Smart and Savvy Hair Care . . . Naturally

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Before a drop of shampoo ever touches a human head, millions of dollars in development, packing and advertising costs have already been spent. Glossy television campaigns promise thick, strong and healthy hair so full of shine, you almost need sunglasses to get through the commercial. Now that the hair care industry is trending towards “natural ingredients,” we can expect to see an all out media blitz from all manner of companies, small and large, promoting their own “natural” line.

“Natural” or “herbal” shampoos first became popular 1970s, on the heels (and hair) of the hippie movement, and began to make a comeback in the mid 1990s. The number of hair products formulated with botanical extracts has increased exponentially in the past decade: According to The Nutrition Business Journal, natural hair care products registered sales of $1.45 billion in 1999, making up 28 percent of the $5 billion hair care market. Experts say the growth in natural personal care will continue to grow for at least the next five years, at a rate of 20 to 25 percent annually.

That’s a big market. And keen manufacturers are quickly tapping into it, inundating consumers with literally hundreds of shampoos and conditioners that boast herbal essences and botanical extracts. With such an overwhelming selection, how can the discriminating specialty retailer decide what to offer to their customers?

There is no quick answer, but there are a number of things to ensure shoppers are choosing from the most innovative, and more importantly, the healthiest hair care products. First and foremost, the retailer needs to determine how committed they are to providing their customers with natural hair care formulas. There are many companies that say their products are natural, but a quick read through the ingredients list will show that they still use potentially harmful synthetic substances. The retailer must be able to differentiate between healthy and risky ingredients.

It’s also important to know what the newest and most innovative natural ingredients are on the market, and what particular ingredients can do for the hair. This will become an invaluable communication tool for a retailer, when they find a customer perusing the hair care section. Another good idea is to stay updated on ingredient research, especially for suspect ingredients as sodium lauryl sulfate, so that this information can be passed onto consumers – the more knowledgeable the salesperson is about what is being sold, the more impressed the customer will be.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: FROM CEDARWOOD TO MAYONNAISE

The term “shampoo” comes from the Hindu word “champo,” which means “to massage” or “to knead.” The use of botanicals in hair care has been documented through the centuries. Chinese women used a fragrant cedar extract as a finishing rinse to promote hair growth, ancient Arabians brewed quince peels, and Filipinos steeped aloe stems in cold water. In North America, Native Americans showed settlers how to use the root of soapwort, a member of the carnation family, as a mild shampoo, and how to incorporate chaparral extract, a desert plant, into a dandruff treatment. In the 1800s, African Americans treated their hair with shea butter to strengthen and moisturize; they also used mayonnaise as a conditioner.

The first successful retail shampoo was developed by John Breck in the 1930s, introduced into the mass market by the famous “Breck Girl” advertisements. In the early 1950s, Helene Curtis introduced the Egg Shampoo, and the 1970s saw jojoba hot oil treatments and honey-based cleansers and conditioners in abundance. It wasn’t until the last quarter century, however, that studies began to show that many of the ingredients found in most personal care products could have deleterious effects on one’s health. These findings, coupled with the natural products boom of the 70s, paved the way for the current botanicals trend.

NEW INNOVATIONS IN BOTANICAL HAIR CARE

As consumers become more aware of their health and well-being, science has followed. The flux of new, natural solutions from herbal supplements to skin care illustrates this phenomenon, and the hair care industry is no exception. So what are the latest natural hair care ingredients to hit the market, the ones that consumers will soon be asking for?

· Wheatgrass: Widely known as a nutritional supplement to help removes toxins from the bloodstream, wheatgrass is also one of Nature’s most effective hair cleansers. It is also packed with antioxidants to protect hair from damaging UV-induced free radicals. Its deep-cleansing action removes excess oil, residue and debris, making it ideal for normal to oily hair types.

· Rice Protein: Great for fine, limp hair, hydrolyzed rice protein has a low molecular weight, which enables it to penetrate the hair shaft and expand its diameter for noticeably thicker hair. Hollywood stylists often spritz rice water onto hair before styling to impart instant volume and fullness.

· Soy Protein: As one of the ingredients creating the latest buzz, soy has emerged as Nature’s “cure-all” in hair care. This revitalizing, hydrating protein can be found in shampoos and conditioners. In shampoos, it helps hydrate, reconstruct and strengthen hair shafts weakened by chemicals or overdryness. In conditioners, it smoothes the cuticle, helps restore body and elasticity, and guards against color fading.

· Chinese Herbs: Used for centuries by the Chinese to stimulate and energize weak hair and scalp, these exotic botanical blends gently remove follicle-blocking sebum and debris that can slow growth and cause premature hair loss. They have also been shown to alleviate dandruff and symptoms associated with the condition, including itchiness and dryness.

· Goldenseal Extract: An effective healer for hair, this natural extract from the goldenseal root historically has been used as a hair tonic to cleanse and add shine. It’s also known to help control dryness of the scalp.

· Avocado Oil: A very rich emollient, this buttery oil is the ultimate natural conditioner, leaving hair glossy, smooth and moisturized. It strengthens and softens brittle, broken hair shafts and split ends caused by overexposure to heat tools, the sun and chemical processes.

· Carrot Seed: This extract hydrates each strand, leaving it soft and luxurious while also eliminating excess oil and product residue from hair surface. Its protective properties shield hair from external aggressions. Great for all hair types.

Ultimately, the point of shampoos and conditioners is to clean and condition the hair … but if the products we use can potentially harm ourselves and our loved ones, isn’t it smarter to be safe than sorry? In a culture where consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about their health, it is the retailers’ responsibility to offer them the most wholesome and healthiest choices, whether they are vitamins or personal care products. Once a retailer becomes committed to this mission, the customers will notice.
With much love,

Peter Lamas