Friday, August 7, 2015

A Few of My Favorite Things

I realized that I don't share some of my favorite products here! Which isn't a great loss to you because I can't use many hair and skin products due to sensitive skin and being a real grouch about fragrances.

But here are some of my favorites. Some are, "Almost great, but at least they're fragrance-free" and some are, "Where has this been all my life?" I buy all these things on my own, so these are unsolicited raves (and realistic ones).

1) Free & Clear Hairspray.
 Just about every hairspray I've found that says "fragrance-free" on the bottle actually contains a "masking fragrance." That's just insulting. This product has NO FRAGRANCE. It also has good humidity resistance. It is just a little stiff-ish when dry but there are 2 ways to manage that. 1) Spray at a distance from your head and move the bottle while you spray - short strokes (read the bottle, follow the instructions). Use light layers to form an invisible net over your hair, don't try to wet it with spray. 2) Rub a little conditioner or pomade or hair "serum" in your palms and squeeze your hair with that once the spray is dry.
Unless you use a lot, your hair won't look immobile and you won't have flashbacks from nineteen hundred and ninety nine. Sometimes I can get it locally, sometimes not. It's a mid-price product, but if fragrance-free is a requirement for you, it's worth it.

2) Ouidad Finishing Mist Setting and Holding Spray is my all-time favorite hairspray that melts frizz, adds shine and holds with absolutely no crunch, (if you get any crunch, squeeze your hair and it will be gone); but it can be itchy. So I usually use the Free&Clear if I need hairspray to avoid fragrance and itch. Alas, because otherwise, this product is perfect. I once styled my hair at 4 AM and it was still reasonably intact by 9 PM with this spray.

3) Aquanil HC is a topical hydrocortisone lotion for eczema, skin rashes, insect stings, anything that itches or rashes. If you use anti-itch products and find that they spread as well as toothpaste, this will amaze you. It's not cheap, but it is so lightweight and fluid and easy to spread that you use very little without losing any effectiveness. It's not at all greasy or heavy. No fragrance added. It doesn't seem to interfere with lotions or creams you need to put over it. I have lots of eczema this spring and summer and I've been applying it liberally and barely made a dent in the bottle. It was a worthwhile investment.

4) Stay-On Satin Pocket Bonnet. It's not really satin - it's flexible and light. For the price, it's a great product. The outside is slippery (satiny) and the inside is fairly smooth, but not slippery. If you need the slippery side towards your hair, you'd just turn it inside out and have the added benefit of having the seams on the outside too. You can wear your hair loose under this without it getting too wrecked overnight, or in braids or twists and it's not all mashed up near your head. The best feature? This thing has ties! It can lap over your forehead and has ties in the back at the nape of your neck. It stays put for me. No circulation-crushing, hairline-hair-breaking, "one-size-fits-all" elastic to leave you with goofy lines on your forehead or pin your ears down.

5) Bass Cushion Brush, Wood Bristles: This brush is the living end. Best brush ever. I have standard issue Northern European hair. Wavy. It becomes a a fluffy wreck in some areas and smooth 1940s waves in other areas when I brush it. But when I set (curl) it and it needs to be brushed to smooth or if I want to detangle with a brush or darn it, I just want my hair brushed because it feels good - this brush is IT. I had a Denman Brush and I thought - oh, this is better than the prickly bristle brush that used to rip through my hair and break it off; this brush puts it to shame.

The bristles are smooth bamboo and well-spaced. They "give" so they don't tear through your hair thanks to the cushiony base. It doesn't hurt, it has a nice feel, and it's darn attractive. Handle the brush and your hair gently and it will last quite a while. If you have tangles or are getting resistance, use a little oil for dry hair detangling (let it sit there for a few minutes) or conditioner for wet-hair detangling.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Blogging Perils

Blog readers, occasionally bloggers check their blog statistics - how many people are reading the blog, from which sites did they come? Where in the world are they?

I research hair information and share it via this blog hoping people can benefit from it. Link to the blog if you find it helpful. Share it with people who might find it useful. Bookmark blog posts. If you don't read English, there is a Google Translate link over on the right and you can have a good laugh at how Google translates the page into whichever language you prefer.

Obviously I want people to use this information and I tell you where I get my information so you can go find it yourself and make your own conclusions if you like. If I have information which isn't common knowledge or isn't taken from dozens of "hear-say" sources, I put it in the references. I don't do in-line citations because this is an informal blog and I think they're distracting when you want to read quickly.

I say this information is free for you to use and I'm happy for you to use it. But if you reproduce it and don't say where it came from, you have stolen it because you were not the one who compiled it. In the age of the internet, plagiarism looks different. It's not uncommon to see the exact same words repeated on website after website and that isn't necessarily wrong unless the original source was never cited. If you don't say where you got it, you telling the world you created it. And that is theft - you are taking credit for the product of somebody else's work. It's illegal too, even on the internet.

I have a "Creative Commons" copyright for this blog (click this link if you want to know what that means for this blog), and I often put copyright labels on photos. I even put copyright notices within the text. It's not as though I'm not aware of this problem. In fact, that same Creative Commons notice (top right of the page) has a copy-and-paste citation for this blog "Based on a work at so it couldn't be easier to show where you got the information.

