Friday, September 18, 2009

Hair Care Myths: Exposed

Billions of marketing dollars are spent year after year to sell cheap chemicals as hair "care" products. Most of them are unneeded, and even dangerous. Today, I've exposed five hair care myths:

Myth #1: You can repair hair.

You've seen the commercial: "X shampoo strengthens hair, getting rid of split ends and repairing damage." Hair is dead. There is no way to repair it. Once you have a split end, it's split. Once it's damaged, there's no fixing it. It's like saying you'd be able to take an old dried out piece of driftwood and "re-hydrate" it to make it look new again. It's just not possible. So, how are companies able to claim they "repair" hair? These shampoos and conditioners use chemicals that coat the hair shaft, making it feel or look like it's repaired, but underneath it's still the same old strand of hair. It's like dipping the driftwood in tar and saying that it's been repaired. Yes, the damage may be hidden, but underneath it all, it's still an old piece of wood. So the next time you see one of those TV commercials about "repairing hair" just replace "repair" with "coat with chemicals" and you'll get the true picture.

Myth #2: The concept of "Dry" hair

Okay, let's break this down here. What's the opposite of dry? Wet, obviously. What causes something to be wet? Well, water, of course. So, when you're "moisturizing" hair, are you adding water to it? No. You wouldn't want that because when hair is wet, the hair shaft is very weak because the cuticle has absorbed water and the overall bonds of the keratin are weakened. What about oil? Is it oil we're moisturizing with? No, it's not that either. Oily hair isn't any stronger or more manageable. Oily hair is dull and limp. So, "dry" (meaning waterless and minimal oil) hair is actually a good thing. So, what are we doing when we "moisturize" hair? Same as "repairing" it. We're just coating it with chemicals so that it feels softer. Hair doesn't need to be moisturized like skin does. A little bit of oil helps add sheen to hair, but you don't need much.

So, what are we really feeling when we say we have "dry" hair? There is such a thing as damaged hair. There is wiry hair. There is frizzy hair. But there is no such thing as "dry" hair.

Myth #3: Your natural hair color is unattractive.

Dishwater blonde anyone? Yes, that happens to be my natural hair color. The corporate cosmetic conglomerates and their decades of marketing efforts would have me feeling mousy for parading around with my (shock) natural hair color visible to the entire world. You need some "drama," "depth," or "luminescence" to your hair color in order to look beautiful, they would have me feel. I notice all the girls with their fashionable blondes, streaks, frosts, weaves, ombres and other expensive color treatments. And for a moment, I do have to admit that I feel inferior for not coloring my hair. But then I have to remind myself that I'm only feeling this way because billions of dollars are spent every year to make me feel this way.

Your natural hair color, yes, even gray, is beautiful. What's even more beautiful is not having to subject yourself to toxic chemicals every six weeks. Permanent hair dyes contain carcinogenic acrylamines, which are absorbed through the skin during the hair treatment. Genetically, some individuals are able to produce very efficient protective enzymes that render the acrylamines harmless and eliminate them quickly through the urine. In others, the process is less effective, and these people are at risk of bladder cancer.

Other chemicals found in hair dyes are phenylenediamine, heavy metals such as mercury, and coal tar. (Check out this great article for more on this and stay tuned for tomorrows post for more chemicals to avoid.)

Growing old is not a sin. Gray hair is a badge of honor. You've made it this far through life, why not wear it with pride?! Not quite ready for that? Henna is the most safe and natural option out there. And hey--it was good enough for Lucille Ball. And you doesn't love Lucy?!

Of course, I respect every person's decisions to do what they want to look and feel their best. Just make sure that you're not coloring your hair because you're ashamed of your natural hair color. 

Myth #4: Your hair needs to be straight.
Do you ever see a shampoo commercial featuring someone with tight curls? No. It's usually straight or slightly wavy hair that glistens and gleams under carefully-placed lights for the camera. For years these commercials have brainwashed (some of) us in to thinking that curly or kinky hair is unhealthy and un-sexy so they can sell us straightening irons, chemical straightening treatments, and heavy conditioners. I hear so many women who think that they need to condition their tight curls because they don't feel soft. They think that their hair is "dry" when really it's just coarse hair. Just because your hair doesn't feel or look like corn silk, doesn't mean it isn't healthy hair. It's just the nature of your hair--embrace it. Don't subject yourself to the marketing hype and gallons of harmful chemicals that you expose yourself to "conditioning" or straightening your hair.

Myth #5: Your hair needs vitamins.

Remember, hair is dead. Vitamins do nothing for hair. Vitamins are only beneficial if they're absorbed in to the body, a living thing. The body uses vitamins in metabolic pathways to create energy, fight free-radicals, or build or repair tissue. Pro-V, Vitamin B-12, Vitamin E and all these scientific "vitamin complex" ingredients--they're just in the shampoo for label for appeal. You're just pouring them on and washing them down the drain.

Find out our tips for Natural Hair Care Here.


Laurie said...

Great article Stephanie. Although I already knew that hair is dead (and therefore beyond repair) I still find myself striving to obtain glossy, soft hair and avoid frizz. You've just reminded me to embrace my hair the way it is. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie! Thanks so much for this article - it came at a perfect time. I'm 4 months pregnant and have been researching natural hair dyes and realizing that henna is the only chemical free way. I appreciated the article as well. It's so scary to think about all of these chemicals that we use on our hair to "repair", straighten and color, and they are all getting flushed down the toilet - either a plain waste of money, a damage to our bodies, or a damage to our environment. Scary! - Kati A.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Stephanie!

