I think I started questioning the value of hair products about 10 years ago. Back then, I was a student on a co-op term in a big city. There I discovered Sephora. I was in awe. Here was a place where you could try anything, get samples, have your makeup done…
My hair was limp and frizzy, and I immediately set out to find a way to fix it. Shampoo after shampoo, conditioner after conditioner, I think I tried half the store. Shampoo to add volume, but that dries the hair and scalp out, so conditioner to moisturize them again without weighing my fine hair down. I finally found a combination of products that worked, sort of. Between the shampoo, the alternative soothing shampoo (for the itchy scalp), the daily conditioner, the hair mask, and the de-frizzing and moisturizing balm, Sephora had me for about $150 a refill. Six months later, they discontinued two of my products, and I had to start again. My roommate from Australia had brought shampoo with him, and it didn’t lather like mine did, but still worked.
Why should you care?
All of these chemicals travelling down the drain and into our water supplies can’t be good for the environment, animals, or humans. Even with water treatment, the chemicals have to go somewhere, and will eventually end up in our water supply or in our air.
Not only that, but all of this time spent counterproductively washing and then treating our hair to recover from the washing could be better spent. Most people throughout history have not spent this much money on their hair, and some of them even had pretty beautiful hair. I started to believe that something was wrong with the system, not me or my hair. When I found out about my allergies, it became doubly important to find a new solution. I’ll share what I tried and do now in a future post, but for now, it’s important to kill some of the hair care myths that we’ve all had ingrained in us growing up.
- Shampoos have to lather to clean. Even a small amount of lather isn’t necessary. You just need to clean your scalp and hair with a product that will lift and remove the excess oils, skin flakes, and dirt. North American cleaning and body-care products have very large amounts of surfactant in them (what helps the soap or detergent wet the object to be cleaned and creates bubbles) because North Americans expect them, not because they’re needed.
- You need to make your scalp and hair as clean as possible, removing all oils and dirt. Yes, you should try to remove all of the dirt from your hair, however removing all of the oils from your hair and scalp just makes your hair and scalp dry. It does not make it healthy. Your scalp and skin produce oils because those oils are needed. Removing all of them causes your scalp to produce these oils faster to compensate, making you have to wash MORE OFTEN. Then the cycle repeats. If you start washing less frequently and removing only the *excess* oil from your scalp rather than most of it, your scalp will naturally start to produce less, though it will take some time for this transition to happen (weeks to several months). You can wash your hair less frequently and have a healthier scalp.
- You must lather, rinse, and repeat, every day. The only reason these directions exist is to sell more shampoo. See #2 above. Washing your hair more causes more dryness, which causes more oil production and more hair washing.
- You need conditioner. Conditioners are meant to moisturize by adding oils and hair-coating silicones and polymers. If your scalp and hair aren’t over-washed, your hair should have all of the oils it needs. The only thing you need to do beyond that is to seal the hair follicle, smoothing down the scaled surface to seal in moisture and make your hair shiny. Rinsing with cold water alone can help, and pre-rinsing your hair, especially the ends, with highly diluted vinegar can help even more.
- Your hair will always be unmanageable. Many styling problems come from dry, frizzy hair and split ends, or by fighting hair’s natural personality with chemical treatments. Trim your hair regularly and cleanse in a way that keeps your scalp healthy (not so harshly) and you will be surprised how much easier to manage your hair becomes. I was a gymnast and used hairspray, mousse, or gel for most or my life to try to prevent frizziness and short hairs from sticking out of the side of my head while my hair was in a ponytail. Now I use nothing. Not traditional shampoo or conditioner, not hairspray, not gel, not mousse or pomade, not hair oils, or anything else. And my hair doesn’t stick out all over the place (most of the time). It’s shiny and has fewer split ends. I only have experience with my own hair type, but others have found similar results when they switch from shampoo to something less harsh. It’s all about working with your hair, not against it.
All I can say is that healthy hair is shiny and beautiful all on its own. If you can break the consumer mindset and your way of thinking about clean, your hair and your scalp will thank you.