Almost one year after using conditioners only for cleansing and styling my hair, I started using herbal hair cleansers again in my hair regimen. Although conditioners made my hair feel soft, my scalp always felt coated and itchy. I noticed that conditioners also left a residue on my hair. After leaving some conditioner in my hair, I would then add either flax seed gel or shea butter and it felt like too much product overall.
When using conditioners and styling products my hair would feel sticky or greasy and I was tired of it. I had to wash my hair more to keep my hair looking and feeling fresh.
Once returning to using all natural hair cleansers without conditioners, I again went through a mild form of hair detoxing. I used a few different things to help the process overall and my detox experience lasted for about a week and a half. For some this detoxing period can last from a week to a month or more depending on you hair type and what product you were using. Synthetic shampoo/conditioner ingredients leave a coating on your hair which never wash away unless you use natural clarifiers such as clay. Clarifying shampoos may strip the hair of products, yet still leave more synthetic ingredients behind.
It only took me a few washes to completely remove the “natural” conditioner ingredients from my hair so that I could solely enjoy the benefits of using herbs again. The results have been soft clean hair and a much happier scalp.
If you are an avid shampoo and conditioner user and would like to switch to a herbal based hair regimen, note that it will take some time to get used to. If you have chemically treated hair I greatly suggest using cassia or henna to strengthen your hair strands and naturally fill in the hair cuticle gaps that chemically treated hair needs to be strong. Please note that cassia can add golden tones to blond hair and that henna naturally dyes light or grey hair red while giving dark hair red highlights. You can use premixed henna treatments in various shades that contain cassia or indigo to naturally dye and strengthen hair which you can find here and here. Most products temporarily fill in those the damaged hair cuticle with silicones and quaternary ammonium compounds, yet cassia and especially henna have long term strengthening effects which stay deposited in the hair. Since this article is on herbal hair cleansers we will get into more detail about cassia and henna in another segment. For more on natural hair coloring read this article. You can also see exactly how I used henna here.
One thing that I’ve noticed during my research on cleansing herbs is that no matter what your hair type is, finding the right mix of herbs is different for everyone.
I do like to keep things as simple as possible so I am going to share with you the benefits of each ingredient and also a basic formula that I use when preparing my own herbal washes. Some women prefer oiling their hair prior to using herbal hair washes, yet I tend to avoid as many extra steps as possible and instead include moisturizing conditioning herbs in my cleansing mixes and also use natural leave-in formulations after the cleansing process.
Saponin Cleansing Herbs
Saponin producing herbs with or without a clay is your cleansing agent in your herbal hair cleanser. Saponins are natural cleansing suds which can be found in different herbs. I’ve tried each one of the ingredients that I will mention below and each one did a wonderful job in the place of shampoo without drying out my hair.
Yucca root powder rinses clean and leaves hair soft and manageable plus is so easy to use. It can also be used with another cleansing herb or clay without drying the hair. Native Americans use the yucca leaves and roots to make soaps, shampoos and other hygiene related items. Read more on yucca root here.
Aritha aka soapnuts is a a natural cleanser that has become extremely popular as an eco-friendly alternative to laundry detergent. Aritha is the Ayurvedic name for soapnuts and has also been used as a natural shampoo for centuries. Aritha was one of the most popular natural shampoo alternatives on The Long Hair Community for all hair types. I’ve used aritha in powder form and found that it takes time for the granules to completely rinse. With herbal powders that are not finely ground you may want to consider putting them in a spice or coffee grinder until they are extremely fine. If using aritha in powder form you can also steep in in hot water as if making a tea and strain out the granules. Using aritha/soapnuts by boiling the whole herb to create an extract is most likely easier to use and rinse from hair.
Soapwort root is a gentle cleansing herb with mild suds. Every time that I’ve used soapwort root it left my hair refreshed and clean without feeling dried out. I’ve boiled the whole dried herbs for a few minutes then strained when in a rush, as well as steeped the herb overnight for a concentrated liquid. Both methods worked well, although I was able to get a stronger mix when it was boiled first then allowed to steep. Soapwort root works well on hair that isn’t heavily oiled. Adding clay to soapwort root would aid cleansing heavily oiled hair or oily hair in general. Read more on soapwort root here.
Shikakai is a natural astringent that strengthens the hair roots, promotes hair growth, and clears away dirt and grime from the hair and scalp. It also has a relaxing cooling affect on the scalp while cleansing and conditioning the hair. I’ve purchased shikakai in powder form from my local Indian grocery store. It is commonly mixed with amla and brahmi for hair cleansing and conditioning.
