Gone are the days of air-dried summer waves; glamorous holiday hair is here. And while your locks may not be au naturale this season, your styling products can be. If you’re holding out on natural hair spray or styling gel for fear that it just can’t keep your updo in place, think again. Today’s natural styling products deliver hold, shine, and texture to match their synthetic counterparts— plus natural proteins and oils that nourish hair while they work.
Why is it critical that styling products be natural and nontoxic? Not only do we inhale tiny particles of hair products that pass directly from our lungs into our bloodstream (think about the last time you were engulfed in a cloud of hair spray or dry shampoo), many of these products spend extended time on our scalps, where you can be sure they’re readily absorbed. And as most conventional styling products are made with synthetic ingredients derived from petroleum and plastics, these formulas build up to create dull hair and squelch the production of natural emollients over time. You should also expect conventional styling products to contain synthetic fragrances, a health danger due to their carcinogenic or otherwise toxic components. With a little road testing and a lot of expert guidance, we found a bevy of natural styling products that are sure to be your new holiday hair essentials.
Hair Spray Hair spray is the staple for stay-in-place styles, whether you’re prepping a 6-yearold for her dance recital or a model for her turn on the catwalk. We’re just plain addicted to the stuff for its versatility, ease of use, and the hold that keeps us flawless in the face of flyaways. But if your hair spray comes in an aerosol can, you’re looking at environmental pollution due to butane, propane, and isopentane propellants—all considered to be Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). And that’s just to get the product out of the can. Like most styling products, conventional hairsprays contain synthetic, petroleum-derived polymers that coat hair and inhibit its ability to absorb moisture and can cause irritation when inhaled.
Picks: Intelligent Nutrients Perfect Hold Hair Spray ($29, 6.7 oz; intelligentnutrients. com), a certified organic formula and salon favorite, achieves hold with acacia gum while it hydrates with antioxidant-rich seed oils. Aubrey Organics’ NuStyle Hair Spray ($10, 5 oz; aubreyorganics. com) works flawlessly with a blend of organic quinoa protein for hold and shine, and organic gum Arabic and rice syrup for volume and control. We also like that it’s citrus-scented and certified organic. Both hair sprays use a non-aerosol pump.
Gel Similar to hair spray, most conventional gels hold your locks in place with a blend of synthetic polymers like polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) or vinyl acetate (VA), which aren’t friendly to your hair or the environment.
Picks: Stacey Bonham, manager of Green With Envy Salon in Scottsdale, Ariz., says that her staff relies on Simply Organic Soft Gel ($24, 4 oz; simplyorganicbeauty. com), a creamy, moisturizing gel with soft hold. Simply Organic’s gel keeps strands defined with a natural polymer derived from cellulose and hydrates with honey and olive oil. Another salon favorite, Max Green Alchemy Scalp Rescue Sculpting Gel ($15, 5.5 oz; maxgreenalchemy.com), creates strong, non-sticky hold with cornstarch and dehydroxanthan gum, a plant-derived styling agent. Also try Lavera Hair Styling Gel Extra Hold ($16; 3.2 oz; lavera. com), which doubles as a styling gel and volumizer, thanks to hops and rice extracts.
Pomade If a fresh, perky pixie cut is your style, there’s bound to be pomade hidden in your cabinet. And hidden in that pomade are paraffin waxes and petroleumbased oils that do not readily absorb into the cuticle, leaving a filmy finish on hair. When it comes to pomade, there’s no need to settle for anything less than natural, says Cliff Butler, Senior Stylist at Sprout Salon in Baltimore, Md.
Picks: Butler uses certified organic Intelligent Nutrients Hair Balm ($24, 0.06 oz; intelligentnutrients.com) on clients looking for a strong hold pomade that flatters ‘choppy, punky’ styles, and John Masters Organics Hair Pomade ($20, 2 oz; johnmasters.com) when he prefers softer definition. Both pomades are made with beeswax and blended with natural oils like olive and jojoba to give hair definition and flexibility and resist water in humid climates.
