Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Frugal Hair Care

Inspired by the discussion sparked by my recent post about considering cutting my own hair, today we'll be discussing reducing your hair-care costs. Boys, this applies to you too, but I'm going to guess that you're not that interested (or don't spend enough on hair products that it's worth making an effort to cut back). I'm not offended. Come back later today for an article on gentrification.

So, for my remaining readers: here's the thing. What we're going to do here is focus on cutting costs by cutting back on the number of products you use. You may actually spend more on individual products using this method, but you'll use far fewer of them. The theory here is by that cutting back on products that damage your hair in the long term, you reduce your need for products to control or correct that damage. This is based on my own personal knowledge, gained when I began researching a hair-care regimen suggested by a stylist, so I don't have handy links--when in doubt, just Google the name of a chemical. Off we go.

So, the major thing you need to be avoiding are sulfates, or surfactants. Check your ingredients list: the most common surfactants are sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, and ammonium laurel sulfate. These ingredients serve two purposes: 1) They're industrial-strength detergents (that's right, like in laundry detergent or dishwashing soap). 2) They create lather. Lather has nothing to do with cleansing--it's an advertising trope that's so ingrained in us as product consumers that we link lather to a feeling of "cleanness."

Sulfates strip your hair and thus dry it out. That means that they create the symptoms of dry hair: frizz, flyaways, breakage, lack of shine, et cetera. You know, the things you buy products to deal with (this is a perfect example of products manufacturing needs to fill).

So, you say, I'll just stop using products with sulfates in them. Here's the problem: they're in the vast majority of drugstore shampoos, and many drugstore conditioners as well. They're hard to avoid. Another problem: sulfates serve a purpose, which is to remove water-insoluble ingredients (like silicone) from your hair. So here's what happens. You use a shampoo with sulfates. It dries your hair out, so your hair's frizzy and dull. You use a shine serum and an anti-frizz mousse, say, thus adding ingredients like silicone, dimethicone, amodimethicone, cyclomethicone, and cyclopentasiloxane to your hair. These compounds coat the shaft of the hair, preventing the natural hair oils from soothing the damage done by the sulfates until you strip them off using more sulfates, thus increasing the need for them. If you don't use sulfates to strip your hair of water-insoluble ingredients, they build up and eventually make your hair dull, limp, and flat.

So the trick is to stop using water-insoluble chemicals on your hair when you stop using sulfates. There will be an adjustment period of a week or two, while your hair gets used to its new chemistry. My hair went from very dry to slightly oily, but before long, the oiliness went away.

Your pared-down, hair-healthy, frugal hair-care routine looks like this:
1) Conditioner. Something without any sulfates or water-insoluble emollients/humectants. This is absolutely the most important part of the routine.
2) Styling products. I use a water-soluble gel and refreshing spray, both occasionally.
3) Optional: Non-sulfate shampoo or scrubbing conditioner. Many grocery stores now sell organic store brands; these are good places to look for a shampoo without sulfates. Don't be concerned if it lathers less. These are only really necessary if your hair stays slightly oily after you cut out conventional shampoo. Personally, I scrub my scalp with a cheap drugstore conditioner that meets my ingredients requirements (Suave Naturals).

My big bottle of expensive conditioner cost me about $30 three months ago, and it's not even half finished. My styling products aren't even a third finished. I estimate that once these bottles are used up, my hair care costs will be about $8-$10/month. That sure beats using up three styling products plus midrange shampoo and conditioner every month or so.

And, perhaps most importantly, my hair looks great.


Kelly Bejelly said...

Great post. I buy my conditioner (Jason's Natural) online for $3.99 vs. $8 . Grocery outlet also sells tons of organic shampoos/conditioner for cheap (typically half off the cost).

To answer your question, I went to school in Flagstaff, AZ and moved to PDX after graduation (I've lived here for 7 years).

Sarah said...

I've found salon shampoos on ebay for a fraction of the price. Instead of a 10oz shampoo for $15, I got a 30 oz shampoo for $22. Clearly not as good a deal as supermarket brands, but great for salon shampoo. I still can't give up my dye jobs though. It breaks my bank, but dye in the box isn't nearly as natural looking as when done by a professional.

SF Money Musings said...

I'm curious what brands you use aside from the Suave. I was looking into salon brands or ones without surfactants via Paula the cosmetic cop lady.

since you mentioned Portland, have you gone to get your haircut at that one place that looks really funky inside near the NW Gleason area? It's like Rudy's barber shop or something.

English Major said...

Hey, sf--I think I know which place you mean, but I've never been in. When I lived in Portland, I used to go to an awesome salon called Dirty Little Secret, on NE MLK. The cut was $40 + tip, and I paid that joyfully. I wish I could find something so cheap here.

As my "regular" brand (real conditioner & styling products), I use Devacurl, a salon line attached to the expensive New York salon where I used to go for special occasions (i.e. when my parents were paying). The products aren't nearly as expensive as the services, and they work for me like a dream.

If you're interested in trying something surfactant-free and you have half-bottles of salon products hanging around, you might want to try the swap boards at www.naturallycurly.com--you can get samples of lots of different things for the price of postage if you're sending samples in return.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for pointing out DevaCurl - I'm constantly looking for better ways to take car of my obnoxious curls. I notice they have a $185 hairdryer... does anyone know of a cheaper, yet still effective-for-curls model? I have always wanted to get a dryer with a diffuser, but none of my friends have curly hair, so I can never find a recommendation.

HC said...

I keep using Head and Shoulders (sulfate central) because it's the only thing I've found that will strip the oil from my scalp.

I'm not willing to endure totally limp hair and breakouts even if it would reduce my flyaways. (Also, I basically don't style my hair. I brush it in the morning [I shower at night] and it does what it does, which is more or less what I want. So I'm not punishing it that much, except for blow-drying in the winter.)

Point being: If anyone knows of a GOOD shampoo for oily hair that meets EM's criteria, I'd definitely check it out.

English Major said...

Stephanie, if you're a hair experimenter, I can only point you towards the boards at Naturally Curly and wish you luck. But this also looks like a pretty good and reasonably-priced blowdryer with diffuser. (I'm almost embarassed to admit it, but I actually own the $185 one—it was a gift. It's a good product, but not $185 worth of good.)

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