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Nature’s Guide to Beautiful Hair
The hair on our head is basically the only feature (aside from color changing contact lenses) we can instantly modify to completely change our appearance. By changing our haircut or haircolor, wearing our hair up in a bun, ponytail, or braided hairstyle, curling or straightening, we suddenly look and maybe even feel different, even more confident and attractive. We use crazy hair colors and hairstyles to express our mood and personality; we sometimes use our hair (or beard) as a security blanket, and a new haircut is very often what we use as an emotional outlet. Bad breakup? I am getting a haircut – he loved my long hair! Unhappy at work? Maybe a new haircut will make me feel better! Winter is approaching? Oh, maybe I should dye it a few shades darker. You might have heard all those silly jokes about blondes, questioning their intelligence, or sayings like blondes have more fun. Hair length is often the first clue we use to determine whether the person in front of us is male or female, and with identical twin babies for example, the only publicly visible difference between a boy and a girl might be a pink hairbow.
Hair also played a big role in the history of certain cultures. Egyptian youth wore their heads shaved until they reached a certain age, leaving just one short piece of hair on the side of their heads called the lock of youth. Both adult men and women decorated their hair with flowers, beads, and ribbons. In ancient Greece, people sprinkled their hair with gold powder and women often bleached their hair blonde, because it was a very rare haircolor in that region. Tribes in Africa spent long hours braiding their hair into tight braids and colored them red with a mix of clay and animal fat. Boys had their heads shaved, and after they were circumcised, they were allowed to grow their hair out so they could braid it once they became warriors. Aboriginal tribes in America believe that hair is a symbol of power and wisdom, so the longer the hair, the better. Big, heavy wigs in 18th century Europe were a sign of wealth and social status. The documentary called Good Hair is a brilliant film about how African-Americans treat their hair to match the so-called “good hair” of Caucasian people. It shows how significant the role of hair is in a culture, and how only people from that culture can truly understand it.
Today, we change our hair with the latest fashion trends and we switch hair color like we would change socks. It is a form of expression, just like bold make up or eccentric fashion choices. But all the chemicals and heat we use to style our hair come with a price. Hair, just like teeth or nails, is a living part of our body that requires proper treatment in order to stay healthy and strong (and glossy and shiny and flowy and all those other overused words you can hear in shampoo commercials). Speaking of commercials – did you know it takes hours of work to get one perfect shot? To trick a consumer, that after using a product for just two weeks your hair will look silky and shiny like Heidi Klum’s (or whichever celebrity gets payed to promote a product that year), they have to spend hours blow drying, flat ironing or curling, spraying, and later photoshopping the model’s hair, so it looks picture perfect? It is never the result of a shampoo, it is always just a marketing trick to sell a product. This hair abuse is actually just one of the reasons your hair might be not as healthy as you wish it was. There are a few more factors that play a major role in hair health and quality, and we are going to talk about them today.
In our post about chemicals in cosmetics we went over the most common toxins used by the cosmetics industry. Most of the store bought shampoos, conditioners, hair masks, styling products, and hair dyes are loaded with these chemicals, toxins, and hormone disruptors that are absorbed into your bloodstream through your scalp, skin, and respiratory system every time you use them. We all want to have healthy, shiny hair with lots of volume and glow, and these products promise to deliver these results. Many of us will agree that when it comes to hair, we are rarely happy with what we were born with. We long for curly hair when we have straight, we flat iron the hell out of our locks when we are naturally curly, blondes turn to brunettes, brunettes bleach themselves to almost white blonde, and everyone seems to be experimenting with ombre effects or the recently trendy pastel colors.
Oily hair (or as my mom likes to say, hair that looks like you brushed it with a slice of bacon) is caused by similar things as oily skin issues: poor diet, hormonal imbalance, and immunity problems. Hair loss and overall poor hair quality are most likely results of some problem on the inside, including hormonal issues, malnourishment, and even stress. As we know from our posts about skin health, our epidermis is able to absorb everything we apply on it and it is no different with our scalp; it is still skin, and it comes into direct contact with all kinds of nasty ingredients that strip natural oils from it, cover the hair fiber with chemicals that make our hair shiny and glossy to the eye, but also feel very plasticky and artificial to the touch. Some of these chemicals actually penetrate the hair and damage it from the inside, so you can end up with dry, fragile, brittle hair with split ends. Oily roots and dry ends are not unusual, either. But of course, problematic hair is not caused only by external influences.