I found this blog creating hits on my blog via links between posts. Imagine my surprise to find - my blog! Only with a different title. And with ads! In other words - somebody swiped my blog and they actually have the gall to try to profit from it. I'm really annoyed. If somebody wants to translate a post from my blog in another language, all they need to do is leave a comment on a post asking me about that. I read blog comments before posting them so I can delete the spam - so I see all the comments.

If I were merely reporting other people's research, that would be one thing. But I actually cobble together information from multiple sources and add in my own understanding of biology and chemistry and comments and observations I have read people make about their hair and those I have made myself - to fill in the gaps. Sometimes I hypothesize. I share recipes. This blog is an original creation. Please acknowledge that and refer to this blog if you use information from here - including the recipes. A link and mention the blog name is adequate.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

New (May 2015) Update to Penetrating Hair Oils Post - Charts!

This is the link to the original post.

I have added a chart, with some updated sorting of oils to make it easier to figure out which oils work for your hair and if you have some you like, maybe to help you predict other oils which may work also.

I hope people find this helpful - it's one of the more popular posts on the blog.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Medicated Shampoos, Conditioners, Co-washes and Treatments For Itchy Scalp, Dry Scalp, Seborrheic Dermatitis (List)

Below is a list of medicated shampoos and conditioners for troubled scalps, sorted by product type and active ingredients. If you have dry scalp - see the end of this post for ideas (scroll to the end).

Many of these shampoos have herbal ingredients which can either soothe, irritate (or do absolutely nothing). Proteins may soothe a dry scalp, but can also be irritating for some people.
Essential oils like tea tree, rosemary, thyme, sage, (neem oil is going in small letters because it's so stinky) can be antifungal if used in adequate concentrations. But they can also cause sensitivity reactions or allergic reactions.
Sometimes detergents in dandruff shampoos can irritate already-irritated skin, however, there are some detergent-free options in this post and there are medicated conditioners at the bottom of the page for people whose skin or hair does not tolerate detergents. You can wash your hair and scalp with medicated conditioners.
Not everybody with itching will have flakes, not everybody with flakes will have itching. Some people get painful or itchy bumps instead - but the treatments are usually the same.
If you're not getting relief from any of these treatments, you may be reacting badly to fragrances, preservatives or some other ingredient in hair products. Or you may be dehydrating your scalp too much - see the final paragraph after the list.
And if you're trying lots of medicated shampoos and conditioners and topical treatments with no relief, please see a doctor or dermatologist if that is an option available to you. They can prescribe medications that may be more effective.

Lets talk about rotating treatments! If you are a frequent customer in the itchy or flaky or bumpy, scaling, patchy scalp department, there is a good chance you need to have 2 or 3 different medications that work on standby. Why? Because the fungus (Malasezzia) that is strongly implicated in scaling and flaking and itchy, unhappy scalps has many different variations, if not true sub-species, then like sub-species. For example, you might use a zinc pyrithione shampoo and it works now, but it may not work as well later on. It's possible that some fungi on your scalp that were causing the itch and inflammation were not affected by that medication - or they developed some resistance to it. Each medication has a slightly different method of "attacking" fungi and some methods work better on some fungi than others. So if that happens, you need a different medication to control these fungi the next time around. Some fungi will be controlled with zinc pyrithione, others will be controlled with ketoconazole or selenium sulfide. Sometimes sulfur will get the job done and sometimes salicylic acid (with or without sulfur) works best.
Some people need to rotate between different outbreaks or flare-ups. Some people need to rotate every time they wash their hair. It's not fun, but it helps.

If you need to use medicated shampoo often and your scalp is not oily, or all the shampooing dries skin and hair - consider using a medicated conditioner as a "shampoo" - it won't lather but it might provide some relief. If you have dry or curly hair - you might love it.

The Active Ingredients: Look for the listed concentration. If concentration is not listed on the bottle - be wary, but it might still work.
  • Zinc pyrithione: Antifungal, may reduce scaling, may relieve inflammation. Effective at 1%, also effective at 0.5%, response may be slower than 1% (or not).
  • Tar: Slows proliferation of skin cells. Skin cells proliferate too quickly with dandruff - so you end up with scaling and flaking. Effective as 0.5% active tar.
  • Salicylic acid: Anti-scaling (remove scales and reduce flaking), can be anti-inflammatory and anti-septic. Effective at 1% to 1.5% and greater, sensitive skin may need 0.5% to avoid irritation. This exfoliates, so it may help with bumpy cysts if your scalp tolerates it.
  • Selenium sulfide: Antifungal, effective at 1%
  • Sulfur: Mild antifungal and antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, mild exfoliant. Effective at 2%
  • Ketoconazole: Antifungal. Effective at 1%, 2% is the most-effective, prescription dose (non-prescription outside the USA).
  • Tea tree oil: Anti-fungal, anti-septic when the concentration is adequate.
  • Rosemary oil, thyme oil, cedar oils: Anti-fungal, anti-septic, may promote healing.
  • Hydrocortisone: Inflammation is a critical part of the itchy-flaky scalp issue. Hydrocortisone reduces inflammation and relieves itching. Effective at 1%.
  • Piroctone Olamine: Antifungal, Effective at 1% (unless I find otherwise)

Note: This is organized by active ingredients. Also indicated are: Sulfate-free, silicones. Sulfates ("sulfate detergents," a class of anionic detergents) and silicone emollients/detanglers are not necessarily bad for itchy or scaly scalps, but some people avoid them so I'm just trying to help you narrow the field. "Sulfate-free" shampoos are not necessarily milder or non-drying. 

