After all, the billion dollar hair care industry is built on the fact that our hair is the one thing we can change immediately and that seems to truly and fully define us (we can get it cut, dyed, styled, heck, we can even GROW hair in a day now, with extensions being so available and even natural looking … which all do amazing things for our mood and attitude!)… and we'll do whatever it takes to have gorgeous manes (even destroy them), bringing our poor, bewildered stylists photos of our favorite celebs and hoping against hope we look just like them (of course we never will) at the end of our sessions.
Hair care is a fine balance between performance in terms of grooming and performance in terms of health, as well as eco-health — and actually, what's in conventional shampoos and conditioners actually can contribute to many hair and scalp problems. Shampoos and conditioners are both loaded with skin-, earth- and hair-unfriendly ingredients that dry out our locks, necessitating more products. Surfactants — like SLS or sodium laurel sulfates — are one of the culprits. These cheap, harsh synthetic chemicals are what create the suds in many soaps, shampoos and detergents. But surfactants are also grease cutters and drying agents, so if they can cut grease in household cleaners, it would follow that they are also stripping hair of its natural oils. Without natural lubricants, It's a crazy cycle of damage that can include dryness, frizz, loss of color, breakage, split-ends and even hair loss.
Another nasty in hair care products is polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEG isn't a single ingredient but is a class of ethylene glycol polymers that seem to moisturize but really just form a coating on hair, keep products stable and enhance the penetration of other ingredients — both good and bad. PEG is considered a likely carcinogen by the U.S. government (one of the last countries to ban any unhealthy chemical).
When shopping for hair care products, here's a quick list of synthetic chemicals to avoid:
For healthy hair, look for products with natural oils (coconut, acai, argan, carrot seed, etc., and no, there's no such thing as "Moroccan"). Natural butters (shea, cocoa, etc.) and food-derived proteins are key to good hair health especially if you color your hair or process it in any way, and essential oils, such as lemon, orange, geranium and lavender. For PEG-free, sulfate-free shampoos that get your hair clean without harsh synthetics, Giovanni has a whole line of varying shampoos as well as styling products for any kind of hair type including color treated. Sulfate-free shampoos really do clean just as effectively as the sulfate shampoos. Cleanliness and lather really have nothing to do with each other! As a bonus, hair that isn't stripped of its natural oils will be stronger and healthier, which means fewer corrective products.
Most commercial dandruff shampoos use coal tar, which is linked to cancer, allergic reactions, nausea, fatigue and skin problems. If you have dandruff, look for shampoos with cade oil, like Lush's Soak and Float or Jason's Dandruff Relief, which uses rosemary, tea tree oil, neem and colloidal sulfur.
Beyond shampoo and conditioners, here are some styling products with whole, 100 percent pure ingredients:
John Masters Sweet Orange & Silk Protein Styling Gel uses hydrolyzed silk protein (gotta have those proteins!) for long-lasting hold. It's lightweight and never sticky because it is free of the copolymers found in traditional styling products. This gel is also alcohol-free, making it perfect for all hair types, including color-treated.
Yarok Feed Your Roots Mousse is an eco-luscious mousse for all hair types with ingredients like organic aloe vera for healing, herbal extracts of black currant to maintain elasticity and beet root for stronger hair.
Rahua Voluminous Spray is 100 percent organic and alcohol-free, and contains high-performance citrus juices that provide staying power and a soft, flexible hold.
Innersense Quiet Calm Curl Control helps calm curls and get frizz under control with certified organic shea butter and orange oil that moisturize, define and intensify curls and waves. Organic wheatgrass and natural proteins smooth the cuticle and improve elasticity and enhance curl strength. Sunflower seed extract protects hair color.
In seeking out replacements for conventional hair care products, the HABA section of your local health food store or grocery store is a good place to start. The experts there can help guide your way to toxic-free versions of your favorite shampoos, conditioners and styling products. The good news is that organic formulations work just as well as chemically laden ones. Just be sure to do your homework, and know that not all natural or organic products are synthetic chemical-free. You don't need to swap out all of your products at once. Start with the products you use every day, since those will make the biggest impact on your hair care regimen and on the earth! In fact, 60 percent of what we use on our bodies ends up in our bloodstreams and in our waterways, and eventually into the fish and other animals that share our ecosystem. For me, that's an important connection, and I'm so happy there are so many more products (because we, as consumers, are demanding it) that are good for our hair and the environment.
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