The Complete Guide to Healthy, Chemical-Free Hair
Long hair, short hair, curly hair, blue hair — no matter how you wear your hair, we have ideas for you.
By making a few changes to your beauty regimen, you can minimize your environmental impact (nearly effortlessly), save money by reducing your water consumption and energy use, and limit your exposure to the unnecessary chemicals used in commercial personal-care products.
TOOLS AND PRODUCTS:
Shampoo & Conditioners: The use of natural or organic products helps limit the chemicals (like the questionable parabens) that inevitably make their way down the drain. Further research is being done to determine exactly how parabens impact humans (and the environment) but in the meantime, consider whether you feel comfortable being exposed to these and other synthetically made chemicals.
Another advantage to choosing a certified organic shampoo and conditioner is that these products are often minimally packaged, saving energy at nearly every step along the supply chain. You can't always trust product labels, so to determine whether a product is safe or not, look it up using the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep Database.
Buy shampoo in bulk whenever possible. You can also repurpose an old shampoo bottle by transforming it into a unique cell phone holder.
Or DIY: We like the "'No 'Poo' Hair Cleansing Regime" featured in Beth Terry's book Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (Skyhorse, 2012).
- Wash hair with a solution of baking soda and water. One tablespoon of baking soda per cup of water. Pour it on scalp and scrub with fingers in shower.
- Rinse hair with a solution of apple cider vinegar (ACV) and water. Same proportions: one tablespoon of ACV per cup of water. Adding a few drops of rosemary essential oil adds a nicer smell and antidandruff benefits. Work it through hair and make sure to saturate the ends. The ACV conditions hair and makes it soft and manageable. Mix these up ahead of time and in repurposed plastic sports bottles in the shower.
- Rinse well with water and comb out. The vinegar smell will dissipate very quickly.
According to Terry, it can take a few weeks for your hair to adjust to this new washing regime. If you can endure the greasy period, eventually your hair will look healthy again and you may not need to wash as often as you used to.
Another option is to make your own all-purpose shampoo bar.
Brushes & Combs: One of the easiest ways to green your hair care is by using plastic-free brushes and combs. Brushes made from bamboo or wood with natural bristles (usually made from animal hair) are a better alternative for the environment and your hair. Compared to nylon bristles, natural bristles better absorb dirt and distribute your hair's natural oils from scalp to tip, meaning healthier and more beautiful hair.
WASHING: Take a few days off! You can either just rinse your hair when showering or skip the shower all together. Between washings try using a tablespoon of cornstarch or arrowroot to absorb excess oil.
BLOW-DRYING: If you blow drying is a must, let your hair air-dry most of the way before breaking out the blow-dryer, then use it on the coolest setting. It's better for your hair — it prevents split-ends and over drying — plus you're saving electricity.
STRAIGHTENING: The safest way to straighten your hair is with a flat iron, but that extreme heat can be damaging to your hair. If you do straighten your hair, don't blow-dry it beforehand and make sure to give your hair several days a week to flounce around in its natural state.
If you chemically straighten your hair, it's time to listen up. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) set out to determine what salons and their clients need to know about the use of formaldehyde (listed as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA in 1987) in keratin hair treatments. In 2011, they published their results which showed that keratin hair treatments claiming to be formaldehyde-free were in fact not.
DEEP CONDITIONING: There is no need to go to the salon to treat your hair to some TLC. Natural oils like olive oil or coconut oil are great for treating your dried out tresses. You can even use mashed avocados. Thoroughly massage the oil (or avocados) into your hair and cover with a warm towel. Leave it in for at least 30 minutes and then rinse. If you normally have oily hair, focus on the ends and tips of your hair rather than the scalp. Do this once a month.
COLORING: With over 5,000 different chemicals being used in hair dyes, it's not surprising that some of these chemicals are allergens and even suspected carcinogens. For a safer way to color your hair, use plant-based dyes. Pallete by Nature is just one example of a company that produces plant-based hair dyes.
If you want natural highlights, one option is to spritz your hair with lemon (or lime) juice before heading outdoors. This is an easy way to gradually lighten your hair but it should only be done once or twice a week. The citric acid in lemon juice can really dry out your hair so make sure to use an organic conditioner after rinsing out the lemon juice.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DIET:
On the quest for luscious locks it's important to note that hair health starts on the inside, with what you eat. A diet of foods rich in Omega-3's, Iron and Vitamins A, E, and D will work to keep your hair (skin, too) at its best. Salmon, avocados, sweet potatoes, and spinach are just a few of the foods that will help keep your hair and scalp looking their best.
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Christine Coester is an editorial intern at Sierra. A fan of flora and fauna, she has a passion for conservation and environmental stewardship. Currently a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, she is studying journalism with the hopes of making the world a better and greener place.