Here's a great website that goes right along with Myth #3:

These two pages within the site talk about bad Paraphenylenediamine (PPD for short) reactions when coloring hair:

My hair has been salt and pepper for years now, and I love it! My silver streaks sparkle in the sun. My husband loves it too!

I like to see when other women have broken the mold and let nature take its course. It seems to be getting more and more popular ... and with the dangers in hair dye, thankfully so.


Anonymous said...

Wow! What good timing. I was just at the store yesterday looking for hair colorant. I used to dye my hair until 5 years ago and was thinking of dying it again. So glad I saw this!

Anonymous said...

If there is no such thing as dry hair, than how come you made a shampoo for normal to dry hair using essential oils that are known for their moisturizing abilities?

Anonymous said...

WOW! Love this article! So true about how millions of dollars are spent to make women feel inferior if they do not conform to their products. Ladies, YOU are beautiful without all those horrible chemicals. Thanks Steph, love your products and do the dirty work for us and sort out all of the confusion!

Anonymous said...

Hey Stephanie! I'm so glad I read this article. I am african american and hispanic and myth#4 really hit home. Recently I stopped straightening my hair and went natural. I realized how nice my natural wavy hair really is. And I use only henna to color it. It actually gives my hair the smoothness I desire w/o the use of chemicals. I wish alot more women would do the same. -Thx!

Stephanie Greenwood said...

In response to the question about why do we make shampoo for "dry" hair.....

We have two shampoos, one for oily hair, one for normal to dry hair. These distinctions are based on your scalp type--so if your scalp produces a lot of oil, (for instance, if your hair gets greasy by the end of just one day) we recommend the Lemon. If your scalp produces a lower amount of oil (say, it gets oily every two to five days) then we'd recommend the Peppermint and Tea Tree. Hope that makes's about scalp more than about the actual hair shaft.

Melisa S. said...

What a great article! I just gave birth 8 months ago and have been wearing my hair naturally and loving it! We forget that nature provides us all we need!

Natural Pathfinder said...

Thanks for your efforts! For years I was using Paul Masson, Biolage and other professional hair care products that I purchased at my stylists. My scalp used to be all broke out and would actually bleed during haircuts. Since switching to your products my scalp has cleared up and no longer bleeds. My hair feels soft and it's cut short so no need to style.

Unknown said...

Hi, I know I am a little late in commenting and asking but I went gray at 15, and I am 30 now and I have been dying my hair since then. I want to go gray for my health and I dont mind growing old, but I cant help but feel I am too young to be 100% gray. Are there any side effects to henna? Or should I really just let me hair grow out?


Stephanie Greenwood said...

Hi Sarah,

Nope--there are no side effects to henna. Just make sure that it truly is henna that you're using, as some can sneak in artificial dyes.

Anonymous said...

So I thought that even saponified oils were bad because the PH was too high for hair? Aren't saponified oils just a close cousin to SLS?

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Saponified oils are not at all like SLS. For a full description, read my article on the subject here:

For a full answer regarding pH and hair, check out this post:

Anonymous said...

Concerning Hair Myth#2-Dry Hair

Many African-Americans have dry hair. So, if I understand you correctly, the condition of kinky hair is just really wiry? And, making wiry hair soft is only coating it?

If this is what you're saying, then what can be placed on the hair to prevent it from breaking when combing?

I'm just trying to understand your concept.

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Exactly--the hair isn't dry, meaning lacking moisture, (oil or water) that's just the normal texture of the hair. Just because it feels coarse or not soft, doesn't mean it's unhealthy hair. It's just curly. Any kind of product you're adding to the hair is simply coating it, whether it's oil or plastic or artificial proteins.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm a guy and seem to have somewhat straight and shiny hair EXCEPT towards the ends and back of my hair, where it seems to get very frizzy and curly. I hate how it makes my hair look and have tried many things to help, but not overly pleased with the results. Is there anything I can do to tame it at all? I've been battling with this for close to 4 years now. I highlighted and dyed my hair for many years and am convinced this is what changed it's appearance... What do you think?

Stephanie Greenwood said...

It is possible that dyeing your hair could have caused this--or just simply aging. As we age, the texture of our hair can change, turning curlier or coarser as time goes on.

One thing that you might actually want to try is our body butter...some people with curly hair really love it as a hair tamer. Just add a little body butter to your hand, rub between your hands to create a light layer, and then apply it sparingly to your hair.

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephanie! I love this article...well all your articles. I could use so much advice on maintaining healthy hair for me andy daughter. I am natural. African American young adult. my daughter is twelve months and has a head full of beautiful curls. But lately I have noticed some shedding. I use kinky curly knot today cleansing shampoo and style with taliah waajid. For myself I use baking soda and acv as a cleanser. A conditioner by tresume for dry damaged hair. I also mix olive oil in with my conditioner. This is my third time going natural I love my natural hair and I dont want another perm ever. I just really need some advice on how to maintain healthy natural hair for me and my daughter. please help me

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Have you tried our shampoo at all?

Anonymous said...

What do you think of WEN hair products?
I appreciate your opinion and knowledge!


Stephanie Greenwood said...

Sure thing! I actually have an article all about it here!

Anonymous said...

Nice article...How would you classify hair that is brittle from sun overexposure? If it's not dry then what is it? Thank you!

Stephanie Greenwood said...

Hair that is brittle from sun overexposure would be classified as damaged hair. When exposed to excess sunlight, the pigments in the hair becomes oxidized (shows up as being bleached), and the natural coating that protects the hair and makes it soft may have also been removed through oxidation. There also may be damage done to the cuticle from the sun and/or exposure to the elements.