My hair felt much softer and smoother with a synthetic shampoo. I read that it is so bad and contains so many harmful ingredients. Then why does my hair feel better when using a synthetic shampoo and so rough when I use a pure natural hairwash like the Krya hairwash or if I use a mixture of herbs?
If you too have felt this way, then this post should be useful for you and provide you with a few insights on how shampoos are formulated, why they are formulated this way and why despite the temporary good feeling of using a shampoo, you should consider switching to a natural product like the Krya hairwash.
In the beginning we only had herbs:
Civilisation as we know it has been around for 1000s of years. In these many thousand years, despite the invention of soaps, these were never used to cleanse skin or hair. You can read about the history of soap in our earlier post. Soaps were prized for their ability to clean and to launder linen and were always considered extremely harsh and unfit for personal use.
Indian civilisation which records many firsts including the discovery of the zero, advanced mathematical and astronomical progress, high progress in surgery, medicine and hygiene, never used a synthetic soap and a shampoo for either laundry or personal use. This is despite the fact that the procedure to make a lye based soap has been around for atleast 5000 years and would have been easy to make and accessible across India.
We instead used a rich variety of herbs for different kinds of cleansing in India. In India cleaning was multifaceted: we cleansed our person, our laundry, our floors and even our air using herbal smoke. Many of the herbs used were also edible and could be used to solve dis-eases. This meant that we only used extremely safe, tried and tested herbs that could be eaten.
This obviously meant that we were not harming our body, our hair or our skin. This also meant that we did not pollute the soil, water or the earth in our quest to clean and care for ourselves.
The birth of the synthetic shampoo (and hair problems):
The harmonious situation we described in the previous paragraph came to an end when Hans Schwarzkopf, a German, invented the first liquid shampoo in 1927. Initially a liquid shampoo was simply a watery soap. This made the preparation strongly alkaline and extremely harsh on hair. So in 20 years, shampoo formulations “evolved” to use synthetic surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate.
Little did we know when we all agreed to this change that we were merely substituting hair roughness and damage for far more insidious long term side effects like dermatitis, with SLS. You can read much more about how much damage SLS and SLeS do to hair, skin and the earth in our previous posts.
The fallouts of using a synthetic shampoo
Many of us have come to appreciate the feeling of using a synthetic shampoo. A shampoo and a conditioner give the hair an instant feeling of smoothness. There is no external serration or roughness when we wash or comb our hair.
However, with repeated washing, we notice that the sebum secretion in the hair either becomes excessive or very poor. So as a result we suffer from either extremely oily hair or very dry scalp and hair with constant itching and flaking. There is also a slowing down in hair growth. We may also notice hair breakage, frizziness and hair thinning.
Why is it that our hair quality worsens so much internally , but the external appearance and smoothness is maintained when we use a synthetic shampoo?
The natural composition of Sebum: the first target of a synthetic shampoo on your scalp
We have spoken about how the surfactants in a synthetic shampoo dry out the secretions of your scalp’s sebaceous glands. Sebum, produced by our scalp is not a simple oil. It is a complex mixture of triglycerides, waxy esters, and metabolic secretions of fats along with squalene. This mixture of substances forms sebum and this helps lubricate our skin and hair.
Depending on the weather and temperature, sebum changes in structure. For e.g.: In rainy weather, there is a greater production of fat based cells which act as a waterproof layer for skin and hair.
This intelligent, skin and hair protecting secretion is mercilessly stripped dry whenever we use a synthetic surfactant based shampoo or a soap on our skin. The harsh detergent in the shampoo does not have the ability to remove only excess sebum. Instead it completely strips hair of the sebaceous secretion forcing the sebaceous glands to repeatedly waste energy re-producing the sebum.
Natural sebum in the right quantity gives hair a healthy sheen. It gives the right amount of oily coating to the hair to ensure that hair does not build up static, or go dry and frizzy. It maintains the synergistic bacteria on our skin and scalp by giving them nutritive substances. It keeps hair strands healthy and does not allow hair to go dry thereby facilitating hair growth and health.
Most importantly: as the sebum composition is decided by the body using intelligence, it is able to anticipate the needs of the body and vary its composition accordingly.
