We all want strong, shiny, beautiful hair. Healthy hair makes us look good and feel even better. If we listen to shampoo commercials, we might think washing our hair daily with store-bought shampoos and conditioners is the way to get the hair we want. But, while keeping our scalps clean and well-nourished is vital for good hair health, this common practice may be doing our tresses more harm than good.
According to a survey by Procter & Gamble, Americans lather up an average of 4.59 times a week, yet many hairstylists and dermatologists agree that’s way too often. Hair is much like fine fibers in our wardrobes: The more we wash it, the more it shows signs of wear and tear. The longer and thicker your hair, the longer it can go in between washings. But even short, thin hair can skip a day without any treatment. Commercial shampoos strip the scalp of its natural oils, known as sebum. When these natural oils are constantly stripped, our oil glands compensate by producing even more oil—leaving hair feeling greasy and in need of another wash the very next day.
Water and harsh detergents make up nearly all of a conventional shampoo’s formulation, with moisturizing emollients and plant extracts often adding up to no more than 1 percent. The detergent (the foam-producing ingredient that dissolves oil) is the most important ingredient to note when buying shampoos. Avoid detergents from the sulfate and glycol families: Sodium lauryl sulfate and propylene glycol are two of the worst offenders. Sodium lauryl sulfate, also used in engine degreasers, is a suspected carcinogen; propylene glycol, a compound used in aircraft deicing fluid, may cause skin irritations such as hives and allergic reactions, even in low doses.
Unfortunately, even organic shampoos can contain harsh ingredients. To find the best shampoos, choose those with low ratings on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database at ewg.org/skindeep (see a few of our favorites on the next page).
Shampooing less often can help straight hair reclaim its natural fullness and body, and maybe even give it a wavy texture that has otherwise been shampooed out. Rework your washing regimen: Aim to use shampoo only three times a week.
Slaves to shampoo may find this number extreme, but it’s possible—and actually better—to refresh your hair without shampoo every once in awhile. Between washings, treat your hair with some of the natural solutions to follow.
The No-Poo Method: Giving Up Shampoo Completely
What would happen if you stopped using commercial shampoos completely? Many people have committed to such a challenge, referring to it as the “no-poo method,” with promising results. Once the difficult transition period wears off—the few weeks where your hair may feel too greasy or too dry—the positive effects will start to show. Your hair will start producing its natural oils at a slower rate, leaving it naturally soft and wavy. As a bonus, the no-poo method is cheaper than buying organic shampoos and it’s a surefire way to control the ingredients that come into contact with your hair.
To try the no-poo method, follow this simple two-step routine. (If you don’t want to eliminate shampoo completely, try this same routine between washings to cut back on the amount of shampoo you use.)
1. Baking soda “shampoo.” Versatile baking soda has the power to replace shampoo entirely, as it removes styling product buildup and naturally leaves behind more manageable hair. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon baking soda onto your scalp when wet, massage into your roots, and rinse as you would your regular shampoo.
2. Apple cider vinegar rinse. Follow up with an apple cider vinegar rinse, which balances the alkalinity of baking soda, removes buildup and residue, and closes hair cuticles. Pour about 1⁄2 cup over hair after washing it with baking soda, then rinse.
More Natural Shampoo Alternatives
• Shampoo bars. Replace your liquid shampoo products with shampoo bars. These bars are generally more eco-friendly than their liquid counterparts—they use less packaging, last a lot longer than liquid shampoo and are typically sulfate-free.
• Aloe vera. Aloe is antibacterial, antiseptic, emollient and moisturizing. Studies have even shown it to enhance cellular regeneration. Use aloe gel to improve your hair’s health between washings by gently massaging it into wet hair and scalp and rinsing as you would shampoo.
• Soapwort. Soapwart contains saponins, which work as a gentle but effective cleaner. Finely chop 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried soapwort root or leaves and stems, add 1 cup warm water and stir until suds form. After straining, massage 1⁄2 cup of the preparation into your scalp and rinse. Store the remaining mixture in the fridge for up to a week.
• Calendula. With stimulating, anti-inflammatory and demulcent properties, this healing plant is great for sensitive skin. Fill a glass jar with dried calendula flowers and cover with an unrefined oil such as avocado. Close the jar and store it for two to three weeks in a dark place, shaking it every day for the first week. Strain the oil into a clean glass jar and use as you would your regular shampoo.
• Essential oils. In addition to their pleasing aromas, many essential oils can benefit hair. Be sure to buy pure essential oils from a health-food store. For shiny, silky strands, rub 1 drop rosemary or lavender oil into a natural-bristle hairbrush and lightly brush your hair from the scalp to the ends. To fight or treat dandruff, mix 2 drops tea tree essential oil with 2 tablespoons baking soda and water; use as you would shampoo.
• Conditioning hair packs. Massaging conditioning hair packs into clean hair will allow the natural creams and oils to penetrate the skin and work their magic. Mash or stir equal amounts of the following products together and apply to damp hair. Wrap your hair with plastic wrap or use a plastic shower cap to hold in heat and open up the hair follicles for deep conditioning. Wait 15 minutes then rinse thoroughly with cool water.
– For dry hair: Coconut oil, banana, avocado, mayonnaise
– For normal hair: Mayonnaise, egg, olive oil, unflavored yogurt
– For oily hair: Add 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice to the mix for normal hair
Make Your Own Shampoo
If you are looking to make natural shampoo, try this basic recipe first. It’s easy to make and great on tresses. It will seem thinner in consistency than most commercial shampoos, but the results are equivalent.
1⁄4 cup water
1⁄4 cup liquid castile soap
1⁄2 teaspoon light vegetable oil (omit if you have very oily hair)
1. Mix together all ingredients. Pour shampoo into a squeeze bottle or empty shampoo bottle.
2. To use: Shampoo as you normally would and rinse well with cool water. Makes 4 ounces.
—Recipe courtesy Janice Cox
Coconut Oil for Hair
Coconut oil is among the best natural hair conditioners. It’s loaded with vitamins E and K, and is very moisturizing. For a coconut oil deep condition, massage a spoonful of the oil to your scalp through the ends of your hair and wrap it up in a towel. Let it sit for 1 hour, then wash it out with a gentle shampoo.
3 Organic Shampoos
These organic shampoos offer cleansing without harsh chemicals.
Big Body Shampoo by Kiss My Face, $8
Zinc & Sage Shampoo with Conditioner by John Masters Organics, $20
Smoothing & Defining Shampoo by Hugo & Debra Naturals, $10