Applying shampoo and then conditioner, spritzing on a little hairspray before rushing out to a dinner date… That’s all well and good, but how can we be sure that it’s really healthy? Here we give you our Clean beauty pointers… Without splitting hairs.
True enough, there are substances to steer clear of in the vast array of haircare products that you’re so fond of. And it’s not easy to remember the long list of these substances to avoid. All haircare brands have joined the pursuit of “green”, more or less successfully. Here’s the lowdown with Sophie Macheteau, a specialist when it comes to natural beauty products and founder of the blog suzanegreen.com. It will help you untangle the true from the false, find out which substances should be shunned, learn about clever alternatives and clean DIY recipes.
What substances are to be kept out of shampoos and haircare products?
Unfortunately the list is very long!
First and foremost, I recommend shunning shampoos containing sulphates: essentially sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES). They may lather up nicely, but they are harsh and drying to the hair. Luckily, these days there are a great many sulphate-free formulations that are kind to the hair! Also to be avoided are formulations containing mineral oils (that come from petrochemicals like paraffin), silicone and polymers (dimethicone, amodimethicone and crosspolymer acrylates), which gradually suffocate the hair, weaken it and leave it more brittle. These synthetic substances are from non-renewable sources and are not biodegradable. Not great for the planet!
You should also steer well clear of methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI), as they can cause serious allergic reactions in the skin. And of course, avoid formulations containing parabens, which are suspected of being endocrine disruptors, as well as synthetic colourants and fragrances which contain a great many allergens.
So what are the alternative ingredients?
When it comes to shampoo, it’s better to go for gentle organic, sulphate-free formulations (certified or otherwise, but if not, you need to know what the brand’s values are like). Whatever the haircare product, avoid formulations with overly-long ingredients lists, which can become real “allergen cocktails”. Opt for brands that are plant-based (without greenwashing) and offer products with active ingredients that will take care of your hair (for example wheat or rice protein, plant-based oils and ceramides or plant-based silicone made from seaweed, etc.).
What are your essential, easy “DIY” recipes?
The fundamental haircare product is shampoo. For those washing to make their own, I recommended using an organic neutral shampoo base that’s vegan and free from palm oil. To this you can add 1 or 2 natural active haircare ingredients. For example, plant-based salicylic acid in case of dandruff, revitalising maca in case of limp hair and bisabolol in case of itching. Personally I prefer to make dry shampoos, which are very eco-friendly as they are water-free. I do so using plant powders that naturally contain saponins (molecules with natural tensioactive properties similar to those of soap) such as shikakai, that ayurvedic “shampoo plant” that we hear so much about. I combine shikakai with plant powders that take care of the hair. For example reetha due to its detoxifying and purifying action, neutral henna which detangles and boosts shine and amla which strengthens the hair and stimulates growth. The same goes for conditioning products.
And as for hairsprays?
First of all, they are aerosols, and that is not very eco-friendly. Hairspray propels the product’s styling substances and also volatile organic substances from the propulsion gases into the air, via microdiffusion. That’s why the labels advise using them in well-ventilated rooms. Which is never a good sign. Favour instead styling sprays that come in natural spray bottles without gas.
Hair dye = suffocation?
Remember that all permanent or semi-permanent dyes are bound to be harsh on the hair and scalp. They generally contain p-phenylenediamine, which promotes sensitivity and irritation. The alternative is to use plant-based hair dyes. These cover grey hairs less effectively and are less long-lasting. However, they are greener beyond measure, since they are free from the most controversial substances.
As a general rule, remember that the ingredients at the top of the ingredients list on the label account for the biggest proportions of the formulation, even if the percentages are not stated. So open your eyes and be exacting. However, don’t lose sight of the pleasure to be had in taking care of your hair.