Set Free - The Book About Hair by Richard Stein


Cleaning Your Hair

Shampooing seems like it ought to be the simplest of all hair procedures. It isn't. Most of my clients really don't know all they should about how or when to wash their hair...or with what.


It has been my observation over the years that daily shampooing is not only acceptable; it is advisable. It is healthiest for the Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Steinhair and scalp for two reasons. First, the hair itself--especially in the city--gets dusty and dirty. (Just look at your windowsill on a warm day after the window has been open for some hours, and you'll have a good idea of what has been deposited on your head--and in your hair.) Moreover, the same substances that make conditioning agents so effective in smoothing and protecting the hair shaft (waxes, silicon compounds, oils) are like magnets for debris in the air. In all likelihood, your hair needs to be cleaned of this junk every day.

Second, shampooing cleans the scalp, flushing it of oil and other surface products that have been shed--like dead cells--that can block its "breathing" and interfere with new hair growth. It also works to discourage infections and--perhaps most important--stimulates the scalp so it can continue to renew itself.

So wash as often as you like...every day, if possible. But be careful how you do it.


What I recommend to most clients is exactly what is routinely done at almost all salons: dilute your shampoo. The typical commercial salon shampoo is much too concentrated to be used just as it comes from the bottle...and this is equally true of the brand-name shampoos you are likely to be using. These products are overly harsh--especially when used on a daily basis; they are detergents, after all. They are also likely to leave a shampoo buildup that makes hair dull, limp, and sticky; at the same time, they may quite literally be eating away at each hair's structure with chemical compounds. Diluted shampoo may not entirely solve some of the problems inherent in using such compounds daily on your hair, but it will certainly minimize them.

I like to dilute my shampoos in a one-to-seven ratio of shampoo to water. And if you are conscious of such things--and want to do all you can for your hair--dilute with softened or distilled water...or one of the floral or herbal waters you will learn how to make later in this chapter.

You will probably want to make a week's worth of shampoo at a time. There are lots of high-tech houseware stores around now that have great-looking dispensers in which to mix your concoctions.

An added bonus with diluted shampoos--and the accompanying diluted negative effects--is that you can feel better about washing your hair more than once a day...for those people who wash after exercise or more often than usual when the weather is hot or muggy.

Two soapings are required when using a diluted cleaning product... but you'll still be saving shampoo! And remember, even an expensive shampoo is much less pricey when it is cut seven to one.


I can't pretend to be happy with the products I see on store shelves. I avoid them myself and can rarely find one to recommend. My frustration with the quality of the products I found commercially available for cleaning hair was a strong impetus to the development of the Fleuremedy line of natural hair care products, which are based on the finest herbal and floral extracts and the fewest F.D.A.-approved chemical preservatives consistent with stabilization of the inherently unstable ingredients (to maintain shelf life). It is primarily these preservatives and stabilizers in other commercial preparations (as well as the artificial coloring and fragrances) to which I object. They can do great damage to hair and scalp.

But Fleuremedy isn't always available, and it is impractical to make an effective shampoo. (Don't use bar soap! It leaves curds in the hair and is drying.) So where do you go for shampoo and other personal-care products when you want to avoid some of the nasty stuff in the mass-produced variety?

I always feel fairly confident sending clients to their local health food stores for shampoo. Formulas vary, but you can learn a lot by reading labels. Don't be afraid to ask questions of the people who run the store; most are knowledgeable and anxious to help you educate yourself. Established lines have good quality control and many more natural ingredients than "commercial" products. I don't know about you, but I would always rather use the more natural product. (I'm sure you will agree that it is at least disconcerting to read "methylchloroisothiazolinone" on the label.) A good rule of thumb is to choose the product with the fewest chemical-sounding names and the most ingredients that sound comprehensible and/or familiar, like "oil of jojoba." Something you do want to stay away from in any product you use on your hair is alcohol. Although not frequently found in shampoo, it is a common ingredient of hair-grooming products like gels and mousses and can be found even in conditioners--a most unlikely place for something so drying.

Some ingredient benefits you might want to keep in mind when you are shampoo shopping: jojoba is good for dry hair; protein-enriched shampoos with milk, egg, or beer help with the reproteinization of damaged hair; and shampoos with henna, a natural vegetable product--and an ancient treatment technique--which coats the hair (see Chapter 10 for more about henna), will add body.

Some product lines I particularly like are Orjene, Weleda, Rainbow, and Schiff. You can find these in health food stores and catalogs.


Opinions vary as to whether a person should switch periodically from one shampoo to another. Some people say that shampoo is shampoo, and you can use one over and over again with no fear of buildup or--conversely--loss of effectiveness.

I don't think it can hurt--and it may help--to consider a switch every six months or to rotate regularly among two or three brands you particularly like.


So how do you wash your hair? First, make sure you use the right shampoo and dilute it in the seven-to-one ratio I already mentioned. Next, be certain to wet your hair thoroughly so that the shampoo "spreads" quickly and cleans rather than builds up in globs. This is important.

