Hair. Some of us treat it like something that’s just there, while for others caring for it can be something close to a religion.
I used to be one of those religious gals, I belonged to a general group of enthusiasts called the “hair-maniacs”. I even wrote a blog mostly about my hair care, tips and tricks, hair product reviews. Now I have a more lax approach, but that’s not to say I’m neglecting my mane.
I did a ton of research in my time. Not as much as some of these hair-maniacs, who would know by heart what kind of oils are good for which type of hair and why, what’s their fatty acid profile, and recognize every single ingredient in their conditioner. As in, literally. Every. Single. One. Impressive. And kind of a waste of time.
From this position of knowledge, I seem to know more about hair care than everyone around me, especially natural hair care. Natural doesn’t mean buying fancy ingredients, exotic oils, or cosmetics straight from Etsy. It can mean as little as simply… going to your kitchen.
Here are some simple tips and tricks that will make your mane look great without breaking the bank or overcrowding your shower shelf. Or making your brain explode from too much science. I also hope to address some of the common myths. Sometimes all you have to do is avoid harmful ingredients to make your hair thrive. Let’s go!
1. Be aware of the 3 groups of ingredients.
To provide full and meaningful care for your hair, you need to deliver these three.
- humectants – moisturizing agents. They literally draw water into your hair and skin, but in unfriendly outdoor conditions, they can also draw water out of your hair (hello, frizz). That’s why you should always use some oil to “seal” the moisture inside the hair. Most common examples: hyaluronic acid, glycerine, honey, aloe, panthenol.
- proteins – well, we all know what proteins are (thanks, diet fads). Your hair needs them to fill in breakages and reinforce the hair structure. Most common examples: keratine, hydrolysed silk, wheat and soy proteins, milk proteins, collagen, eggs.
- oils – also kind of obvious. Sometimes oiling your hair regularly can single-handedly dramatically improve the condition of your hair. However, the main function of oils is to nourish the hair and seal anything that’s underneath, especially when using humectants, to prevent them from frizzing our hair when the weather changes. A common kind of oil you can see in hair care products is paraffin, also known as mineral oil – it’s a by-product of refining crude gasoline and other petroleum oils. Yuck! I explain more below. Good oils to use are for example coconut oil, olive oil, or really, any kind of natural oil, especially extra virgin or unrefined. “Butters”, such as shea butter, mango butter and cocoa butter are good too, though they are much more heavy.
2. Avoid paraffin, also known as mineral oil.
It’s unfortunately very common in hair care cosmetics, and while it’s not pure evil, the risks outweigh the whatever tiny benefit it has.
Benefit: it makes stuff smooth. That’s it. Unlike natural oils, it doesn’t have any nutrients. All it does is cover your hair or skin and make it seemingly smoother.
Risk: if it gets on your scalp (the skin on your head), it may clog your pores, make new hair growth difficult and cause dandruff. Also, owners of thin, sensitive or brittle hair will notice that their hair seems heavier (not in a good way), as this stuff builds up very quickly. This leads to the need to strip that buildup down with harsh shampoos, which damages the hair further. If your hair is curly, you will experience difficulties with keeping the curls pretty. If your hair tends to get greasy quickly, this will make it worse.
Eliminating this useless and a bit harmful ingredient from your conditioner and mask (as this is where paraffin lurks most often) might quickly improve the condition of your hair.
3. Don’t be afraid of silicones, unless it’s your shampoo or you’re curly.
If you have the smallest interest in hair care, you might have heard about the silicones scare. One day someone decided that all silicones in hair products are bad, because they made their hair bad and eliminating them fixed everything. But it’s not that straightforward.
For a lot of hair types, silicones can be very good, because they act as sealants – yes, kind of like oils! They make your hair smooth, just like paraffin, but they don’t build up or hurt your scalp like paraffin does – at least not the “light” ones. One such popular “light” silicone is Dimethicone, present in skin and hair care products. It’s completely harmless. All it does is smooth things out a bit without the use of oil, so there’s no risk of overloading your hair. It is easily removed with even the gentlest shampoo, so it doesn’t cause nasty product buildup.
That’s not to say all silicones are good for you, because it’s true that the “heavy” ones can build up just like that nasty mineral oil. All I’m saying is – don’t immediately throw something in your shopping basket just because it says “silicone-free”! Unless it’s shampoo. Why?
Shampoo actually doesn’t need all the fancy ingredients that manufacturers love to put in it. All a shampoo is supposed to do is cleanse the scalp. The “care” part of your routine should be the conditioner or hair mask. Those fancy ingredients in your shampoo (e.g. keratine, silk, silicones and who knows what else) simply stay on your scalp, causing dandruff and greasy hair. That’s why, unless it’s dimethicone, don’t buy shampoos with silicones.
How to recognize silicones? Their names in the ingredient list end with “-ones”. Simple.
Then why did that one person scream that all silicones are bad for you, you’ll ask? Most likely because they were heavy silicones and because silicones are actually good to avoid for curly hair. It doesn’t mean they’ll necessary damage the curls, but it’s better safe than sorry.
4. Make a trip to your kitchen.
Your kitchen is a gold mine of fantastic, inexpensive hair care products that you already have!
- Honey – good humectant (meaning it will moisturize your hair, remember). It might also brighten your hair color a little if used regularly. Careful, though, as it’s known to cause allergic reactions in some people.
