Guide to Holistic Hair Care + DIY Recipes
Updated: Nov 30, 2018
Most of us place quite a bit of importance on our everyday appearance, whether consciously or unconsciously. Hair has always been a symbol of health and vitality, and is historically linked to spirituality and intuition. Beautiful, hydrated, healthy hair is a sign of overall good health, which also means that it is generally one of the biggest indicators of our health struggles.
Unfortunately, mass-produced cheap drug store hair products and over-priced hair salon products alike are now typically full of dangerous chemicals and additives. Sadly, there has never been a proper education about the beauty industry and all of the laws that allow them to fill our cosmetics and hair products with toxic garbage that can do long-term damage to not only our hair, but our entire bodies.
As someone who has always had long, thick hair, maintaining my hair's health is an essential aspect of my self-care practice. I have struggled with dry hair, split ends, an overproduction of oil, tangles, static, and breakage over the years, and I have learned that the key to holistic hair care is multidimensional: a nutrient-rich diet, herbs & supplements, self-care rituals, and natural treatments are the best places to begin. But what is most important, is understanding that your hair is a direct reflection of your inner health, and taking care of it holistically is key to tuning into your body.
If you've been raised like the average North American, you probably grew up buying regular sudsy shampoo and washing your hair every day, or every other day, because you thought you were 'gross' if you didn't. But here's the catch no one talks about: big time shampoo companies are stripping your hair of its natural oils, drying out your hair and scalp and thereby making your hair produce an unnatural amount of grease so that you are forced to wash it. It's a vicious cycle in which you are the victim, buying shampoo nonstop, and frankly the habit becomes harder and harder to break. Basically, regular washing (more than 1x per week) teaches your pores to overproduce oil and create a greasy mess. But let's think about this for a minute... why is our scalp overproducing oil? What is it trying to communicate? Let's put it simply: the body is a badass and you don't need to work so hard.
TIP #1) STOP WASHING YOUR HAIR!
Really and truly, it is time to stop over-washing. Your poor scalp is being a slave to the shampoo cycle, and it needs some love. By cutting back on over-washing, you’ll teach your scalp to make less oil on a daily basis, and balance out its own natural microbiome.
But, why would you cut back on washing your hair? Here's some benefits:
healthier, shinier hair
less maintenance than regular washing
hair grows faster
less grease production
less split ends
So how to start the process of reducing washing?
I recommend starting by cutting down your washing to 1x or 2x per week. Eventually the goal is to only wash once you can feel that your hair is at its greasiest point, but that is really going to depend on the person. You want to be in touch with your body and know what it needs! But this will take a few months for you to get comfortable with. In the beginning, start by only washing 2x per week. In between, you can do an Apple Cider Vinegar rinse with a couple drops of Tea Tree essential oil to help reduce grease and scalp itchiness. Honestly though, its not as bad as you might anticipate.
If you feel like you absolutely cannot go in public, try my DIY Dry Shampoo recipe below (its totally nontoxic), or just throw it up into a bun and call it a day.
My hair color using only nontoxic bleaches and toners, and shampooing once a week.
TIP #2) DITCH THE CHEMICALS, STAT
Have you ever read the ingredient list of your shampoo or conditioner? If you haven’t, then go grab your shampoo bottle. I'll wait.
Have you done some reading? Do you even understand what you're reading? Yeah, me neither. You see, even shampoos labelled as containing “all-natural ingredients” aren’t necessarily doing you any favors. These cleverly labeled bottles still contain toxic ingredients that can be hormone disruptors, can cause headaches, skin issues, brain damage, and other long-term health problems. Big name brands like L’Oreal, Aveeno, Garnier, Herbal Essences, Pantene, Dove and the like do nothing but strip your hair of its natural oils and coat it with harmful chemicals and toxins making you reliant on their products and on frequent washing. No, thanks.
Finding the right products for your hair that are not loaded with toxins is obviously a challenge in the beginning, which is why knowing what to avoid will help you make a better decision. Start by avoiding the most harmful chemicals (listed below), which can cause long-term damage to your hair and irritation to your scalp (such as dermatitis, psoriasis, or eczema). It is also worth noting that chemicals are absorbed into your scalp and can be harmful to your organs and reproductive system over time.
Your hair care routine should essentially align with your skincare routine, focusing on 100% plant based products. Just because your scalp is a thin layer under your hair doesn't mean that it is not skin! It still absorbs everything you put on it, and with its close proximity to your brain, it's so important to pay attention to what you're rubbing into your head.
