About 10 years ago, I was inspired to start making my own body care products. It was pretty easy to make my own my lotions, creams, lipbalms, and with some more practice I figured out how to make my own bug repellent and sunscreen. Since then I’ve taught hundreds of people how to make herbal skin care, and I know it works consistently for people who give it a honest try.
I wish herbal hair care was as easy! But it’s more complicated, there are more variables from person to person, season to season, and from climate to climate. After many years of trying lots of recipes, techniques, and ingredients, I have some steady routines that work for me and keep me happily off commercial products. Although it takes some experimentation, you can really make it work, too! I hope my experiments (and blunders!) will help you find a nourishing, chemical free alternative that works well!
Why Bother to Make Your Own?
$192. That’s how much my family of three spent on buying organic, chemical free shampoo and conditioner each year.
4.5 pounds. That’s how much plastic it takes to package the shampoo and conditioner we used each year.
Those were two of my own biggest motivators – money and waste – for something as seemingly inconsequential, in the scope of my existence on this planet, as cleaning my hair. Why didn’t I just buy cheaper products in bulk containers? Almost every hair care product on the market – and certainly all the inexpensive ones – contain “fragrance” and other chemical ingredients like pthalates and parabens that mimic estrogen and disrupt normal hormonal balance (which has been linked to cancer and a number of other health disorders). If this was the only exposure to these kinds of chemicals I had, I wouldn’t worry so much. But today, exposure to chemical forms of estrogen are quite common due to the over use of pesticides and plastics in our environment, and these chemical compounds have found their way in waterways, wildlife, and even documented in newborn human babies. So I don’t want any daily routine that requires me to cover my naked body with these chemicals or pour any more down the drain and into the environment. What’s in your brand of shampoo and conditioner? Find out at EWG’s Skin Deep database.
Shampoo or No Poo?
Shampoo is our primary form of haircare. Gotta clean dirty hair, right? As it turns out, the sudsy shampoo we stock in our showers is not really the greatest thing for our hair. It strips away healthy oils, making our hair more brittle and our scalps more dry (requiring the intervention with more hair care products!). You can read about the “no-poo” movement (that’s no-shampoo) online, where people describe cutting out shampoo, going through a “rebound stage” where their hair gets very oily, and then after a week or so, a new healthy balance is restored. When I’ve done this myself, my hair typically feels a little heavier and fuller. Its not as light as after a sudsy shampoo, but my hair feels healthier and not as brittle and dry.
I recommend trying out the no-poo, or at least a reduce-poo, and see what happens to the health of your hair and scalp. If you tend have dry hair, it will be easier. If your hair tends to be thin and on the oily side, it will be more challenging. Even if you can reduce your shampooing to once a week, that’s a great improvement from what most people are doing to their hair. Here are some alternate shampoo recipes to keep you hair clean and nourished without the suds.
I’ve tried several recipes with castile soap, and if you are going to use suds no matter what, these options may be a good choice for you. But otherwise I think its better to cut the soaps altogether, and use a non-soapy alternative to clean out the hair. I like these recipes below because they can be as simple as you want, or you can embellish them into really nourishing hair treatments, customizing them with herbs from your own garden or your favorite essential oils.
Vinegar is a natural hair rinse – it breaks up oil, removes dirt, and cuts away at shampoo and/or hard water build-up on the hair. It also leaves the hair feeling more smooth and less prone to tangles. I like using apple cider vinegar (non-refined) because it offers more nourishment and seems to be less drying than white vinegar. The simple, most basic recipe for a vinegar rinse is 1 part apple cider vinegar to 8 parts water (that’s one tablespoon to 1/2 cup water). Simply put this mixture on your hair, comb it through with your fingers, let it soak in a few minutes, and rinse.
To embellish this simple recipe, you can infuse the vinegar with herbs that strengthen the hair (nettle, horsetail, comfrey) or reduce dandruff (rosemary, tea tree). For dry hair, replace 1/4 of the water with aloe vera. Or, add a few drops of essential oils to include more herbal therapeutics, or for the simple pleasure of aromatherapy as you shower.
