Hair & nail rescue


If appearance is important to you, then healthy, well-groomed hair and nails are likely essential to your dress code. But, with the vast quantity of personal-care products available today, it can be quite challenging to know which products can help you succeed in keeping your hair and nails in good condition and looking their best. The natural-beauty-care industry has come of age when it comes to hair and nail products, and there are more choices available today for health-conscious consumers than ever before.
Hair today, hair tomorrow

Hair-care products, alone, are big business. From shampoos to gels and conditioners to colors, men and women of all ages generously use these products on a daily basis. Many hair products promise to deliver beautifying results, but there are a few myths about hair that need to be dispelled before you can assess these products' effectiveness.

Basically, hair is dead. At least, what you see of it is. The root, stemming from one of 100,000 hair follicles, is the only living part of hair, and it is sustained by a network of blood vessels beneath the scalp. Therefore, the first approach to glorifying your mane is through adequate nutrition from the inside.

Secondly, hair products that promise to deliver nutrients to your hair can do no such thing, since an impermeable shaft surrounds each hair strand. These products merely coat the hair to offer improved sheen and manageability. In addition, the old-fashioned adage of giving your hair 100 strokes every night is advice better left ignored. While frequent brushing stimulates the scalp and helps to distribute natural oils, overdoing it will stretch the hair and lead to breakage. However, gentle massaging of the scalp during shampooing can stimulate blood supply to the scalp and promote healthy new growth.

There is an abundance of quality botanical shampoos, conditioners, and styling products available in natural products stores from which to choose.

Herbal shampoos and rinses have been used for centuries to add highlights to hair and condition the hair shaft and scalp. Chamomile, nettle, yarrow, and rosemary have always been popular for adding shine and preventing tangles, the latter being excellent for relieving dandruff.

Also, an occasional deep-conditioning product can improve the texture and luster of hair. Olive, sesame, and sweet almond oil are all good choices, but jojoba, with the same molecular weight as sebum (skin oils), most parallels your haws natural oils.

Styling gels and mousse are sometimes made with such herbs as yucca, quince seed, and yarrow.

Natural hair sprays can be found made with a water-based solution and cornstarch combined with shine-producing botanicals.

Hair care is more than just cleansing or demanding that a few errant strands stay in place, however. We expect enhanced safety and quality from natural hair products -- and, as the baby boomer set continues to "gray" -- a little age-defying color.
Adding color to your tresses naturally

More than half of American women over the age of 25 adjust the natural shade of their hair to some extent, but there is a tremendous difference between commercial and natural hair-coloring formulas. Commercial hair-coloring products contain known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) and irritants, and, in the case of permanent dyes, harsh bleaches that strip away the natural pigment in preparation for the new color to "take." Some of the worst offenders are coal tar products, ammonia, resorcinol, and phenylenediamine derivatives -- often preceded by an o-, p-, or m-on the label. A recent study published in Cancer Letters pronounced that another common hair dye ingredient, nitro-2-aminophenols, starts a kind of self-generated free-radical crap shoot which leads to DNA damage, or cancer initiation.

Other studies directly link the use of toxic hair-coloring products with asthma, Hodgkin's disease, lymphoma, breast cancer, bladder cancer, multiple myeloma, and a form of leukemia called essential thrombocythemia (ET). In fact, cosmetologists are at considerable risk for these diseases due to high-level chronic exposure to these chemicals.

Natural hair color products make use of a variety of plant sources. Dark shades are obtained from walnut, indigo, various roasted nuts, including coffee beans, and even black tea. Chamomile, marigold, and dandelion are examples of plants that yield golden hues for blondes, while reddish varieties are often derived from berries, fruits, and henna.

Henna (Lawsonia inermis) contains red pigments called tannins, and can be purchased as a powder to be mixed with hot water to a mud-like consistency which is left on the hair for up to an hour. Alone, henna provides a rich, warm glow of red highlights, but different shades can be achieved when it is combined with other herbs. There are also several "complete" natural hair coloring systems that utilize wheat protein and herbal extracts.

You should be aware that there are some commercial hair dyes that pride themselves on containing herbal extracts, but still possess undesirable ingredients, such as ammonia disguised as aromatic amines.
The long and short of nails

Like hair, nails are also lifeless on the surface. When you admire your fingernails, you are actually looking at a layer of hard protein devoid of any nerve endings. It's below this plane that the real action takes place. Just beneath the nail, the nail bed, fed by numerous capillaries, is continuously dining on nutrients, including oxygen. It is this matrix that is responsible for the pink, healthy glow visible under the nail, and for keeping the nail affixed.