So what toxic ingredients should you watch out for in your hair care?
1) Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) A surfactant found in many cleaning products, which creates the 'frothy' lathering component of soaps and shampoos. We are so used to thinking that all soaps should be frothy and bubbly that we don't even realize that the key ingredient in creating the froth is actually severely toxic. The sodium and ammonium laureate sulfates are known cancer-causing ingredients, but SLS has been linked to liver damage, skin rashes, depression, diarrhea and eye damage.
2) "Fragrance" Is a cloaked term essentially meaning "chemical cocktail". Anything in your house, including your shampoo and conditioner that contain fragrances, contain chemicals. It's that simple. The word fragrance can represent up to 3,000 different toxic compounds linked to clogging the lymphatic system, inducing major organ toxicity, not to mention that it causes endocrine disruption (messes with your natural hormone balance).
3) Cocamidopropyl Betaine This foaming agent has been associated with skin and eye irritation and allergic contact dermatitis. Although the government regards it as generally 'safe', many people have severe reactions to it.
4) Triclosan With a moderate hazard rating, triclosan is one of the scariest toxic ingredients hiding in plain sight. Triclosan is a toxic chemical compound that is used to kill 99% of all bacteria, including beneficial skin bacteria. Triclosan can accumulate in our fat cells and keep our body in a state of permanent toxicity. It causes irritation of the skin, eyes and lungs, causes endocrine disruption and organ system toxicity.
5) Polysorbates Used to dissolve fragrance or other oil additives, this ingredient is often found in conditioners. It leaves a residue on the skin and scalp, disrupts the skin’s natural pH and destroys the natural protective barrier of our skin and scalp. Polysorbate-80 is the worst of any of them, but steer clear of them all for your health.
6) Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) Often found in conditioners, PEG contains dangerous dioxin levels, generally found as a by-product of the ethoxylation process in manufacturing. Dioxins have a direct link to cancer, and shouldn't be hiding in your conditioner.
7) Potassium Sorbate Potassium sorbate is used as a preservative in hair-care products to give them an unusually long shelf life. It is highly toxic to the body when absorbed via your skin and scalp.
8) Phenoxyethanol Another preservative most commonly used in cosmetics and hair care products. Causes organ system toxicity, and is an irritant to the skin, eyes and lungs. The FDA even warned that phenoxyethanol can cause shut down of the central nervous system, vomiting and contact dermatitis. Yikes.
9) Retinyl Palmitate Retinyl palmitate, a form of synthetic vitamin A, can speed up the development of skin tumors and lesions, making it a carcinogen. Most notably, this synthetic form of a vitamin causes reproductive toxicity.
10) Dimethicone Dimethicone is a silicone oil that can make the scalp and skin incredibly dry and irritated. It forms a plastic-like barrier on the outside of the skin and scalp and traps bacteria, sebum and impurities with it. It is also an eye irritant and is non-biodegradable, which means it stores in the environment without ever breaking down.
11) Behentrimonium Chloride This chemical is a type of ammonium salt used as a preservative and surfactant. It is a toxic compound with concentrations of 0.1% and higher having been shown to severely damage the eyes.
12) Quaternium-15 This toxic compound is an ammonium salt used as a surfactant and preservative in personal care products. It acts as a formaldehyde releaser which is extremely carcinogenic, and should be avoided at all costs.
TIP #3) NOURISH YOUR HAIR FROM THE INSIDE & THE OUTSIDE!
Your hair needs to be nourished and cared for, just like your skin does. I like to load up on supplements that I know will nourish my hair and skin, and these are my top 3 that I take on a daily basis:
1) Collagen Peptides - collagen is a protein found in all of the body’s connective tissues. As a component of these tissues, it helps keep them strong and flexible, both of which contribute significantly to healthy hair. I order my collagen peptides from Thrive Market and take 2 tbsp daily.
2) Fish Oil - I take two different types of fish oil, one in a capsule form that is shelf-stable and preservative-free (available with a Young Living membership), and one in oil form, I like Carlson's because it has no flavor whatsoever; these are both pictured above. You can never get enough Omega-3s!