- Lemon juice – normalizes your scalp, strengthens your hair, might also brighten the color. Use sparingly, as it might irritate your skin.
- Chamomile tea – soothes irritated scalp, might brighten your hair if used regularly.
- Vinegars, especially apple cider – makes your hair smooth and shiny, helps keep a healthy scalp. Use diluted, e.g. 1-3 tbsp per gallon, after conditioner as a rinse. You’re not supposed to rinse your hair afterwards, so don’t go overboard, as the smell might linger!
- Egg – great protein. Not for the faint of heart, though, as the smell might linger, unless you use a very aromatic shampoo and conditioner/mask afterwards. However, it’s so worth it! The egg yolk is where it’s at. Mix it with 1 tsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp or more of oil, and apply on dry or wet (washed with a shampoo) hair, paying special attention to the scalp. Hold for 20-30 minutes, wash thoroughly with shampoo and apply a light conditioner. Your hair will thank you. And if it doesn’t, that means that the egg proteins are unsuited (specifically, too big. Egg proteins are molecularly simply big, unlike hydrolized silk, for example) for your hair type (porosity and all – I won’t go into detail, after all I promised I won’t make your head explode).
- Avocado – just great overall! It has beneficial fats (and we know that natural fats are good for our hair) as well as a bunch of vitamins and micronutrients. There’s plenty of ways to use it, but my favorite is to mix it with either most things in my kitchen or a ready-made conditioner, hold for a long time and rinse off with a shampoo. I used it recently and couldn’t stop touching my hair afterwards.
- Yogurt – natural, unsweetened and unflavored, of course. It contains a little bit of lactic acid, which is a humectant, and some protein. It makes your hair smooth and shiny. Again, there’s plenty of ways to incorporate it into your hair care routine, for example mixing it with lemon juice and applying to your scalp if you struggle with dandruff. Mix it with oils and apply to hair, then rinse off. Hell, mix it with everything: avocado, egg, oils, lemon juice, honey. Do whatever you want with it, just do remember to rinse off with a gentle shampoo afterwards.
- Bananas – proteins and vitamins. You can even whip up a fruit smoothie with yogurt and avocado, yum! Your hair will find it equally delicious. Again, always rinse off with a shampoo. And definitely use a blender! Otherwise your hair will stay “delicious” for days. Banana pieces aren’t a particularly fashionable hair accessory.
- Coffee – used as a rinse after conditioner can help speed up hair growth thanks to the caffeine content.
- Ginger – only fresh. Applying ginger juice to your scalp will cause a slightly burning sensation and redness, which means there’s more blood flow to these parts of the skin. More blood flow = more oxygen, more oxygen = improved hair growth. Some have used it successfully to fix their receding hairline. Just be careful – it might irritate your skin.
- Oils! They’re fantastic and can turn your hair from a stack of hay into an enviable waterfall if used regularly. More about that below.
5. Oil your hair.
If there is only one thing that I would like you to start doing from now on – it’s this.
Oiling your hair means simply applying oil to your dry or wet hair. It’s very popular in India and I believe that’s where the oiling craze came from – because someone realized that this is the secret to the beauty of Indian women’s hair.
What kind of oil is the best? As I mentioned before, there’s a whole science to it – the fatty acid profile in conjunction with your hair’s porosity and then there’s also the individual factor. The truth is, most edible oils are equally good for you if used regularly, meaning before every time you wash your hair. Avocado oil is as good as unrefined canola if you use it every day.
Coconut oil is advertised as the best skin care oil ever, but be aware that it’s not actually good for all types of hair. If after a month of daily (or however often you wash your hair) use you don’t notice any improvement in the condition in your hair, switch to something else. Olive oil is usually the safest bet.
- At first, try to avoid oiling the scalp. Covering it in oil for a long time might simply be too much and cause your hair to fall out. There are of course oils designed to be put on your scalp, but that doesn’t mean you should go overboard or keep it on overnight. Start with 1 tsp for the entire scalp and shampoo after 20 minutes.
- Your hair can be dry or wet with water or some humectant, such as aloe vera or glycerin. Up to you. I tried all versions and noticed that there isn’t a huge difference, and the dry hair version is simply the easiest.
- Divide your hair into 2 equal parts. Apply 1 tablespoon of oil to your hand, rub your palms together to spread it and, starting at the height of your ear, “clasp” one part of your hair between your hands. Sliding your hands down, spread the oil down. Repeat on the other side. That’s 2 tbsp of oil for all your hair – more than enough, especially starting out. More will make it a pain to rinse off.
- You can keep the oil on your hair for as short as 30 minutes or as long as overnight. If keeping it on overnight, make sure to tie your hair in a lazy top bun so that the oil doesn’t get on the pillow and then on your face, causing breakouts.
- Always rinse off with a shampoo. You don’t have to make sure you cover the entire length of your hair with shampoo – when you rinse the shampoo off with water, the foam will cleanse the tips without stripping them down of every last bit of goodness you just applied. You may want to use a conditioner afterwards, just to make sure your hair is easy to comb, but it’s not obligatory. Try it and see what works for you.
That’s all! I hope I opened your eyes a little and encouraged you to experiment with your hair to make it shiny and healthy. After all, if you don’t care for your hair AT ALL, why not just cut it short, right? I believe hair is supposed to be an adornment, and not just something that gets in your eyes when the wind blows.
Which hack is your favorite?