Medicated Shampoos

  • Denorex Maximum Strength: Tar 1.8%, Sulfate-free
  • Mill Creek Dandruff Control Shampoo:  Tar 0.5%
  • Neutrogena T-Gel: Tar 0.5%

Tea Tree
  • Aubrey Organics, Scalp Rescue Shampoo, Tea Tree & Primrose: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified: Sulfate Free
  • Jason Normalizing Tea Tree Scalp Normalizing Shampoo: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Nature's Gate Tea Tree Calming Shampoo: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified: Sulfate Free

Zinc Pyrithione
  • AG Control Anti-Dandruff Shampoo : Zinc Pyrithione 2%
  • Aveeno Nourish + Dandruff Control: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Avlon KeraCare Dry & Itchy Scalp Moisturizing Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1%
  • Clear Scalp Therapy shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Derma Zinc Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2%
  • DHS Zinc Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2%, sulfate-free
  • DS Laboratories Danderene High Performance Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2%: Sulfate Free
  • Dr. Miracle's Cleanse & Condition 2-in-1 Dandruff Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1%
  • Head and Shoulders Shampoos: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Jason Dandruff Relief 2-in-1 Shampoo+Conditioner:  Zinc Pyrithione (concentration unspecified)
  • Kenra Dandruff Shampoo :Zinc Pyrithione 1.9%
  • Mane N Tail Daily Control Anti-Dandruff shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 1%
  • Matrix Scalptherapie Antidandruff Shampoo:  Zinc Pyrithione (concentration unspecified) contains silicones
  • Neutrogena Daily Control 2-in-1: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, water-insoluble silicone, water-soluble silicone+wheat protein
  • Nioxin Scalp Recovery Cleanser: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Noble Formula ZInc Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione 2%, fragrance-free
  • Redken Scalp Relief Shampoo: Zinc Pyrithione (concentration unspecified)
  • Suave Dandruff Solutions Anti Dandruff Shampoo Coconut and Shea Butter: Zinc Pyrithione, contains silicones
  • Suave Dandruff Solutions Anti Dandruff Shampoo Mint and Eucalyptus: Zinc Pyrithione,  contains silicones
  • Suave Professionals Men 2-in-1 Classic Clean Anti-Dandruff: Pyrithione 1%, contains silicones
  • Zincon: Zinc Pyrithione 1% sulfate-free

Salicylic acid
  • Avalon Organics Medicated Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: Salicylic acid 2%, 
  • Denorex Extra Strength: Salicylic acid 3%, sulfate-free
  • Giovanni Don't Be Flaky Soothing Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: 2% Salicylic acid: Sulfate Free
  • Home Health Everclean Shampoo: 1.8% Salicylic acid, available in scented and unscented
  • Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo: Sulfur 2%, Salicylic Acid 2%: Sulfate free
  • Mineral Fusion Anti-Dandruff Shampoo: 2% Salicylic acid: Sulfate Free
  • Neutrogena T-Sal: Salicylic acid 3%, sulfate-free
  • Pure & Basic Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Tea Tree and Rosemary: 2% Salicylic acid, sulfate-free, water-soluble silicone
  • Sebex Shampoo (generic for Sebulex): Salicylic acid 2%, Sulfur 2% 
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Deep Cleansing Shampoo: Salicylic acid, concentration unknown, also tea tree oil. Sulfate Free (this contains soap which may or may not leave some residue if you have hard water)
  • Thicker, Fuller Hair Dandruff Sulfate-Free Shampoo: 1.8% Salicylic Acid: Sulfate Free

  • Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo: Sulfur 2%, Salicylic Acid 2%: Sulfate free
  • Sulfur 8 shampoo: Sulfur
  • Sebex Shampoo (generic for Sebulex): Salicylic acid 2%, Sulfur 2%

  • Nizoral: Ketoconazole 1%, sulfate free
  • Regenepure: Ketoconazole 1%, sulfate-free, not suitable for vegetarians
  • Boots Anti-Dandruff Ketoconazole shampoo: Ketoconazole 2% - this is a UK brand

Selenium sulfide

  • Head And Shoulders Clinical Strength: Selenium sulfide 1%, silicone
  • Selsun Blue Medicated Dandruff Shampoo: Selenium sulfide 1%

  • Dr. Marder's Total Relief Shampoo: 1% Hydrocortisone, Sulfate-free
    • See the "Spray, liquids, gels and DIY list below for more treatments with hydrocortisone
Piroctone Olamine
  • Alpecin Dandruff Killer Shampoo, also contains salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione
  • Pilfood Dandruff Shampoo 
  • SebaMed Anti Dandruff Shampoo 
  • Hegor Shampoo for Persistent Dandruff (European brand): Piroctone Olamine and Pyrithione zinc

