Last time I reviewed the chemicals you don’t want in a shampoo. What ingredients do you want for safe and effective results, and which brands are best?
The best ingredients are “certified organic,” next best are ‘organic.” Most top-performing organic shampoos provide a combination of ingredients that cleanse and moisturize. If you have dry hair, use a conditioner—and leave it on for 3-5 minutes, so you get the benefits. There are organic formulas targeted for all hair types; I test all the safe, new ones that come to my attention.
All human skin—including the scalp--has a protective layer called the acid mantle, which is normally around a ph of 5.5. It exists to help protect your body’s largest organ from bacteria and fungi (like P. ovale, which causes dandruff). So on your skin, “pH balanced” means between 5 and 6.
OILY HAIR. If you have oily hair, your scalp tends toward the more alkaline end of the spectrum. Look for products that contain some acid (citric acid, lemon, grapefruit, orange, tea, cetyl alcohol, and vinegar) and herbal extracts with acidic pH (rosemary, mint, lavender, chamomile, lemongrass, geranium, oregano, olive leaf, tea tree, cedar, sage, witchhazel, nettle, horsetail, orange and grapefruit, for example).
Acidic formulas counter oil build-up and ‘tighten’ the hair shaft, which promotes a clean shine. Soap is alkaline, so formulas with too many soap ingredients first on the label aren’t good for oily hair (seems counterintuitive, I know). Look for coconut fatty acid based cleansers instead. An economical finishing rinse for oily hair is ¼ cup organic apple cider vinegar in a cup of cool water. More tips: brush your hair before shampooing, and clean your hairbrush weekly.
DRY HAIR. If you have normal to dry hair, look for a predominance of moisturizing /alkaline substances to bring hair into balance. Aloe vera and shea butter are great natural moisturizers, along with essential oils such as coconut, primrose, rose, gardenia, camellia, jojoba, calendula, babassu, and nut oils like almond, macadamia and kukui. Avoid products containing alcohol if you have dry hair. If you have extremely dry, thin, brittle, or weak hair, formulas with protein don’t help much. Ingredients like algae and milk/soy protein can’t penetrate the hair shaft and don’t adhere well. You’re probably better off taking nutritional supplements to target the problem.
MAKE YOUR OWN. In an empty bottle, put ¼ cup of liquid castile soap (soap flakes or finely chopped old soap bits also work) and 1 cup of herb tea (the right herbs for your hair type steeped in water & cooled) to make a base. Add a teaspoon each of essential oil and vegetable glycerin (optional—makes it smoother) and shake.
For special needs: add ½ cup yogurt (for oily hair; use within one week) or half a banana or avocado (for dry hair) to the base. Dandruff formula: 1 tsp tea tree oil and 1 tsp baking soda. Remember: lather has nothing to do with cleansing results.
Folk wisdom suggests changing shampoos often helps get your hair cleaner. I can’t prove or disprove that, but the perception may come from products’ different effects on scalp pH. When you find safe formulas that work for you, stick with them. Why mess with success?
BRAND SHOPPING. Some brands to check out, in alphabetical order: Aubrey Organics, Avalon Organics, Dr. Bronner’s, EO, J/A/S/O/N, John Masters Organics, Jurlique, Nature Girl, Nature’s Gate, and Tate. I’m headed off to Village Green Apothecary to restock on shampoo now. My favorite is Aubrey Organics White Camellia—it’s great for fine, dry hair. An oily hair favorite is J/A/S/O/N Tea Tree formula.
Shop selectively. Even the good organic lines put some bad ingredients in several formulas. See my May 26 post for the top ten chemicals to avoid in shampoo and conditioner, and read those labels. Next time, we’ll talk sunscreen.