3) Sulfurzyme - One of my favorite supplements of all time, sulfurzyme is a powerhouse on many levels, but I definitely notice a difference in my hair when I take this consistently. This supplement is a combination of Ningxia wolfberry powder & MSM or elemental sulfur, which makes up our hair, skin, & nails. Sulphur is a mineral that is constantly being used up by our bodies and needs to be replaced frequently, as it is not naturally occurring in many foods (this supplement is only available with a Young Living membership).
I also love incorporating hair masks into my self-care routine. Many hair masks can actually weigh the hair down and leave a greasy residue on your scalp, so you're better off making your own with cold-pressed oils and essential oils so you don't use preservatives and synthetic fragrances. Below is my favorite recipe for a hair mask and a dry shampoo that I make using 100% pure therapeutic-grade essential oils. Therapeutic grade basically means that these oils deliver a health benefit, rather than just a nice smell - this is key! If you want results with using plant-based products, always opt for 100% pure therapeutic grade oils that are distilled correctly from a reputable and certified source (I get mine here).
DIY Oil-Infused Dry Shampoo
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 drops Young Living Cedarwood essential oil
2 drops Young Living Rosemary essential oil
1 drop Young Living Tea Tree essential oil
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (for dark hair only)
Combine all ingredients.
Put in a container of your choice, such as an empty salt shaker or baby powder bottle.
Sprinkle on roots of hair and massage into scalp.
Leave for 2–3 minutes to absorb hair’s natural oils.
Brush through hair.
DIY GLOSSY HAIR MASK
This simple recipe combines the moisturizing power of coconut oil and the sweet and clean aromas of Lavender and Rosemary essential oils to tame those frizzies and flyaways back into glossy, beautiful hair.
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
2 drops Cedarwood essential oil
4 drops Lavender essential oil (lavandula angustifolia)
Spray bottle of any size, filled with water
Warm coconut oil until liquified (do not microwave!)
Add essential oils to the coconut oil.
Let cool and slightly thicken.
Put a towel over your shoulders to catch any drips.
Dampen your hair with a spray bottle.
Using your hands, apply the mixture to your hair, starting at the ends, and gently comb to disperse the mask.
Let the mask sit for 1-2 hours up in a bun so you don't get oil on your clothes.
TIP #4) TALK TO YOUR HAIRSTYLIST AND SALON ABOUT NONTOXIC OPTIONS
Here's the thing, your stylist is even more exposed to toxic chemicals and their related health impacts than you are because she works with them on a daily basis for long hours at a time. So don't be afraid to bring up the dangers of long-term exposure to chemical products - your stylist deserves to have safe products to work with for her long term health, too.
Start a Conversation. Next time you visit the salon, chat with your hairstylist about what products she uses and why, and if there are any healthier alternatives they offer.
Print out this fact sheet and bring it with you to help guide the conversation (click here to download).
Go beyond the ingredients. Although you can find hundreds of toxic chemicals listed on the product’s ingredient deck, a lot of them are still hidden. The word 'fragrance', for instance, often contains up to 3,000 hidden toxins that are not disclosed.
Trust your nose. Does the salon smell strongly of product and fragrance? You can tell a lot by the first few minutes inside the salon, our noses are highly sensitive. If your salon has a strong chemical smell, it probably means the ventilation isn’t the best, which is key for disposing and filtering out harmful toxins. I always bring essential oils with me to open a discussion about eliminating odors naturally.
Always opt for natural hair dyes and bleaches. Tell your stylist that you prefer hair dyes that are ammonia-free, herbal-based, low-PPD, lead-free, toluene-free and coal-tar-free.
Image © O Way Organics
I chose a salon that uses O Way Organics from Italy, a line of fully holistic, organic and biodynamic plant-based hair care. If you live in Sonoma County, I recommend The Beauty Spot in Santa Rosa (my stylist is Ashley). If you're in the US, just look up the nearest O Way Salon near you - I promise these products are the best I've found, and their H-Bleach has given me the most gorgeous organic blonde highlights I've ever had.
With health and wellness trends booming online right now, it's time we start digging in deeper and demanding better products for our long term health. These lifestyle changes need to be more than just a 'trend'. Part of the reason we struggle so much with our health, especially as women, is because we are bombarded by hundreds of chemicals every day in our beauty products that cause our bodies to react in different ways. Hair is an indicator of your health, so pay attention to it and take care of it! Getting in tune with your body is so important for your long term health goals, so start paying attention and see what you notice.
Are you inspired to change up your hair care routine? Do you have a DIY recipe to share? Have questions for me? Let me know in the comments! :)