Medicated Conditioners and Co-washes: 
  • Avalon Organics Medicated Anti-Dandruff Conditioner: Salicylic acid 2%
  • Avlon KeraCare Dry & Itchy Scalp Moisturizing Conditioner: Zinc Pyrithione 1%, Contains silicone
  • Dr. Marder's Total Relief Conditioner: Zinc Pyrithione 1%contains an "evaporating" silicone - less likely to build up on hair
  • Giovanni Don't Be Flaky Nourishing Conditioner: Salicylic acid 2%
  • Head and Shoulders Conditioners - not "2-in-1 shampoo plus conditioner," that is shampoo (Itchy Scalp Care, Classic Clean, Damage Rescue, Green apple, Instant Relief): Zinc Pyrithione 0.5%contains silicones
  • Head and Shoulders Moisture Care Co-Wash: Zinc Pyrithione 0.5% Contains silicone
  • Jason Normalizing Tea Tree Conditioner: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Mane N Tail Daily Control Anti-Dandruff Conditioner:  Zinc Pyrithionecontains silicone
  • Nature's Gate Tea Tree Calming Conditioner: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Suave Scalp Solutions Anti-Dandruff conditioner Coconut and Shea butter: Zinc Pyrithione, contains silicone
  • Sulfur 8 Medicated Light and Original formula hair/Scalp conditioner: 2% sulfur - this is not a creamy hair conditioner, it is petrolatum-based
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Purification Masque: Salicylic acid, concentration unspecified, also neem and tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Balancing Conditioner: Salicylic acid, concentration unspecified, tea tree oil, concentration unspecified
  • Yes To Carrots Scalp Relief Conditioner: Tea tree oil, concentration unspecified, Salicylic acid, concentration unspecified 

Sprays, Liquids, topical gels or creams and DIY treatments:
  • Biolage Anti-Dandruff Treatment (this is a spray): Piroctone Olamine
  • Derma Zinc Cream: Zinc Pyrithione 0.25%
  • Essential oil treatments, mixed into oil and left on for a little while before washing, or mixed into your favorite shampoo:
    • Mix 3-5 drops of tea tree oil or rosemary essential oil or thyme essential oil or cedar essential oil into 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of oil such as olive oil. Apply to the scalp, leave on 10-30 minutes and shampoo out. 
    • Mix 3-5 drops of tea tree oil or rosemary essential oil or thyme essential oil or cedar essential oil into 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of shampoo or conditioner and use as you normally would - allow the shampoo or conditioner to stay on your scalp for several minutes before rinsing.
    • 3-5 drops of essential oil = up to 1/16th of a teaspoon, 0.15 ml-0.25 ml
  • Miconazole nitrate creams (for the scalp is an off-label use as an anti-fungal, use at your own discretion)
  • Noble Formula Zinc cream: Zinc Pyrithione 0.25%
  • Psoriasin gel: Tar 1.25%
  • Scalpicin 2-in-1: Salicylic acid 3%
  • Scalpicin Maximum Strength: Hydrocortisone 1%
  • Selsun Blue Scalp Itch Treatment: Hydrocortisone 1%
  • Shea Moisture African Black Soap Dandruff and Dry Scalp Elixir (Spray for the scalp): Salicylic acid, concentration unspecified, tea tree oil concentration unspecified
  • Tolnaftate Creams or liquid (for the scalp is an off-label use, use at your own discretion)

DRY SCALP? Got an especially dry or itchy scalp? Scalp needs soothing? 

  • Wash only as often as you need to to keep ahead of itching. Just wetting and drying our skin creates irritation, so don't wash your hair/scalp unless it's dirty or looks bad or is getting more itchy when you don't wash it.
  • Look for balanced shampoos and conditioners. "Balanced" in a shampoo means:

  1. Look for more than 1 detergent (that makes it milder). For example, sodium lauryl sulfate + cocamidopropyl betaine or C14-16 Olefin sulfonate + cocamidopropyl betaine; any of these + decyl glucoside, or combined with Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
  2. You probably want some conditioning ingredients like cetrimonium chloride, polyquaternium ingredients, some emollients like plant oils or glycol distearate, sucrose cocoate, PEG-cocoate or silicones to soften skin make detergent less irritating.
  3. You also want humectant ingredients which can act as anti-irritants that will help your scalp retain moisture and reduce irritation like polyquaternium-7, panthenol, sodium PCA, glycerin, hydroxypropyltrimonium honey, aloe, propanediol, glycine betaine, or allantoin.  These can be great for your hair too. 
  4. In conditioners (if you put those on your scalp), look for the same things - aside from conditioning ingredients, look for those irritation-reducing humectants to round out protection for your scalp.
  5. Try applying some oil (avocado, olive, jojoba...) to your scalp or a little fragrance-free skin lotion 10 minutes before you wash your hair. This softens the skin and protects it from the drying effects of washing. CAUTION: If you have a fungal component to your scalp troubles, oil can make it worse. Dry scalp can actually be a by-product of an "ecosystem imbalance."

