If you are keen on reading your ingredient labels, you may have noticed that many of the products labelled as natural actually contain very similar ingredients to commercial mass manufactured shampoos. A common naming tactic is to use natural sounding labels such as ‘coconut base’ instead of ‘cetyl alcohol’ or to place a long list of herbal extracts in water first before naming the active chemical ingredients. As a scientist, I have nothing against chemically derived ingredients, I do even consider them as somewhat natural given that labs do not manufacture them out of thin air, they do generally come from modifications of natural ingredients (a substantial number of ingredients for hair care are derived from coconut oil). However, if you are seeking a true 100% natural product without any modifications, these set of articles are for you. Today 100% natural shampoo.
1. Oatmeal, beans, legumes
If you have ever boiled any of these in water, you may have noticed that there is a tendency for foam to appear. This foaming effect is because oats and legumes all contain a soap like chemical called a saponin (J Drugs Dermatol, pp 167–170, 2007). Saponins work to cleanse because they are attracted to oil and at the same time can easily combine with water. This allows them to bind to oil (and dirt attached to oil) on the surface of hair and carry it away during rinsing. The cleansing effect is generally described as mild, and oatmeal washes are popular for facials. To create an oatmeal or legume wash, you need to boil them in water for a minimum of 1–5 minutes. You will then need to filter out the oats or legumes and simply soak your hair and scalp with the cooled down water before rinsing off with clean water. You can boil the oats or legumes for longer but do bear in mind they will begin to cook at some point and you may not like the smell of the water as the beans or oats start to cook.
Shikakai is a popular ayurvedic shampoo and it is essentially powdered acacia (generally the fruit pods, leaves and bark). Shikakai, much like oats, cleanses because it too contains saponins (Int J Toxicol, Suppl 3, pp75-118, 2005) . Shikakai powder is added to water to create a paste and it is then applied to the hair and scalp. Some people choose to leave it on for a time, but directly rinsing it off afterwards is acceptable too. Many beauty supply stores and Indian speciality shops do stock ayurvedic powders so it is not too difficult to purchase. Shikakai has a long history of use in India and is generally regarded as a fairly effective cleanser for hair.
3. Clay wash — Bentonite and Rhassoul
Clay/mud washes are increasingly becoming popular. Their cleansing mechanism is not 100% clear but is thought to be linked with their ability to attract and filter out small substances. There are commercially available mud washes but you can also equally buy pure bentonite or rhassoul clay. Many users of clay washes consider them to be both cleansing and conditioning, and often report that there is no need for hair conditioner after using the wash.
Note: Natural soaps are omitted from this article because they are essentially modified oils (e.g an olive oil soap will be made from mixing olive oil with sodium hydroxide to create the soap). For this article, only basic raw ingredients mixed with water have been considered to be 100% natural.
Ladies, have you tried any of these options? Do you prefer all natural shampoos?