Through the years, we've seen a change in mindset: People are looking for more natural ways to cleanser the hair without using chemicals. Now, having said that, there is something to be said about the word "chemicals" in itself!
A chemical is defined as an interaction between substances. In chemistry, even water is considered a chemical. Even our tap water is purified and contains many ingredients to make it 'potable' or drinkable – safe for us to lift the nozzle and pour. It often contains chlorine, fluoride, and other chemical-like ingredients in order to purify it. It has undergone a chemical reaction.
Others say that every single ingredient is a chemical, even plants, since they are made up and affected by oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon, to name a few.
Within the context of "natural formulations" for hair and cosmetics, we like to think that our OBLOOM products are synthetic-free – which means that they are sourced from nature, or based on nature-identical ingredients rather than fully man-made synthetics. We believe there is a big difference there, and that's how we base our 'naturally-derived from Mother Nature' motto.
Take the ingredient Aloe vera, for example. You may be more familiar with this ingredient as you zoom in to your shampoo's ingredient list, but let's face it: Pulling its gooey parts from the inside of the leaves can be a challenge in any product because it's susceptible to oxidation, rancidity, basically rotting, and thus lowering its benefits. It needs chemical reactions in order to make them safest for our use. Are they still natural then? Sure they are, or many of them are, at least the most natural ones are the ones we choose to use in our formulations. Our aloe vera is a highly concentrated powder, 200 times the effectiveness of the plant, in a stable, dried form. It's pulled from the plant, dehydrated, and ground into a fine powder. At first glance, it's a white powder, when you'd imagine it being green... Yes, it has gone through a chemical process.
Through the years, I cleansed my hair with many different natural – or No Poo – plants and clays. It was always a challenge, and my poor family stood by my side while I went through periods of greasy hair, dry hair, split ends, overly-moisturized hair, frizzies, and more. But the process – I believe – allowed me to truly learn about hair and how it reacts to different plants, herbs, clays, tea infusions, eggs, and other lovely concoctions. Some were too acidic, while some where too alkaline. They all 'cleansed' my scalp and hair in one way or another, but they do not all work for everyone.
Do we need chemicals at all to effectively wash our hair?
The short answer is, no. You could wash your scalp and hair with clays, tea infusions, eggs, root powders like yucca and other mucilage (gooey/snotty) ground up plants that contain natural saponins, or soapy-like effects.
The long answer according to moi, is YES, you do need some chemicals if you're going to use a product which is a combination of ingredients. Let's remember once again that the word "chemical" is not a bad one – even water is a chemical. Where we get into trouble is when we combine synthetics that have questionable ingredients that aren't that great for us, like PEG (petroleum-based) synthetics and additives, and harmful preservatives. These are the ones you want to steer clear from, because of the effect they have on our body, hair, our system, and the environment as a whole.
To clarify: We need ingredients that have gone through the process of making them safe, stable, while keeping their natural benefits. Big difference here.
"If you can't pronounce it, it's bad for you".
You've probably read that somewhere, I can almost guarantee it! While it's true that many cosmetic ingredients are hard to pronounce, I can tell you they're not all bad! Same goes for ingredients you would see in a store-bought bread, like Xanthan Gum or Carrageenan (a thickener and an emulsifier).
Preservatives probably make up most of the names you will not recognize in your hair or skin products. Preservatives are absolutely necessary for any water-containing product, or for those which will come into contact with water, like a shampoo bar. Can you pronounce "Gluconolactone"? It's an acid (no, not the "OMG my skin is burning!" type acid) and it's a part of one of the most gentle of formulation preservatives – it also helps smooth skin texture, hydrate, and improves skin cell turnover. It comes from gluconic acid, an organic compound naturally found in many plants, honey, and wine (cheers!). See? There's no need to freak out every time you see something you can't pronounce. If ever in doubt, just ask!
Different layers within the word 'natural'.
There are various classifications to the word "natural" in cosmetics. There are obviously-natural products like herbs that are just ground up into fine powders. The chemical structure (shape, colour, form, scent, etc.) is not being manipulated whatsoever.
Then there are the naturally-derived ingredients. These are the ones that are natural (like an herb that is picked from the garden, for example) and it has undergone some chemical reactions, like fermentation or hydrolysis (a chemical reaction where water is used to break the bonds of a substance to change its form or shape and make it more 'usable').
There are also nature-identical ingredients, which are also accepted in natural formulations. One example is citric acid, which can be derived from citrus fruits but it can also be synthetically formulated – the difference is seeking out the more natural versions by asking the suppliers where it has been derived from. Some larger-scale cosmetics manufacturers will either not know or not necessarily care, since they're essentially looking for more cost-effective formulas.
When in doubt, ask.
As you can see, the word "natural" means different things to different people. With so many ingredients making up a formulation that is effective and safe, there are bound to be some names you don't recognize. This doesn't mean they are not good for you, it just means you may not be familiar with them.
Remember: An informed consumer is a smart consumer, and this should be the same for everything you buy – from the canned and frozen foods you eat, to the sweaters you wear, to what you put on your skin or hair.
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