More on SLS, hair washing & scalp health
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Following up from the previous blog on SLS, I thought I would mention some of the issues that customers come in with after routinely using commercial shampoo. And let me say for the record that many of the more expensive “salon” brands also use SLS even though it is basically a cheap, nasty ingredient. What it does do is produce bubbles, lots of lovely bubbles! As consumers we have been programmed to expect shampoo that foams – anything less and we think the product isn’t working. However, all a surfactant(see previous blog for explanation) needs to do is break the surface tension of the hair follicle and it will wash out all the dirt and oil. A soap based product is needed but it doesn’t have to foam at all!
So back to the issues I often see. Most often it is a dry scalp that builds up a scurf of dead skin cells. Sometimes the dead cells flake off making people think they have dandruff when in fact it is just that the scalp has been stripped of its protective oils. The opposite problem can also occur, a scalp that over-produces oil, creating greasy hair and sometimes blocked pores around the hairline. This happens because the skin, including the scalp has a great balancing mechanism – when stripped of naturally produced oil by a product like SLS, it responds by producing sebum and in some cases it goes a little bit over the top creating too much sebum resulting in greasy hair.
Increasingly I also see people that come in with a “sensitive scalp”. They find their scalp feels irritated, itchy or sensitive to touch after shampooing. In this case it is likely that the SLS has stripped back the scalps protective layer leaving it exposed to other irritating ingredients such as artificial fragrances. Usually, changing to a naturally scented or unscented shampoo with no SLS will clear this problem up. If your scalp is still sensitive or irritated at this stage, a natural scalp oil including calendula and jojoba oils will help to soothe and nourish the cells. Scalp oils can be applied the night before a morning hair wash so that they have a chance to work effectively. Or they can be left in for a few days if the hair doesn’t look too greasy.
The scalp responds quite quickly to products that don’t contain SLS. After about 4-6 weeks, the dry, itchy or oily scalp starts to rebalance and any scurf build up starts to clear. When I made the switch to natural SLS free hair care my scalp was fine after about 6 weeks however it took a little longer for my hair to become healthy again as it was dyed and very dry (as curly hair tends to be). I also stopped washing my hair so often and now only wash it once a week. GROSS you may say, but being dry anyway, my hair doesn’t build up grease and still looks and smells fine for that time. I also use natural wax based hair styling products that don’t build up grease in my hair.
In general I think that most people tend to wash their hair too frequently, each time stripping back the protective oils from the scalp and hair. I did a quick vox pop of the staff at Vitale to see how frequently they washed their hair. The average was twice a week. Natarsha (the office manager) told me that she tried to stop washing her hair altogether based on the fact that in Ayurveda, oils are used to strip out dirt and grime rather than shampoos. It went well for 6 weeks, and her hair was much more healthy in general. Then she cracked becauseit she missed the squeaky clean feeling so returned to washing it once a week. Liz, the beauty therapist washes hers twice a week but told me she uses an oil to style her hair which is why it is always so shiny.
Once or twice weekly for normal to dry hair is a good benchmark to go by. Obviously oily hair needs to be washed more often. Washing hair often entails blow-drying or straightening which if done excessively, damage the hair shaft. The less you dry & straighten, the better your hair condition will tend to be.
What hair stories are out there? Tell us your experiences.