Have you read the ingredients list on your shampoo bottle lately? Traditional hair care products seem more like chemical cocktails than the luscious elixirs for healthy hair portrayed in their marketing, which is why health-conscious consumers are considering alternatives such as chemical-free products and even no shampoo at all.
Samantha Sperry, a licensed aesthetician at the Waterstone Spa in in Ashland, swore off shampoo a year ago. Instead, she uses a mix of apple cider vinegar, water and essential oils on her super curly hair. She also cut back to washing her hair no more than two to three times a week.
"If you don't know what an ingredient is and you can't pronounce it, stay away from it," says dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Childers, with Ventana Wellness in Medford.
Childers directs patients to the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org), where they can find information on various products. But as a rule, she says, avoid sulfates, parabens, and nondescript "fragrances," which is usually code for a combination of chemicals mingling to make your shampoo smell like fruit or a mountain breeze.
Shampoos also contain fatty acids (trans fats). And just like they gum up the works internally, these demons of the culinary world clog pores and cause hair loss, dandruff, folliculitis (an infection in the hair follicles), seborrheic dermatitis (an adult version of cradle cap) and even stubborn back acne, Childers says.
And then there's gluten, which can cause problems in those sensitive to it even if it's applied externally. "Most people would be shocked to learn how easily things can be absorbed through their skin," says Tyler Giles, general manager at Healthway Nutrition Center in Medford. "The skin is surprisingly effective at absorption, especially in the shower, when the hot water is opening your pores."
"My hair was getting really frizzy. I was losing the curl and definition, and my scalp was getting really dry," she says. "I started experimenting to find a way to keep the curl, lose the frizz and not have dry scalp, while also not making my hair too oily either."
What she found was that the vinegar eased her scalp issues, cleansed the residue that traditional shampoos had left behind, and made her hair softer, shinier and healthier. The essential oils provide moisture, mask any lingering vinegar smell and let her create custom scents.
Sperry uses a commercial organic, chemical-free conditioner now, but she's working on crafting her own with shea butter as a base.
But leaving behind chemical-laden shampoo doesn't have to be as extreme as Sperry's oil and vinegar routine. There are lots of all-natural varieties to choose from, and many of those are either 100 percent organic or made with organic ingredients.
The main commitment to making the switch is being willing to 1) experiment a bit to find the right solution for you; and 2) accept that natural products are going to look, feel, smell and act differently than what you're used to using.
"The most common things I hear is that it doesn't feel as silky smooth in customers' hands and that it doesn't lather as much," says Tyler Giles, general manager at Healthway Nutrition Center in Medford. "Beyond that, people need to find the product that's right for them. Once they do, I get nothing but positive comments."
Going no 'poo can be more challenging. While Sperry saw positive results right away, others can encounter a transition period where hair can get oily or frizzy as it adjusts to life without chemicals (which produce that "squeaky clean" feeling that is actually your hair and scalp's natural oils being stripped away).
To do it, just add your essential oils to a mix of half apple cider vinegar and half water. It'll take time to find the right amount of oils to add, and you should start with less until you see how it affects your hair. Work the mixture through your wet hair and leave it in while you shower, then rinse out as much as you can. Follow up with a natural or homemade conditioner if you need it.
"Be adventurous," Sperry says. "It can be fun and exciting to experiment and create what works for you."