Splitting Hairs

How Natural Hair Care Can Make A Big Difference.

Maybe Rapunzel was naturally blessed with the most beautiful, strong and healthy tresses known to man (and woman). Or maybe, while she was locked in her tower, she spent her days doing hot oil treatments and standing on her head massaging her scalp until that prince came to rescue her. Either way, it seems like everyone’s hair is certainly deserving of a rescue from damaging environmental toxins and chemicals in conventional hair products.

Not A Hair Out Of Place
Lather, rinse and repeat? Maybe it’s not that simple, after all. Our daily routines are a large part of what determines the health of our hair. Maintaining a healthy scalp is crucial for strong hair, as this will address the root of many problems before they can progress. Headstands can help with scalp circulation, but, as many people would require some kind of magical spell to maintain verticality, a relaxing scalp massage can also do the trick. Tea tree oil can be used to unblock clogged hair follicles, moisturize the hair and keep the scalp free of bacteria, fungus and odor. Vitamins C and E, CoQ10 and zinc can increase scalp vigor, while iodine “stimulates the thyroid gland to maintain essential scalp energy” (1). Here are some helpful tips for daily hair maintenance:
• Dry shampooing, a method that is often used in India, is very simple: sprinkle an absorbent substance (for example, orrisroot) on the entire scalp and then brush through thoroughly a few minutes later. Women in many parts of the world are prided for their long and lustrous hair, because, ironically, they rarely wash their hair. Although forgoing a hair scrubbing session may seem counterintuitive, washing hair too often strips hair of its natural oils, amino acids and nutrients, leading to dry or damaged hair.
• Cleaner shampoos are those without synthetic chemicals and with less ingredients altogether, making it less likely that any dulling residue will be left behind.
• Hot oil treatments are a popular way to add extra brilliance to the hair. Some effective oils include olive oil, almond oil, safflower oil, black currant, borage and corn oil. Always tell customers to have caution when heating the oil. Once hair is saturated with oil, cover hair with a layer of wax paper or plastic wrap and add heat with a towel wrap. For extreme conditioning, oil can be left on overnight, and then washed out in the morning for supple and shimmery locks.
• Protein treatments can be a great fix for hair. For example, eggs contain an excellent hair-helping protein and lecithin, a substance that restores hair texture and luster (1).
• Diluted cider vinegar restores acids that have been stripped away from over-shampooing and removes any remaining traces of soaps or products from the hair, leaving it extra shiny and clean.

Hair-Raising Situations
Sometimes hair issues can be more serious than just having a bad hair day, but troubled tresses can still be managed naturally.

Don’t Be Flaky. Dandruff can be caused by poor diet, stress, hormonal disturbances, infections, scalp injury and overworking/styling hair. There are two forms of dandruff: oily and dry. Oily dandruff is caused by similar mechanisms that cause acne, where surplus sebum (oil) is released through the scalp as well. It can be helped by eating a well-balanced diet low in sugar and high in greens, as well as adding a multivitamin daily (1). Be careful about choosing products, as many can irritate the scalp and cause more oil production, contributing to flakiness and dandruff. For customers with dry dandruff concerns, stock store shelves with apple cider vinegar, which can relieve itching associated with flaking, as well as hot oil treatments. Lavender water or chamomile can be added for an aromatic, relaxing experience.

Growing Pains. Hair not quite as long Rapunzel’s? Not strong enough to hold the weight of a good brushing, let alone a prince? Thinning hair and balding are very common realities—for men and women. Besides heredity, other causes can be nutrient deficiencies, stress and illness, medical treatments and, very often, a combination of all of these issues. The B-complex vitamins, especially biotin (B7), pantothenic acid (B5), B6, inositol and niacin and the trace mineral silica, are especially helpful for hair vitality and growth (1) and can be obtained through diet or supplementation. Some shampoos contain biotin, but for extra help, a B-complex supplement can also be beneficial.

Cramping Your Style. Hair coloring and styling can be a positive and fun change for anyone—but only if the products used aren’t harmful. Be sure to look at ingredients in the hair-coloring product—for example, ammonia (in coloring products), phthalates (often in hair spray), coal tar colors (F, D, C or D&C dyes) and phenylenediamine (PPD) are no-no’s (2). As much as 60% of what is applied on top of skin can be absorbed into the bloodstream (2). One study found that “women who had used [conventional] black hair dyes for 20 years or more had increased risk of fatal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma” (3). So, don’t be afraid to check labels or tell customers to ask a professional stylist what ingredients are in their products before they are put on their head!

Natural coloring ingredients in boxed hair-coloring products include walnut extract and coffee for a deep natural brown color; indigo and logwood for darker colors, and henna for a reddish brown color (4).

Whether you’re going for luxurious fairy tale tresses, bold and unique styles or just maintaining your everyday look, natural and herbal hair care offer something for everyone. WF

1. D. Buchman, The Complete Herbal Health Guide to Natural Health and Beauty (Keats Publishing, Inc., New Canaan, CT, 1995).
2. K. James, The Truth About Beauty (Beyond Words Publishing, Inc., Hillsboro, OR, 2003).
3. M. Thun, et al., “Hair Dye Use and Risk of Fatal Cancers in U.S. Women,” J. Nat. Canc. Inst. 86 (3) 210–215, (1994).
4. Lily, Beauty, Health and Happiness, (HCO Publishing, Inc., Henderson, CO, 2000).

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2008