Born with naturally curly (read unruly) hair, I’ve dedicated many dollars and hours to Operation Frizz Control, a strategy that has at times involved chemical relaxers, buzz cuts, greasy pomades, Technicolor gels, and even one tragically misguided perm (my stylist and I fi gured two negatives might make a positive—wishful thinking). And I’m not alone in my quest to tame my tresses: A recent survey by TRESemmé found that women spend an average of $50,000 on products and seven solid months on haircare and styling over the course of a lifetime.
The peril of spending so much energy fighting the basic nature of your hair is twofold. First, haircare products, like most personal care products, contain chemicals that the body can soak up. “The skin of the scalp is an entryway to our physiology,” says Mary Beth Janssen, author of Naturally Healthy Hair (Storey Publishing, 1999) and an organic beauty consultant. “Whatever you put on your skin bypasses the detoxifying processes of the liver and goes directly into the bloodstream.” And what the body doesn’t absorb washes down the drain and finds its way into the groundwater supply, where it pollutes wildlife habitats and can wend its way back into our drinking water, causing an eternal loop of contamination.
Second, your efforts are likely only compromising the health and luster of your hair. “Giving up the fight to change the basic nature of your tresses— whether through chemical processes, constant blowouts, or layers of product—allows your hair to revitalize itself and become stronger, shinier, and healthier,” says Shelley Davis, founder of the natural hair product company Kinky-Curly. By detoxing your haircare routine, your locks will look better, and you’ll create the opportunity to embrace the je ne sais quoi that makes your hair an expression of you.
To that end, we’ve put together a routine for each of the most common types of “troublesome” hair. Select your hair type from the list below, and prepare for your crowning glory to come shining through.
Despite its voluminous appearance, curly hair tends to be fine and prone to dryness. This delicateness means curls just can’t hack a daily haircare routine of shampoo and blow-dry. Both of these mainstays will only dry the hair out further and cause frizz. Lorraine Massey, author of Curly Girl (Workman Publishing, 2001) and co-owner of Devachan Salon in New York City, has formulated the following routine to keep curls hydrated, frizz-free, and gorgeous:
Stop shampooing. The common shampoo ingredient sodium lauryl sulfate, a harsh foaming agent, is extremely drying and thus accounts for 90 percent of frizz, Massey says. Cleanse with conditioner instead: Place a half teaspoon (about the size of a quarter—long hair may require more) on your fingertips, and use your finger pads to massage your scalp.
Try: If you must shampoo, choose a shampoo that is 100 percent sulfate free, such as Terressentials Pure Earth Hair Wash ($10.75, 8 oz; terressentials.com), which uses Moroccan clay to absorb dirt, oil, and impurities.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Make sure your hair is quenched by carefully applying conditioner to all sections of your hair. Using your fingers as a comb, run one or two teaspoons through your hair, opting for the larger amount if you have longer hair. To rinse, stand under the showerhead, and let the water do the work for you so you don’t disturb your natural curl pattern.
Try: Botanical Skin Works Lavender Cream Rinse ($15, 8 oz; botanicalworks. com), which uses shea butter, meadowfoam seed oil, and essential oils of lavender and rosemary to nourish and protect hair.
Set it and forget it. Apply a small palmful of an all-natural styling gel, then bend forward, and flip hair over your head. Start at the ends of your hair, and scrunch it up toward your scalp. Once you’re fully gelled, stand up, rearrange any wayward curls, and then allow to air-dry. If you don’t have time for an air-dry and don’t want to leave the house with a wet head, use a diffuser attachment and a low setting.
Try: John Masters Organics Sweet Orange and Silk Protein Styling Gel ($17.50, 8 oz; johnmasters.com), a lightweight, nonsticky way to keep curls from frizzing.
“Contrary to what people think, black hair is quite fragile,” Davis says. Another hallmark of coarse, kinky hair is its tendency to be extremely dry. When you add typical African-American haircare products like chemical relaxers and styling techniques such as high-heat blow-drying and fl at ironing to this mix, the result translates to one seriously damaged head of hair. To restore your hair’s health and reveal its natural curl, Davis recommends the following:
First, cleanse. “Washing your hair is of the utmost importance,” says Davis, who recommends washing at least weekly to cleanse the scalp, stimulate follicles, and remove the product buildup, dust, and dirt that can keep your hair from absorbing moisture and looking its best. “Just be sure to use a shampoo that doesn’t contain sulfates [see Curly/Dry/Frizzy above] so cleansing doesn’t cause further dryness.” Or use conditioner to cleanse, as directed for Curly/Dry/Frizzy.
Try: Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose Moisturizing Shampoo ($9.98, 11 oz; aubreyorganics.com), which uses soap derived from coconut and corn oil in lieu of sulfates.
Moisturize and seal. Apply a leave-in conditioner to moisturize and make detangling easier; then apply a pomade to seal the moisture in and protect against damage.
Try: Lu Lu’s Rock Star Organic Style Pomade ($7.99, 2 oz; shop.lulusamericanbaby.com), castor seed oil and carnauba wax give hair weight without leaving a heavy residue.
