Natural and organic ingredients are becoming more prevalent than ever in the beauty industry—and for good reason. For proof, this spring, the beauty retailer Sephora launched its clean boutique devoted to makeup, skin care and hair products all approved with the retailer’s own clinical-looking green stamp. The clean beauty revolution is healthier for you and the environment and there are certain ingredients found in nature that are much stronger than anything man-made—so why not delve into using natural hair care products?
The clean and organic beauty movement has swept across skin care the past few years with brands like Aveda, Tata Harper, Drunk Elephant, Farmacy, REN Clean Skincare, Origins and Jurlique. Products are flying off the shelves and going out of stock faster than brands can keep up. A newly launched Canadian fragrance brand called The 7 Virtues even maximizes fair trade, organic essential oils, as one of the most ecologically advanced perfume lines out there. Yet hair care brands that utilize natural ingredients are much harder to find. And that’s why it’s so important to seek them out.
In terms of just how far we’re behind when it comes to all-natural ingredients in beauty products, specifically hair, the US Toxic Substances Control Act, which controls the use of chemicals in consumer products, went 40 years without being changed. It was first passed in 1976 and was not overhauled until the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act was proposed in 2013 and later passed in 2016. That’s long enough for thousands of new chemicals and ingredients to run rampant on the market without any regulation or research into how they affect us as humans and the environment. Keep in mind, even with the bill passing in 2016, it takes years to implement any new regulations. All of that means that while the natural beauty revolution is incredibly popular right now, it’s also very new.
Unless you’re making your own products in your kitchen, you’re unlikely to find 100% natural hair products. The good thing is, brands are working towards are more natural future by eliminating ingredients that are harmful for both people and the environment—that’s the very theory behind “clean beauty.” Those ingredients include parabens, formaldehyde, sulfates SLS and SLES, synthetic fragrances, oxybenzone, coal tar and even mineral oils—all nasty things that almost all of the typical shampoos, conditioners, or stylers have inside them. Eliminating certain ingredients it the first step to using products that are more natural. One recent study from University of California, Berkeley, shows that short breaks from shampoos with chemical ingredients can result in a significant drop in levels of people’s hormone-disrupting chemicals.
One natural ingredient you can look for in hair products is seaweed. According to a recent study in the journal Archives of Plastic Surgery, a combination of the seaweed extracts Saccharina japonica and Undaria pinnatifida are proven to stimulate hair-growth-promoting hormones in as little as two weeks. Options from the all-natural, handmade cosmetics brand Lush, or the cult-classic Bumble & Bumble are already available in the form of shampoos (Lush’s is even a solid bar to eliminate plastic packaging) such as the Seanik volumunizing shampoo bar and the Seeweed Shampoo.
If in doubt, look for highly concentrated products rich in plant-based oils rather than synthetics. Or, you can buy the ingredient, such as coconut oil, directly from your local grocery store and use it to be 100 percent natural. Some people swear by coconut oil for damaged hair. OGX makes an affordable anti-frizz treatment using coconut oil as do many other brands. Better than synthetic silicones, avocado oil and olive oil are two other natural ingredients that impart shine and tame frizz both of which can be found in product lines like the organic Briogeo. Look for items containing Tamanu Oil, which has antibacterial and antioxidant properties is said to promote hair growth and cure dandruff (try French Girl Organics Hair Revive Oil). Local honey is known to cure allergies and it also works wonders on your hair: it’s ultra-hydrating and can alleviate an itchy scalp during the winter (Lush’s Hair Custard is a dreamy and potent blend of honey, argan oil and fair trade cocoa butter). The unexpected herb rosemary is also a great alternative to synthetic ingredients. It promotes hair growth and can replace Rogaine—Aveda’s Rosemary Mint shampoo is a classic.
Imagine what the future could hold when it comes to utilizing seaweed or rosemary in place of hair growth serums filled with toxic ingredients? After all, many of the harmful synthetic ingredients found in hair products are cheap copies that attempt to replicate the real thing, which is often more expensive. The proof that synthetic ingredients are scary is in the studies and the reactions coming directly from doctors. The reason Tata Harper reportedly founded her now-cult natural skin care brand was because when her father was diagnosed with cancer, the first thing the doctors told him to do was to discard shampoos, lotions or any other personal care items with synthetic ingredients. Parabens and phthalates, both common in shampoos and stylers, are known endocrine disruptors linked to increased risk of breast cancer, too.
If hair care brands are actually interested in benefitting both consumers and the environment, they should move towards overhauling their products in every way. That includes packaging (glass or recyclable, please) too. We, as a community, should be holding products to a higher standard, too. If a hair product or service, like the Brazilian Blowout, is too toxic to use during pregnancy or when sick with cancer, what makes it okay to use otherwise? According to Fast Company, the organic and natural beauty industry is expected to hit a valuation of $13.2 billion by this year. That’s a lot of money to put back into making the simplest changes at even the best-selling organic brands that admittedly need to strive to be even better—like working to be 100% natural for example, or having biodegradable packaging.