If you live in a dry or windy area, protect your scalp from the wind because that can be so drying to skin - even a light scarf provides a good barrier.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What's Cookin' - Easy Humectant Curl Defining Jelly-Cream

This is based on my Easy Humectant Curl Boosting Jelly recipe and inspired by reader comments, and by the problem some of us have with glycerin in winter or dry weather. It's a light-hold curl and wave definer. This recipe is very easy to make. 

What's new?
-Addition of your choice of emollient blend to make this creamy for softness and lubrication (oil+plant butter or oil+conditioner). 
-Increased acacia gum to keep the definition in waves, curls and coils. 
-Options for humectants for those who avoid glycerin.
-Adjust the amount of emollients (oils, butters, conditioners) to suit 1) your hair's needs and 2) the amount of "hold" you want (see below)

The ingredients:
-Water: Solvent, dliutent
-Xanthan gum: Creates a thick "gel," provides medium hold with humidity-resistance, may slow water loss.
-Humectant of your choice. Glycerin(e), or hydrolyzed protein, or panthenol or Hydroxypropylrtimonium honey (honeyquat) or a combination of these: Humectants bind water, boost curls, maintain hydration. NOTE: Panthenol is sold as a cosmetic additive, hydrolyzed proteins are sold as cosmetic additives but are also more widely available as products like Neutral Protein Filler and Green Beauty Products Real Protein. Hydroxypropylrtimonium honey is sold as a cosmetics additive.
-Acacia gum (gum arabic): Adds a bit of "crunch" for more hold, helps emulsify the oils. This powder is sold as a dietary soluble fiber supplement and also sold as a cosmetics ingredient.
-Emollient: Shea butter (or cocoa butter, mango butter or whichever butter you prefer) OR commercial hair conditioner
-Oil: Jojoba oil OR grapeseed oil OR any oil you prefer (avocado, olive, sweet almond, rose hip, etc.)

I use a double boiler to control the heat for this recipe. 
The gel, before adding any oils or butter blends or conditioner.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
The recipe:
  • 1 cup water (plus an extra tablespoon or 2 which will evaporate as you heat). 230 ml
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons xanthan gum (2% or 5g or 6.15 ml)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon acacia gum (gum arabic) - more for more hold or if you use more emollients (0.6g to 1.25g, 1.25 to 2.5 ml)
  • Shea butter and jojoba oil as your hair requires (see "How much butter blend to use" below) OR oil and commercial hair conditioner blend
  • Humectant options: 1/2 teaspoon glycerin - make this a scant half-teaspoon; more than 1/4 teaspoon, less than 1/2 teaspoon (1% or 2.5 g, or 2.5 ml)
    • Instead of glycerin: 1/2 teaspoon liquid panthenol or 1/4 teaspoon powderedpanthenol, or 1/2 teaspoon hydrolyzed protein or protein additive or 1/2 teaspoon "Honeyquat" (Hydroxypropyltrimonium honey).

1) Make the oil blend (If you are using oil and conditioner instead of butters, skip this step)
Measure out 2 parts liquid jojoba oil (or an oil of your choice) to 1 part solid shea butter. Either combine these in a bowl and place in a larger bowl of warm water to melt, or add to the heated, prepared gel to melt.

How much butter blend or conditioner/oil to use? 
  • To keep the most hold (or for silky, not-dry hair): 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon (1.25 to 2.5 ml)
  • Hair that needs extra flexibility and does not get oily-looking easily: 1 to 3 teaspoons (5 to 15 ml)
  • Hair that really loves oils and butters: 3 teaspoons to 3 tablespoons (15 to 45 ml)

2) Make the gel
Put water, xanthan gum and acacia gum the double boiler over medium to high heat. When water boils, turn it down. Whisk the ingredients well throughout the heating time. The mixture will thicken right away, but it is not finished yet. Whisk until no more xanthan gum powder is visible and the gel goes from thick and heavy to smoother, less stiff and easier to stir. Turn off heat. 

3) Add the oil/butter blend or oil and conditioner
For oil/butter blend: Add the melted oils or liquid jojoba oil and solid shea butter to the warm gel and allow it to melt as you mix. Mix well with a fork or whisk to combine oil and gel. If you like, use an immersion blender. Once well blended, remove from heat and cool to a touchable temperature.
For oil and conditioner: Add equal parts oil and conditioner to the cooled (comfortable to touch the bowl) gel and mix well

4) Add humectant
Mix the glycerin or hydrolyzed protein or panthenol or honeyquat into the cooled gel.

Scoop into a sterilized bottle and refrigerate immediately - or add preservative according to manufacturer specifications. Xanthan gum is anionic; check that preservatives are compatible with anionic ingredients.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
Recipe Variations (other additives and ingredient substitutes)
  • Magnesium sulfate (1/2 teaspoon) - this is a humectant and curl enhancer but it can be drying to hair.
  • Aloe. Replace up to half of the water with aloe vera juice - the edible/drinkable kind, not a pre-thickened gel.
  • If shea butter makes your hair look dull and waxy, skip the butter and use liquid oils only. 
  • Agave nectar - provides hold, especially in dry weather. Adds shine. Use 1/4 to 1 teaspoon.

Need more hold?

