Your Questions Answered: How Do I Pick a Clean Shampoo for My Fine, Wrecked Hair?
From Ingrid D: Thank you for your awesome book and blog. I was wondering if you know about Belegenza? I heard it was a great natural line but some of the ingredients look suspect. I am having a hard time finding clean shampoo that works on my hair. It is very dry and damaged (and fine!) from being off and on some heavy meds over the last few years.
Ed’s note: This is going to be a long post, so you might want to grab a snack!
First thing’s first. Damaged hair, whether from heat styling, sun, coloring or something else internal cannot be remedied with shampoo and conditioner. Maybe everybody but me knows this, but it bears mentioning just in case. Not even intense leave-in treatments can “repair” hair that is damaged. I know this because a) I’ve tried everyyyyything and b) I asked a cosmetics chemist named Colin. Also, common sense. We all know hair is dead, but it grows out of your head, which isn’t, so you want to make sure whatever you are using on your scalp and putting inside your body is making things better, not worse.
Our nutrition chapter covers a lot of this but here’s the cheat sheet: Take your omega 3s and 6s every single day, and eat a balanced, fruit- and vegetable-rich diet with plenty of good fats. These things make a tremendous difference in skin and hair health. The rest is up to you and your doctor. Lucky for you though, she or he doesn’t pick your shampoo, we do (ha), so we’ll tell you how to do that in a sec.
Anyway, I’ve been in your shoes, we all have, and I have great news! Not all hope is lost. There’s a lot you can do to improve the appearance and feel and manageability of your hair, even when it’s damaged. Mainstream brands usually feature silicone, which is not an ingredient we are comfortable endorsing. For the naturals, you won’t find the same kind of thing, but I’ve found that with certain oils, wax-based products, and good old fashioned aloe vera, I can get the effect I want. I’ll tell you more about that below, but first we have to go to class.
Belegenza. Oh, Belegenza. I did not know this line, but a brief look at the ingredient list for one shampoo kind of pissed me off, mainly because the line seems to be presenting itself as natural by hawking the absence of certain ingredients, like the aforementioned silicones, and generally speaking this annoys us. OK so that’s something that’s not in there. What is? Let’s look, shall we?
Ingredients: Water, Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Cocamidopropyl betaine, Decyl glucoside, Glycol stearate, Disodium cocoamphodiacetate, Panthenol, Polyquaternium-7, Proprietary Blend CCS500i, Laureth-4, Tetrasodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl glycol, Sorbic acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Yellow 10, Blue 1.
I don’t know. Should we just start at the top? It’s definitely low on the toxicity scales, but is it natural in the way that we like things to be natural? Not even remotely.
The site says it is salt free, but the second ingredient is Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, a cleaning agent that is considered to be a low irritant. It is, however, a disodium salt of an ethoxylated lauryl alcohol, so the salt-free thing, beside being a little random to call out, doesn’t appear to be true. (Budding chemists, please fact check me on that if I’m mistaken; I did a bunch of reading and this is what I came up with.) Also, because it’s ethoxylated, there is the concern of 1,4-dioxane contamination. Check the book for a refresher on why that’s not awesome.
Cocamidapropyl betaine is another eyebrow raiser. A lot of brands use it still, but there is concern about nitrosamine contamination. I avoid it, and obviously so does Alexandra (and not just because she doesn’t wash her hair).
Then there’s our old friend phenoxyethanol, an ingredient that’s being phased out by a lot of naturals brands that thought it was safe, only to find out there are some concerns about it. We avoid it. And finally, there is something called “proprietary blend CCS500i” which Google thought was a typo when I pasted it in. (Also, INCI, anybody?) I’m guessing this is their fragrance, which is another no-no for us, since there is no way to know what it’s made of.
I’m going to stop there because really this is just one brand, but it is emblematic of a larger trend that gets my goat.
Moving on. Here’s how to pick a good shampoo.
The best natural shampoos I have used contain clays (my mom has one for me to use when I am home, which should be its own post some day) and/or saponified plant oils (often coconut) as the main cleansing agents. Then you have aloe vera, some herbs, maybe even honey, some vitamins that probably don’t do anything, essential-oil-based fragrance or none at all, some fairy dust and that’s about it. It’s not hard to make a natural shampoo that gets the job done, which is why there are so many good ones. You need something sulfate-free so you aren’t drying our your hair, and you need oils but not too many, because that will leave your fine hair limp.
I personally like John Masters, Max Green Alchemy, Sumbody, Rahua (even though that mysterious nut may be of dubious origin), C Tonics and some others. NuboNau, who does our Friday Deals, carry some of these. So does the wonderful Spirit Beauty Lounge. Check them out, and request samples from retailers if you can. This one by Yarok seems awesome for fine hair, but I have not tried it.
Finally, and I imagine no one is still reading this post, if you want some tips on how I managed to help my heat-damaged hair in time for summer, read this post. I list the top 5 things I tried that kind of worked—and I tried a lot of things.
Good luck with your hair and if any of you have a great shampoo recommendation for our girl Ingrid, please share it in the comments?