Natural Hair Care

Typically, a person's hair type is going to drive their purchasing decisions.  The most common types are Dry Hair, Normal Hair, or Oily Hair, but within those types, there are a number of other attributes that are considered essential when choosing products:  Is the customer’s hair damaged or processed, brittle or bleached, frizzy or flyaway; do they have a sensitive scalp, and so on.

Natural and organic shampoos and conditioners use herbs, oils, and vitamins to clean, soften, and add shine and volume. Shampoos rely on surfactants to help ingredients blend well and create a lathery, clean feeling.  Be aware though, that too much surfactant can strip the hair of its own fats, requiring extra oils and botanicals to replace them.

Conditioners use emollients or humectants to trap moisture in the hair shaft, seal the cuticle and make hair seem thicker, smoother, and softer. Oils and waxes are emollients, as are proteins such as wheat and soy. Glycerin, either vegetable or synthetic, serves as a barrier, keeping water in the hair shaft. Wheat amino acids fill in cracks in the hair shaft, and vitamin B adds thickness.   Be aware that water-based products, both shampoo, and conditioner, need preservatives to lengthen their shelf life. 

Why this matters:

Most consumers look for a shampoo and conditioner based on their hair type or problem. Retailers should know which ingredients do what, and the product options on their shelves, so that they can help their customers buy the best products for their hair.

Damaged hair – Damaged hair is typically frizzy because of broken hair cuticles and split ends.   In the mass market, silicone anti-frizz products are hugely popular, but over time they put a coating on the hair that dulls it.  Essential oils are a natural alternative.  They do not work as quickly, but over time hair is repaired, not damaged further.  To treat damaged hair, experts recommend using deep, rich conditioners that can restructure the hair with nourishing ingredients such as linoleic acid, jojoba, and avocado oils.

Dandruff – Dandruff is caused by a fungus and can be exacerbated by dry weather.  Exfoliation is best.  Salicylic acid, found in plants, is used in many natural dandruff shampoos. Tea tree oil is also good for dandruff because it removes bacteria and soothes the scalp.

Dry hair – Dry hair is customarily congenital, but the climate and poor treatment, including hard water, sun, and chlorinated pool water can also result in dry and damaged hair.  Experts recommend using warm, not hot, water, and washing every two or three days to avoid drying it out further and using 15-minute conditioner treatments with the appropriate essential oil.  

Oily hair – Oily scalp can be caused in part by aggressive, drying shampoos that are followed by the scalp overcompensating and forming a thin layer of oil.   Some experts recommend oily hair should be washed every other day to help regulate oil production and the use of mild, light shampoo and conditioner to allow the hair follicles to breathe.

Limp or fine hair – The best way to give fine hair body is to give it a boost with products that contain panthenol, a B vitamin, which helps build body.

Hair Dyes

Traditional hair dyes use hydrogen peroxide to remove existing color out of the hair; ammonia to change the hair’s pH and open the hair shaft to allow the dye to penetrate; and an oxidation dye, usually containing resorcinol and p-phenylenediamine (PPD), to color the hair permanently.

Natural hair dyes, on the other hand, are using more herbal extracts and plant-based dyes, along with lower amounts of traditional chemicals.  Plant-based dyes contain smaller molecules that don’t require a large opening in the hair shaft and therefore need less ammonia. Though it’s hard to create a permanent dye without resorcinol and PPD (which have been known to cause allergic reactions in users), some companies are experimenting with mineral salts, which fix the plant dyes on a more permanent basis.

Henna

Henna is a botanical hair dye that has been used for centuries and has often only been able to be found in packaged formulas in health food stores.  Henna comes from the leaves of the Lawsonia inermis shrub.  Natural henna contains henna tannic acid, which bonds to the proteins in hair, nails, or skin, creating a semi-permanent dye.   Henna also coats and seals the hair shaft, protecting individual strands from environmental and chemical damage. 

Henna is transparent, so it won't lighten dark hair and doesn't always cover gray hair. Other plant dyes such as chamomile or indigo are often added to alter henna's natural red shade to a blonder or blacker hue.  Henna will not produce a drastic color change, but it can add highlights and deepen the existing color with much less toxic effect on the hair and scalp.

Natural Nail Care

Fingernails and toenails are composed of laminated layers of a protein called keratin that grows from the base of the nail under the cuticle.  As new cells grow, older cells become hard and compacted and are eventually pushed out toward the fingertips.  Healthy fingernails are smooth, without pits or grooves, uniform in color and consistency, and free of spots or discoloration. Sometimes fingernails develop harmless vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. Vertical ridges tend to become more prominent with age.   Fingernails can also develop white lines or spots due to injury, but these eventually grow out with the nail.

