Is it shampoo or is it salad dressing?

It’s a combination of the joke my family makes of my hair treatment and an old commercial or comedian line from somewhere in the deep recesses of my memory.  (Old enough that I can’t really remember but as I type I’m leaning towards comedian skit but that really isn’t important…)

They know by the smell that I’m doing my weekly hair treatment.  And they pull all the icky faces they can muster.  Every time.

I have always had very thick, very tangle-prone, style-aversive hair.  It grows sideways at the back and is stronger than any hair gel I have found in the stores.  As I got older, white blonde darkened into a lovely three tone darker blonde with copper highlights and as it became drier I began to have problems with my scalp.  No matter which shampoos or conditioners I tried, my scalp worsened.  And as my scalp worsened, my hair got drier.

Eventually, I put two and two together and came up with the first of many ‘lightbulb’ moments that have led me to where I am today.  I realized that healthy hair needs a healthy scalp (since that’s where the hair comes from) and so I wondered if fixing the scalp was more important than fixing the hair.  But I didn’t hit this point without years of suffering as the shampoos and conditioners slowly leached the health out of both.

My scalp was reeling back and forth between horrible dryness (and all the flakes that comes with that) to extreme oiliness and a tendency towards fungus (much like the cradle cap you see on babies).  It was near impossible to get any shampoo through all the hair to give a good treatment to the skin beneath.  It itched, so much that I was creating raw patches from the scratching… on my head… and still it itched.  And my hair was slowly getting drier and frizzier as well.

Then I received a vegan cookbook as a bonus with an organic veggie delivery service we tried out for a few months.  It had some recipes for homemade personal care products in the back, including one for a hot oil treatment for hair.  I was intrigued so I decided to give it a go.  Nothing could make it much worse, I reasoned.  So I tried it.

And it worked.

It wasn’t shampoo (which is detergent… I’ll say more about that one day) or conditioner (which coats the hair in residues, waxes and other stuff).  It wasn’t actually a cleaning protocol at all.  What it did do (and it did it really well) was trickle down to my scalp, cleanse and rebalance the skin and give each hair a jolt of moisture from a natural (read bioavailable), edible oil BEFORE the cleansing step, protecting the hair from the leaching effects of the shampoo at the end even while all the dirt and grime was washed away.

I developed curls I never new I had.  The copper highlights, which had faded as my scalp problems worsened, became prominent again.  The itch went away.  So did the flakes and the buildup of whatever it was.  And the more I did it, the healthier my hair seemed to be.  And my kids started pulling faces and teasing me about salad dressing each time I did it.

Here’s the recipe (and the reason for the jokes):

  • 1 part cider vinegar (trust me)
  • 1 part oil (olive is great but heavy; sunflower is lighter)
  • 1 part hot water
  • Put them in a bottle, shake and apply to DRY (this is important) hair.  Massage into scalp, wrap and let sit 10-15 mins. If you have long hair, try piling it on top of your head and wrapping it all, rather than wrapping it in the length of the towel or whatever you are using.  (I had an old flat diaper that was perfect for this.  The oil will leave a stain on the cloth if you do this regularly.)  If you have a scalp issue, the vinegar may sting as it trickles down to your scalp.  If it is uncomfortable, hold out as long as you can.  Successive treatments will feel sting less.
  • Unwrap the hair.  Put your chosen shampoo/soap directly on the hair WITHOUT WATER and lather well to separate the excess oil.  Once you have lathered ALL the hair, rinse with water.  If your hair is still oily, shampoo again.

Like so many things, I stopped doing this a while back.  The kids got older and wanted real shampoo, things got busier…  It was alright at first but slowly the blonde became duller, darker and closer to grey.  The dryness and frizzies made it impossible to keep long hair.  And my scalp was getting itchier and itchier… and then one day my old remedy floated into my mind in a moment where I had the time to listen to it and I got up, grabbed my cider vinegar and the jojoba oil that I had bought for making oil rollers and I found an old, disused towel in the linen cupboard and I made salad dressing on my hair.

Each week, my hair is stronger, healthier… my curls are back and so is much of the colour (yes, blonde is a colour).  When I start to itch, I salad my hair (usually about once a week).  And in between, I just rinse my hair with water in the shower each morning, more to erase the bed-head before work than anything else.  I’ve even simplified it…  I found a plastic mustard container (with the pointy lid, like you get at burger stands) and now I mix up equal parts cider vinegar and water (just warm water) and about half as much oil, enough to do my hair three or four times.  I squirt this right onto my scalp and then rub the hair into it.  I keep going until all my hair is moistened (so I use less).  And with less oil, I can get away with using liquid soap (go, go Dr. Bronners!) to wash it out, rather than needing the super grease-cutting (and extra-leaching) detergents of shampoo.  Do it right before you go into the shower and even the rinsing is easy.

The lightbulb: It is the scalp that is sick.  Treating the hair won’t fix that.

The jokes came back as quickly as the balance of my scalp and I hope I never put this gem of a recipe out of mind again.

You can call the solution anything you want.  It will still work.

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