Mix equal parts of this curl definer with your favorite stronger-hold styling gel. It has mixed well with the gel I mixed it with, which is a basic hair gel similar to Ecostyler or LA Looks or Salon Care gels.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Glycerin and Humidity

Cindy asks a winter inspired question from frigid Wisconsin where humectants are making the winter of 2014-2015 even more frustrating. You need to know that here in the Midwestern U.S.A. (like Wisconsin), winter tends to be very cold and very dry. So even when we see the outdoor humidity is, say, 50%, if the temperature is 10°F (-12°C), the air is still extremely dry and the dewpoint - that temperature indicating how much water the air could hold if it was fully saturated - could be below 0°F. That is desert-dry air.

I zero in on glycerin because it can be a curly or wavy-haired person's dry-air nemesis. But I didn't leave many out, so read on. "Humectant" is a very broad category including salts, glycerin, plant gels like aloe vera or flax gel, algae extracts, hyaluronic acid, hydrolyzed proteins, sodium PCA, lactic acid, urea, witch hazel (without alcohol) and other ingredients that attract water. Not all humectants are "created" equal - different humectants behave differently in hair. I think when people complain about humectants, they are having the most trouble with simple humectants like: glycerin, propylene glycol, sorbitol.

Humectants attract water to themselves. Humectants like glycerin are great at grabbing water vapor out of the air. When you have a hair gel with glycerin in it, when there is ample water in the air (humidity) - the air is going to be hydrating the glycerin in the product, which is going to help your hair stay hydrated. Well-hydrated hair has more bounce and definition. A second benefit of glycerin in products (when there is ample water vapor in the air) is that glycerin keeps hold-providing ingredients that would otherwise create a brittle, candy-like finish from feeling brittle and candy-like. Glycerin (and sorbitol and propylene glycol) take water vapor from the air to hydrate the dry gel in your hair and keep it more flexible.

When there isn't enough water vapor in the air (low humidity and/or low dewpoints), the gel loses that benefit from the glycerin and the gel becomes more brittle, creates friction and that means hair that feels dry and crusty and looks dull.

Whether humectants actually dehydrate the hair - pull water from the hair is not well-studied. And it is an "it all depends" sort of question. It is based on a reasonable hypothesis; that if glycerin attracts water from the air, when the air is drier than your hair, water will move from your hair to the glycerin. For that matter, when the air is less humid than the inside of your hair - the water will tend to move from your hair to the air around it - glycerin or not. So does glycerin create a stronger "pull" (water gradient) than dry air alone? It probably does exert a stronger pull on the water in your hair than dry air alone. But not all humectants do that. Think of glycerin like brown sugar. In humid air, a bag or tin of brown sugar absorbs moisture and forms clumps. But it dries out quickly too and the clumps become hard as a result.

Don't discount the effect of that dehydrated gel sitting on your hair because 1) glycerin can't pull enough water out of your hair to keep a gel from getting brittle and 2) brittle gel creates friction - that means rough, tacky hair that frizzes when it contacts other hairs and objects and snags at cuticle edges. A crusty, dehydrated product in your hair is bad news for how your hair looks and feels.

Mitigating circumstances
If you used oil or leave-in conditioner under a glycerin-containing product, that layer of emollients would slow down water loss from hair. If there are other humectants that are not a ready to give up their water as glycerin in the same product, the effect might be reduced. Oils and conditioners act as "occlusives" - the layer of oil or leave-in conditioner is not water-soluble and that helps slow the movement of water in and out of hair.

Why glycerin, why must you be so fickle?
To get to the heart of why glycerin can be a problem ingredient for some people in some weather, one big issue is the size of the molecule. The smaller the molecule, the less water it can bind and hang on to when exposed to very dry air. Glycerin, sorbitol and propylene glycol are "sugar alcohols" - not alcohol like the kind used in hairspray. They are small molecules. There are not a lot of places on the molecule to bind water. Think of glycerin as a "simple sugar" as you would think of candy. Sure, glycerin and sorbitol and propylene glycol aggressively pull water to themselves, but they also lose it fairly easily. Emollients (oils and conditioners) can slow that down, but not stop it. So when the air is very dry - glycerin is a much less effective ingredient. Glycerin is a fair-weather friend. When the humidity is just right, glycerin can help your hair look and feel great. When the weather gets too dry, glycerin can't pull enough water to itself and it loses it's effectiveness. When the air is very humid and glycerin pulls lots and lots of water in - poof - your hair loses definition. 
Glycerin is a small molecule and not
very complex.

Formulation can be a problem
Often, a problem with a glycerin-containing product is that it uses only glycerin for a humectant and "flexibilizer" and does't use any emollients or film-forming humectants at all. Well-balanced products avoid this pitfall. Different humectants have different actions and a combination of different size and molecular weight humectants might be okay for a person who finds that just glycerin and no emollients or film-formers is a mess.

Is it just me?
There are people who live in climates that are dry year-round and use glycerin with no problems at all. And there are people who can only use glycerin when the humidity is "just right." There is no simple rule to determine how your hair will respond because it's not just a porosity issue. It's an issue of climate and weather, what other products you use in your hair, how sensitive your hair is to increased friction, how often you go outdoors. Trial and error. As usual. 