GETTING TO THE ROOT
What we eat makes up who we are. Our cells are made out of the nutrients we provide to our bodies in the form of food, and healthy food means healthy cells. Healthy cells create healthy organs, healthy bones, healthy skin and, you guessed it, healthy hair. There is no specific diet for healthy hair, but if you focus on nutrient dense, real food that will support your overall health, I guarantee that you will not only feel the difference on the inside, but your health will manifest itself on the outside too with glowing skin, sparkly eyes, and long, luscious hair. Unhealthy hair is very often a result of poor nutrition or even nutrient deficiency.
Nutrient deficiency is closely related to immune health, and we already know that healthy immunity requires a healthy digestive system that is able to properly filter and absorb all of the important nutrients our bodies use as building blocks for our various tissues. Some of the toxins we can find in our shampoos, conditioners, and the other cosmetics we use daily, are hormonal disruptors, meaning that they mimic estrogen, they affect normal hormone production, and they can damage glands like the thyroid, adrenals, and ovaries/gonads, and contribute to hormonal imbalance and issues in our (auto)immune system. Hormonal imbalance very often causes hair loss issues, balding, and even diseases like alopecia.
So we have toxic chemicals on one side, poor diet and lifestyle on the other. What we need to do in order to keep ourselves healthy is reverse the weight on the imaginary scale – remove the toxins we expose ourselves to and add more nutrients, love, and care. I hate to compare our beautiful, living body to a machine, but just one broken part of a car means you are not going anywhere, even if the rest of the parts are in perfect condition, and even a brand new vehicle will not work with an empty tank, or the wrong type of fuel. Keeping all the parts of our vehicle in tip top shape and adding the right type of fuel means a long, safe, and happy ride!
I started coloring my hair when I was 14 and I tried everything from orange to red to black and blonde highlights. I tried a perm, which was a disaster and put so much stress on my hair, even more so because I alternated between a curling iron and a flat iron. Heat is very damaging to hair and hair follicles, and so are harsh chemicals, so I ended up with very unhealthy hair after all those years of abusive treatment. It was so bad that I had to keep styling it and flat iron it in order to make it look at least a bit decent and not like a bird’s nest. My hair was also very oily and my diet didn’t help at all. But as I was educating myself in health and well-being, including natural personal care, I realized that I had to stop treating my hair so badly, leave it alone, let it grow, and show me the true colors, both literally and figuratively. Even though I used natural hair products and shampoos for the past year or two and I stopped chemically dyeing it, I still used a lot of heat to manage it. Earlier this year I decided to make a drastic step forward and I buzzed most of my hair off with my boyfriends hair trimmer.
I’ve always had long hair, so this was a major change for me. I always used my hair as a security blanket, and because I never considered myself particularly attractive, I really thought that my hair was what made me pretty and girly. All of the sudden I lost that security blanket and I felt totally exposed. Even though I really rocked that side shave, for a while I thought my femininity was gone with my locks. In the midst of that, I decided that I will never use heat or chemicals on my hair, I will never ever dye or bleach it again, because now I am very well aware of the damage that was done by treating my hair that poorly. My hair grows pretty fast and I further support the growth with proper nutrition and natural hair care, so I expect to have at least some length back in less than a year. My hair care approach is similar to my skincare approach – nothing I would not eat is allowed on my hair and scalp. I started to appreciate how beautiful my natural hair color is (rich chocolate brown) – I haven’t seen it since I was fifteen! With the current length I can already tell it is growing in very strong, healthy, thick, soft, and naturally beautiful, and I can’t wait to see it long again in all its natural glory. Allow me to share some of the most popular natural hair care tips I learned (most of them tested on myself), so you can also grow a commercial worthy head of hair!