One of the recommendations for healthy nails is to use moisturizers, making sure to rub the lotion into the cuticles as well as the nails.  A thin coat of clear nail polish is sometimes recommended, but only acetone-free nail polish remover should be used.  Acetone will strip nails of nutrients and moisture, causing them to become brittle and break.  Biotin, a water-soluble B7 vitamin, is often recommended for strengthening weak or brittle fingernails.  Other recommended supplements for nail health include silicon, MSM, and collagen.

Healthy hands and beautiful nails have been popular since the time of Cleopatra when henna was used to dye nails a reddish-brown color.  Now, conventional nail polish and removers use solvents, lacquers, phthalates, and a variety of toxic chemicals, including petrochemical solvents like xylene and toluene to prevent chipping, formaldehyde (a classified human carcinogenic) as a preservative, and phthalates as a plasticizer.  Some petrochemical ingredients are the same as those used in gasoline, lighter fluid, spot removers, aerosol sprays, paints, and other wall and floor building materials.

With the demand for natural, chemical-free polishes growing exponentially, several companies are now producing water-based nail paints using mineral pigments and sugar-based polymers to create a thick, colorful coating that can be removed with a simple hot-water soak.

Oral Care

The health of teeth and gums can affect the rest of the body's health either positively or negatively.  Proper care focuses on prevention to avoid periodontal disease, some form of which affects an estimated 75% of Americans according to the Dental Hygienists Association.  In addition to regular visits to the dentist, a minimum of twice-daily brushing and flossing is recommended to avoid the growth of plaque and gingivitis, an inflammation of the gums that occurs due to accumulated bacteria on the teeth.

Tartar forms in the mouth when plaque mineralizes on the teeth.   If allowed to accumulate, tartar can provide even more surface area for plaque to accumulate. Tartar, if not properly controlled, is a precursor to gingivitis, which can be a serious condition for many people.

Oral care products’ alternative to conventional brands, like Colgate and Crest, have been offered for decades, with product offerings growing into mouthwashes, flexible dental floss, sustainable toothpicks, and upcycled toothbrushes.  In conventional oral care offerings, fluoride is the best known and most controversial ingredient.  In the natural health industry, herbs are often recommended as remedies and are used as ingredients in a wide variety of oral care products.

  • Diluted bloodroot is used to protect teeth and gums against oral bacteria
  • Myrrh tincture helps strengthen gums and combat tooth and gum infections
  • Echinacea tincture helps the body fight oral bacteria
  • Aloe vera gel, a powerful anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial healer can help treat gum inflammation
  • Neem, an herb with antimicrobial properties, can help strengthen gums and prevent plaque
  • Green tea is not only an antioxidant, but its other health benefits and polyphenol compounds may also inhibit the growth of oral bacteria
  • Zinc citrate can effectively battle plaque buildup.
  • Xylitol is a natural sweetener that has been found to have beneficial effects on mouth, teeth, and gum health.  Studies have shown that daily use of xylitol can reduce tooth decay by 50% or more.  As a result, xylitol is now used in a wide variety of products including gum, toothpaste, rinses, gels, and dental floss.

Body Wipes, Cotton Swabs & Women's Health Products

Manufacturers are committed to providing plant-based and less toxic alternatives to many of the products found in a conventional Walgreens or CVS.  In the case of body wipes, for both adults and children, organic essential oils are used, many with aromatic, cleansing, and calming properties.  Even the towelette materials themselves can be made from biodegradable wood pulp or organic cotton material.  Wipes for sensitive skin can be fragrance-free, pH-balanced.  Eco-friendly and healthy products for women have expanded to include reusable menstrual protection, clean moisturizing personal washes, natural lubricants, maternity, nursing, and incontinence pads. 

Deodorants and Antiperspirants

Deodorants use antiseptic and antibacterial ingredients to break down sweat and inhibit odor-producing bacteria, but they have no effect on the sweating process. They work superficially on the skin and are therefore classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as cosmetics.  Antiperspirants, on the other hand, contain ingredients that block the pores to reduce the amount of sweat released. Because antiperspirants alter body function, the FDA classifies them as over-the-counter drugs. Most mass manufacturers market antiperspirant/deodorant combinations.

Many of the odor-and wetness-fighting ingredients also carry potential health risks. For example, the aluminum chlorohydrate and aluminum zirconium used in many commercial antiperspirants are soluble compounds that may be absorbed by the liver, kidney, brain, cartilage, and bone marrow. Recent research showing elevated aluminum levels in the brains of Alzheimer's patients casts further doubt on the safety of aluminum ingredients.  Moreover, researchers in the United Kingdom have found traces of parabens in breast tissue samples.  These estrogen-mimicking substances can accumulate in the body and may have links to breast cancer. 

