Hair care: Is herbal really better?
Information on herbal hair care products.
Wandering through the hair care aisle of your local supermarket or pharmacy can often be a confusing and overwhelming experience, simply because there are sometimes too many choices! With products promising to strengthen, thicken, smooth or define your locks, shampoos are now “vitamin-infused,” conditioners carry “silk proteins,” and detangling sprays promise “pH balancing.”
Confusing? You bet.
Even if you know what your hair needs, sometimes what you’re actually putting on it just sounds scary – ingredients such as “ammonium xylenesulfonate” and “glycol distearate” sound like cleaning products that belong under the kitchen sink, not in your hair!
But don’t worry, for those who want to detour from the confusing terminology and unpronounceable ingredients, there’s always the option to go herbal. But sometimes even that’s easier said than done. Marketed as herbal, botanical, organic or chemical-free, hair care that promises “all-natural ingredients” and “plant and fruit extracts” has become a driving market force. But for all its popularity with consumers, is herbal really better? Are there benefits to choosing products that boast chamomile and green tea?
The idea that nature holds everything we need for health and happiness is not a new one. People have long made their own cosmetics and beauty products, using ingredients found in the produce aisle of the supermarket or in their gardens. County fairs and small shops hawked homemade “all-natural” products, but it wasn’t until the mainstream “Green Revolution” of the early 1990s was the idea in full force. As awareness grew about the environment, “disposables” became “recyclables.” The advent of the UK-based bath and body products retailer, The Body Shop, put a market face on all-natural ingredients. Now rose hips, nettle and mint became the ingredients consumers searched for on their earthy-looking labels. It wasn’t long before organic and herbal was accepted onto store shelves right along with traditional products.
Promising well-ness and friendship with nature, the mainstream market promptly exploded. Unilever Salon Selectives introduced Botanical Blends, The Healing Garden came out, Estee Lauder launched the “all-natural” Aveda line, and Clairol started up Natural Instincts and Herbal Essences. And those were just the big names. Smaller, earthier, mom and pop businesses such as Burt’s Bees and Tom’s of Maine started striving, too.
People found the idea of kinder, gentler ingredients more stimulating to the environment. Marketers and advertisers brought up the idea that by going “all-natural” the consumer was helping both the planet and his or her own self. But there’s some fog surrounding the herbal concept. Most herbal supplements lack FDA approval; the same goes for many of the ingredients that are used in herbal hair care. There is also no real definition as to what constitutes a “natural” product, for even though a shampoo may contain lavender or oatmeal, it doesn’t mean that it’s completely chemical free.
Some proponents of herbal hair care, however, insist that the products are, indeed, better than traditional ones. Shampoos can contain synthetic detergents that some may find damaging to the hair shaft, or irritating to sensitive scalps. Others tout the benefits of individual herbs – clary sage is thought to improve shine, lavender balances an oily scalp, lemon extract can strip residue from hair, the amino acids in rosemary maintain health, tea tree oil can control dandruff and ylang-ylang supposedly protects against split ends.
Everyone’s hair is different. When choosing a hair care regime, keep in mind that what may be marketed as the best product for your hair type is not necessarily the best product for your hair. Herbal may be your answer, maybe its sticking with a more traditional product, or perhaps it’s a blend of the two. In the sense of hair care, you best bet is to find what works best for YOU. In the sense of protecting the environment, maybe herbal’s better; washing less detergents and chemicals into the planet is always a good thing. So keep your eyes open, read labels, and check the ingredient listings. What is touted as “natural” may not always be.