Do You Deep Condition?

Among the strange and regrettable things that I did to my hair between the ages of, oh, 12 and 30, were semi-regular VO5 Hot Oil Treatments. Who among you remembers this deep-conditioning concoction? Just for laughs, I pulled up the ingredient list (which probably hasn’t changed in 30 years)—and Oof…

Water (Aqua), Cocotrimonium Chloride, Acetamide MEA, Aloe Vera (Aloe Barbadensis) Leaf Juice, Hydroxyethylcellulose, PEI 1750, Oleth 20, Propylene Glycol, Methylparaben, Disodium EDTA, Polyquaternium 10, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Vegetable Amino Acids, Lysine Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Phytantriol, Polysorbate 20, Keratin Amino Acid, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, PG Propylsilanetriol, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Panthenol, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Niacinamide, Biotin (Vitamin H), Fragrance (Parfum), Linalool, Benzyl Salicylate, Yellow 6 Aluminum Lake (CI 15985) (CI 15985)

I’m not sure what shocks me more 1) the fact that there’s not really any oil listed, or 2) that there’s actually aloe vera high up on this otherwise unpronounceable list.

Anyways, I used to love warming that little bendy plastic bottle (itself likely filled with BPA and phthalates) in scolding water, and then pour the stuff all over my sopping wet head. From there, on went a plastic bag for minutes (hours?) of sitting, as this stuff seeped into my young and vulnerable brain scalp. Le sigh. While I have no recollection as to whether this treatment had any effects beyond placebo, I did love the idea of deep conditioning my hair—a ritual I’ve lost sight of in my cleaner years.

Unfortunate really, since deep conditioning was made for my type of dry unruly hair. You’d think I’d be soaking up the argan and coconut oil on a nightly basis, and yet as much as I love natural oils everywhere on my face and body—I actually despise the feeling and results of oil in my hair. Note: I’m not talking about a little argan on the tips, which I do like, but a full oil soak like they give you during those otherwise amazing ayurvedic massages I rave about. Anyways, I’m getting to a point here I swear!

See, a little while back a reader asked—nay begged!—that we crowdsource on this very topic. Lindsey, you see, is trying to grow her hair long, and desperate for your tips on how to get beautiful shiny, conditioned hair sans the chems. Which got me thinking: I wouldn’t mind some recommendations myself.

What I do know, Lindsey, is that washing less—or almost not at all—can seriously improve hair luster for some. Though depending on the nature of your hair it can also turn it to a greasy mess for a period. Otherwise I’m a big believer in eating healthy fats for skin and hair.

What about you guys? Are we deep conditioning? Are we using oils, or just leaving in our favorite natural conditioner for a spell—maybe making our own mix with avocados?


To Highlight Or Not To Highlight?

Here we go again. Ever since Siobhan asked how everyone’s preparing for the heat, my brain’s been on a one track loop that goes: highlights highlights highlights…

It’s a serious conundrum for a clean girl this whole hair dye thing, one we’ve talked about here and here and here (and about ten other places). There are many reasons not to do it of course. Par example, much like nail polish, there’s just no such thing as a totally clean dye.

Specifically for moi, getting highlights means: 1. some toxic exposure; 2. getting my hair washed and living with the subsequent frizz for a month; 3. feeling like a bit of a hypocrite. On the plus side the place I go to is sorta-natch, the highlights I get don’t touch my scalp, and freaking-A, they’re pretty!

A bit of a late bloomer on this, highlights were something of a revelation when I finally tried them last spring, lightly painted on in places where the sun would naturally lighten (if I surfed, like everyday). For a thick mop like mine, a little caramel color can go a long way in making my head look like less of a curl-helmut, as I’m sure some of you can relate.

And while I know I’m a grown woman who can make her own decisions and all that, S and I have really taken to asking you guys for your (strong, ahem) opinions and advice! So let’s hear em.

More interesting still: What do you do with your hair? Highlights? Au naturelle 4life? And how weird is this picture choice?

