Set Free - The Book About Hair by Richard Stein


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 Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Steinof 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:

For Dry HairFor Oily Hair
Rose PetalsMarigolds
EucalyptusHerbal Vinegar
HoneyWheat Germ Oil
Egg YolkYogurt


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:

Scalp Moisturizer
1 tablespoon coconut oil1 tablespoon natural bran
1 tablespoon nettles2 capsules vitamin E
 (400 I.U. each)

Process in blender for 30 seconds. Massage into hair. Leave on 10 minutes and then wash out with two or more latherings of diluted shampoo.

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.)

Tonic for Natural Blond Hair
1 cup apple cider vinegar2 ounces marigold petals
Juice of 1 lemon1 ounce witch hazel
1 ounce nettles3 cups water
2 ounces chamomile 

Bring apple cider vinegar and lemon to a boil in a small glass or enamel pan. Add herbs and take the "tonic" off the heat. Add witch hazel. Steep for 5 minutes and then add water to stop process. Strain and let cool. Use whole amount--1 cup at a time--rinsing the tonic through your hair and then massaging it into the scalp. Leave on 5 minutes and rinse with clear water before styling.

You can also use this preparation as a "refresher" when you comb and style. Just spritz it on.

Tonic for Natural Brunette Hair

As above, but substitute sage and rosemary for chamomile and marigold, and orange juice for the lemon juice. Follow above directions for use.


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:

The Vitamin E Cure

Puncture one 400 I.U. vitamin E capsule and squeeze contents into a small cup. Add 3 tablespoons of avocado or sunflower oil. Mix well and comb through hair.

Wearing rubber gloves, soak an old towel in hot water. Wring it out and then wrap it, still steaming, around your head. Leave the towel on until it cools. Repeat wrap and steam 7-10 times. With diluted shampoo, shampoo hair 3-4 times to get rid of all the oil.


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.

  • Just at the start, keep your fingers gathered and place them at the base of the neck, with the fingers and thumb of each hand "pinching" the pair of muscle cords on the back of the neck. Begin with light pressure and a kneading motion on these cords. Do this for about thirty seconds or until you feel an opening-up sensation.
    Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Stein
  • Move the fingers slowly toward the crown of the head, making little circles as you go. These little circles should not "scrub" the scalp. Rather, if you have the right pressure, the scalp will move under your fingers--and over the skull bone--which is the effect you want to achieve. As you do this, allow the hand to spread so that the thumbs stay just behind the ears (in that soft spot) as the fingers advance toward the crown. The trip from base of the neck to the crown should take about a minute. Relax and enjoy it; don't hurry. You should begin to feel a tingling.
    Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Stein
  • You can press a little harder now, as you move your thumbs over your ears toward your temples, keeping the fingers squarely on the crown. You will want to move your thumbs in a slight zigzag pattern to make sure you have covered the sides of the head. This part of the trip takes about thirty seconds.

    Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Stein
  • When your thumbs are on your temples, begin to move your fingertips over the top of the head, toward your front hairline. (You may need to push up under the hair with your fingers to get directly on the scalp as you are moving in the direction of the forward growth.) You should take a full thirty seconds to get to the hairline; once there, make gentler circles (once again with your fingers bunched) all around the periphery of the hairline for one minute. Be careful not to scrub--especially here. Take your time and lift the hair from the hairline.
  • Now put your head between your knees and, placing the very tips of the fingers on the scalp (starting at the front hairline), lift your fingers through the hair all over your head to detangle and to urge out any dead hairs that are ready to fall. When you have done this to top, sides, and back, sit back up slowly and then rest--with your eyes closed--for one minute. Try to keep your mind clear by focusing on how your scalp feels.
  • Finally, plant the fingers firmly on the scalp in the forward position (thumbs on temples, fingers splayed over the top of the head), and start a back-and-forth vibration of the scalp over the skull. Move your fingers straight over the back of your head, using the thumbs as a fulcrum and only allowing them to move toward the back of the head as the fingers descend once more to the nape of the neck. Finish off with a few seconds of kneading the back of the neck, then quickly tap once all over the head with the very tips of the fingers, so that the touch feels like gentle rain.

    Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Stein
  • Smooth your index and middle fingers a couple of times over your forehead, from the center out, and then draw them over the eyebrows twice, to release any tension in the face.
  • Sit with your eyes closed and your hands folded in your lap, this time for two minutes. Once more, concentrate on the sensation of your scalp and face.

This is the best ten-minute restorative I know of...and it's wonderful for your hair.

Richard Stein Hair Salon, New York City

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