Palm oil free hair

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by Marion O'Leary At Mokosh we believe the environmental, humanitarian, animal welfare and species conservation issues associated with the palm oil industry mean anything containing palm oil or its derivatives cannot be regarded as ethical choices for consumers, even though many of these products are often advertised as ‘green’, ‘eco’, ‘organic’, ‘vegan’ and ‘cruelty free’ .

Thankfully, there are now many affordable, palm oil-free skin care, cleaning and toiletry products to choose from, providing you read the labels carefully or choose to buy from a reputable company that is ‘palm oil free’. However, this does not apply to shampoo and conditioner - a recent survey by Mokosh found that palm oil derivatives seem to be used in all shampoos and conditioners sold in Australia (Read more here). This is bad news for anyone who wants to do the right thing by the rainforests, and the people and animals whose lives depend on them.

The concept of ditching shampoo and conditioner is generally a hair-raising idea for most of us. After all, we have been brought up with the convenience and luxury of hair care products that guarantee that in just a few minutes we will look like the airbrushed models who are advertising them. The idea that there was a time that manufactured shampoos and conditioners were not ‘essential’ products would seem far-fetched to anyone in the west under the age of 65.

The good news is that I have bravely, by trial and error, and with no regard for my personal appearance, stumbled upon some solutions that I believe won’t leave you having to decide between saving orang-utans and having good hair!

The following is a hold-your-hand guide to taking the step that I have, giving up shampoo and conditioner. In our earlier blog, we listed some alternatives to using shampoo and conditioner. These included:

- Washing hair in bicarb (baking) soda followed by a diluted vinegar rinse,

- Washing hair in palm oil-free soap followed by a diluted vinegar rinse, and

- Washing hair in ‘mud’ shampoo.

There are other options too, including washing in various plant powders, clays, and teas. I haven’t tried these yet but you might like to have a look at the recipes which are a great resource for this, in the Almost Exactly blog.

Today I am going to give you the ‘heads up’ on the bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar method, and together we can help save the rainforests.

The bicarb soda/apple cider vinegar method

Besides avoiding palm oil, people have been moving to this back-to-basics hair washing method for other reasons including:

  • Bicarb soda and vinegar are safe when released into our waterways through our drains. This is not so for many of the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners, which include preservatives such as parabens, which mimic oestrogens; the ethanolamines  – MEA, DEA, TEA, which are organotoxic and toxic to aquatic life; and quaternium-15 – a preservative that releases formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen.
  • The manufacture of bicarb soda and vinegar does not pollute the environment. This is not the case for many of the ingredients found in shampoos and conditioners.
  • Bicarb soda and vinegar is safe for human health. This is not the case for many of the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners.
  • Bicarb soda and vinegar are not tested on animals, whereas many shampoos and conditioners are.
  • You can buy ingredients in a simple cardboard box and a recyclable glass bottle - say goodbye to millions of tonnes of plastic waste!
  • It’s cheap. We calculated 31c per wash for the basic bicarb soda and vinegar wash – see our calculations below*. Of course, it costs a little more when you add the nourishing treatments you may need to keep your hair looking really good.

But does it work?

Why would manufacturers go to all the trouble of research and development, spending millions of dollars inventing new chemicals, requiring testing on animals, to create new ways to make our hair soft and shiny, if it was as simple as bicarb soda and vinegar?

Well the answer is that it isn’t always simple to get it to work. There are a lot of blogs written about the bicarb soda and vinegar method, and the results are mixed. For some people it was a disaster, for others it worked well initially, but then their hair deteriorated and became lifeless. Others say their hair never looked better and they will never go back to shampoo and conditioner.

It seems there are common reasons why bicarb soda and vinegar fail for some … and the good news is that there are ways to make it work for seemingly most people. This is providing they are prepared for the pit falls, and are ready to persevere to find out what works best for their hair. The Almost Exactly blog is one I found the most useful on this subject, read more here.

It is written by Alex Raye, who has been using the method for more than a year and, incidentally, has gorgeous hair! See images left (reproduced with permission)

To make it easier, I am going to summarise Alex ‘s instructions for you.

Getting started – the detox

If you have been using conditioner and shampoo containing waxes, dimethicones, plastic substances like acrylates, vinyls, polymers, or other coating agents, they will react with the bicarb soda, making your hair sticky and tacky. Basically, it won’t work. You need to ‘detox’ your hair first by removing the coating. Here are 2 methods:

1. Castile soap detox

Castile soap is a natural liquid soap based on olive oil. Mokosh makes this type of soap, as do Maclyn’s, Melrose and Dr Bronner’s.

i. Dilute liquid soap approximately 1:10 with water, ie approximately 1 tablespoon per cup of water and use to wash hair.

ii. Follow with apple cider vinegar rinse made using same proportions.

iii. Massage the rinse solution into the hair and scalp and leave it on for a minute or two, then rinse with water.

iv. If you have hard water, you may need to dilute your Castile soap with distilled water rather than tap, and you may also need to rinse more than once with apple cider vinegar to remove the soap salts from the hair.

v.It may take 4 or 5 washes to remove all the coating from your hair, before you move onto the bicarb soda/vinegar method.

You should leave 3-4 days between washes.

Many people are happy with the results of using castile soap and vinegar, and stay with this method, using oils and other treatments between washes to provide nourishment to the hair. See Nourishing  your hair and scalp  with/without oils below.

2. Bentonite clay detox

Bentonite is the most absorbent of all clays and can reportedly remove coatings from hair very efficiently.

i. Mix equal parts of bentonite clay with water.

ii. Massage over the scalp and hair, and leave for around 5 minutes.

iii. Rinse with cool water.

