There’s no shortage of exotic oils and flowers in shampoos and stylers, but only a handful of natural ingredients can actually make your hair healthier — and they’re not the sexy-looking orchids that get top billing on the front of the bottle. “Because of the composition of hair and how difficult it is to penetrate and repair, it’s much harder to change your hair than your skin with natural ingredients,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller. But not impossible. These are the eight 100 percent natural ingredients that are as powerful — if not more so — as any synthetic.
We’re used to seeing it in sushi, maybe in serums — but in shampoo? Yup. New research shows seaweed may help control oiliness on the scalp. “It can’t just be dusted on at the end of an ingredient list, though,” says Schueller. Look for it to come in around number four or five on the ingredient list. We like Aveda Pramasana Protective Scalp Concentrate (which also has tamanu oil — more on that in a few) and Verb Sea Shampoo and Conditioner. Soon there may even be a seaweed serum for hair loss. A new study in the journal Archives of Plastic Surgery suggests that a mix of two seaweed extracts (Saccharina japonica and Undaria pinnatifida) stimulates hair-growth-promoting hormones in as little as two weeks.
The herb that’s easy to grow and makes everything smell Italian also has unexpected skills as an elixir: “I recommend rosemary oil to patients with hair shedding or hair loss,” says Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Wexler Dermatology in New York City. “There’s a study showing it promotes hair growth as well as minoxidil, without side effects like itching.” Fusco has patients squeeze a drop or two into bottles of their favorite shampoos and conditioners. And it’s just starting to pop up in hair-care products, like Fig + Yarrow Hair + Scalp Tonic.
Clay and Charcoal
Let’s just take a second to acknowledge that charcoal is ash and clay is dirt…and both are weird things to willingly put in your hair. But if you’re going for sexy waves, a little grit is a good thing. “Clay and charcoal leave a residue on the hair that increases friction between strands, resulting in increased body and texture,” says cosmetic chemist Mort Westman. (We like Carol’s Daughter Rhassoul Clay Sulfate-Free Shampoo.) Don’t overdo it with new dry shampoos that contain charcoal or clay, though. “The side effects of breathing in aerosolized clay need to be studied more, but the data I’ve seen isn’t great — prolonged exposure could cause lung damage,” says Schueller. Pomades (like Leonor Greyl Baume Bois de Rose) and nonaerosol dry shampoo powders (like Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Biotin) don’t have the same effect because you don’t breathe them in.
Honey is really good at hydrating hair, but it’s also…honey. That’s why you want to look for hydroxypropyltrimonium honey on ingredient lists — it’s an extract that “sticks to damaged areas of hair to hydrate them without feeling sticky,” says Schueller. (We like MarulaOil Rare Oil Style Extending Primer.) Diluting pure honey in warm water also makes for one really effective, albeit slightly tacky, DIY dandruff remedy. Using it every other day cleared up flakiness, itchiness, and more-serious scalp conditions (like chronic seborrheic dermatitis) in two weeks in a study published in the European Journal of Medical Research.
The worst dessert (you know it’s true) is so chewy because it’s a starch — and that starchiness makes tapioca perfect for second-day hair. “It’s really good at absorbing oil,” says Schueller. “It’s even better than talc, which is a much more common dry shampoo ingredient.” While talc absorbs just over three grams of oil, tapioca sucks up four and a half. Try Herbal Essences White Grapefruit & Mosa Mint Volume Dry Shampoo.
Most natural oils sit on top of your hair — which makes it shinier, for sure — but coconut oil goes one step further. “It’s the natural oil that’s been shown to best penetrate hair,” says Schueller. In other words: Coconut oil makes your hair stronger from the inside out. “Studies have shown coconut oil decreases the protein loss that comes from brushing and blow-drying,” says Fusco, who prefers coconut oil–infused treatments over a jar of the raw stuff. (We suggest SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser and OGX Coconut Miracle Oil Penetrating Oil.) “You might overshampoo your hair to get pure coconut oil out, and then you’ll end up drying your hair and undoing any benefit,” she says.
Before you fly somewhere tropical (take us with you!), toss a bottle of tamanu oil in your suitcase. “It has terrific antioxidant properties and even some benefits as a UV block,” says Fusco. “It can’t replace sunscreen, but you can use it for added protection at the beach.” Dilute it with a little jojoba oil (it’s more lightweight), smooth the mixture on your scalp at night, and follow up with a spray sunscreen on your scalp in the morning. Instead of turning you into an oil slick, hair products with tamanu oil “actually calm the inflammation that makes oily scalps worse,” says Fusco. “And it’s antibacterial, which can help with flaking and dandruff.” (We like Shea Terra Organics Madagascan Tamanu Cold-Pressed Oil.)
It’s great on the face, terrific on toast, and yes, it’s amazing for hair. “Avocado oil is a good source of vitamins B and E, and can be a great leave-in conditioner for hair, softening it and providing great shine,” says cosmetic chemist Jim Hammer. If you have dry and/or damaged hair, it’ll help to replenish strength, moisture and even shine. According to Hammer, another plus is that it spreads quickly to coat the hair without weighing it down. (Try Alikay Naturals Avocado Cream Moisture Repairing Mask)
Not only does olive oil have many uses in the kitchen, it also has multiple uses for the hair. “Olive oil is very similar to the natural oils of the hair and scalp, and helps to replenish the oils that are missing in dry damaged hair,” says Hammer. You can use it as a pre-shampoo treatment by zapping a little in the microwave for about 30 seconds and then massaging it into the hair starting from the scalp and working your way to the tips. It’s also great as a conditioner. We like Kiehl’s Strengthening and Hydrating Hair Oil-in-Cream which coincidentally, also contains avocado oil.
A version of this article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Allure. To get your copy, head to newsstands or subscribe now.
More on ingredients:
- Trendy Skin Care Ingredients Are Being Added to Hair Care Products
- 4 Natural Skin-Care Ingredients That’ll Transform Your Skin
- Luxurious Ingredients You Didn’t Know You Needed
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