Remember oil cleansing and how it works? The natural oils our skin produces nourish the hair follicle and fiber, and you can condition your scalp even more by occasional intensive oil treatments. There are a few options you can use, I am going to introduce you to three of my favorites. Coconut Oil is like a miracle cure for skin and hair, and this deep conditioning treatment will leave your hair super soft and silky, not greasy at all. Simply cover all your hair in coconut oil (you can even add a few drops of rosemary essential oil, it is perfect for healthy hair) and leave it on for a few hours or overnight (you will need to wrap your hair to not leave oil stains on your bedding), and then rinse and wash as usual. You might need to wash your hair twice before all the oil is rinsed out. I treat my hair like this once a week or every other week and my hair has never been softer. Another tip for a deep nourishing treatment is with castor oil. Castor oil actually promotes hair growth – some people claim that this treatment made their hair grow twice or even three times as fast. I can tell it works for me, even though my hair is very short now, it grew three centimeters in two months. I learned this trick from Wellness Mama, and I use it twice a week with great results. Castor oil itself can be pretty drying, so I recommend mixing it with either jojoba, argan, or sweet almond oil. Jojoba oil is actually the one that is the closest to the sebum our skin naturally produces and for that reason it is very often used in natural skincare – our skin is able to recognize it and absorb all the nutrients it carries. For my hair I use a mixture of one part jojoba oil and three parts castor oil. Since my hair is very short now, I only mix a small amount at the time, rather than making a big batch at once, to avoid having these precious, fragile oils go rancid. I keep my oils in dark glass bottles with a dropper and warm the oil in between my palms before applying it on my hair. If your hair is longer, you might be able to finish the batch much faster! The last trick that I use almost every day is simply taking a few drops of any oil I feel like using (usually argan oil, sweet almond oil, or apricot oil) and applying in only to the ends of my hair. Our hair tends to be more oily at the roots and drier towards the ends. This tiny amount of oil is easily absorbed during the day, so you can re-apply it the next day, if you want to. With my short hair it also works as a styling product, like a pomade or hair gel, but without nasty ingredients. Natural nourishing oils are like a luxurious gift for your scalp, so treat yourself, you deserve it!
These words made me giggle when I first read them, but no poo actually stands for the no shampoo hair washing method that is done using baking soda and apple cider vinegar to cleanse and condition the hair. This method is very popular in the natural skincare community, and we briefly mentioned it when we talked about all the benefits and uses of baking soda and ACV. No poo is the easiest way to cleanse your hair, restore the pH of the skin, get rid of sebum buildup, and achieve clean, shiny hair with no chemicals. I have used this method exclusively for my hair for the last couple of months (before, I used one of the most natural shampoos I was able to find). There is quite a long adjustment period with this method, and your hair might really feel and look greasy, heavy, and almost plasticky (similar to a cheap costume wig), but once your scalp pH balances out and your hair gets rid of all the toxic buildup, this unpleasant effect will go away and you will experience the joy of naturally beautiful hair again. When my hair was long and I tried this method for the first time, it took me almost two months before I was able to leave the house with my hair down instead of up in a bun or ponytail, or hiding under a hat, but it was worth the wait. Years of hair abuse will never go away with just one wash, so be patient with yourself and don’t give up! If you have short hair, this washing method is perfect for you and the adjustment period will be way shorter.
I wash my hair with no poo once about every ten days and because my hair no longer gets oily, I don’t really have to wash it more often. I know, I know, you might be thinking that not washing your hair three times a week (or every day) is gross and trust me, I have been there. I know people who must wash their hair every day. But here is the thing: washing your hair too often with regular, store bought shampoo means stripping it of its natural oils multiple times a week, and in reaction to this, our skin and scalp tries to overcompensate by producing even more sebum. No wonder your hair too oily at the end of the day and you feel like you need to wash it all over again, which only stimulates more oil production! What no poo (and other natural hair washing methods) really help with is balancing the sebum production (very similar to oil cleansing) to the amount that is enough to nourish the hair, but not so much as to actually cover the hair fiber. Using the right hair brush like this wooden one or this one with wild boar bristles (this one is my favorite) helps to distribute the natural hair oils throughout the whole length of your hair without breaking the hair like plastic brushes often do (and you will avoid the static electricity in your hair that can also cause damage).
