13 September 2007

Saving the Environment, Smelling Like Salad

I don't have much personal vanity, but for my hair. It's of the tousled/wavy/curly/frizzy/ messy variety, depending on the weather, which makes it impossible ever to look sleek and sophisticated unless I pay someone a lot of money to style it for me. I'm constantly looking for the shampoo/conditioner/gel/ spray/lighter-fluid combination that will make it look presentable on a daily basis, but every person who has ever cut my hair has exclaimed, "you have great hair!" as if they really meant it, and while I demurely thank them, inside I'm kvelling.

The perfect set of products may actually be those made by Devachan, a Soho salon that specializes in curly hair. The beauty world is actively hostile to curly hair. Before I started going to Devachan, the "great hair" comment would nearly always be followed by a plea that I should try it straight. At Devachan, they would not only be insulted if you asked to have your hair dried straight, they'd probably kick you out. They're hardcore, but it's nice to look around the salon and only see people with crazy hair like yours for a change.

Devachan is a bit cult-ish, though. God forbid you not want to sit under the low heat lamps for an hour with a quart of gel squished into your hair to achieve maximum Shirley Templedom. Their products, though, actually work better for curly hair than anything else, starting with something they call "No Poo", so called because they don't believe in shampooing curly hair, which they believe strips it of... something... essential... to curliness. I generally tune out the dogma while I'm getting my hair washed beneath the graceful mosquito netting that hangs above their sinks.

But the products are expensive, they come in big plastic bottles (recyclable number 2, yes, but I'm trying to cut down on my plastic consumption), and they're not organic. I don't know if a bunch of chemicals you smoosh on your head for a minute or two every morning have much of an impact on your health, but it stands to reason that less of them can't be bad for you, and might even be good.

There are several natural shampoos, but they're all in plastic bottles, too, and once you start down that path, you're into the "frees": cruelty, parabens, petroleum, FD&C color, SLS/SLES, etc. If you buy a bottle of something that doesn't have this list on the front, maybe you're not really going organic after all, and you could drive yourself crazy trying to work out which of them matters. Plus, they're all expensive anyway.

Oh for the days when I blithely used $1-a-bottle Suave and was done with it.

I work at an engineering firm, and we like to debate the NASA imperative to launch missions "better, faster, cheaper." Is it ever possible to get all three? You can get things that are good and fast, but you'll pay a lot. Fast and cheap, sure; but how good is, say, a McDonald's hamburger compared to a three-course meal at a four-star restaurant? And yes, you can get things that are good and cheap, but they often take a long time to procure or execute.

Which brings me to my evolving hair-care routine. It started with baking soda. Devachan is right that you don't really need to wash your hair. Every few days, my scalp gets a little itchy, though, and a handful of baking soda, turned into a paste in the shower and rubbed through, feels and works great. A big box of baking soda is cheap, plus it's cardboard, which seems a better environmental bet than plastic.

But curly hair can't not be conditioned. I'd read that people follow their baking soda with apple cider vinegar to soft and shiny effect, but I didn't believe it. How could something acidic do anything other than strip your hair? And since the claims made on its behalf seemed too miraculous to be true -- drinking it will cure allergies! acne! arthritis! and that's just the a's -- I couldn't help but be skeptical.

Ha. How wrong was I to have waited so long to try this? A few swishes of some organic acv from a glass bottle (not sure of the environmental impact of glass over plastic, honestly; it uses more oil to transport because it's heavier, blah blah blah), and my hair magically detangled. Once dry, it was softer and maybe even a little shinier than before. And though I used more of it than I probably needed to -- it's harder to control than a goopy conditioner, though I suppose I could put it into a squeeze bottle -- it's far cheaper than anything else I've ever used, except the Suave, and that's more expensive these days anyway. I even swigged a little of it to see if it would cure me anything, but so far I don't think it has.

My new routine doesn't take any longer than regular shampoo and conditioner, it's much cheaper, and it's better for the environment, possibly my own personal health, and dare I say, the loveliness of my hair. Ta dah.

Unfortunately, it makes my hair smell like I've been wearing the salad bowl as a hat.

My fiance said he hoped I wasn't going to start adding olive oil. Oh, but do you know my hair stylist said I should coat my hair in the stuff at least once a week and sleep through the night that way? My cats attack my head when I do it, but it does seem to do something nice to my hair. You don't mind, sweetie, do you? Pass the tongs.

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Blogger Maggie said...

Hmmm... I am intrigued. I do not have curly hair but my hair has become inexplicably frizzy since I entered my thirties. Baking soda followed by apple cider vinegar? I'll give it a try.

I have also heard that rosemary with olive oil helps with dandruff... no joke.

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Alison D. said...

You should check out this book called Absolute Beauty. It's about aryuvedic skin care. At one point the author goes into detail about the chemicals found in beauty products. She recommends that you refrain from using products on your hair or skin that contain ingredients that you wouldn't eat. The chemicals in these products, apparently, go straight to your bloodstream. It made sense to me and now I'm rocking the coconut oil on my face and the almond oil on my body. They also recipes for different skin products as well as hair stuff but I haven't gotten that far yet. If you're interested (and it sounds like you are) you should check it out.

1:47 PM  

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