Is there a winter-proof (dry-weather-proof) humectant?
A great big molecule like the complex carbohydrates in flax seed gel or hydrolyzed proteins behave differently in hair than glycerin. These ingredients don't rely heavily on water vapor to work well. They don't have aggressive water-grabbing force. They're more subtle. There are many places to bind water in these molecules. Not only that, but they also form clear, flexible films over your hair. Water-hugging films that tend to slow water loss from the hair. If these large, moisture-retaining humectants which I call "film-forming humectants" are combined with oils or conditioning ingredients in a styling product, the humectants and oils and/or conditioning ingredients combine to actively attract and hold water and slow water loss, providing longer-lasting hydration and lubrication. The link in the previous sentence takes you to a list of film-forming humectants.
One of the many complex carbohydrates
in flax and other plant gels. It is a larger
molecule and more complex, capable of
forming water-hugging films.

Hair that cannot tolerate simple humectants like glycerin or propylene glycol may still do well with film-forming humectants in styling products. What we want from styling products is extremely personal. If you are looking for hold or definition, these are some styling products which may work:

AG Weightless Volumizer
AG Mousse Gel
AG Re:Coil
Aussie Real Volume Mousse
Aussie Instant Freeze Gel
Camille Rose Aloe Whipped Butter Gel
Curl Junkie Curl Queen
Curl Junkie Pattern Pusha
Biosilk Rock Hard Gelle
Darcy's Botanicals Curling Cream Gel
DevaCurl Set Up and Above
Goddess Curls Gel
Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curl Scrunching Gel
Herbal Essences Set Me Up Gel
Herbal Essences Naked Volumizing Souffle
Jessicurl Confident Coils Styling Solution
LA Looks Nutra Curl Moisturizing Gel
Salon Care Aloe Vera Styling Gel
Pantene Pro-V Stylers Max Hold or Strong Hold Gel

For products that are based on film-forming humectants, including many natural and plant-based gels, go to  this page on this blog and scroll down to the list of products including film-forming humectants. Some contain glycerin - check the ingredient lists. Most are light to medium hold and can be topped with a gel with stronger hold, like Biosilk Rock Hard Gelee (from the above list) if necessary.

Why are plant-based, film-forming humectants less "fickle?" Stuff about plants.
Flax seed is an example. The gel comes from water contacting the seed. Seeds do this so that when they are in the soil and the soil is moist, the seed can attract water, form that gel which assures the seed will stay moist enough to sprout. If a seed gets wet, begins to sprout and then dries out, it dies. So this is a brilliant adaptive strategy to assure seeds sprout to create new plants and more seeds.

With aloe vera, that is a desert plant. It has thick, leathery leaves with spines on them to discourage animals from eating the juicy leaves and to prevent water loss. The gel in the inner leaf does not dry out quickly, a good strategy for a desert plant.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Why Does White (or gray, light blonde, highlighted) Hair Turn Yellow: And what to do about it

This applies to white or gray, highlighted and blonde or light brown hair that may tend to become brassy or develop an unnatural color tint - yellow, red, orange or greenish.

White hair has no pigment. Although sometimes that's not entirely the case as a hair turns white. And sometimes there's a dark medulla to add color. The lighter your hair overall, the more likely discoloration from any source will show.

What causes yellowing of light-colored hair?
  • Water chemistry: Hardness or natural minerals, chemicals used for water treatment, seasonal water chemistry changes all impact whether or not your water discolors your hair. For example, if your water source comes from lakes and rivers, it varies greatly (within drinkable limits) with changing seasons and the treatment needed to make the water safe to drink. Some water is high in iron which can give hair an orange, red or yellow cast. Other things in water (metals) can cause green or brown discoloration. Alkaline water can be also problematic (hard water that feels slippery). It's not just minerals that vary, it's nitrates and nitrites, the amount of chlorination required, use of chlorine vs. chloramines for disinfection and whatever your water picks up from pipes on the way to you. 
  • Hair products. Some oils and emollients, preservatives, and colorings can leave a yellowish cast on hair.
  • Scalp oils. Sometimes you own sebum can give your hair a yellowish cast. And your own sebum can vary with seasons - sweat, heat or cold, activity level, microbial activity on your scalp. Natural sebum is a good thing. Don't worry about this one. But if you have oily scalp and you are not forcing it to produce lots of oil by over-washing it, wash it regularly - just don't dry it out. If you wear a hat often - wash the hat regularly or put in a hat band or liner that you can remove and wash. Also remember to wash your comb or brush - any tool that is in contact with your hair every 2-3 weeks in water with some diluted shampoo or hand cleanser to remove any "old" oils that might deposit on your hair.
  • Smoke, pollution. Your hair can pick up these things. Especially close-up smoke like that from smoking cigarettes.
  • Swimming pools and ocean water. Minerals in pool fungicides can cause a greenish or yellow tint, chlorine can increase hair porosity. Salt water dehydrates hair and causes porosity-increasing friction.
  • Sunlight: UV light tends to make hair become more porous and it may also induce yellowing in some hair.
  • Chemical processes: Perms, relaxing can make hair more porous so it is more easily discolored.
  • High-heat styling. Heat from hair dryers on the "high" setting or much higher heat from curling irons or straightening irons tends to make hair more porous so it is more easily discolored. 