Panty surfing picture via


Product Review: Max Green Alchemy Styling Gel

OK, first thing’s first: I’ve definitely said many times on this site and elsewhere that I don’t use leave-ins. It’s not that I was lying, exactly, it’s just that I don’t rely on leave-ins to get my hair looking and feeling the way I want. I’m not attached to them. I can take them or leave them, pretty much. That was my refrain, until I realized that I actually do use leave-ins. Like, every day.

It all started when the seasons changed and I started using a hairdryer more often. Always one to cut corners when it comes to hair drying, I thought using a product might shorten the time it takes to get my hair looking just so. Which is why, one day a couple of months ago, I was rifling through the cabinet where I store my extra products, and found a bottle of gel.

Gel, eh? I thought. Who uses gel? The answer, it turns out, is moi.

As you can see from above, the product is Max Green Alchemy Styling Gel. I. Love. This. Product. I’ve actually mentioned it in the past; the bottle has been lying around for a while, and I’ve used it on occasion to airdry my waves during summer months, or smooth my ends. It works great for that, but I like it even better on straight styling, with a dryer.

A word about the gel thing. I’m not picking bones here, but I wouldn’t really call it that. Yes, it has a gel-like consistency but it doesn’t dry crunchy, or wet-looking, and it doesn’t provide much hold, at least on my head of heavy hair. What it does is smooth the shaft so that drying is at least a third quicker than it normally is, making sleek straight styles really pretty effortless. My hair looks shiny, has nice volume at the roots, and movement, but isn’t weighed down at all. No residue. No stickiness. And the stuff washes out with one shampoo, so no build-up, either.

Finally, it also doesn’t smell much like anything, which is good because I’m still obsessed with the smell of my shampoo and conditioner, and might have an issue with a product that competes with that.

Ingredients: Herbal Infusion [Purified Water (Aqua), (Glycyrrhiza Glabra* (licorice) Root, Tussilago Farfara+ (coltsfoot) Leaf, Achillea Millefolium* (yarrow), Salix Alba+ (willow), Tabebuia Impetiginosa+ (pau díarco), Arctium Lappa* (burdock) Root, Berberis Aquifolium (mahonia), Calendula Officinalis* (calendula), Equisetum Arvense* (horsetail), Urtica Dioica* (nettle)], dehydroxanthan gum (plant derived styling agent), Hydrolysed Soy Protein, Aloe Barbadensis* (aloe vera) Leaf, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Anisate, Panthenol (pro vitamin B5), Leptospermum Petersonii (lemon tea tree), Melaleuca Alternifolia* (tea tree), Lavandula Angustifolia* (lavender), Pelargonium Graveolens* (geranium), Rosemarinus officinalis* (rosemary).*Organic +Wildcrafted

Have you ever tried it? Got another leave in you like? Stay tuned, by the way…. There are two other leave-ins I love just as much.

Let the covers of women’s magazines tell it and you’d think seasonal change only means one thing: getting your body beach-ready (do people really do this?). But for me, it’s always meant getting my hair right.

I’m a huge fan of letting my mane do its thing during warmer months (see last year’s fun summer-hair challenge, for proof), but after a long winter of daily heat styling and dry air, my hair has seen better days. I suspect I am not alone in this! And so I want to help.

The most important aspects of any hairdo are, of course, healthy hair and a good cut. I love my hairdresser, and if he weren’t gay I might want to marry him, but I’m trying to let my hair get longer, so I’m spacing out my visits. HOWEVER! The waves I so love when I air-dry are, well, limp now.

In order to get things looking better as it grows out, I’ve tried LOTS of products and even—gasp—one dirty one. I won’t tell you about that one because it gave me a rash and I only used it once, but I will share five clean products I tried and loved. And if you don’t like these, or want to save your cash, there’s always coconut oil. And avocados.

1. Argan Oil (prices vary)

Arganoilarganoilarganoil. I’m a broken record, I know (there’s nothing like the zeal of a convert, right?). I’ve slept with Kahina Giving Beauty and Amal argan oils in my hair many times, and the next day, after a light shampoo, my hair always looks and feels and smells amazing, with no greasy buildup. I do it extremely rarely for a simple reason: It’s just too “rich” for my stupid hair. Not rich like heavy, rich like expensive. For the price I pay—and I believe it’s worth every cent—it means my face gets to use it, not my split ends.

