Reflections from a Hair Addict: Finding Recovery
When I was growing up my hair was a mess: frizzy, bushy and permanently dented from being tied in a ponytail. Part of this was due to era, the late 80s/early 90s, but a lot of it was because my hair was addicted.
What is hair addiction? Like most addictions it started slowly and grew into dependency. We all want and need clean hair, but many of us overlook that beyond hair (which consists of root and shaft) we also have a scalp. What is good for one isn’t always good for the other. We want to wash our scalp without stripping off all the natural oils. We want to hydrate our hair shafts without greasing up our scalps.
All of us have a different amount of natural oil production and different dryness of hair. To get healthy hair that isn’t also addicted to a bunch of hair products, we need to find a balance between the natural oils from our scalp and the relative dryness of our own hair. Most hair products are designed to either strip the natural oils or moisturize the hair shaft, and many actually claim to do both without doing either very well.
What I know now is that my hair, a protein produced by my body, is quite capable of taking care of itself and that the less I do to it, the better it looks. When I talk to friends about this they give me that look that tells me they think I’m a bit wacky, but a little bit of history shows that this is the way humans have been working with their hair for eons. In wasn’t until the early 1900s that shampoo was developed. People washed their hair before this of course, but with soaps and other homemade solutions (vinegar rinses, lemon juice, plant based washes); and we didn’t lather up everyday.
The idea of daily cleansing came from the early shampoo companies themselves: if a little is good, a ton must be better, right? What sudsing up every day actually does is strip our hair of its natural oils. The body then overcompensates by creating more natural oil and a dependence on shampoo is developed. This dependence on shampoo brings along its corresponding need for conditioner to help restore moisture to the hair shaft that was also stripped in the over-shampooing. Shampoo every day and your head is addicted.
Some people find they can go a few days, others weeks, and some curly girls can do without shampoo entirely! This, however, comes only after your scalp goes through the withdrawal period. It can take up to a month for a person to stop overproducing oil and get back to her baseline.
Why would you want to end your dependency on shampoo? A few reasons to break the cycle:
- The process of stripping our hair and adding moisture back is expensive. Add up the cost of our shampoos, conditioners, gels, hair treatments, coloring and it gets pricey. Cutting back is a great way to go green and save green. A recent Newsweek feature revealed women in the US spend over $200,000 on their hair in a lifetime! Skipping shampoo every other day can cut your use in half. An est. savings of $15 - $62 per year depending on the cost of your shampoo.
- The stripping and synthetic hydration process can dry out and damage our hair and our scalp and it can get worse over time.
- Most of our products have harsh and dangerous chemicals in them, including sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS (and all the LS cousins), parabens, synthetic fragrance, dyes, and other toxic preservatives. These chemicals have been linked to everything from skin irritation to cancer. Why expose ourselves and our families to these?
- There is another way!!
So, what do you do in the awkward hair detox phase? My best advice is to get creative: scarves and headbands, hats, or just the good ol’ ponytail. It doesn’t take that long (although you may want to not plan your detox for two weeks before your wedding, first job interview, or a big TV appearance) and in the end you will have healthier hair that is easier, and cheaper, to maintain.
There aren’t any hard and fast rules to more natural hair care, but some good guidelines to remember:
- Less is more.
- When taking away natural oils from the hair itself, replace them! (Make sure you use safe moisturizers.) You can look for commercial conditioners without the ingredients cautioned about above (and without alcohol), or make your own. I like olive oil (apply from the ends, not from the scalp, and start with a tiny amount: dime sized drop).
- Everyone’s hair is different and is impacted by many things: the weather (dryer climates, dryer hair), the water you use (e.g. chlorine levels, hard versus soft), and your age.
- Straight hair can benefit from the old saying about 100 brush strokes a day. Each brush stroke (with a soft, natural bristle brush) will move oils from your scalp down into the hair shaft where it nourishes dry strands. Curly girls, stay away from the brush! Separating your curls = frizz!
- Hair masks or deep conditioning treatments shouldn’t be skipped! You can make your own in the kitchen from such common items as avocados, egg yolks, fruit purees, and cooking oils. Making your own saves money and is more nourishing than almost anything that comes in a bottle. (Just be sure to wash thoroughly afterward so you don’t end up smelling like parmesan cheese or banana puree.)
If you are using a vinegar rinse be sure to hydrate afterward. A common mistake is to clean without hydrating.
Another thing to remember is that we aren’t talking about not caring for our hair, rather about using different, safer products and changing how we handle our roots and hair shaft. I personally get my hair wet everyday, I just skip the shampoo, and massage my scalp with conditioner. Nothing feels quite as good to me as a morning scalp massage.
There are many great resources to find what’s right for you:
By Green Mama contributor Cecelia Ungari.