When you are ready to shampoo, apply the preparation you will use to the temples first (this often ignored area can get flaky; it also helps you to move the shampoo up with the blood flow), then to the front, then to the back and crown. If you feel you need more shampoo to get the right amount of lather, apply a little more behind the ears and above the back of the neck, then massage the shampoo upward once more. (Think how often in brushing, combing and smoothing you go in just the opposite direction!) Use the pads of the fingers to massage gently (keep your massage "progression" in mind) until the whole head is lathered.

Rinse (you can use regular tap water for this rinse; I suggest making your own herb or flower water--recipes to follow--for the final rinse) and repeat. But this second time, once the lather has been worked up, use a widetoothed comb and start at the ends of the hair, working the comb through carefully. You will start the stroke progressively closer and closer to the scalp as the hair begins to lather and detangle.

If you intend to use a conditioner after you wash, you can once again rinse with tap water. Otherwise, use the special rinse water you will have prepared.


Rinsing is the single most important part of your shampoo.

There are two elements to a good rinse: the rinsing technique and what you rinse with.

First of all, good rinsing technique requires that you use enough water to accomplish the job. This sounds ridiculously self-evident, but at our salon we often find that when water is first run through a client's hair to wet it, residual suds appear. And one of the biggest dullers is soap left on the hair. So water, water, water...cascades of it. "Squeaky clean" is the standard that comes to mind.

The next important consideration is what you use to rinse with. And while I can--and will--give you some recipes for herb and flower waters that will at the very least make the last rinse a more aesthetically pleasing experience, you should know that the composition of the basic tap water you use may affect the kind of "clean" your hair is getting.


If your hair looks drab even after you have done your best for it, you should consider the possibility that the water you are washing in is hard. This means it contains dissolved minerals (iron, copper, and sulfur are some of the more common ones) that can not only dull your hair--and sometimes even tint it pinkish or greenish--but damage it, too. Dissolved minerals and other impurities can act on protein in the hair shaft to break it down and discolor it, leaving you with dry, dull, treated-looking hair that will be increasingly resistant to your attempts to make it look shiny and healthy.

If you do have hard water, my suggestion is to make gallon jugs of softened water to use for shampooing and--just as important--rinsing. You should notice an immediate improvement in the condition and look of your hair...especially in the winter. Use any good, water softening preparation and follow the directions; if it's good enough for your laundry, it's good enough for your hair.

An alternative to softened water is plain distilled water. You can buy distilled water in gallon jugs at any grocery store. It isn't expensive but can be an annoyance to lug home. Distilled water is distinguished by what is not in it rather than by what is.

By the way, some people think that a cold-water rinse helps to flatten out the hair's cuticle so it appears shinier. There is no real evidence that this is so, and it is my own belief that the warmer the rinse water, the more likely it is to carry off dissolved dirt, waxes, and other debris. If you are convinced of cool-water benefits, however, rinse completely with warm water first, then once again with cool.


Best of all, in my opinion, is rinse water (and shampoo-mixing" water) that you have made yourself. Begin with softened tap water (or water you have softened yourself) or distilled water, then make yourself jugs of these special waters to use whenever you need them.

Following are some recipes; you may want to alternate among them, or you may find that a single one is best for your hair and scalp...or most pleasing to your sense of smell. This is also a recipe area that encourages your creativity: if there is any particular herb or flower for which you feel a special affinity, experiment with highly diluted "teas" made with your ingredient of choice: simply brew as you would any tea, then add purified water. (Try, for instance, a tea of birch bark and wood--it's a favorite with the Finns in their saunas.) You'll have a less satisfactory result with ordinary fragrance products because they are made with oils, alcohol, and stabilizers. Nothing beats an "essence" of your own creation.

Scented herbal waters give you the extra benefit of aromatherapy--naturally--as you wash and rinse your hair. They are a real pleasure to use.

Rose or Orange-Blossom Water
If you don't choose to create your own "brew," you can make some lovely floral water with the small bottles of rosewater and orange-blossom water that can be bought in gourmet shops (they are used as flavoring in baked goods and drinks). Use the bottled preparation in a 1:20 dilution. This should be enough to leave just the gentlest hint of scent in the water.

Chamomile water is especially suitable for lighter hair shades and, if used in the summer (when there is subsequent sun exposure), will keep your hair bright looking.

Chamomile water should only be used every other day. It can also be used alone--undiluted--as a refreshing shampoo substitute in the summer.

Chamomile Water
Steep 1/2 cup of dried chamomile flowers in 2 cups of boiling water. Let stand until cool. Strain off the flowers and dilute to fill a gallon jug.

Here's another basic, all-purpose rinse water that is especially good for shining up your hair if it has dimmed from overtreatment or too much indoor heat.

Gleam Rinse
Mix 1 part apple cider vinegar with 7 parts water. Store in a closed container.

Richard Stein Hair Salon, New York City

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