For the vast majority, it’s our crowning glory. The natural hair care product market was valued at almost $9 Billion in 2019 and is expected to continue it’s upward momentum. Savvy consumers and new technologies are fueling the growth, as well as issues such as ingredient sensitivities and heightened awareness of the environmental impacts of their product choices.
A strand of hair consists of three layers – the innermost medulla, the cortex and the cuticle. The cortex, or middle layer, is where pigment resides, and it contributes to the flexibility of the hair shaft. We’ll be focusing on the outermost layer, or cuticle, for the purposes of our discussion. This is the layer that takes the most abuse.
Our hair consists primarily of keratin protein which is made up of 18 amino acids. It also contains lipids (like sebum) which provides hair with lubrication. The hair shaft itself is not “alive”, which is why it’s so difficult for us to reverse any damage done to the hair.
The cuticle consists of a layer of overlapping cells, which forms a protective layer over the cortex. Frequent use of chemicals is the primary cause of damage to the hair shaft. Things like bleaching, dying perming, heat styling, exposure to pool chlorine and other ingredients can damage the cuticle, leaving it torn, and leaving hair dry and brittle. It’s important to tailor your haircare routine to your hair type. Check out this informative Healthline article on hair types.
Products to avoid
Healthy hair, no matter how curly or how straight, has a closed cuticle – that is, the overlapping cells lie flat. There are many products and ingredients that can damage the cuticle;
- hair dyes (even “natural” ones like henna can dry out hair)
- chemical relaxers (anything that breaks chemical bonds is not good)
- chemical perms (same as above)
- high-heat styling tools (standard blow dryers and straightening irons)
- direct sunlight
- pool chlorine
- salt water
Products that penetrate the cuticle like hair dyes and perms can cause the cuticle to raise up, making hair rough and prone to breakage. Heat styling can remove moisture from the hair, making it dry and brittle. There are also many hair care products on the market that contain ingredients that do not benefit hair; ingredients like
- sulfates (e.g. sodium lauryl and laureth sulfate) which strip oils from hair
- silicones (which can build up and leave hair drier)
- mineral oil
- perfumes (containing hundreds of ingredients like parabens and formaldehyde)
It’s important to read product labels and to know what you’re putting on your hair and scalp, especially if you are allergic to many ingredients. The bottom line is that, much like your skin, you want to use products that provide benefits to your hair without side effects.
Oils and natural hair care
We’re great believers in the benefits of using plant-based oils to nurture hair. Oils penetrate the cuticle to add vital lipids and help slow down moisture evaporation. A few oils that have been shown to nurture dry, brittle hair include Olive, Avocado, Argan and Jojoba oils. Hot oil treatments have been used for quite some time to nourish dry, chemically treated hair. They work well as a treatment mask under a cap or mixed with your regular conditioner. (Before using a new carrier oil, it’s good to test it on the skin to be sure that you won’t get an allergic reaction. This is especially true about nut oils like coconut, almond and kukui nut.)
Dry oils came on the market as a multi-purpose solution for skin and hair. They are absorbed quickly with minimal residue. Some common oils used in dry oils include sunflower, safflower, jojoba, rosehip, olive and others. They can be applied without the need to rinse them out and they add antioxidants like Vitamin C and E, as well as leaving hair with a subtle sheen. They’re great when you are looking for a lightweight oil for regular use. An example is our All Purpose Organic Dry Oil. It’s great on hair, but many customers use it as a post-shower body oil or cuticle oil.
Other natural hair care tips
If you’ve been going “natural” and have avoided things like hair dyes, perms and blow drying, then you may not need to do much. But if you’re like many of us, you’ve spent lots of time and money covering grays, blow-drying and straightening your hair, with resultant damage. If the damage is severe, it may be necessary to cut off the damaged hair and start with virgin hair. For example, does your hair look “fried” with lots of breakage and split ends? Does it feel “mushy” when wet? If so, it may be best to get a good cut.
For the rest of you, seek out hair care products with naturally-derived ingredients that have a proven track record. You can begin your journey with this natural haircare product article by TheGoodTrade.com. Applications containing keratin can help. You can also try these natural hair care tips to keep your hair as healthy as possible:
- When outdoors, wear a wide brimmed hat – sunlight can literally bleach the hair. This will dry it out.
- When coming out of the pool or ocean, rinse hair out right away. Or before going in, apply olive oil to the hair to help keep chemicals from being absorbed.
- Avoid using too many products at a time. If hair becomes dull, use apple cider vinegar or beer before shampooing with a sulfate-free shampoo.
- Use a satin cap or pillow case in the bedroom. It will reduce surface friction while you sleep, keeping the cuticle intact and preventing static cling.
- Avoid elastic hair ties or metal clips in the hair. They put stress on the cuticle and, if used often, can pull hair at the root, resulting in traction alopecia. The same goes for teasing and wet-combing.
- Drink plenty of water. Our bodies need it, and our hair benefits from it, too.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes adequate protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. If supplements are needed, try Vitamin E tablets. (We like plant-derived ones.) Extreme diets, sudden weight loss and certain diseases can cause hair to fall out. If this happens often, see your doctor.
- Exercise regularly. This does more than put the rose in your cheeks. Increased circulation benefits the scalp, which makes your hair look better.
- Control stress and anxiety. Constantly touching or obsessing over your hair can become a habit, and can be controlled with professional help. If you tend to over-wash the hair, this can dry it out.