Store shelves are lined with a dizzying array of shampoos, conditioners and styling products. Hair replacement surgeon Susan Craig Scott, author of The Hair Bible, tells you how to pick -- and even make -- the best ones for your type.
Ask yourself what specific benefits your hair type requires. Is your hair dry or damaged? Does it need more or less conditioning? Should you choose a clarifying shampoo to strip away residue that can build up on hair? Do you like the fragrance? Do you want a shampoo that will make your hair shine? Ingredients like macadamia nut, olive, jojoba oil, or shea butter have been used for years to give hair a shiny coat. Two-in-one shampoos are another option and ideal for women who want to save time, money, and space in their gym bags.
Make your own: Skip the soap, which can dry both the hair and scalp and may contain chemicals that penetrate the bloodstream through hair follicles. Instead, add a few drops of lemon juice to your regular shampoo each time you wash or combine triple-strength herbal tea (chamomile for light hair, rosemary or sage for dark) to an equal amount of your shampoo. You can also moisturize dry, brittle hair with vegetable oil to create an oil-enriched shampoo; add unflavored gelatin or an egg to your regular formula for a protein shampoo; or combine alcohol and water (1 to 3 parts) for a suds-less shampoo.
The most important ingredients to look for in choosing a conditioner are fatty acids. Look at the first five ingredients listed on the label and you'll see mentions of acetyl or stearyl alcohol and other ingredients ending in "amine," which are designed to combat static. A creamy-feeling formula, one that feels like a hand cream, will work best. It's also relevant to choose a conditioner that's designed for your hairstyle, like a volume conditioner to give hair a lift or a curl-enhancing conditioner to play up your curls.
Make your own: Avocado adds protein and oil for shine and manageability. Egg yolk mixed with two teaspoons of castor oil and one teaspoon of rum moisturizes dry hair. Mayonnaise mixed with one beaten egg yolk and one teaspoon each of vinegar and powdered kelp adds shine and body. Honey, on its own, conditions any shade. Massage any of these natural conditioners into dry hair, cover with a shower cap, and allow to permeate for 30-60 minutes before shampooing. To speed up the process, wrap hot, moist towels around your head.
GELS, SPRAYS, OR MOUSSES
Different products do the trick, according to your hair's texture. But here are some guidelines: Hair sprays work well for any hair type; choose one with a lighter chemical grade if you have fine hair that gets easily weighed down. Gels add texture, volume, and shine, increase holding power, control frizz, provide moisture, and smooth hair. Choose a lightweight formula for thin hair, save the extra-hold for thicker, wavier locks. The same rules basically apply for other styling products. Mousse is designed to increase hold and shine and combat static; choose a formula that can be easily brushed out so hair isn't sticky. Pomades increase the degree of hold, texture, and shine. Wax sticks add shine and help lock in moisture.
Make your own: Instead of gel, mix noncarbonated or flat beer with water as a final rinse to control flyaway hair and keep it in place. Try a stiffly beaten egg white as a protein-enriching styling mousse. Simmer one tablespoon of flaxseeds in 1 cup of water until slightly thickened for a setting lotion. Substitute your regular hairspray with a spritz of lemon juice from a misting bottle to add resiliency, body, and highlights. Put your wax stick on the back burner and try blending 1 teaspoon of instant, dry milk (whole milk for normal to dry hair, skim for oily hair) with 1 cup water to create a wave. For homemade pomade, brew double-strength rosemary tea to preserve curls in damp weather (use only on darker hair colors).
COLOR FORMULATIONS, PERMS, AND RELAXERS
These chemical treatments are designed to help change the color, texture, and structure of your hair. For best results, try both types of treatments in a salon under professional guidance; if performed incorrectly, the results can be disastrous. And don't attempt to create your own formulas. The risk of seriously damaging your hair isn't worth playing chemist.
Make your own:
Chamomile and Calendula Hair Lightener: The bright yellow of chamomile and calendula flowers resembles the sun and is bound to brighten your hair the same way. This temporary rinse lightens and brightens blond hair, increasing its softness and adding movement. Gentle highlights add texture and depth of color. Botanical formula: 4 cups water, 2 cups dried chamomile flowers, 2 cups dried calendula flowers, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon lemon extract.
In a saucepan, bring water, chamomile, and calendula to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat, strain liquid into a bowl or pitcher, and stir in lemon juice and extract. When cool enough for application, stand in your shower and slowly pour the solution over your head, massaging it into your hair to cover all strands thoroughly. Cover hair with a plastic shower cap. Leave on for at least 40 minutes, then remove shower cap and rinse hair thoroughly with warm water. Use every other day for lasting effects.
Black Tea-Rosemary Rinse for Dark Brown Hair: Use the strong qualities of black teas and richly roasted coffees to add natural dark brown highlights to hair without damaging it. Tea and coffee, which are known to stain, are perfect for coloring brown hair. Rosemary is also an exceptional coloring agent for brown hair. Use the following recipe every other day on light to dark brown hair to add richness to brown hair of any shade. For a milder effect, use one less teaspoon of coffee and one less tea bag.
Botanical formula: 7 bags black tea or 2 1/2 tablespoons loose tea, 2 tablespoons chopped oregano leaves, 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary leaves, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon instant coffee, 1 tablespoon lemon extract. In a saucepan over medium heat, mix the tea, oregano, and rosemary with the water; steep for 45-50 minutes. Remove tea bags and filter out oregano, rosemary and loose tea if used. Place liquid in a small pitcher. Add coffee and lemon extract to liquid and stir until combined. Let cool, then while standing in your shower slowly pour the solution over your head, massaging it into your hair and scalp and covering all strands thoroughly. Cover hair with a plastic shower cap for 30 minutes. Remove shower cap and rinse hair thoroughly with warm water.
Oil Treatment: Weekly hot oil treatments can add luster and shine to the hair. Oils that most effectively penetrate the hair include olive oil, almond oil, avocado oil, safflower oil, and corn oil. Here's how to do it yourself: Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a small saucepan over a very low flame until just warm. Remove from heat and let cool for about one minute. Massage warm oil into your hair. Cover hair with a plastic shower cap and then with a towel wrap. Leave on for 30 minutes, then rinse and shampoo as usual. Or, try this creative concoction from Philip B.:
Honey-Maple Hot Oil Treatment Botanical Formula: 1 teaspoon canola oil, 1 teaspoon margarine (softened), 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon coconut oil or extract, 1 teaspoon orange oil or extract, 1 tablespoon light sesame oil, 1 teaspoon macadamia nut oil, 1 teaspoon avocado oil, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon honey. Put all ingredients into a small saucepan, except for the syrup and honey. Heat over a very low flame until just warmed (about 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat. Cool for about 1 minute and add syrup and honey. Test with your finger to make sure it's not too hot to apply to scalp. Massage oil mixture into hair and then cover with a plastic shower cap. Leave on for 10 to 20 minutes. Remove shower cap and apply a mixture of equal parts shampoo and water and work into hair. Lather and rinse.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Craig Scott, M.D., author of The Hair Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Healthy, Beautiful Hair Forever (Copyright © 2003 by TimeLife Media, Inc.), is a cosmetic and hair replacement surgeon who received her medical degree from Columbia University. Board certified in surgery and plastic surgery, she is an attending physician at Beth Israel Hospital; Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital; Lenox Hill Hospital; and the Hospital for Joint Diseases. She has appeared on such television programs as The Today Show and Eye to Eye and since 1996 she has been team physician to the WNBA's New York Liberty.