Volumizer If winter weather has your hair falling flat, you’ll want to grab volumizing spray to restore bounce and texture. Conventional volumizing sprays contain synthetic volumizing polymers for texture, plus humectants like petroleum-derived propylene glycol to create thickness. Propylene glycol may plump your strands, but it is also linked to contact dermatitis, liver and brain abnormalities, and kidney damage.
Picks: Melissa Tornay, co-owner of Primrose Organics Salon in Los Angeles, recommends switching to John Masters Organics Sea Mist ($16.50, 9 oz; johnmasters. com), a certified organic spray that creates natural volume and texture with sea salt. Another favorite volumizer is Sevi Blue Yarrow Sea Salt Hair Texturizer ($14, 4 oz; ecosevi.com), which makes hair look and feel fuller with sea salt and panthenol, a natural humectant that attracts moisture into the hair shaft.
Styling Cream Styling cream, the go-to product for any blow-dried look, conditions and smoothes rough cuticles for maximum softness and shine. Styling creams are also formulated with synthetic polymers, including polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is often contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane, plus hormonedisrupting paraben preservatives.
Picks: Julie Ebner, owner of Juju Salon & Organics in Philadelphia, styles clients with Hamadi Shea Leave In ($22, 4 oz; hamadibeauty.com), a styling cream rich in shea butter and essential oils. “This is a must for the woman who wants a smooth, glossy, frizz-free and lasting blow-out. It sells out the minute we restock,” she says. And one of the hottest natural hair products today, Amazon Beauty’s Rahua Finishing Treatment ($45, 2 oz; rahua.com), smoothes and rebuilds the hair’s cortex with Brazilian Rahua oil and omega-9 Ungurahua oil. Both products eliminate unruly frizz and add shine without heaviness that you might expect from natural oils.
Hair Powder A few shakes of hair powder erase greasy, limp roots and extend the life of a professional blow-out, but the convenience comes with the risk of lung irritation and greater harm if you’re not careful. Most conventional powders rely on talc, linked to ovarian cancer and possibly lung tumors, to absorb excess scalp oil.
Picks: Treat yourself to safe styling with Skinnyskinny Organic Dry Shampoo ($32, 4.5 oz; skinnyskinny. com), in scents like jasmine or lavender and rosemary, which uses a highlyabsorbent blend of organic cornstarch, brown rice powder, horsetail powder, orris root powder, baking soda, and white clay that leaves no trace on your scalp. Or try The All-Nighter’s Styling Powder ($18, 1 oz; theall-nighter.com), a shade-specific powder, which eliminates oil with pure rice and tapioca starches, mineral pigments, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and silk powder and matches a spectrum of hair colors with its six different formulas.
Serum A drop of serum is the ideal finishing touch for glossy, party-ready hair from roots to ends. But before you apply, check the label and be wary of silicones, petroleum byproducts that often contain impurities and are not environmentally friendly. Silicones may add luster, but they cause buildup and dryness with frequent use.
Picks: Choose a serum with natural oils that safely adds shine, like Josie Maran Argan Oil Hair Serum ($30, 2.0 oz; josiemarancosmetics.com), a blend of argan, jojoba, avocado and Vitamin E oils that nourishes and restores elasticity as it encourages hair growth. Or give strands a dose of frizz-reducing quinoa protein with Aubrey Organics Nu- Style Organic Hair Smoothing Serum ($21, 1.7 oz; aubrey-organics.com), which also moisturizes brittle strands with jojoba oil. Also try EO Products Smooth Conditioning Serum ($13, 4 oz; eoproducts.com), made with rose oil to stimulate follicles and coconut oil to hydrate and condition hair. Remember to concentrate serum on ends of hair and stick to just a few drops—a little goes a long way when it comes to natural oils!
Jolene Hart is a New York City–based health and beauty coach and freelance writer who is a veteran editor of InStyle magazine’s beauty department.