Plasticizers and silicone based conditioners: a poor substitute to natural sebum
The consistent use of synthetic shampoo tampers with the natural production of sebum and alters how much is produced, by either drying out the sebaceous glands or excessively increasing sebum. This means that without this sebum and with the excessively harsh detergents in the shampoo, the hair is bound to go completely dry and get damaged.
To ensure that the hair does not look too dry or damaged, a shampoo uses silicone based hair coating substances in the shampoo.
Dimethicone: PolyDimethylSiloxane (PDMS) (a silicone used in moisturising skin care and shampoos)
A typical example of this kind of silicone is Dimethicone, which is found across many leading shampoo brands. Dimethicone is an industrial emulsifier found in putty, certain food brands and across skin and hair care products, in heat resistant tiles, in herbicides and hydraulic fluids. Dimethicone is an emulsifier and provides a smooth coating on skin and hair, which is why it is so favoured in the cosmetic industry.
Dimethicone when applied on hair forms a synthetic plastic like coating with a reflective shine. This coats over breaks in the hair’s cuticles and gives us a smooth gliding effect. This makes us believe that our hair is much healthier and well maintained than what it actually is.
The important thing to note here is that our hair is still damaged. Dimethicone is only forming a layer over the damage preventing us from observing the damage.
Concerns in the use of silicones in skin and hair care products
When used on hair, silicones can aggravate the sebaceous glands, stimulating aggressive sebum production. This can create a breeding ground for fungal attacks on the scalp leading to sebborheic dermatitis or stubborn fungal dandruff.
Silicones can interfere with the natural function of the skin and scalp by preventing temperature regulation and the interaction of the skin and the scalp with the environment.
In skin, silicones can also lead to breakouts and acne as the plasticky coating can trap dirt and bacteria close to the skin.
The Indian hair secret: ours for thousands of years, and now fast disappearing
A few paragraphs before, we made the statement that in the beginning we all used herbs to cleanse ourselves. And this has worked pretty well until the last 50 years for all of us, especially Indians.
Indians discovered synthetic shampoos quite late in the day (around the mid 1990s) and synthetic conditioners even later (for the last 15 years). This explains in part why Indian hair was so prized over the world for its health, texture, length and colour. Until today, Indian hair is exported across the globe to make wigs and human hair extensions for the rest of the world which has suffered from hair damage from a much longer use of synthetic hair products.
The secret behind healthy Indian hair was simple: We followed the Ayurvedic method of cleansing the hair.
Ayurvedic hair cleansing – first oil the hair with a good hair oil
Ayurveda recommends generous and frequent oiling of hair with a natural herb infused oil made using cold pressed vegetable oils like coconut and sesame. As we have described before, this hair oiling is good for us for several reasons.
Apart from supporting the sebaceous glands, assisting the scalp’s nutrition and naturally conditioning and strengthening hair, hair oiling also helps cool the scalp and the eyes and helps balance pitta dosha in the body. As we have discussed before, when pitta dosha goes out of control, our hair starts to thin down, goes grey and loses its natural colour.
Hair oiling is an extremely important part of Ayurvedic hair care. Hair is never supposed to be left “dry” in Ayurveda as the body is always generating excess heat in the form of the brain and the eye’s activity. This excess heat is released through the scalp which means that hair is constantly subjected to internal heat.
When this internal heat is left unchecked, hair can go dry, brittle and lose its colour and strength.
Ayurvedic hair cleansing 2: wash using the right combination of herbs
The second part to cleansing and maintaining your hair is to use the right combination of Ayurvedic herbs to wash your hair. We have written in detail in earlier posts on how an Ayurvedic hair wash is formulated very differently from a synthetic shampoo.
A synthetic shampoo mainly has 3 kinds of ingredients: a detergent to clean hair, silicones to coat hair and hide the damage caused by the detergent and colours and fragrances to trick you into thinking the shampoo is a luxurious and safe product to use.
A natural hairwash like Krya’s range of hairwashes on the other hand have many different kinds of herbs to perform different functions: release excess heat, gently remove excess oil and dirt, restore the acid mantle of hair, improve hair growth, and clean the srotas (minor skin openings) in the scalp well so that the scalp is able to perform all its normal functions.
All these functions are achieved using edible grains and lentils and carefully chosen, hair improving herbs.
Differences between Ayurvedic hair care and synthetic hair care
There are a few critical differences between Ayurvedic hair care and synthetic chair care. For one, there are no herbs chosen purely for “fragrance”, lather” or “providing a good experience”.
