Over the past five years, it has become increasingly common for companies to market the benefits of ayurvedic hair care products. Products ranging from natural hair moisturizers to chemical relaxers have stressed the benefits of ayurveda for hair. But ayurveda isn’t just about growing hair, it’s a 5,000 year old Hindu Indian philosophy of mind and body health. The beauty and vitality of hair is not merely an end in and of itself, according to ayurveda practitioners, but rather an outward reflection of inner health. With this background in mind, it’s no surprise that hair practices historically used by women of South Asian descent have become the latest rage among beauty manufacturers. I have used a number of ayurvedic methods to strengthen my hair and have found that the perceived benefits vary from person to person. Hopefully, my experiences can help you to decide whether or not one or more of these products are worth a try.
My Favorite Ayurvedic Oils
My first experience with ayurvedic hair care was in 2009. I purchased a bottle of amla hair oil and assumed that I would likely only use it once. Why was I so quick to write it off? Well, the first ingredient was mineral oil (cue foreboding music) and I had come to see mineral oil as the antithesis of moisture and hair health. To my pleasant surprise my assumption about amla oil was incorrect. It benefited my hair in three key ways: It added slip, which made my hair easier to detangle, shine and a rich, dark hue to my dark brown hair.
If you aren’t interested in the color change that amla oil can impart, there are amla “light” products that also include the gooseberry found in the original amla oil. The only drawback with amla oil, in my experience, is that it has a slightly rancid smell. Therefore, I only used it as a pre-shampoo treatment to facilitate detangling and conditioning. I never apply it during styling, preferring instead to use other oils. One such oil, is Vatika oil, another ayurvedic product. The primary oil in Vatika is coconut oil, which helped to impart shine to my braid outs and twist outs. Because coconut tends to harden, even at room temperature, I found that placing the bottle in a container of hot water for 2–3 minutes helped to melt the oil and prepare it for use.
I’ll be honest: If you don’t like mixing things, possible messiness or earthy smells, you may not be interested in incorporating powders in your regimen. However, I will say this: ayurvedic powder treatments have left my hair feeling stronger than any product I have used in the ten years I’ve been natural. I don’t say that lightly, either. The first time I used an ayurveda powder I chose henna. I wasn’t interested in the possible change of color that henna can impart so I ordered cassia, a type of henna that imparts conditioning properties but leaves the hair with a gloss, rather than a change in color. What initially concerned me about cassia was the looser and heavier texture of my hair after washing out the product. But my hair was significantly easier to detangle my hair. The change in my hair texture was temporary, but my strands remained stronger and less prone to breakage. I must add that some women report that henna loosened their curl pattern permanently.
Because of this, I only used henna treatments occasionally, each time noticing no permanent change in my hair texture or curl pattern. I have also found that when in a rush or just plain lazy adding 2–3 table spoons of henna to cheap deep conditioners (think of those conditioners in jars for $3-$5 at the beauty supply store) and applying it to my hair, served to impart conditioning qualities, though not as dramatic as using the powder and water mixture typically recommended.
If you find that one of the reasons you struggle to retain length is due to the fragility of your hair strands or hair breakage you experience during detangling, consider one of these methods. As with other hair products, I recommend only applying the product, especially powders, to a small section of your hair to test any adverse reactions.
Have you benefited from ayurvedic hair care treatments? If so, which ones? If not, what concerns do you have about using ayurvedic treatments?