The Healthy Scalp
The scalp is the living support system of the hair. And a healthy scalp is the prerequisite to strong, shiny, healthy hair. Although your hair needs mainly to be stripped of dirt and oil and then protected--treated more like the finish on a fine piece of furniture--your scalp needs to be nourished and stimulated, to be cleaned and toned and moisturized...just as your face does.
So your hair and scalp have significantly differing requirements for optimal care: what is good for the hair strand in terms of cleaning and protection (think of the detergent in shampoos, which may irritate the scalp--and the waxes in conditioners, which may coat it) is not necessarily what is going to be kindest to your scalp.
I have tried to get around this problem with my natural remedies. They are for scalp and hair--although not always in equal proportions--and unlike many preparations for the treatment of the hair alone, they and their application are especially beneficial to the scalp. And although I include a few of my special "scalp restoratives" here, you should be aware that--whatever else it may do--nearly every recipe in this book nourishes the scalp.
In some ways, the herbal preparations presented in this chapter and elsewhere are the most important feature of this book. They are certainly closest to my heart, as I have worked on the concept of natural remedies and developed the actual recipes from the time I started in this business. I am also fortunate enough to be able to bring what I know to people in the form of an actual line of products--the Fleuremedy line for hair--which is sold in my salon as well as carried by some of the more exclusive department stores in the country.
It was long a dream of mine to take what I knew and--literally--package it. I have done that, and now that the Fleuremedy line is available, my clients and other people who are interested in natural hair care have no excuse to pass up healthy, organic maintenance and treatment products when they don't want to fool around with herbs and a blender.
Most of the dozens of recipes you'll find here and elsewhere are for single application amounts (exceptions are noted) natural ingredients without preservatives can quickly spoil or become rancid. By the same token, it is important that the recipe ingredients themselves be fresh; this means that once you have bought an oil, a vitamin, an herb, or some other dry ingredient, care must be taken in both handling and storage. The refrigerator (or freezer, for dry ingredients and some herbs) is usually the best place to keep natural, organic substances (even those--like bran--that don't "require" refrigeration), which should always be tightly covered and/or wrapped to keep it from drying out, becoming stale or picking up odors.
To repeat, in general, these preparations are not intended to be stored or saved. If you have very short hair, you may wish to halve the recipe.
Occasionally someone will have an allergic reaction to a preparation--natural or otherwise. If you know or suspect you are sensitive to an ingredient in a particular recipe, don't chance it. And while any food allergy you have may not manifest itself dermatologically, you should be aware of your body and its sensitivities. If you have reason to be concerned about a potential reaction, test a small patch of skin with a preparation before applying it to your hair and scalp. Your skin is just as capable of absorbing substances and chemicals as your digestive system is.
You should, of course, use squeaky-clean utensils to mix your hair preparations. A small glass bowl or a Pyrex measuring cup is ideal. Avoid metal containers and tools; a metal may leach into the preparation in microscopic amounts or sometimes cause a subtle chemical reaction that can render the preparation less effective.
Use either a blender or a food processor to emulsify the preparation that requires it.
These preparations are meant to be applied to--and then massaged into--clean hair and scalp. (See the following chapter on shampooing for the correct technique.) Your hair should not be wet but just barely damp (towel-dry, please...and squeeze, don't rub, the water out). Then give yourself a chance to relax while you let the recipe do its work: apply, massage, and wrap hair in a towel. Lie down briefly, if possible, with the feet higher than the head so that you relax and the blood goes to the head and scalp, hastening absorption of all the good ingredients in these natural remedies.
The massage techniques I describe later in this chapter are used in the application of the remedies. Massage is an important adjunct to these natural hair preparations. By stimulating the flow of blood to the scalp, it enhances the absorption of the nutrients in the preparation and at the same time refreshes and cleanses from the inside. Regular scalp massage will be of great benefit in giving you the kind of hair you want: glossy, full, lively.
Correct application is as important as the preparation itself. If you don't give your scalp the opportunity to absorb the nutrients you are providing it, and the hair shaft the benefit of the cleaning/glossing/protecting, you are only accomplishing half the job. Beyond that, giving yourself a few moments' respite from whatever else you are doing is just plain good for you. It's an ideal time to pamper the rest of yourself...including your mind. I personally find it particularly refreshing to meditate during a treatment.
Almost as important as the integrity, freshness, and naturalness of the recipes themselves--and the massage for application, the relaxation during absorption--is the way in which you rinse out these cleaning, conditioning, and treatment preparations...or for that matter, rinse out anything you put on your hair and scalp. All the good things you "feed" your hair can be nullified by poor attention to removing substances that might dull the hair shaft and attract dust and dirt or stay on the scalp and cause irritation and/or shedding of the outer layer of epidermis. In some cases I have specified a "shampoo rinse" or special herbal rinse (see Chapter 3). In other cases you can rinse with pure tap water--if your water is soft and relatively free of chemicals and foreign matter--or bottled/distilled water if it is not.
Once you have prepared a special rinse water (which can be done in large batches--this will keep), you may want to have some of that in your refrigerator for use whenever you wish. You can also use a special rinse water after your regular rinsing in plain water to give your hair that extra-special boost and shine.