Here one of my favorite herbal vinegar rinse recipes, embellished for nourishment and pleasure. I use it as my shampoo and conditioner.
Lavender Rosemary Hair Rinse
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (infused with nettle and horsetail). Learn how to make a infusion here.
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup aloe vera
10 drops rosemary essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
I usually make an 8 or 16 oz batch of the herbal vinegar portion, and when it is fully infused, I drain it and keep it handy for making hair rinse. Simply mix ingredients and bottle it up. When using it the shower or bath, massage into hair and scalp and let sit for a few minutes before rinsing. I make 1-2 batches at a time, and that amount will last in the shower for at least a few weeks (less time if it is kept in warmth and/or sun).
This option is definitely not sexy nor luxurious, but it’s easy, inexpensive and it works. Massaging a tablespoon of baking soda into the hair is a practical alternative for out cleaning the dirt and oil. Embellish it with a few drops of essential oil and that makes it more pleasurable. The tricky part is keeping it handy in the shower and keeping the water out of the container! I typically reach for the baking soda when I need deeper cleaning (like after a few days of camping). I dish it out on a little plastic lid in the bathroom, then sit it on a high shelf so I can use it in the shower. Follow with vinegar rinse.
Some commercial conditioners really do an amazing job of making the hair feel super silky and soft. I’ll admit, I was trained from a young age, that this is how your hair should feel when you get out of the shower! With organic DIY hair care, I don’t expect that kind of silky, but I do expect my hair to be smooth and tangle free. Here are some techniques I recommend.
- Brush! Spend a few minutes thoroughly brushing your every day, especially before your hair care routine. You will smooth out tangles and distribute the oil near your scalp to the rest of the hair that typically gets dried out, making it healthier and less prone to tangles.
- Use an herbal vinegar. I have made some elaborate plant-based, creamy DIY conditioners over the years, and while they do get my hair pretty smooth, they often end up leaving the hair too oily, and I honestly don’t think they are worth the trouble (at least in my case, for my hair type). The vinegar rinses actually help smooth out the hair as they remove dirt and build-up, and so I doesn’t leave me feeling like I need an additional conditioner to soften and shine.
If you want to get a little more shine or nourish your hair with a deep conditioner, dry these food-based alternatives. They are easy to make, easy to use, they truly nourish the hair (not just make it feel soft) and they don’t need to be done very often.
- Herbal oil treatment. Basic technique: apply a very light coat of coconut oil (or a lighter oil like grapeseed) with a few drops of lavender or rosemary essential oil, and apply to the dry brittle ends of the hair and let it absorb. Deep treatment: lightly coat your hair in oil, wrap it up with old t-shirt (or plastic bag) and put on a wool hat. Wear it for at least a couple of hours (or more). This will heat the oil and drive it deeper into the hair. Clean afterwards with vinegar rinse, baking soda, or if needed, a sudsy shampoo. This will soften, condition, and shine your hair.
- Yogurt mask. Yogurt has a long tradition of being used for skin and hair. As a hair treatment, it will soften, strengthen, and add shine. Apply a few tablespoons to the hair, let it sit for at least a few minutes, and then rinse well (depending on your hair type and yogurt used, you may need to do a vinegar wash afterwards). Be creative! Add honey, herbal tea, or essential oils as desired.
As a teen growing up in the 1980’s, I used enough Aqua Net on my hair for a lifetime. Ack. Hairsprays are full of icky chemicals and we spray them in the air all around our face, making it easy to inhale them right into our lungs. Its awful. With my current lifestyle in a rural community, I don’t find the need for hairspray, but occasionally I make my own when my daughter has a ballet performance and there is an expectation to have hair behave in a certain way! This recipe is incredibly easy, works well, and has a long shelf life.
Simple Hair Spray
1/2 cup boiling water1 – 2 teaspoons of sugar
2 – 5 drops of essential oil of choice (optional)
Mix water and sugar (use more sugar for stronger hold) until sugar dissolves, and then add a few drops of essential oil of choice. Pour into a spray bottle and use as needed.
Do you have a DIY hair recipes that works well for you? Please share!