Clays for Shampoo
Using clays for shampoo soften cleanse and detox hair naturally. I personally love using clays in my herbal hair cleansing mixes, yet have also used them alone with aloe vera juice for a super simple and quick hair cleansing solution.
Bentonite clay can be used to clarify, cleanse, and condition hair leaving it soft and fully detoxed. You can use bentonite clay to help detox chemicals from hair as it literally has a negatively charged magnetic pull to attract positively charged toxins to it. Bentonite clay is also the main ingredient in Terressentials Pure Earth Hair Wash.
Rhassoul clay has been a life changing favorite for my skin and hair care. It is extremely rich in minerals, yet doesn’t have the intense magnetic pull that bentonite clay has so is better for sensitive skin. Yet it still cleanses both skin and hair like no other. It is wonderfully gentle yet powerful. I’ve mentioned rhassoul clay here and here.
Detangling (Mucilage) Herbs
Mucilage herbs add amazing detangling and conditioning to all herbal hair treatments. I always notice a big difference in my herbal hair treatments when I use mucilage herbs. If you have major tangles or curly hair then these herbs are an absolute necessity.
Depending on your preference you could boil whole dried marshmallow root in water to release the mucilage or purchase it in powder form to add to your herbal formulations. They both work well depending on how you want to use it. If you would like to use marshmallow root as a leave-in I have found that boiling the whole herb is a much better method than using it in powder form. Here’s another article previously written about marshmallow root in natural hair care.
Slippery elm bark is an emollient and nutritive herb as well as containing extreme amounts of mucilage. It is one of the best herbal poultices for wounds to reduce pain and inflammation. It is extremely soothing for dry hair and scalp and gives any product that much needed slip for detangling hair.
Fenugreek seed also known as methi has been used to strengthen hair, promote hair growth while also preventing hair fall. It is a known hair conditioner in Ayurvedic hair care. You can extract the mucilage from boiling the seeds or add powdered fenugreek seeds to your herbal hair care products.
Amla is a fantastic beauty and health herb which I spoke about in this article. It contains more vitamin C than oranges and is also known as Indian gooseberry. Amla promotes healthy hair growth, prevents hair shedding, keeps hair soft, shiny, and dark, while also enhancing curls for wavy and curly hair. Amla is a potent hair conditioner and can be infused in a carrier oil or used in powder form for simple herbal hair care.
Brahmi is also known as water hyssop, thyme leaved graticola, moneywort, and rau dang. It is used as a brain tonic in Ayurvedic medicine and is a hair conditioner and strengthener. Brahmi strengthen hair at the roots, relieves dry itchy scalp, and promotes thicker and healthier hair overall. You can infuse whole brahmi herbs in oil or use in powder form for hair pastes and other herbal hair concoctions.
Hibiscus petals is commonly used as a natural beauty cosmetic. Hibiscus also is an amazing hair conditioner creating silky shiny hair and giving an extra rich burgundy color to henna applications. It is a well known herbal tea that helps with stomach and digestive problems as well. You can use hibiscus whole in oil infusions or to create a final conditioning rinse or in powder form for herbal cleansing. Read more about hibiscus petals here.
Natural humectants are the perfect ingredient to add to herbal hair products when you feel your hair needs more moisture. Humectants help bind water to your hair and will absorb water from the air to maintain moisture levels. During dry winter months some worry about using humectants in hair care, yet I believe they are only helpful especially for herbal hair cleansers which will be washed out no matter the season. Humectants can also help herbal hair cleansers with powdered ingredients wash out easier. A few natural humectants are vegetable glycerin, honey, and agave nectar.
Creating Your Own Herbal Hair Cleanser
To create a simple one step cleansing and conditioning herbal hair treatment use equal parts of one saponin herb or clay, one conditioning herb, and a mucilage herb and carefully mix with boiling water. Strain herbs that are not finely sifted before adding clays or powdered mucilage herbs. You can create a very liquidity mix or make a paste to create more of a hair mask. Finally add a humectant if you have extremely dry hair. Wait until cooled before applying.
Blending your final mix once cooled will create a smooth product but is not always necessary. Using your herbal hair cleanser in some form of applicator bottle will be the easiest way to cleanse your hair. Some with long hair like to soak their hair in a bowl with a liquid herbal cleanser. Find what works best for you. (Please refrigerate unused portions and use within a week.)
Do you have a special herbal hair cleansing mix that you’d love to share? Tell us more below. Hope you are enjoying your day Beauties!
(Image by D Sharon Pruitt)