For example Krya uses shade dried organic red rose petals in the Krya Classic hair wash which have a beautiful natural fragrance. The rose is used in the formulation to balance excess pitta on the scalp, and provide an astringent effect on the scalp so that the hair is able to deeply root into the scalp.
Similarly, an Ayurvedic hair care product will not contain fake ingredients like silicones to hide hair damage. So when you first move to a natural hair care product like one of Krya’s hair washes, your hair may seem much rougher than it did when washing it with a synthetic shampoo. This is merely the truth. What your Krya natural hairwash is revealing is the current , damaged state of your hair.
However, with careful oil application, a good diet and a consistent use of our hairwash products, many of our consumers have observed a reversal in this hair damage. In 1 – 2 months, your hair will start feeling much smoother and in better health as the damaged cuticles have been assisted in repairing themselves.
Also, an Ayurvedic hair wash product like Krya’s hairwash can seem much more difficult to apply on the hair and scalp at first. This is because our hairwash is formulated without synthetic emulsifiers and thickeners which give synthetic shampoo its heft and thickness. As with all good things, it takes a little bit of practice to get used to this format. Along with the obvious hair benefits, by eschewing the use of these synthetics we are also able to reduce the toxic load on your body by using purely herbs, lentils and grains in our hairwash products.
OK, I am convinced. What should I start with and how long will it take for me to see results on my hair?
Phew! We are glad you were able to see the benefits behind using pure natural and synthetic free products like ours. We have designed 5 types of hair care products in Krya for different hair needs. We recommend starting with the oil and the hairwash from each system for a start. If your hair is in bad shape and needs resuscitation, we recommend using the hair mask as well from the system you choose.
- If your hair is normal to oily and requires frequent washing, or is greying or thinning, choose the Krya Classic hair range
- If your hair is normal to dry, tends to tangle easily, breaks easily and is frizzy or dry, choose the Krya conditioning hair range
- If your hair has severe and stubborn dandruff, choose the Krya anti dandruff range
- If your hair has been chemically treated frequently, and is feeling very rough with poor hair growth, choose the Krya Damage repair hair system
- If you have been having medication and illness related hair loss (surgery, chemotherapy, long term medication, PCOD), choose the Krya Intense hair system.
Hair goes through some visible signs of improvement which you should look for when you switch to our hair systems. What we have described is the usual order of improvement. Depending upon your body’s state of health, your hair could experience these stages one at a time or several at a time. The time taken to cross each stage again depends on your health.
Observable stages of hair improvement:
- Balanced sebum production: hair and scalp stays “cleaner” much longer and needs to be washed less frequently.
- Sufficient sebum production (related to above) : Hair does not feel dry or break at the tips as sufficient sebum is produced in the scalp to coat the entire hair strand
- Scalp feels clean and healthy without any visible breaks, flaking or boils
- Hair tangles and breaks less and generates less static
- Hair is smoother and easier to comb.
- Hair reflects light better without any styling products or conditioners used – especially in sunlight. This means that your scalp is producing sufficient sebum and that your hair strands have no or minimal cuticular damage.
- Visible reduction in split ends despite growth in length
- Hair is able to grow longer – this usually is achieved when scalp is healthy and there is sufficient growth medium for hair to extend in length. This is also achieved when sebum production is sufficient and balanced – when there is too little sebum, hair length is poor and split ends are high as there is not enough sebum to maintain a long strand without damage.
- New hair that grows is thicker and blacker – there is a slowing down in hair greying
- There is a filling of hair in previously thinning areas like the crown of the head and the forehead
Do look for these signs of hair improvement when you switch to any of the Krya hair systems. These are ways to monitor the progress in your hair and give you confidence you are on the right track, despite the initial difficulties in switching to a natural system.
We hope this post resonated with you and you were able to get a sense of how deep, holistic and well thought out genuinely natural products based on Ayurveda are.
We also hope we gave you a sufficient sense of horror and disgust at how poorly thought through, bad for hair health and bad for the environment synthetic personal care products can be.
With the abundance that nature provides us, and the fantastic solid framework that Ayurveda provides us, we do not need to resort to synthetics to care for ourselves and our families. Do write to us with your questions, reflections and if you would like us to write about a particular subject you are seeking answers or insights to.