Most of these ingredients are available in your local health food store...and sometimes even in the large supermarkets that seem to pepper the exurban countryside. Some can be found in your own garden; others are more difficult to get and will require a resourceful pharmacist or your willingness to initiate a relationship with a vendor who deals in more unusual herbs, oils, and extracts. Those of us who live in New York City have Caswell-Massey and Kiehl's Pharmacy at our disposal; other cities may also have their herbalists, natural hygienists, and New Age shops. Fortunately, many outlets maintain a brisk mail-order business, so you need never be without an ingredient you seek.
By the way, "standard" strengths of ingredients (like the various oils) are what I use. And when a "capsule of vitamin E" is referred to, it is the 400 l.U. size. (An eighth of a tablespoon of wheat germ oil can always be substituted for the vitamin E in a capsule.)
Finally, begin to do a little experimenting of your own; and once you have found what your hair and scalp seem to respond best to, you may want to keep in mind that particular ingredients are more appropriate for dry or damaged hair, others for oily and/or coarse hair:
One of the things I do suggest is to protect your scalp by diluting your shampoo. (Would you wash your face with a harsh, full-strength detergent every day?) Instructions are given in the next chapter.
The moisturizing and toning of your scalp is also a critical part of keeping it healthy. It is not the same as conditioning your hair, which is basically a smoothing, protective process for the hair shaft.
Here is a good basic moisturizer for the scalp:
Sometimes the scalp doesn't need conditioning as much as it needs toning (just as coarse, oily skin does). Here are two "tonics" for drab, oily hair that comes from overactive sebaceous glands in the scalp. As they tone, they will add highlights and shine. (Note: These tonics should not be used on colored hair.)
Scalp problems not only affect the way your head feels. they also affect the way your hair looks. And although most scalp problems are rather easily solved with a little attention to your skin's particular needs, some can compromise not only your hair's beauty, but its very life.
Most scalp problems are caused by too much or too little: too much sun, too much heat, too much brushing, too much processing (all resulting in dryness or irritation), too much conditioning (which can leave a gluey residue on the scalp, preventing the skin from breathing and causing irritation and itching), and the use of too many styling aids (gels, mousses, sprays, and so on); conversely, there's too little washing (itching, debris on the scalp, dandruff), too little moisturizing of the scalp (again, important to distinguish from conditioning the hair), and too little stimulation of the scalp (preferably by massage rather than brushing). Furthermore, many people suffer from a contact dermatitis that masquerades as dandruff from allergic reactions to their shampoo (often because it is used in much too concentrated a form), their conditioner, or those aforementioned styling aids. People with sensitive skin may also get this from detergent-washed clothes that are rinsed inadequately.
Basic scalp problems should be treated daily until a noticeable change occurs, then twice a week until there is a definite change. After that, experiment with other remedies to see how the hair and scalp react.
Real dandruff, which is a fungus infection-a sort of athlete's foot of the head--can be serious as well as unsightly. It can spread (to the eyebrows, for instance) if it is not taken care of. It almost always calls for a doctor's attention if it does not immediately respond to an over-the-counter preparation.
Be aware that one of the risks of self-treatment for dandruff is the exacerbation of a dry-scalp condition from using a medicated product.
You can help nature along with the "wonder vitamin": E. It's great for spot-treating dryness. Simply puncture a 400 I.U. capsule and rub the oil (you can substitute wheat germ oil) into any dry spots before going to bed. Leave on until morning, then wash it out in the course of your regular shampoo.
When your whole scalp is dry, or has been abused by sun, swimming, perms, or coloring, you might want to try this heavy-duty treatment:
By now you know that I consider scalp massage the single most important thing you can do on a regular basis--at home, on your own time--for your hair.
As an avid daily practitioner of yogic scalp massage for over sixteen years, I am completely convinced of its benefits--either as an addition to any other exercise you do or by itself, as part of your hair care routine.
Massage encourages hair growth by stimulating the scalp's rich blood supply and helping to flush away metabolic waste. Moreover, massage supports the natural process of hair fallout in a process not unlike gentle skin exfoliation, which keeps skin looking bright and fresh rather than dull and grayed.
Finally, there is the pleasure and calming effect of the massage itself--sort of a workout for the head. (It's also good for the hands, arms, and shoulders. You'll feel that the muscles have tightened pleasantly after a good head workout.) Massage is a wonderful relaxer and stress reducer and, if you do it right, has all the benefits of a minimeditation.
It is not hard to do this sort of massage, but the technique can take a little time to learn. You will want to remember to use the pads of the fingers, keep the hand spread out starfish style, and maintain a constant pressure. It is also important to get your fingers as much on the scalp itself as you can. Working backward--from the nape of the neck up against the direction of hair growth--will help you to get under the hair and lift it as you go.
This massage can be done before washing or after. If you do it after, with your hair still damp, you will be amazed at how effective it is in putting body into your drying hair. Be sure you are seated, to maximize the relaxation effects.
This is the best ten-minute restorative I know of...and it's wonderful for your hair.