Thursday, August 11, 2011

Natural Hair Care

A little while back, I talked about natural sunscreens. Lately, I've been experimenting with my hair and body products. I'm also reading a few recipe books on how to make your own cosmetics. In Organic Body Care Recipes, Stephanie Tourles says that our skin can absorb up to 60% of the chemicals in our body products. As a result, I want to know exactly what I'm putting on myself and that it has a safe track record.

First up is hair care. First let me scare you a little. Your average shampoo can have things like DMDM hydantoin (a chemical that degrades into formaldehyde, which can cause things like cancer and reproductive issues), "fragrance" (a catch all term for hundreds of chemicals, many of which cause allergic reactions and worse), and parabens (a class of chemicals that are estrogen-mimickers and that cause all kinds of reproductive issues). In addition, many seemingly innocuous chemicals can be tainted by harmful ones because of the chemical process used to make them. And it's not just shampoo, almost all commercially available personal care products have hazardous chemicals in them and your skin is absorbing those chemicals. Freaked out yet?

You might be thinking: Surely the FDA reviews the safety of the chemicals used in cosmetics. They have to run chemical analyses and test for carcinogens and tainted products. Nope and nope. The FDA bans only a very small list of chemicals for use in cosmetics, but the vast majority haven't even been tested for safety. You can read about the myths surrounding the cosmetic industry here.

To me, what is scary is that personal care products seem harmless. No one drops dead after applying shampoo or moisturizer. Even with smoking, you are going to notice changes pretty quickly with your respiratory system. Cosmetics are sneakier. We use them to clean and beautify ourselves, so we have this positive association with them. The reality is they could be causing your asthma, allergies, rash, and much more serious issues.

So here is my new hair routine:

Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Bar Soap as shampoo, a vinegar rinse (1.5 tsp vinegar in 1 cup water), and Coastal Classic Creations Leave-In Safe Harbor treatment on occasion if my hair is dry from styling with heat. That's it.

You might be wondering about conditioner. Most shampoos contain harsh detergents that strip your hair of its natural oils and then the conditioner coats the hair (concealing the damage). If you use a natural shampoo without these detergents, you don't need the conditioner. Dr.Bronner's is a castile soap, which will get your hair squeaky clean, but make it a bit tangly. The vinegar rinse restores your hair's PH and eliminates the tangles. Just pour over your hair and rinse out. If you have long hair you can double or triple the recipe and if you have really short hair you might not even need the vinegar rinse.

Added bonus, the Dr.Bronner's can be had for $5 or less (it's $2.07 at my local Publix) and vinegar (even an organic one) will only run you a few bucks or less. The Safe Harbor treatment is pricey ($25 for around an ounce), but you only need about 1/8 tsp for a treatment and you only really need it if you style with heat a lot. For a cheaper heat protection option, I've read good things about using unrefined coconut oil or jojoba oil directly on hair. If you would prefer to buy a liquid shampoo, you can get castile soap in liquid form or this site sells a great line of all natural organic products including liquid shampoo. 

I have yet to find any good natural styling products besides a little oil for frizz control. I've read a couple of recipes that make use of gelatin as a hair gel, but you'd have to keep it in the fridge. My hair is less frizzy and very shiny with this new routine, but a little flat volume wise. I think it's probably because all the synthetic junk that used to coat my hair was giving it more volume. My solution to this has been to blow dry my roots for more volume or skip the vinegar rinse. The castile soap on it's own makes my thick hair a little umanageable, but increases volume. The only answer is to experiment and see what works for you.


  1. I wouldn't worry so much about carcinogens in personal care products. It really depends on what the carcinogen is, how concentrated it is, and how much and how your body uptakes it.

    For instance, I bet your average grilled steak has more carcinogens that make it into your body than your personal care products.

    That said, taking steps to limit your risk does make sense. Especially if the alternatives are cheaper and as convenient.

  2. It's not carcinogens in particular I'm worried about, it's everything. Over 80% of the chemicals used in personal care products haven't even been tested for safety. True, some of them might be safe, but I don't mind paying a bit more for a product that I know is safe. It's always in hindsight that we find out something is dangerous and I'd rather not be the guinea pig. It wasn't that long ago that nobody thought twice about smoking a cigarette.

    Yeah, I think about carcinogens every time I have BBQ too, but I'm picking my battles. I see blackened meat a few times a summer as far less risky than say a nail polish you wear constantly that contains formaldehyde.