Here is how you do no poo. First tip: Always wash your hair like this in the shower (not while taking a bath) because you need to rinse your hair with clean water after each step, instead of making your bathwater a fizzy solution of baking soda and ACV. Take either two jars or two empty shampoo bottles (the latter is way easier), add one to two tablespoons of baking soda into one of them and the same amount of apple cider vinegar in the other (the amount depends on how long your hair is). Add at least one cup of water to each bottle and shake well to dissolve. Carefully pour the baking soda water over your head, focusing mostly on your scalp. Avoid your eyes. If it gets to your mouth, don’t worry, it is safe, it just tastes salty. (See? Nothing you would not eat, and you obviously bake with baking soda!) Gently massage your scalp for a minute or two, and then thoroughly rinse with clean water to make sure all the soda is gone. Take the jar or bottle with the ACV solution and also pour it all over your hair. Don’t leave it on for too long (a few seconds is enough for the vinegar to counterbalance the alkalinity of baking soda) and rinse well. You are done! Repeat as needed, twice a week is a good rule of thumb before your scalp adjusts, after that you will probably be good with one no poo wash a week, or even less than that. And there is nothing gross about it.
NATURAL HAIR DYE
With my hair dyeing history, I would be a hypocrite if I said “embrace the natural color of your hair, embrace the grays and love your hair the way it is!” It is sad that we are almost never happy with what we naturally have. Sometimes I feel like all the makeup, fake nails, false eyelashes, drawn on brows, plastic surgery, or even drawn on beauty marks actually take away what is most beautiful about us – our individuality. It seems like everyone is trying to look like somebody else and in the end we all end up looking very similar to each other (I like to call it the Barbie syndrome). But this is a whole other topic. For a number of reasons (mostly superficial, but what is wrong with that, right?) we like to change the color of our hair or at least enhance the color we are naturally blessed with.
Store bought hair dyes (and also those used in professional salons, no matter how gentle they claim to be) are full of ingredients you don’t want to put near your body. They also contain ammonia that can easily irritate your eyes and sinuses/lungs, and these chemical concoctions can cause skin irritation and rashes, acute poisoning, or eye damage. Temporary dyes work almost like a paint that will cover the outer layer of your hair called the hair cuticle and sticks to it, until you wash it away with shampoo, so these dyes usually last for one to three washes (maybe a few weeks, but the color will certainly fade). Permanent dyes are developed to penetrate deep into the hair by opening the cuticle, removing the natural pigment from you hair and replacing it with new pigment molecules, that are chemically totally different from the melanin that naturally defines your hair color. This process, as the name suggests, is permanent, you cannot put the natural pigment back into the hair once it is dyed like this. As the hair grows, you can see your natural hair color growing out – that is the part of the hair that was not damaged by chemical dye. The only way to get rid of the hair that was dyed with permanent dye is chopping it off. Even if you re-dye it with a hair dye similar to your natural hair color, it is still artificially dyed hair that has a different chemical structure than your natural hair. I wish I knew these things eighteen years ago.
So, you can understand that changing the color of your hair is not a gentle process at all, no matter what your hair stylist might tell you. Lucky for us, there are a few natural options that can help us modify what we were born with. Here are some quick tips! Chamomile tea, lemon juice, and cinnamon are natural hair lighteners. A chamomile rinse is the easiest option (basically soaking your hair in strong Chamomile tea, or making the loose tea into a paste that you leave on like a hair mask, adjusting the length of time to how much lighter you want your hair to be), mixing cinnamon with olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice works as an easy lightening mask (apply all over or just on a few strands for natural looking highlights, let sit for a few hours or overnight and rinse well), that will leave your hair conditioned and lighter with time. For brown hair, I had visible results when I used a coffee rinse or black tea on my hair, but my favorite way to enhance my natural color was with henna.