2. Max Green Alchemy Scalp Rescue Styling Gel ($12.99)

I’m wild about this gel. I put it on my ends wet or dry and it holds nicely. I also sometimes use a pea-sized amount on the hairs around my face, when the hair is still wet. It’s not a typical gel—the texture reminds me a little of aloe—there’s no crunchiness or wet look, obviously, and the ingredients are squeaky clean. It’s nongreasy and smells light and fresh in a unisex kind of way, which gives you full license to throw out your boyfriend’s Dippity Do when he’s not looking.

3. Rare E’lements EL Treatment ($44)

This serum-like treatment is delightful. We both love it and use it with some frequency as an overnight treatment or a leave-in for day on our ends. It smells incredible. Like, “Ooooo! What perfume are you wearing?” incredible, thanks to the ylang ylang and other scented oils. I might go so far as to say that, with frequent use, my ends actually look markedly better than they did. I try to avoid overpromising, but this product really is a winner, and it seems to be more of a winner the more I use it. A dab will do ya, and even with several-times-a-week use, I have a long way to go before I’ll have to repurchase.

4. Whatever is left on my hands after I apply body oil ($0)

Oil-rich body lotions or body oils contain a lot of the same ingredients as natural hair treatments, so if your lotion pour was on the generous side, use the leftovers on your wet hair before drying. I do this probably two or three times a week instead of using a hair product, and it works well. Plus, it saves money and encourages the kind of ingredient savvy and multitasking we’re fond on.

5. Intelligent Nutrients Certified Organic Volumizing Spray ($29)

To prove how clean this product is, Horst made me drink it when I met him. Little did I know it would become the only go-to hair product I would use and reuse for almost two years straight. A word about the name: Maybe it’s because my hair is heavy to begin with, but I’ve never understood why this product is called a volumizer. That said, we both absolutely love it as a leave-in, and have been using it and repurchasing it religiously since we discovered it while writing the book. (Other ladies: Please weigh in if you have tried it and found it gave you a boost at the roots! Is this a volumizer for you?) One bottle lasts several months to half a year, it smells incredible, and it helps smooth wild ends and flyaways. It also makes heat styling much easier.

OK your turn. What have you tried as a hair treatment? And do you do the beach-body thing? (Just kidding!)

Vintage hairdryers via

If this news is any indication, salons may soon require hazmat suits for its workers… That’s hyperbole, of course, but:

The Department of Labor has issued an official immediate safety warning about formaldehyde-containing hair-smoothing products like the Brazilian Blowout. This is big news—HUGE*—and speaks to how much things really are (slowly) changing when it comes to the wild west of chemicals used in cosmetics and cosmetic procedures.

Federal OSHA is recommending that salons that carry out the procedure follow the following guidelines:

  • Give workers respirators
  • Give employees appropriate gloves and other personal protective equipment (e.g., face shield, chemical splash goggles, chemical-resistant aprons)
  • Post signs at entryways to any area where formaldehyde is above OSHA’s limit**
  • Tell workers about the health effects of formaldehyde


Recent reports from Oregon OSHA, California OSHA, and now Federal OSHA should alert salon owners and stylists to look closely at the hair smoothing products they are using to see if they contain methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0. All of these are names for or treated as formaldehyde under OSHA’s Formaldehyde standard. Products containing them can expose workers to formaldehyde; employers who manufacture, import, distribute, or use the products must follow OSHA’s formaldehyde standard.

The Environmental Working Group also has a new report out called Flat Out Risky that is loaded with information we haven’t had a chance to sift through yet (we just wanted to get this information out to you!).

Also, note that the hazard warning cites new lab reports in which “formaldehyde-free” products proved to contain formaldehyde after all. So in case you were still wondering about whether or not you should do it, and whether or not that “greener” Brazilian blowout really is, consider this your answer!

*Big kisses to anyone who gets that reference.

** OSHA’s limit is 0.75 parts of formaldehyde per million parts (or ppm) of air during an 8-hour work shift or 2 ppm during any 15-minute period.