herbal treatments are often the answer for thin, lifeless hair; nourishing herbal conditioners become more and more necessary; and herbal colorants become increasingly tempting to use (see page 60).

Choosing An Herbal Hair Care Regimen

Hair care constitutes a major segment of the health and beauty industry. Americans spend about $140 billion on beauty products each year, with $68 billion of that spent on professional and over-the-counter hair-care products, according to the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. Consumers are left largely on their own when learning about the quality of hair-care product ingredients, including preservatives, fragrances, dyes, and additives, and when choosing a formulation that matches their hair type.

If you opt for natural hair-care products, keep your standards high. Is the formula made up of organically cultivated ­ingredients? Are the listed ingredients appropriate for your hair? Are there minimal amounts of preservatives, fragrances, and colorants?

When buying over-the-counter hair products, remember that shampoos are primarily made up of mild detergent and water. Conditioners consist mainly of an emulsifying agent and water; the remaining ingredients should correspond to your hair health goals.

•For chemically treated hair, look for a low pH to compensate for the higher pH of the treated hair. The detergent should be ultra mild so that it doesn’t strip the color or perm out of the hair.

•For lifeless, limp hair, volumizing shampoos and conditioners are the answer. Typically made up of protein combinations, these formulations can actually plump up the cortex of the hair, making the hair shaft larger in diameter. Unfortunately, body-building shampoos and conditioners can coat the hair and render it “heavy.”

•For dry, brittle, and damaged hair, moisturizing products contain sugars, botanicals, and natural plant oils that add moisture to dry, brittle, and damaged hair. These products are especially appropriate for chemically treated hair and can give naturally curly or permed hair the “kick” it needs to hold an even curl throughout the day.

•For dandruff or psoriasis, medicated shampoos on the commercial market are almost always made of coal tar derivatives. Coal tar has been deemed carcinogenic in various forms by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Medicated herbal blends are the ideal alternative to coal tar, and homemade products to treat these problems are uniquely effective because you can adjust the contents to fit your hair type (see the recipe for the Antidandruff Rinse on page 58).

General Hair Care Tips

Most people need a daily or every-other-day cleansing combined with light to heavy conditioning. Long hair, damaged hair, chemically treated hair, and the hair of people older than thirty will all benefit from a deep conditioning pack once a week. Swimmers, individuals who use styling products, and those on medication should clarify or strip the hair shaft at least once a month to prevent build-up.


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