What to do?

1) Purple shampoos or conditioners - usually made for grey, blonde or silver hair. Purple is meant to cancel out the yellow shade - to deposit a tiny bit of purple to trick your eyes into not seeing the yellow. A purple additive such as "Ardell Red-Gold Corrector" is a commercial product which can be added to shampoo, hair gel or leave-in conditioner so that it is a light shade of purple if you prefer not to use an unfamiliar product.

2) Bluing. Mix a few drops of liquid laundry bluing into shampoo or conditioner for a fairly vibrant blue - or just a little into a leave-in conditioner or hair gel so it is "sky blue." This color of blue is very effective at canceling out yellow shades in white hair and also in toning down brassiness. It especially enhances cool shades of brunette and dark brown hair and can give blonde and light brown hair an ash (cool) tone. If purple doesn't help - blue (bluing) may work better.

1 and 2: a) Use food coloring instead. You can use a few drops of blue food coloring in shampoo or conditioner, or blue + red to create purple. If this mixture, or a purple shampoo almost works, but you still have some reddish shade appearing, add the same number of drops of green food coloring to the mixture (example: 1-2 drops each of blue, red, and green). Have a mirror handy. If you over-did the color additives, wash your hair a second time.

3) If minerals or metals (copper, iron for example) in water are discoloring your hair, try a distilled water wash. Warm some distilled water and use it for your entire wash and rinse. This can help diagnose whether water chemistry is a problem for your hair. If you notice a benefit from doing this, you might try combining it with one of the suggestions from #4 or #5 below to remove minerals from the hair, or with a purple shampoo or a bluing-added product from #1 or #2.

4) Hard water shampoos and treatments (commercial). Ion Hard Water shampoo, Ion Hard water treatment, Malibu Wellness Hard Water Weekly Demineralizer or Malibu Wellness C Blondes Weekly Brightener. These treatments can remove hard water minerals (calcium, magnesium) and other problem minerals from your hair. But if you have more white hairs than colored hairs or you have very light blonde hair or light highlights, you must do a test section first to be sure you will not get discoloration from the treatment.  These treatments combine mineral chelators such as EDTA or citric acid with mineral dissolvers and detergents to remove product build-up. Hard water can exacerbate product build-up.

5) Lemon juice treatment (Do It Yourself). This is shampoo-free. It may help remove mineral deposits and it may brighten blonde and light brown shades. Mix equal parts lemon juice (strain out any pieces of pulp) and distilled water. Apply this to your hair (put it in a squeeze-top bottle for easier application). Work it in well and cover your hair with a shower cap, treatment cap or wrap your hair in plastic. Leave this in your hair with some heat for 3-5 minutes, then rinse well and follow with cleanser/shampoo and conditioner.
The pH of this treatment is very low, so you may want to do a test-strand first to assure it is not too drying for your hair. The combination of citric and ascorbic acids help dissolve and trap (chelate) minerals and remove them from your hair. 

You can make mock lemon juice with 1.5% each citric acid and ascorbic acid in distilled water. This will also have a very low pH and need to be used on a test-strand to make sure it does not dry your hair.

6) If you notice yellowing after adding a new product, the product may be the problem. Discontinue use of the product for a while. If it is more than one product causing the problem, scan the ingredients of the offending products for ingredients they have in common. Those ingredients may be potential offenders. Oils, some preservatives, herbal ingredients and colorings can discolor hair, for example.

7) If you began using oils in your hair, or if you have been sweating more than usual - you may need to shampoo your hair more thoroughly. You may find that some plant oils cause yellowing and others don't. Or some parts of your hair may be more inclined to yellow than others.

8) Treat any scalp disease you may have (seborrheic dermatitis, for example) so the oils on your scalp have the right composition and are not over-produced. You may want to avoid tar shampoos (unless that is the only thing that works) because they can cause discoloration.

9) Manage porosity in your hair by using conditioners, protein as your hair tolerates it, handle your hair gently (don't brush vigorously, don't rub and scrub it with a towel - just blot and squeeze dry), use oil pre-wash treatments to prevent "waterlogging." See this post for more about managing porosity.

10) Wear a hat, scarf of "UV buff" in the sun or use a UV protectant in hair products such as Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride, Quaternium-95 and Propanediol (they need to be together),  Polysilicone-15 or Benzophone-4.

  • Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride has been demonstrated in lab tests to prevent yellowing and increased brittleness in white hairs exposed to UV light (Gao and Bedell, Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2011. Volume 52, p.103-118)

11) For swimmers, use one of the mineral-removing treatments from #4 and #6 occasionally. If your pool allows, apply a little coconut oil or conditioner to your dry hair and wear a swim cap. The oil or conditioner protects the hair from pool water and the swim cap doesn't allow new water to constantly flow past and through your hair.

12) Other commercial products: 
  • Manic Panic "Virgin Snow" is a conditioning "white hair toner" (it's purple in the bottle) with no peroxide that is left on the hair for 15-30 minutes to correct discoloration. 
  • L'Oreal Colorist Secrets 'Brass Banisher" is a product that does contain peroxide for removing unwanted brassiness (red and yellow colors). If all else fails...