Style. For a straight look, Davis recommends wrapping wet hair around large rollers and either allowing to air-dry or blow-drying using a diffuser and a lowheat setting. For a loose curl, braid or twist damp hair, apply a styling product, and allow to air-dry. Wear the braids for a few days before removing, or take them out as soon as hair is dry.
Many people who think they have oily hair actually don’t. “Fine, straight hair is likely to be perceived as being oily because it doesn’t have volume to offset the oil that everyone’s scalp naturally secretes,” Janssen says. The problem comes when someone with fine hair selects “oil-controlling” products that overly strip the scalp of its natural oils, which only causes the scalp to produce more oil to protect itself. Another reason the scalp may produce too much oil? A broader imbalance, such as hormonal fluctuations or an unhealthy diet, Janssen says. If you suspect a systemic cause, consult a healthcare provider to assess and treat the root of the problem.
Choose a shampoo with care. Janssen recommends selecting a shampoo that doesn’t differentiate between hair types. “Shampoo for oily hair will tend to overstrip, while a nourishing formula is likely to contain ingredients that will coat the hair and weigh it down, making it appear even oilier,” she explains.
Try: Intelligent Nutrients Hair Cleanser ($39, 6.7 oz; intelligentnutrients.com), which uses mild, plant-based cleansers to clean hair without stripping away the scalp’s natural layer of protective oil.
Promote balance with massage.
The most effective way to encourage healthy function of the scalp’s sweat and oil glands, Janssen says, is to massage your scalp regularly. Apply a small amount of olive, sweet almond, or sesame oil to your fingertips. Start at your front hairline, and using small circular motions, move up to the crown of your head. Repeat, moving from your temples to the back of your head and then from behind your ears to the base of your skull. (Added bonus: If you do this at night, you can leave oil on overnight, which will also condition hair.) Then rinse with warm water.
Volumize, naturally. To pump up limp hair, modify your blow-drying routine. Bend over, flip hair over head, and blow-dry the underneath of your hair to give it a lift. You can also repeat this basic movement—bend, flip, and fluff— throughout the day to keep hair full.
Try: Kinky-Curly Curling Custard ($26, 16 oz; kinky-curly.com) uses horsetail, chamomile, nettle, and marshmallow to seal in moisture, define curls, and give an all-natural shine.
Problem: Using a blow-dryer on high heat and a round brush to straighten your hair exacts a heavy toll on your body. The high heat and constant pulling can weaken hair strands, while the decibel level of the hair-dryer on high can harm your hearing.
Solution: Blot hair dry with a towel to remove the majority of moisture; then use a heat-efficient ceramic hair-dryer, such as the CHI Rocket Dryer ($134.95; folica.com) for a quieter, quicker blow-drying session. Beauty consultant Mary Beth Janssen suggests immersing the nozzle of the dryer in your hair, moving it quickly back and forth until hair is 90 percent dry, and only then begin styling. (If you move the nozzle around quickly, it won’t burn your hair.) “There’s no need to be using a brush the whole time to stretch your hair,” says Janssen. “Saving your styling until the very end reduces physical stress to your hair and scalp.”
Problem: Most hairsprays provide hold through the use of polymers of synthetic glues and plastics—microparticles that can be inhaled. Chronic overuse of hairspray has been associated with a condition known as “hairspray lung.”
Solution: Choose a hairspray that relies on a natural substance to set the hair, such as Perfect Hold Spray from Intelligent Nutrients ($39, 6.7 oz; intelligentnutrients.com), which contains certified organic acacia gum.
Do Natural Hair Dyes Really Work?
If you’re among the nearly 65 percent of women who color their hair and want to detox your haircare regimen completely, you must also evaluate your hair-dye routine. Conventional dyes use chemicals such as ammonia (to irritate the hair shaft and allow color to penetrate), peroxide (to lighten), and resorcinol (to provide specific color). The only truly natural and chemical-free hair-coloring agent is henna. And if you have ever tried it, you know that henna delivers unpredictable coverage and saturation. Still, vegetable-based hair dyes provide a viable alternative. Many of them rely on as light a chemical load as possible, which allows you to use fewer toxic ingredients and still get good results. We tested the gray-covering ability of Herbatint and Naturcolor, two brands that contain no ammonia or resorcinol and a minimal amount of peroxide. They both provided excellent coverage and left a natural-looking color that lasted for months—and the fewer times the hair was shampooed, the longer the color endured.
DIY Damage Control
Dry, chemically treated, or environmentally damaged hair calls for some extra-special love. Try this do-it-yourself treatment once a month, and you’ll be impressed by the results: shiny, thick, and luxurious hair. Adjust ingredient amount depending on hair length.
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon walnut oil
2 drops essential oil of choice, such as lemon, jasmine, rose, or rosemary
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks with the walnut oil and essential oils. Massage the mixture through your hair and scalp. Cover with a shower cap, plastic bag, or warm towel, then leave on up to an hour, if possible. To remove treatment, rinse well with warm water and then use a sulfate-free shampoo followed by a conditioner. Adapted with permission from Mary Beth Janssen’s Rejuvenation: Spa Secrets for Menopause (Chronicle Books, 2007).