Many substances in nature have antiseptic, germicidal, and moisturizing properties that are being used in more natural, less toxic deodorants and antiperspirants.  Mineral salts, clays, and many botanicals are all well suited for natural alternatives.

Why this matters:

Many customers are educated about the links between ingredients in deodorants and antiperspirants and breast cancer.  Store staff will be asked by customers about the ingredients written on the packages. Reputable natural body care manufacturers post the ingredients contained in their products, along with the purpose of the ingredient and the source. Web connected notepads on the store floor can be used to look up any ingredient on the label when a customer inquires.

Diapers

Disposable diapers can take 500+ years to biodegrade in a landfill.  Over 27 billion diapers go into U.S. landfills every year.  What’s more, conventional diapers typically use chlorine and other chemicals and fragrances that can sometimes be toxic for babies.   Manufacturers in the natural product business are producing biodegradable and home compostable diaper materials and systems for environmentally conscious parents who still want the convenience of disposable diapers.  These natural diaper materials are typically free from chlorine and other chemicals, fragrances, and lotions so they are safer for both baby and the environment.  The three main trends in natural diapers are:

Cloth diapers are made to be reused which results in less waste. The water and energy used to clean the diapers is a downside of cloth diapers. However, there are many cloth diaper washing services specifically created to clean cloth diapers as efficiently as possible.

G-Diapers were designed using the cradle to cradle philosophy.  Materials manufactured into the product are intended to return to the ecosystem in a beneficial or neutral way.  There are two options, 100% Biodegradable refills or reusable cloths.  Refills break down in 50-150 days in a home compost, then tossed out or flushed. The plastic G-Pants into which the diapers are inserted are reusable.

Biodegradable diapers are disposable diapers made with PLA plastic. They are compostable in industrial compost.  If customers don't have access to industrial compost, the benefits of chemical-free materials are still a benefit to customers.

Massage Oils and Supplies

Most massage oils are blends combining a neutral carrier oil with one or more essential oils.  Most experts recommend that essentials oils should not be applied directly to the skin because they are so concentrated, and instead, they should be diluted with an appropriate carrier oil.  These oils also are intended to enhance the healing properties of the oils, provide protection and nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. 

Good carrier oils are:  Sweet Almond, Grapeseed, Apricot Kernal, Jojoba, Olive, Coconut, and even Safflower.

Netipots & Nasal Irrigation

Nasal rinsing can remove dirt, dust, pollen, and other debris, as well as help to loosen thick mucus.  It can clean bacteria and wash out allergens.  As a result, it helps relieve nasal symptoms from allergies, colds, and flu.  Experts recommend regular nasal irrigation about three times a week, with daily use during allergy and cold season.  Long term irrigation also helps people better manage acute sinusitis and other chronic sinus problems resulting in fewer medications.

Typically nasal irrigation is done with a neti pot - a little teapot with a long spout - and a diluted saline solution.  Experts recommend that distilled or sterile water be used for the rinse.  Irrigation kits can include squeeze bottles or syringes.

Customers who practice nasal irrigation are cautioned to use safe cleaning practices.  Regular, proper cleaning prevents the bacteria removed from the user from being passed back to the user or to another person.  All utensils used for nasal irrigation should be well-washed, following manufacturer directions, and then dried and allowed to air-dry completely before used again.   

 

Words to Remember

EMOLLIENTS

Are preparations that soften the skin, often referred to as moisturizers in products. It provides a protective film over the skin. Emollient ingredients are found in many skin and beauty products, soaps and bath additives.

 

HUMECTANTS

Humectants are a type of emollients that enhances the surface of the skin's capacity to hold water by absorbing water from the air. Glycerin soap is an example of a humectant.

 

PERIODONTAL DISEASE

A range of infections of the gums, leading to tooth loss and other health problems. Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease, causing gums to become red, swollen, and bleed easily.

 

SALICYLIC ACID

A phenolic phytohormone (plant hormone) found in plants with roles in growth and development and photosynthesis. As an ingredient, it is used to treat many skin disorders such as acne, dandruff, psoriasis, dermatitis, calluses, corns, and warts. It can found in soaps, lotions, liquids, ointments, gels, creams, shampoos, pastes, and deodorant sticks. It is also a metabolite and member of the same class of compounds used in aspirin.

 

SURFACTANTS

Substances sometimes called wetting agents, that when added to a liquid, reduces its surface tension, increasing it's spreading and wetting properties. Some surfactants are germicides, fungicides, and insecticides, some work as lubricants and are used in sanitizing products, anti-fogging liquids, adhesives, emulsifiers, and fabric softeners.

 

UPCYCLED

The reuse of discarded objects or materials to create a product of high quality or value or better environmental usefulness than the original. An example is #5 plastic containers that are upcycled for toothbrush and razor handles.

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