Updated: Apr 6
Shampoo and conditioner are fixtures that have always been there, sitting in our showers and tubs, awaiting our regular visit to degrease, de-grime, and refresh our scalp and hair. Thanks to our old friend, generational consumerism, we pretty much accept that we'll need it for the rest of our hair-washing days.
If you're anything like I was before my journey to Evolve at Home, you're forever chasing the next best hair care thing - the next [empty] promise to resolve that pesky scalp problem, the next "newly discovered" ingredient that will for sure give you Jennifer Aniston hair (just dated myself a bit...), the next generation of [insert generic ingredient here] that has been reformulated to deliver better care than ever but really it's the same mediocre result. Lucky for you, Determined Jenna doesn't give up easily and will keep searching to the ends of the internet and beyond to find the actual next best thing.
The typical shampoo formulation, yes, even the expensive ones (their empty promises just cost more), is a chemical soup full of sulfates, endocrine disruptors, detergents, alcohols, preservatives, and other chemicals that are apparently needed to clean hair. Then, after stripping every single bit of natural oil from your scalp and hair in the name of cleanliness, you're sold a conditioner to hopefully put some of that moisture back so you get soft, beautiful locks and a happy scalp. The sad truth is, nothing on this earth can replace what your healthy body produces naturally. It's just like using the chemical soups sold as soap and putting more chemical soup labeled as lotion or moisturizer on after to replace what the soap stole from you to begin with! (See my blog about soap)
So what's a person supposed to do to get clean hair, maintain a healthy scalp, and have the shiny, soft tresses promised to us?
Check Your Water
If you live in an area with hard water (Texas, I'm looking at you), you have to soften your water. Scoot on over to my post about beating the hard water blues for more information. If you skip this step, your natural hair care journey will be a frustrating, uphill, largely disappointing battle. Trust me. I didn't find a water softening solution, or even realize that was my problem, until years after I tried natural shampoos and conditioners and gave up.
Check Your Diet
This will probably end with you giving me brownie points or you're just going to roll your eyes and bail out. Fair enough. Come back when you're ready. :)
Food is polarizing, but if you're here, you are likely ready to evolve your life, including what you eat. So I'm going to say it: if you eat garbage, your hair and your skin will reflect that. What do I mean by garbage? Well, the simplest explanation is anything that comes in a package and can sit on a shelf indefinitely and will still be here when we're all dead and gone. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon shifted my entire universe on food. It is a great take off point for your journey to Evolve at Home, and I'll touch on the subject of food eventually (maybe? It's a scary topic...). Also, check out The Weston A. Price Foundation.
Start Reading Labels
Back to my favorite aisle in the grocery store - the hippy aisle. :) This is a relatively good place to start your natural hair care journey. Get comfortable - you're going to have to do a lot of label reading because even the natural product lines can slip in some pretty questionable stuff. Bookmark EWG.org or download their app so you can quickly look up ingredients.
Some questionable yet sometimes necessary stuff in natural shampoos is plant derived lauryl sulfates (LS). If you don't have soft water, chances are you will have to compromise on this ingredient, especially if your hair tends toward the greasy side of the spectrum, which mine does. For years, I purchased coconut or other plant derived LS based shampoos because that's what worked to provide me with clean enough hair that I could exit my home without a hat on. At least until I found a new source of fantastic shampooing (more on that later).
Other chemicals the "natural" brands like to throw in both shampoos and conditioners are various preservatives like Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate (don't even get me started on these...); skin penetrating chemicals (why!?) like Propylene Glycol and PPGs; petroleum derived chemicals like PEGs (avoid, avoid, avoid petroleum based stuff!); polymers and co-polymers (which are used to make the shampoo have a nice "hand feel"); alcohols (moisture stripper but they're in your conditioner!!!); and on and on it goes. Endless lists (okay, they do end somewhere on the bottle, but I'm making a point here) of things that up until our modern "better living through science" times weren't needed to clean anything much less hair.
So, Just Tell Me Already, Woman!
It is pretty daunting trying to figure out what will work for you. So, here are some products I've tried and either still use or moved on from. If it's the latter, that doesn't mean they're not worthy of a trial run by you. We all have different needs. I'm just a Texas gal with baby fine hair and a greasy scalp that just needs gentle cleaning and a conditioner that doesn't add to my grease problem. There's a laundry list of my trial and errors for shampoos and conditioners that were masquerading as natural products, but I won't list those here because my goal is for you to avoid that trap.
My current love is Nature Sustained Raw and Wild Soap Nut shampoo. My sister in law found this gem and I love her for it (and other things too... and for my nephew). The shampoo is made with soap berries (no sulfate or detergents needed!) and fermented for 3 months with the other ingredients before being bottled and shipped to your door. It is absolute magic with my softened water but it also works well in hard water. The live, probiotic formula seems to really help my scalp feel better and not be dried out after washing. They also have a conditioner, but it didn't really agree with my hair type. So I moved on. But give the whole set a whirl. Don't let the price point scare you. This is the cost of real, unadulterated ingredients made by real humans. Just think about all the additional chemically laden products you have to buy to "fix" what the other products did to your hair and scalp. How much does all that cost?
Other natural shampoos I've tried have come from Ethique (which is a no-waste product!), J·R· Liggett's All-Natural Shampoo Bars (do NOT try this brand with hard water. You will be disappointed, trust me...), and Living Libations. Again, remember the price you're paying reflects the real ingredients and a hand crafted product.
My current conditioner favorite is tied between two conditioner bars from Ethique Wonderbar for oily-normal hair and Spinster Sisters Rosemary Mint. The rosemary mint deliciousness is an aromatherapy experience I look forward to when it's wash day. I also tried Living Libations' delicious conditioner. Unfortunately, it did not agree with my hair type.
No 'Poo Methods
If you've been around the "crunchy" internet scene for a while, you've likely heard of the various "no 'poo" or "co-'poo" methods. This is where you use a combination of baking soda and apple cider vinegar (no 'poo) to "wash" and "condition" your hair or you only use conditioner (co-'poo).
Fledgling natural hair care Jenna tried both of these methods long before (like 10 years before) she knew about softened water. I imagine if you're a long haired person living with hard water, you know how that nightmare ended. However, you may have better luck with it since I've revealed the secret to success. (You're welcome.) If you're not living with hard water and have no idea what I'm talking about, you're a lucky duck. Suffice to say, it was not pretty nor comfortable nor successful - ever.
Even though we soften our water now, I haven't tried these methods again because I'm still completely head over heels for my soap nut fermented shampoo. Let me know in the comments if you give the no-'poo method or co-'poo method a whirl with a water softener. I might be intrigued enough with your results to try again.
Where to Buy
I realize this is not a popular choice these days, but Amazon is a great resource for finding the brands I mentioned (and many, many more - just read the label first!). If you don't want to order through Amazon, you can always use it for your research and go to the brand website to order instead. Nature Sustained, Living Libations, Ethique, J·R· Liggett's, and Spinster Sisters sell through their own websites.
This journey is a challenging one, fraught with perils, winding roads, and lots of bottles! But you and your hair will get through the not so good ones, find a good one, and eventually (maybe) move onto the next. Wait. What? But Jenna! I want to settle on The One! Well, folks, your body will continue to evolve, grow, change, and need different things on different days. Listen to it and you'll be rewarded. Trust me. :)
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Note: We are not affiliated with any of the brands shared in this blog post. Dr. Jason and I just want to share information and resources.
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