You don't need to get tangled up in knots trying to maintain healthy locks. With the right natural hair-supportive nutrients and products, luscious tresses are within your grasp. The first step? Give the brush-off to toxins found in caustic salon processes, particularly Brazilian Blowouts, which release cancer-causing formaldehyde and damage hair over time (and have even been banned in other countries). Conventional shampoos, conditioners, dyes, and treatments also may contain potentially harmful synthetic colors and scents, phthalates, mineral oil, and polyethylene glycol (PEG). If you treat your hair well, you’ll see the results.
“Hair follicles are like little pockets, and hair grows from cells at the follicle’s base, so each follicle needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to grow properly,” says Lisa Drayer, RD, author of The Beauty Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2009). Choose wisely based on what your hair needs.
Dry hair and scalp
Bad hair day? Environmental factors such as pool chlorine and air pollution, or drying treatments like hair relaxers and texturizers, could be to blame. “The sodium hydroxide in [traditional hair] products permanently alters the structure of hair protein in addition to damaging the strand’s cuticle,” says Kari Williams, PhD, a hair and scalp specialist and owner of Mahogany Hair Revolution in Los Angeles. “As a result, hair is left dry, brittle, and susceptible to breakage.”
If you notice split ends, trim them. Then repair from the inside out by adding hair-strengthening lean protein to your diet, along with essential fatty acids found in fatty fish (salmon, trout, and herring), omega-3 supplements, walnuts, flaxseeds, and sunflower seeds to support the cell membranes and oil that keep your scalp and hair from drying out, says Drayer. When selecting hair treatments, Williams favors coconut oil, avocado, and jojoba oil for moisture, shea butter for shine, and up-and-comers like Amazonian babassu oil and murumuru butter to lock in moisture and restore nutrients. Choose products using these ingredients, or simply work a few tablespoons of one of these natural oils into your hair and scalp, wrap hair in a towel, and wash out after 20–30 minutes.
Heredity, illness, hormonal changes, nutritional defeciencies, medications, and aggressive styling are top hair-loss culprits. In most cases, natural remedies can help. To stimulate hair growth, topically apply essential oils such as those from castor, rosemary, ylang-ylang, and peppermint diluted in a carrier oil like almond or jojoba, recommends Williams. Recent research also supports plant stem cells, increasingly used in hair-growth products, for their ability to lengthen follicles’ life span. And biotin, in both capsules and shampoo, remains a go-to for hair restoration, particularly when taken as a supplement with zinc.
Itchy, flaky scalp has several causes, including dry, irritated, or oily skin; insufficient shampooing; and skin issues such as eczema, dermatitis, or psoriasis. When a skin disorder causes dandruff. Drayer recommends selenium. “It has antioxidant properties that protect your scalp from free radical damage, which can ultimately lead to dandruff,” she says. Look for shampoos that contain selenium sulfide, along with sulfur and salicylic acid, which ward off flaky outbreaks.
Greasy hair may indicate an imbalance of your scalp’s production of sebum, the body’s natural oils. Although counterintuitive, using the right oils on your scalp can help. “Jojoba oil regulates the scalp’s sebum production to combat oily hair,” says Williams. Old-school remedies remain relevant, too. Williams recommends rinsing hair with diluted apple cider vinegar to reduce oil and balance scalp pH. Also try dry shampoos that incorporate baking soda to soak up excess oil.