Hair Conditioning by Nature

We typically associate a silky, thick mane of hair with youth, sexiness and vibrant health. And a trip down most hair-care aisles reveals dozens of products promising to transform your dull tresses into this crown of glory—all in the convenience of your own shower. These bottles of pretty, fragrant conditioning potions even seem a bit magical—tangles and snarls are instantly dissolved! Hair becomes silk-like, lustrous and oh-so-soft!

The truth is, the “miracle” ingredient in many hair conditioners is silicone, which imparts shine, slip and lubrication to the hair. Common silicones found in hair-care products include dimethicone, cyclomethicone, dimethiconol and stearyl dimethicone, but sadly, they’re not miraculous at all. Silicones only make hair appear to be healthy and shiny. Instead of moisturizing and conditioning the hair shaft, they act as plasticizers—coating and sealing off the hair cuticle from water and air. Nutrients and moisture are prevented from entering the hair shaft, and because silicones are not easily washed away, they build up in layers and eventually make hair feel heavy and greasy. Ultimately (and ironically), hair becomes dry and brittle from the lack of moisture, so it weakens and breaks easily. And not only does silicone coat the hair, it also coats and builds up on the scalp, which can lead to loss of hair.

Diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) are additional ingredients that are also widely used as pH adjusters or secondary surfactants in supposed “conditioning” hair products. Both are known to break down the keratin (the protein building block of human hair), causing hair to become dry and brittle. They are also known allergens and skin irritants.

But fret not! Simple, healthy and natural hair conditioning alternatives may be as close by as your kitchen pantry. Botanical or plant-based oils have been used throughout the ages to support healthy hair, and they’re easy to customize for different hair types and needs.

Natural Conditioning with Oils

There are three classifications of oils for use on the hair: high penetration, moderate penetration and low-to-no penetration. High-penetration oil is best for very dry, porous and/or damaged hair. These are oils that are highly revitalizing and heavier, such as babassu oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil and ucuuba oil. Moderate-penetration oil is best for normal or fine/thin hair with little to no damage. These oils are medium-weight and include apricot kernel oil, argan oil, avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil and shea butter. Low-to-no-penetration oil is best for hair that tends to frizz and/or lacks shine. These are light oils and can be used in combination with the other two types of oils at a lower percentage (5 to 15 percent). They include jojoba oil (not a true oil but technically a liquid plant wax) and rice bran oil. Choose one or more oils based on your hair needs. Mix small amounts at first and experiment a bit to find which oil or combination of oils works best for your hair. Mix in a 2-ounce or 4-ounce bottle with a dropper lid, and add a few drops of essential oils (if desired) to give your hair oil fragrance.

To use, rub a few drops (2 to 5 drops, depending on hair length and thickness) between your hands and work into the hair beginning at the ends and stopping a few inches before reaching the hair roots. Apply to damp, freshly washed hair as a leave-in conditioner. It may also be used on dry (meaning, not damp) hair that has very dry and/or damaged ends.

By Kathy White