Henna is a name for the plant Lawsonia inermis and also for a hair dye and skin paint used widely in Africa, India, and Asia that is derived from this plant. Leaves of the lawsonia plant are dried, finely milled/ground, and then used as a hair (or skin) dye when mixed with water. Adding additional herbs to the mixture will help you achieve different hues of color, from ginger to bright red, reddish brown, or indigo blue and black. There are a few companies that sell henna. I personally tried Morrocco Method henna, which is sold in powder form, and my favorite Lush henna bar, is henna is sold as a solid block of henna powder, essential oils, herbs, and shea butter that will nourish your hair as you color it. Henna ColorLab is another reliable brand that is great for covering grays, and this brand also carries beard dyes for men. There are many tips and tricks for mixing your ideal henna dye, like adding an acidic liquid (lemon juice or apple cider vinegar) for color to develop more warm tones and vibrancy, covering your hair after applying henna to minimize the exposure to the air, which should help the color to develop less vibrant and more on the cool side, and some companies sell even colorless henna powder that is only meant to condition, nourish, and refresh your natural hair color.
The application might be a bit tricky and messy (so is the rinsing out process), but you will love the way your hair feels afterwards. Henna is not supposed to change your hair color drastically, so don’t expect it to dramatically alter your hair. It works similarly to semi-permanent dyes – it only covers the outer cuticle of the hair, it does not penetrate deep into the hair. If you have some gray hair, be aware of the fact that it is basically hair with no melanin, and since henna does not penetrate into the hair fiber but only coats the outside of it, your grays will always be a few shades lighter. But that is not bad either, it looks like natural highlights! Before you dive into henna experimenting, be sure to read all the instructions and get everything ready in advance. You can find a lot of tips here or simply by googling henna tips. I have used it multiple times and even though I don’t plan on ever coloring my hair again, I would recommend it for those who would like to experiment safely. It should be noted that you cannot use chemical dyes on hair that has been henna dyed. You have to wait for it to grow out, or use harsh chemicals to strip it from the hair, so heads up!
NO-DIY HAIRCARE OPTIONS
For convenience reasons it is sometimes easier to have safe products on hand. It is nice to have a shampoo with just a few clean ingredients for those lazy days when you don’t feel like dealing with juggling different bottles in the shower, or maybe none of the options mentioned above are appealing to you. Of course there are many options available that will do the trick, won’t harm your health, and are budget friendly! Our Moisturizing Miracle Soap is a natural plant based product that is super concentrated (so it can be used both straight and diluted) and it is perfect as a multi-purpose soap and shampoo for sensitive skin and hair. It is safe even for newborn babies, perfect for dry skin, rashes, and dandruff. We also offer Liquid Miracle Soap that is perfect for oily hair and skin, makes great bubble baths, works as a lice shampoo and on other hair parasites. Both of these soaps are very affordable and versatile, you can use them for your whole body and even as a household cleaner, dishwashing soap or laundry detergent. Susanne loves Carina Organics hair care products – they are made with clean ingredients without dangerous chemicals and fragrances. She uses the moisturizing shampoo and deep conditioner and also this mint body wash and shampoo. Dessert Essence is also a reliable brand, this coconut shampoo is perfect for dry hair and this set of Lemon Tea Tree shampoo and conditioner works great for oily hair. If you are looking for a safe styling products, Carina Organics carries this great alcohol-free styling gel.
Healthy, voluminous hair is not a privilege reserved only for models or Disney princesses, so if you dream about those locks yourself, now you know how to get them without the unnecessary damage. You are what you eat and the same is true of what your hair absorbs as well! Instead of a shampoo bottle full of ingredients you can’t even pronounce, add more nutrient dense foods on your plate. Instead of applying heat to your locks to make it curly, braid it or put it in pin curls before you go to sleep and wake up with the most beautiful, natural, heatless waves possible. In the past, hair was a symbol of power, wealth, and social status. Let your hair today be the symbol of health, from the inside out.