Whether you keep your nails long or short, they need the proper nutrients to stay healthy and some tender-loving care on a weekly basis to stay attractive.

Americans spend an astonishing $700 million on nail-care products every year. But, unfortunately for us, many of these products contain harsh chemicals that can actually damage nails and compromise your overall health, as well. Acetates are those strong-smelling irritants that can induce headache and chest pain upon extended exposure. Benzene, an agent suspected of damaging lung tissue and contributing to leukemia, is another ingredient found in commercial nail products. According to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), nail hardeners and enamels contain formaldehyde preservatives and resins that can cause allergy and weaken nails.

In an interview with Better Nutrition, Margaret Dinsdale, author of the book Skin Deep, says, if you do choose to use nail products containing such ingredients, be sure to keep them away from your cuticles and skin.

The good news is that there are quite a few natural nail products available today, everything from herbal cuticle softeners to organic nail polish removers fortified with vitamin E. There are even semi-organic polishes available that come in colors ranging from browns to reds and even black, yellows, and greens for the more adventurous. Unlike harsh-smelling commercial nail polishes, these products are scented with extracts like jasmine, vanilla, mango, or patchouli. That doesn't mean you should put them directly under your nose though; they still contain a certain amount of polyester resins and ethyl and/or butyl acetates.
Silicon for strong hair and nails

In addition to lots of pure water and good nutrition, some experts say that the element silicon can help strengthen hair and nails. Primary-source silicon (from the Earth) is available in supplement form, as is secondary-source (from plants) silicon, or silica gel, derived from horsetail, stinging nettle, and barley. Supplemental silicon featuring orthosilicic acid is also available.

Andersen-Parrado, Patricia. Personal interview with Margaret Dinsdale. February 1999.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Office of Cosmetics Fact Sheet, February 7, 1995.

Brown, L.M., el al. "Hair dye use and multiple myeloma in white men," American Journal of Public Health 82(12):1673-4, December 1992.

Chen, F., et al. "Metal-mediated oxidative DNA damage induced by nitro-2-aminophenols," Cancer Letters 126(1):67-74, April 10, 1998.

Dinsdale, Margaret. Skin Deep. Buffalo, N.Y.: Firefly Books, 1994.

Duke, James, Ph.D. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale Press, 1997.

Mele, A., et al. "Risk factors for essential thrombocythemia: A case-control study," (Italian Leukemia Study Group) Cancer 77(10):2157-61, May 15, 1996.

Skov, T., et al. "Risk for cancer of the urinary bladder among hairdressers in the Nordic countries," American Journal of Industrial Medicine 17(2):217-23, 1990.

Toren, K., et al. "Asthma mortality and occupation in Sweden 1981-1992," American Journal of Industrial Medicine 31 (6):678-81, June 1997.


By Karyn Siegel-Maier

Karyn Siegel-Maier is a freelance writer who specializes in herbs, alternative medicine, and new age issues. Karyn is a frequent contributor to national and regional magazines, newsletters, newspapers, and other publications. She is currently working on a series of herbal books.


With summer -- and open-toe sandal season -- right around the corner, it's time to provide a little "TLC" to your feet. Good foot and toenail care is much the same as good hand and fingernail care, but extra care is needed to prevent against such nuisances as ingrown toenails.

Ingrown toenails. Preventing ingrown toenails is a matter of trimming your nails regularly and properly. If you develop an ingrown toenail, it's wise to seek the help of a healthcare practitioner. However, to help relieve irritation, Dinsdale advises soaking your feet in an herbal tea of chamomile, lavender, geranium, or even black tea.
The basic home manicure
(without the toxic fumes)

1. Soak nails in warm water with an essential oil to meet your nail needs. (See essendal oil chart on p. 76.)
2. Using an orange stick, gently push back cuticles.
3. Dry nails and apply a drop of oil such as jojoba, a formulated nail butter, or natural moisturizer to each nail. Buff nails to a shine with a buffer or a soft cloth.
4. Define the shape of your nails. Always file nails from one side to the other following the same direction. The tendency to file in a "see-saw" motion can cause splitting of the nail.
5. Apply a natural moisturizer and smooth into hands, cuticles, and nails.

Essential oils for nail needs

To strengthen nails: horsetail, lemon, grapefruit, rosemary

To soften: evening primrose, carrot, calendula, papaya enzyme

For infections: tea tree, thyme, myrrh, oregano

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