Dear Alice,

What is up with this new trend of putting food products like olive oil or avocado juice into hair? Is it more healthy than using shampoo?

Thanks, Hair Freak

Dear Hair Freak,

There's something to be said for "getting back to nature" when it comes to hair care, but all natural isn't always all good. Certain products like coconut oil, for instance, have been shown to strengthen hair when used as a conditioner, but others like mineral and sunflower oil can't claim the same effects. If you're in the market for some food-based grooming products, here's a quick rundown on natural versus chemical-based hair care.

Items that you might normally consider better suited for your plate and not your head have long been used in beauty and health care products. The benefit to this is that certain veggies, fruits, and grains are packed with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. These may have therapeutic effects on hair, nails, and skin, especially for those who are sensitive to the chemicals, dyes, and fragrances used in many mainstream products. People who choose to whip up their own homemade toiletries and cosmetics may be able to find a host of recipes online or in their local library or bookstore, but other natural products may be as close as your nearest drug store or supermarket. The key is to refrigerate homemade products and use them within one to two days.

If you'd rather stick to pre-made products, take a quick look at their labels and lists of ingredients. Though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tightly regulates designation of products as "organic," this is not the case for products marketed as "natural," which may still contain chemicals and preservatives. Most people associate a halo of suds with a squeaky clean mane so many "natural" products still throw in chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate to get this effect, which doesn't occur with 100% natural products. Some additives also help products last longer and are much cheaper to produce, allowing "non-natural" products to maintain lower prices than their flora-containing counterparts. Manufacturers are not required to list exactly what might be included in any "fragrance" added to a product because they are considered trade secrets. Those fragrances could also contain ingredients that are not natural.

Overall, there is little evidence that putting food products in your hair is a healthier alternative to using "non-natural" hair care products. It's simply a matter of which you prefer. Nature is full of wonderful things but not all of them may be beneficial to your tresses.


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