What does the word ‘natural’ really mean in a shampoo or hair care product?
In my opinion, no word is abused more than ‘natural’ in the beauty industry (a close second would be ‘low fat’, abused widely by the food industry). Label after label mention this word proudly, preferably in bright, green letters. It, of course, helps to fool the buyer into believing that the product is more natural than it really is, that everything was manufactured and bottled in some quaint meadow by hand rather than some dark and grey warehouse by machines.
In the purest sense of the word, a product would be truly natural if it contained no chemicals at all. If the ingredients list of a product has no vague, chemical sounding names, then you can safely say that it is natural.
But to be perfectly honest, no product can be completely ‘natural’. If it were that way, it probably wouldn’t last on your shelf for more than a few days. So every shampoo, conditioner, tonic, etc. has to have certain chemicals to act as preservatives if nothing else.
A lot of Ayurveda products claim to be ‘natural’. Ayurveda, which is an ancient Indian medical science that utilizes herbs, spices, fruits and other ingredients for formulating cures, is largely chemical free. You can create Ayurveda cures at home yourself, though a lot of companies are selling them online and at health stores these days. One Ayurveda hair tonic, for instance, makes use of a mixture of coconut and jasmine oil, along with extract of amla (Indian gooseberry), ‘shikakai’ and henna. This mixture can be made at home and is absolutely fabulous for the hair.
Ayurveda, however, is still at the fringes of the hair care industry. Few people know about it and a larger proportion still doubt its efficacy. In the mainstream hair care and beauty industry, it is impossible to find completely natural products for hair care. One of the most respected companies in the business – Aveda – which I recommend highly, freely admits that its products are largely derived from plants but refrain from using the word ‘natural’. Nevertheless, the company strives to use only the bare minimum amount of chemicals, and uses only those that it deems necessary to prolong the shelf life of its products, or produce suds (consumers scarcely trust a shampoo that doesn’t produce suds) and other aesthetically pleasing effects (color, smell, etc.).
What you should look out for are synthetic substances in the ingredients list. An ingredient should either be derived from natural sources, or should explicitly be a chemical. Aloe Vera and jojoba oil – two common ingredients in many hair care products – are often derived from synthetic sources but aren’t credited as such in the ingredients list. So be very careful of products that promise these two ingredients.
I would also like to point out the fetishism that has come to be associated with the word ‘natural’. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it is actually good for you. Petrochemicals are completely natural, but clog up pores and are very harmful to your hair. So instead of looking explicitly for natural products for hair care, take a more holistic overview of the product. If it tries to minimize the use of chemicals, and shies away from using synthetic versions of ingredients, then you can be sure that it is a good bet.
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