Not to brag, but I have a pretty steady hold on clean skincare—a toxin hasn’t touched my face in years. My scalp, sadly, hasn’t been quite so lucky. I have a good excuse for skipping out on all-natural shampoo, though: Clean haircare products seem so much harder to find than clean skincare and makeup products. Not only that, the category can be super confusing. I mean… are silicones actually bad for your strands? Every corner of the internet has a different answer.
In an effort to finally clean up my haircare routine, I took all my concerns to The Detox Market—one of the only retailers I trust to deliver products that are totally safe for skin, hair, and body. Because I’m still working my way up to expert status here, I figured I’d hand it over to them to field the most common questions about clean haircare.
Ahead, The Detox Market’s Beauty Director Merrady Wickes tells you everything you need to know about keeping your mane safe (and, you know, healthy and happy and shiny).
(via Rayme Silverberg)
Mane Addicts: What’s so bad about the ingredients in traditional haircare products—and what does “clean” even mean?
Merrady Wickes: People really want instant gratification when it comes to hair—a big foamy lather and immediately sleek locks. Unfortunately, the ingredients that achieve this aren’t the best for you long-term. In general, we’re looking to avoid any ingredients that may potentially cause any harm or irritation. There are thousands of chemical ingredients approved for personal care products in the U.S., and we want to rule out the ones that aren’t good for you or are just crappy fillers.
MA: There are a ton of clean skincare companies these days, but it seems like clean haircare is so much harder to find. Why is that?
MW: Formulation for clean haircare is incredibly tricky, and there can be a learning curve when switching from a conventional product to a natural one—but the products in this category have advanced a lot in recent years. People also think of their hair as a low priority for good ingredients (it’s dead, right?), but the scalp is one of the most absorbent places on the body, so ingredients really matter.
MA: What are some of the worst offenders in haircare—the ingredients that Detox Market avoids?
MW: Sulfates. These give you the same big foamy lather you find in laundry detergent and dish soap. Aside from actual health risks, they strip the good oils from your scalp causing irritation, dryness, and flakiness.
Another is phthalates. These are actually plasticizers, used for texture and scent. There is evidence these disrupt the reproductive system. Phthalates can also be hidden under the “fragrance” or “perfume” ingredient, which is always a proprietary blend.
Parabens are a common group of preservatives. They have been shown to mimic estrogen, which can be an issue when using multiple paraben-laden products every single day.
Any synthetic perfume or fragrance should not be going on your absorbent scalp. That one ingredient can [mask] up to 3,000 ingredients, many of them detrimental to your health. Use naturally-scented products, and if you must wear fragrance, spray it on your clothes instead of your skin. Fragrance can also be behind hairline and jaw breakouts.
I would also avoid PEGs, another group of synthetic petrochemicals that are considered penetration enhancers and emollients, and propylene glycol. Oh! And in styling, harsh polymers and anything in an aerosol can.
MA: What’s the deal with silicones? Are they really all that bad for your hair?
MW: Silicones are actually innocuous, in that they’re not actually going to harm you. While we don’t explicitly ban them (we have a few mineral sunscreens and makeup formulas that contain them), we tend to avoid them. This petrolatum-derived ingredient is the darling of haircare formulas because it immediately coats the strands, giving the illusion of smoothness, but without actually nourishing the hair. Over time, silicones can build up and [make hair] appear dull or can lead to congested pores for acne-prone skin. For the sustainably minded, silicones also never ever break down, so any silicone you use and wash down the drain is on the planet forever.
MA: What’s the benefit of switching to a clean haircare routine?
MW: None of the ingredients discussed above are doing a thing for your hair. Sensation and scent are crowd-pleasers but don’t actually help. When you ditch the fillers, surfactants, and petrolatums, your products have to work harder and smarter with plant-based oils, butters, and emulsifiers. Your hair is fragile, and your scalp is an extension of your face. You shouldn’t use anything on your hair you wouldn’t happily moisturize with. Once you “detox” from silicones and big bubbles, you can expect softer, stronger hair, a more balanced scalp, and face and back breakouts very well may clear up. Also, sulfates are the reason why color fades prematurely and keratin treatments get ruined, so avoiding them will ensure your investment at the salon lasts as long as possible.
MA: Do you have any advice for transitioning into a clean routine?
MW: Switch one product at a time, and give yourself a week or two to acclimate to each new product. Read the instructions! Clean products are often way more concentrated or have slightly different usage than you’re used to. You’re going to have your best hair ever, but there may be a transitional phase while your scalp and hair adjust. Stick it out—it’s so worth it.
MA: What are some of your favorite clean haircare brands?
MW: Innersense Organic Beauty is a beautiful brand created by a husband/wife team with an extensive salon background. They create their products for professional use first, so not only do they have lovely shampoos and conditioners, they have a high-performance range of styling products. They have a particularly devoted curly-hair clientele. The hydrating range is beloved for coarse, tight curls.
Rahua was one of the first on the natural haircare scene—truly pioneers of this space. They utilize Amazonian rahua oil that has incredible hair benefits and give back to the Indigenous Peoples. They do a lot of things well, but we are loving their Hydration Detangler + UV Barrier. It smells like a tropical smoothie and leaves hair crazy soft.
I also want to give a shoutout to Siam Seas, a Thai-inspired range of skincare and haircare. It is very hard to find a shampoo for oily scalps and hair in the natural space.
Honorable mention to Goop for the G.Tox Himalayan Salt Scalp Scrub Shampoo. This has garnered a well-deserved cult following in a relatively short time. You never knew you needed a gorgeously-scented salt scrub shampoo, but when you’ve been surviving on dry shampoo for four days, this is the indisputable answer.