Despite all of the ingredient confusion and natural-this, synthetic-that chatter, if clean beauty has a single rallying cry, it’s to make personal care products safe from head-to-toe…but about that head part. While clean skin-care options abound, body care is trending upward, and seven-free polishes to perfect your pedi are popping up left and right, clean hair care has notoriously lagged behind. Why? It’s pretty dang hard to craft—especially when compared to better-for-you body products.
“We can treat hair and skin similarly, but need to remember that hair is dead keratin, while the outer skin layer is very much alive and functional,” explains New York City dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, who notes that many of the trends in skin care have now moved over to hair care, ranging from masks to antioxidants. This distinction, though, is why you can’t just slather your favorite dry skin moisturizer on your scalp and call it a day. You see, strands need very different things from ingredients than skin does, while still remaining free of clean beauty no-nos such as sulfates, parabens, and added phthalates, making shampoos, heat protectants, and other hair care a tall order to create—and costly to own.
“Because nature is biodiverse, people are naturally very diverse in needs, desires, and habits,” says Rachel Zipperian, Herbal Essences beauty scientist.
A small number of clean shampoos have existed, but they were either so expensive that a rebuy was a luxury or something just felt ever-so off with the textures. Not anymore. New technology and accessibility has leveled the playing field and flooded the market with more clean hair care options than ever before. “Because nature is biodiverse, people are naturally very diverse in needs, desires, and habits,” says Rachel Zipperian, beauty scientist at Herbal Essences, a brand that is turning to the Earth’s bounty to solve hair care needs. “We want to use diverse botanicals in our products to treat diverse hair needs because it is good for you, your hair, and our planet.”
So what will you find in many clean hair-care formulas? Functional botanicals, plain and simple. Clean hair-care formulas tend to be rich in oils and butters (frequently tapped as silicone replacements) that help to repair damage. They tap plant-derived cleansers such as cocamidopropyl betaine (made from coconuts that stand in for harsher sulfates), and they’re rich in antioxidants that guard against free radicals lurking in the tap. The result? “Less brittle hair, less breakage, less tangles,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. So, without further adieu, if you’re ready to find yourself using clean hair care, here’s where to find the best-of-the-best.
You’re ready to fall in love with a really good clean shampoo: Herbal Essences
If Herbal Essence‘s ’90s commercials of a woman lathering up and screaming, “Yes! yes! yes!” from the shower is what you remember of the brand, here’s the second act: In a massive move, Herbal Essence is introducing two new bio:Renew sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners that are Environmental Working Group (EWG) verified and coming to a drugstore near you. So, expect to hear the same types of satisfied shouts of yes! from conscientious consumers standing in beauty aisles reading their fully transparent ingredient labels beginning in January 2019.
For those unfamiliar with the EWG, it’s a watchdog ingredient group that has an extensive list of chemicals and products that it ranks from 1 to 10 in terms of toxicity, giving us the most comprehensive clean beauty database, to date. “Only products that include robust ingredient labels and meet our stringent criteria, as opposed to minimal government standards, will be awarded our mark,” explains Nneka Leiba, director of EWG’s healthy living science program. The fact that this is happening at the drugstore finally brings clean shampoo to all.
To become EWG verified, Herbal Essences laid it all on the line, sharing its ingredients, formulas, and fragrances (way more than any other big brand has ever done before…even with the FDA), and workshopping the final product to gain the EWG seal. The end result is a unique and effective shampoo that I straight up want to use every morning when I wake up. The formula cleanses hair without stripping it, it conditions it nicely without leaving a residue, and it protects it from free radical damage lurking in the tap with potent botanical ingredients certified by the United Kingdom’s Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (the most biodiverse place on Earth). The two formulas: Honey & Vitamin E (for those who need added smoothing and moisture) and Birch Bark (for those with dull or dry strands) are made up of the most potent and studied ingredients in the world and yet cost $6 each.
And the packaging is fully transparent. For one, in order to get EWG verified, the brand will now list their fragrance composites that are greater than .01 percent, which is a first-of-its-kind move in the industry (especially at the drugstore). Where you normally see the word “fragrance,” on the sulfate-free bio:Renew shampoos, you’ll now see what makes up this fragrance right on the label. “This is extra ingredient information to help consumers make the most informed choice when they are looking at an ingredient label,” says Zipperian. “The only other major differences in ingredients are that we used a sulfate-free surfactant [coco-betaine] and a new preservative system.”
You need legit stylers that work: Briogeo
Briogeo founder Nancy Twine left her job in finance to create the clean hair care brand in 2013—not for skin, but for strands. The result is an extensive line that sees to the hair needs of all. IMO, the stand-out products are the all-natural stylers, which do everything from protect lengths from heat to help define perfect curls.
Many stylers tap the powers of silicone to help smooth down the outer-most layer of the hair and make it look shiny; however, Briogeo uses science-backed natural ingredients to help get hair to do what you want. In the stand-out Curl Charisma Frizz Control Gel, rice-based amino acids are used for frizz control while quinoa extract helps to define spirals. Likewise, in the Rosarco Blow Dry Perfection Creme, a complex of rosehip, coconut, and argan oil help to defend from heat damage. “Oils help to moisturize and help hair feel smoother, especially if the brand chooses not to use silicone,” explains King. When added to a styler, they protect strands from getting long-term silicone buildup, which can actually dull-down hair rather than make it look shiny.
You’re kind of over face masks and want self-care to be hair care: Prose
I’m all for self-care, but somewhere around my umpteenth face mask, the whole body-is-a-temple thing started to wear off, and my face just felt sort of damp and sticky. So, in its place, I might be looking for an alternative, and I might have found it in my strands.
“Hair-care brands that fall into the natural spectrum are taking ‘care’ to the next level. They aren’t focusing on that ‘squeaky clean’ feeling by striping the hair of its natural oils, but are moving in the direction of treating the hair like they treat their skin,” says Jillian Wright, founder of the Indie Beauty Expo. “Bathing, drenching, rinsing, masking, and juicing is dominating the category. Innersense Organic Haircare created a ‘hair bath’ with ingredients like pumpkinseed, shea butter, and tamanu.”
My favorite indulgence, however, is a personalized hair oil from the brand Prose, which I like to slather on my strands the evening ahead of a wash. The oil is concocted based on my hair’s own profile (which needs strength, split-end repair, and overall moisture) with grapeseed oil and a supporting cast of strand saviors. I apply it roots-to-tip the night ahead of a shampoo to help repair my hair. The next day, I wash it out and have happy (ahem) clean hair all the better ready for the day ahead.
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