Perfecting your detox

If your hair looks dry, try adding half a teaspoon of oil (not palm lol!)  or a teaspoon of raw honey to the cup of Castile soap solution. You can also use aloe vera juice, or coconut milk, instead of water.

If you have been colouring your hair with semi-permanent or permanent dyes, your hair may look frizzy, tangled and fly-away. This is not because the detox is damaging your hair, it’s because you have removed the waxy coating provided by agents in your shampoos conditioners , which camouflages your already dye-damaged hair.

It may be possible to solve this by using the treatments described below in Nourishing your hair and scalp with/without oils below. If you want to continue using synthetic dyes, and your hair has been badly damaged by them, it may be difficult to get your hair to look good without these coatings. But don’t despair, there is a section in the Almost Exactly blog on how to deal with this problem too. Read more here.

How to make your bicarb soda hair wash and apple cider vinegar hair rinse

Bicarb soda hair wash

i. Dissolve 1 tablespoon bicarb soda in 1 cup warm water – use distilled water if your water is ‘hard’.

ii. Pour over wet hair and massage in.

iii. Rinse well.

Apple cider vinegar rinse

i. Add 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar to 1 cup water – best cold if you can bear it as this helps close the hair shaft cuticles, thereby increasing the shine.

ii. Pour over wet hair and massage in.

iii. Let it sit approximately 1 minute, then rinse with water.

Note that bicarb soda is alkaline, as are liquid and bar soap. The apple cider vinegar is acid, and helps restore the naturally acidic pH of the hair, and close the hair cuticles.

The transition to palm oil free hair nirvana

Hair too oily?

Some people go through an oily phase because their scalp is used to producing lots of oil in response to the drying effects of shampoo. As well, this extra oil may not be totally removed by the bicarb soda.    But don’t worry, the oil production slows down - for some people, this takes up to 4 weeks, while others don’t experience it at all.

The longer you can wait between washes with bicarb soda and vinegar, the shorter this phase will be. If the bicarb soda is not removing the oil and you find it unbearable, you can add a 1:20 dilution of Castile soap to it to help get through the transition period. Doing this, however, seems to lengthen this period.

Hair too dry?

The most common problem following use of bicarb soda is that the hair is too dry. There are a number of possible ways to deal with this:

i. Dilute the bicarb soda in aloe vera juice (available from most health food stores) instead of water.

ii. Reduce the amount of bicarb soda – try it at half strength.

iii. Mix half a teaspoon of oil (for types see Nourishing your hair with oil below) in a cup of water, rinse over the dry ends after your vinegar rinse, and then rinse with water.

Hair doesn’t feel clean?

There are a few possible causes:

(i) You need to detox your hair more;

(ii) Your water is ‘hard’ and you need to mix your bicarb soda in distilled water, or you need to do additional vinegar rinses, possibly also with distilled water.

Keeping the nirvana

A common problem for people who have enjoyed bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar for a few weeks or months, is that they begin to notice their hair is looking a bit dull and lifeless. Castile soap and bicarb soda are good at cleaning hair, but for many, hair will not look good for long unless it is also nourished.

Nourishing your hair and scalp with oils

This is a gorgeous way to nourish your hair and scalp. Choose pure oils like organic unrefined coconut, argan, almond, jojoba or a special hair oil like Mokosh’s Balancing Hair Treatment. How often you do this is up to you – the Almost Exactly blog suggests every 1-2 weeks.

i. Take up to 3 tablespoons oil, and warm gently – best method is to place it in a   clean glass bottle and stand it in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes or so.

ii. Massage into the scalp and through the hair, gently combing it through, then wrap hair in plastic wrap or a shower cap, and cover with a warmed towel.

iii. Leave for at least 20 minutes- the longer the better!

iv. Wash with Castile soap – it may take 2-3 rinses to remove the oil.

v. Note, bicarb soda won’t remove the oil – if you don’t want to use soap on your hair, try using the ‘without oils’ nourishing treatments below.

Nourishing your hair and scalp without oils

See the section on this topic in the Almost Exactly blog on how to use the following ingredients .

(i) Raw honey

(ii) Aloe vera gel

(iii) Non fat yoghurt

(iv) Egg yolks

Apply alone or in combination to the scalp and hair as a mask, leave for 20 minutes, then rinse with water.

My own experience 

I have been shampoo and conditioner-free for around 4 months now – ever since I discovered that palm oil was probably in all shampoos and conditioners. I started out washing my hair in diluted Castile soap (around 1:10), followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse. This was good for a while, but then my hair started to look dry. I then switched to bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar, but as I had not yet discovered the Almost Exactly blog, was using the bicarb soda as a paste, which Alex suggests can damage hair. When I switched to the diluted bicarb soda according to the recipe above, my hair improved, but was still a bit dry at the ends. After reading the Almost Exactly blog, I made 2 changes: I diluted the bicarb soda in aloe vera juice rather than water, and I used a post-vinegar rinse with water containing a few drops of hair oil. No more dry ends, my hair looks as good as when I was using conventional products, and feels very soft.

It’s not difficult or fussy – I leave the bicarb soda, vinegar and hair oil handy by the shower, store the aloe vera juice in the fridge, and make up the bicarb rinse with it just before I wash my hair. It takes no more time to do than using shampoo and conditioner. I have no dandruff issues and no itchy scalp – both of which were problematic before.

I’m pleased to say I’m one of those who won’t be going back to shampoo and conditioner. I’d love to hear if anyone else has tried no shampoo methods, and what worked best for them! If you are planning to try this method, send in your photos in progress – we’d love to share your story.

*For bicarb soda, assume 15g per wash, for vinegar assume 20ml per wash. A 500g box of Bicarb Soda at $2.40 for a 500g box will come out at $0.07 per wash, and a 473ml bottle of Braggs Organic Apple Cider Vinegar at around $7.40 will cost $0.32 per rinse.