1. Make sure your diet is packed with hair-loving nutrients. While vitamin supplements may come in handy, it doesn’t hurt to try to get most of your nutrients from whole food sources. Fortunately for vegans, we don’t have to look any further than the plant world for ingredients to boost hair health. Clinical Nutritionist Kimberly Snyder recommends turning to fruits, veggies, and nuts to get your daily dose of B vitamins for healthy hair. Try snacking on pumpkin seeds, Snyder suggests, which contain biotin (vitamin B7). Biotin not only promotes the growth of strong, resilient hair, it also encourages increased hair growth. (Pumpkin seeds also contain vitamin C, which helps produce sebum, the body’s natural oil that conditions skin and hair.) Other biotin-rich foods include: nutritional yeast, carrots, Swiss chard, strawberries, raspberries, avocados, almonds, and walnuts. Eating these foods in their unprocessed form ensures you’re getting a rich supply of biotin and other nutrients.
2. Steer clear of sulfates in shampoo. Not only are sulfates derived from palm oil, the harvesting of which contributes to the loss of jungle ecosystems, they’re also nasty to your hair! Commonly known as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, or simply, SLS, these surfactants breakdown oil on hair. If you’ve ever washed your hair with shampoo that builds a substantial lather, you can bet that sulfates were responsible. While hair stripped of oil may feel amazingly clean, we want to retain some of our hair’s natural oils since these nourish and protect the hair shaft.
3. Be careful not to over wash hair. If you wash your hair everyday, this one may take some getting used to. Even gentle, SLS-free shampoos are designed to remove some oil from your hair, including the oil produced by the scalp to moisturize hair (sebum). While no one wants to walk around with greasy hair, it’s important to not go overboard in the shower. In fact, stripping the scalp of too much oil may cause the scalp to over compensate and produce even more oil.
How often one should shampoo varies among individuals and may change as the scalp adjusts to a more gentler ’poo routine. Begin by shampooing only every other day and allow scalp moisture levels to adjust. If it suits you, try going longer without shampooing. On off days, rinse hair with cold water or wear a shower cap.
4. Check the ingredients in your hair products. In particular, look out for dimethicone, a type of silicone, which, as I mentioned in an earlier post, can prevent the hair shaft from absorbing oil. This popular ingredient gives hair a soft, slippery feeling, leaving the impression of health strands. Once I started using silicone-free products, I noticed a huge reduction in split-ends in my own hair. While you’re at it, also take it easy on products that contain alcohol in the presence of little emollients, since these can sap your hair of moisture. Hairspray is a common culprit here. For all varieties of heat styling, I recently started using Jane Carter Solution’s cruelty-free Natural Hold Spray Gel, which contains neither silicones nor alcohol. My hair is stubbornly straight, but this spay holds my curls all day (without the sticky-crunchy feeling of conventional hairspray). Note: this product does contain synthetic fragrance.
5. Give hair a helping hand with leave-in conditioners and weekly masks. The ends of hair are particularly vulnerable to breakage and that ratty, could-use-a-trim look. Applying a leave-in conditioner to the ends of your hair daily helps protect hair from damage and thereby preserve the definition of your haircut. Once a week, treat yourself to a deep-conditioning hair mask. There are several vegan-friendly options available in health food stores, but it’s also fun to DIY! Here’s a simple one to try with ingredients in your kitchen: Raw Avocado and Coconut Oil Hair Mask.
6. Invest in a natural, cruelty free bristle brush. Several stylists recommend avoiding hairbrushes with nylon, plastic, or metal bristles since these are more likely to snag and damage hair over time. Boar bristles are a popular alternative since this gentler, natural bristle helps distribute oil produced by the scalp along each hair shaft, thereby nourishing the ends of hair. However, the savvy-chic vegan may be more interested in a cruelty-free natural option. Cebra Ethical Chic, maker of fair-trade accessories, produces a 100% natural vegan sisal brush made from sustainable beech wood. Gentler to hair and the earth!
Photo: (top) EmilySoto; (featured image) Victoria Nevland via Flickr; Mary Hood