Part 2: All Natural Hair Gel and Leave-in Conditioners
Disclosure: All of the following were purchased with my own money. No free samples or biased reviews here! You have my honest, tested and researched opinions. Keep in mind that these results are my own personal experience...which might differ from yours.
This is part 2 of my review of less-toxic hair care products. Part one focused on shampoos and conditioners. This post will review leave-in conditioners and hair gel. Why lower your daily exposure to toxic chemicals? See here.
How do hair care products work?
Have you ever wondered how hair gel works? The hold comes from polymers. Polymers are used to give structure to everything from thin liquids to solids like furniture and airplanes.
- Polymers coat the hair and help strands attract to each other. A film dries and holds the hair until the bond is broken with water, wind, salt, combing, etc.
- Some polymers called polyquaterniums are chemically modified with a positive charge which binds to the negative charge of the hair. This is how conditioners leave a coating behind.
- Some polymers are derived from natural sources (hydroxyethylcellulose is a polymer derived from cellulose, xanthan gum is a polymer derived from sugar).
- Some polymers are derived from synthetic sources (silicone....see below).
- Silicone is a polymer made from the chemical element silicon.
- It coats the hair to make it appear smooth and shiny.
- Silicone leave a build up which makes your hair prone to breakage and dull.
- Silicone does not work well for curly hair.
- Silicone is not water soluble so you need a harsh cleaner (like sulfates) to get rid of it. If you avoid sulfates, then you need to avoid silicone.
- Silicone ingredients usually end in "cone" or "conal".
Alcohol is another ingredient found in most hair care products.
- Short-chain alcohols (ethanol, alcohol denat, propyl alcohol, etc...) spread easily, evaporate quickly but rob the hair from moisture, leaving it dry and frizzy.
- Fatty alcohols (Cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, etc...) are oily. They are used as moisturizers and thickeners in hair care products. They are better for curly hair.
- Propylene glycol is a humectant (attracts and retains moisture). However, there are some risks associated with this product and its use in Europe is limited.
And then there's fragrances and preservatives.
- Manufacturers can choose to label specific fragrance ingredients or they can label it "fragrance".
- Because many fragrances are irritants and allergens, the EWG automatically gives the ingredient "fragrance" an bad score of 8. But, this does not mean all fragrances are bad. It's up to the manufacturer, how much information they want to disclose.
- Vitamins A (retinol) & E (tocopherol), some alcohols, and some essential oils can slow down the growth of bacteria, but there are very few truly natural preservatives that work well.
- Many "natural" preservatives have been chemically altered making them not so natural.
- Any product containing water/moisture needs a preservative to prevent bacteria. So, if you choose bottled products, you're going to have to compromise with some type of preservative.
- Refrigerate (or store in a cool dark place) any products that you aren't currently using to prolong the shelf-life. Don't stock up. Buy from stores with high turnovers.
If there's one thing I've learned, it's how unnecessarily complicated hair care has become. Manufacturers have created a vicious cycle that makes people spend billions of dollars trying to fix their "dull and dry" hair.
Instead, why not switch to products that have gentle ingredients and allow your scalp to resume doing naturally what it's suppose to do. Not only will you reduce your daily toxic load, but your hair will feel better than ever.
Best Natural Leave-in Conditioners and Hair Gels
I decided to give Dr. Bronner's organic Lavender coconut hair creme a try.
Ingredients: Water, Organic Coconut Oil*, Organic Ethanol, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Lavender Oil, Organic Quillaja Saponaria Extract, Xanthan Gum, Tocopherol
Bronner's claim that this "hair creme" provides light styling hold while making hair silky soft without any synthetic ingredients." The hold is definitely "light" but I feel that's being generous. It's not a hair gel. It's more of an anti-frizz serum. It did help to define my curl and left my hair super soft. This product is very well reviewed by people with thick curly hair.
One tiny dab/drop was all I need. If you use too much, you end up with a greasy looking head, so use very little! I liked the light lavender scent. It also comes in peppermint.
The only ingredient of concern in this product is the ethanol (grain source). Because of the abundance of oil, I didn't find this product drying at all.
Alba Botanica Fragrance-Free Leave-in conditioner.
Ingredients: Aqua (water), cetearyl alcohol, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, glycerin, behentrimonium methosulfate, panthenol, camellia sinensis leaf extract(¹), moringa pterygosperma seed extract, agave rigida (sisal) extract, trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek) seed extract, althaea officinalis leaf/root extract, aloe barbadensis leaf juice(¹), lavandula angustifolia (lavender) extract(¹), calendula officinalis flower extract(¹), chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract(¹), citric acid, phenoxyethanol, potassium sorbate.
There are only two ingredients of concern: the phenoxyethanol and potassium sorbate. Both are preservatives and are classified as irritants.
Phenoxyethanol has become a popular replacement for parabens because it doesn't release formaldehyde, but because of its ability to penetrate the skin, Europe, which has much stricter regulations, limits the concentration you are allowed to use to 1%.
I preferred the feel and simple ingredients of Bronner's hair creme. I also think Bronner's controlled my frizz better.
Giovanni's LA Natural Styling Gel. I think this product provides good hold without being all sticky and it gave me soft defined curls. My husband and son also tried this gel and asked me to purchase it again when we ran out.
Ingredients: Aqua (purified water), VP/VA copolymer, hydroxyethylcellulose, tocopherol (vitamin E), citric acid, phenoxyethanol, citrus grandis (grapefruit) seed extract, fragrance (includes essential oils), *aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice, *helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, *glycine soja (soybean) seed extract, *betula alba extract, malva sylvestris (mallow) extract, *achillea millefolium extract, *chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, *equisetum arvense extract, *lavandula angustifolia (lavender) extract, *rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, *salvia sclarea (clary) extract, *thymus vulgaris (thyme) extract, *tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) flower extract, *urtica dioica (nettle) extract
The only ingredients of concern in this product is the fragrance (which is not identified) and the phenoxyethanol (see above).
This product sells for $11.79 at my local grocery store (Zehrs/Loblaws). I order if from iherb.com for almost half the price.
argan oil. It comes from the Argan nut which grows in Morocco. It adds a beautiful shine to hair and is good to tame frizz. I tried Josie Maran's 100% Argan oil (not to be confused with the Argon oil hair serum which has a bunch of other ingredients in it).
Argon oil is expensive though. If you want to try Josie Maran's 100% Argon oil, go to any Sephora location and ask for a sample.
For the price, I think I'll stick with my Bronner's hair creme.
I hope to continue updating this page as I try new products.