Most of the chemically-laden shampoos many of us used in the past to clean our hair make us feel better, but don’t do much for our tresses. The growing list of scientifically-formulated ingredients in these products adds to the illusion that pampering our hair with a modern array of elements beautifies hair. However, these powerful-sounding chemicals may do more harm than good.

Chemical foaming and cleansing agents

The billowing, sudsing action of shampoo gives the fantasy of gently bubbling away grease, dirt, and loose dandruff. All that foam, however, comes mostly from unnecessary chemicals designed to do little more than just provide lots of lather.

Foaming and cleansing agents, known as “surfactants,” come disguised mainly under two names: “lauryl sulfate” and “laureth sulfate.” As much as these products send your hair into an effervescent froth, they can also overly strip hair of natural oils. The more common of these two alcohol-derived ingredients, lauryl sulfate, is found in “salts” of potassium, zinc, magnesium, sodium, calcium, and ammonium.

Break the bad-hair-day cycle

With natural oils pared away, we set up a cycle that dooms our hair and scalp to dryness. After washing your hair with these unnecessary chemical ingredients, dried-out hair may temporarily appear fuller and “bounce” more. Unfortunately, this fuller-looking hair does not last for long.

Dry hair soon weakens, becomes fragile, and begins to break, leaving you with less hair, dry, damaged ends that split and frizz, and a dry, flaky scalp that itches. With a dry scalp you have a dermatological problem along with a hair problem. A dry scalp itches, and itching, scratching, and dryness set the stage for dandruff. To get rid of these nasty flakes, most people head for the shower and try more shampooing, only to worsen dryness, further abuse hair, and turn a few flakes into a dandruff snow storm.

Unfortunately, the most commonly-used detergent, wetting agent, and emulsifier, sodium lauryl sulfate, is also the harshest. Commonly found in toothpaste as well, this foam-creating cleanser is not only too harsh to hair, but may also irritate one’s skin, including the scalp. Sodium laureth sulfate is used as a water softener and in baby shampoos.

Beyond the irritation that can lead to the scratching-dandruff cycle, worse problems may follow: small tears can occur in irritated skin; inflamed skin itches; scratching may further break the skin; and hands, especially nails, can carry painful infections into your scalp.

By mixing harsh shampooing with skin irritations, dry (hot or cold) weather conditions, and existing hair and scalp problems, the stage is set for not only a bad hair day, but an unhealthy skin condition.

Natural-based shampoos

Instead of harsh cleansers, natural shampoos combine various plant-based surfactants. Such botanically-based shampoos gently clean hair without the irritating or drying effects of sodium laurel sulfates.

Natural, gentle shampoos and conditioners also help prevent hair thinning. Hair-loss specialists may recommend daily shampooing, dependent upon your shampoo and hair-care method. These experts also recommend using warm, not hot, water for hair and scalp treatments. Use a wide-toothed comb or brush, do not aggressively brush hair, and avoid the hottest settings on curling irons, hot rollers, and blow-dryers.

Natural shampoos are pH-balanced and contain essential oil fragrances, in addition to high-quality scents derived from flowers, fruits, and herbs. These natural bouquets may also produce sensuous, soothing, or stimulating moods. Researchers of flavors and fragrances are exploring how different scents affect emotions. For example, the fragrance of orchids has a soothing effect, while jasmine is more sensual.

Natural additives to natural shampoos

Natural shampoos may also contain ingredients that could help protect your scalp. Tea tree oil is a natural antifungal ingredient found in some haircare products, while jojoba and essential fatty acids help restore dry and damaged hair. Other ingredients to look for include non-coloring henna, peppermint, B vitamins, and evening primrose oil.