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Toxic Tresses

Balancing a desire to use natural products with effective hair cleansing and conditioning is not easy. In fact, hair care may be one of the trickiest areas in which to go natural, when you are using to synthetic hair products. Luckily, we've done the hard work and made the mistakes for you (I personally tried a particular natural shampoo bar which left my hair looking so bad I could not leave the house!) To understand natural hair care it is useful to know How the different products work and what they are supposedly to do …


I may be stating the glaringly obvious here but the main aim of shampooing is to remove dirt from the hair. This dirt consist mainly of bodily secretions (ew!) But dust and pollutants also need to be cleared away along with the residues of hair styling products like wax or hairspray. A good shampoo removes grease and water-soluble dirt without stripping away all the natural oil in the hair, leaving it dry and crunchy. The active ingredient in shampoos that does this is called a surfactant. Surfactants work by removing the dirt from the hair's surface and dispersing it in the washing solution so that it is not redeposited on the clean hair or scalp. They are generally helped in doing this by foaming up, since most shampoos are foamy. Surfactants are basically detergents.

Detergents are usually synthetically-produced although often they are based on a natural material, such as coconut oil or palm kernel oil. This creates a bit of a dilemma. To use a soap-based alternative would lead to dull and damaged-looking hair which means that some totally natural 'shampoos' can not do so much a hair do as a hair do not! Natural products are the best possible compromise. Surfactants are used, but only the most naturally-derived, gentle ones available. They are balanced with herbs and natural oils which provide natural benefits. So you're purchasing a shampoo that works and will not wreck your hair, but it still has a very high percentage of natural raw materials.


Hair conditioner is much easier to achieve with all natural ingredients than shampoo (same goes for styling products). The active ingredients in most commercial conditioners are known as cationic surfactants. After shampooing, hair is often left with too little natural oil, and conditioners are used to fix this. The cationic surfactants in conventional conditioners are referred to damaged hair where keratin (the hair's building blocks) have been affected and a negative charge has been built up. The cationic surfactant fills the holes and the result is an improvement in condition. Before synthetic detergents were injected, rinses of lemon juice or cider vinegar were used to improve the shine and feel of hair after washing. These acidic substances help soften the water and have an astringent effect, shrinking the cuticles of the hair and making it smoother.

Try this at home, or for a glamorous alternative, try John Masters Organics' Herbal Cider Hair Clarifier and Color Sealer. Most natural and organic conditioners generally rely on natural oils such as avocado, jojoba seed and babassu. They may also contain strengthening panthenol (pro-vitamin B5) and tocopherol (vitamin E). Where they contain preservatives or surfactants, they are the mildest, most natural ones available.

Why bother?

It's absolutely worth your while chucking out your synthetic hair care products. Elizabeth Smith, MD, researcher with the Ovarian Cyst Education Website, writes, "Anything that is absorbed by the skin is directly absorbed. And yes, that applies to your scalp too! Check for ingredients you should definitely be avoiding on the back of your shampoo and conditioner.

Source by Kate Hanson

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