Melissa Kimbell, founder of Awake Organics, on how natural shampoo works and what to know before switching to natural shampoo.
From greener periods to plastic-free loo roll, we all know that there are now plenty of ways to make our beauty and wellness routines that little bit greener. Yet when Melissa Kimbell, founder of Awake Organics, an eco-friendly skin care, vegan perfume and natural deodorant range, first decided to switch to natural shampoo she wasn’t happy with the alternatives; she wanted a something that would be plastic free, completely biodegradable and would actually be good for your hair and scalp. So, she decided to create her own.
“This was actually quite a tall order and after many failed attempts, I realised the only way to tick all the boxes was to remove the water completely and make a ‘water-activated’ powder formula.” Here, she gives us an introduction to natural shampoo and delves into the need-to-know about making the switch!
There are a few issues with 'normal' shampoo
Primarily, it’s the plastic packaging, the sulphates (which make the lather), and the fact that they are over 80% water. As we know, plastic is piling up everywhere as it’s not always recycled and it’s also not infinitely recyclable.
Synthetic foaming agents like sulphates (SLS is the most common), commonly cause scalp and skin irritation, which sometimes leads to hair loss and dandruff. SLS is listed on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List as suspected to be an environmental toxin and classified as expected to be toxic or harmful to non-reproductive organs (1).
If that wasn’t enough of a controversy, the fact that conventional shampoos are water-first formulas means the industry is shipping tons of water around the globe, and that just isn’t necessary anymore.
Natural shampoo works in a slightly different way to your standard shampoo
A conventional shampoo uses foaming agents and texture enhancers to give us the “shampoo experience” that we’ve become accustomed to. They are also usually pH balanced and have synthetic conditioners or silicones (dimethicone is common) that attach to the hair even after rinsing. Most natural shampoos are now being made as shampoo bars, which are essentially just a bar of soap. There are a few exceptions, but on the whole, they have a really high pH and don’t work very well especially for longer or colour-treated hair.
I think a lot of people have tried switching to natural shampoo but were put off from the results, so they went back to conventional. I really wanted to make sure that our shampoo would provide the same sensory experience but without all the negative stuff. We formulated with a gentle, biodegradable coconut soap, loaded it with conditioning coconut milk and vitamin E, fortified it caffeine and rosemary, and made sure the pH balance issue was addressed.
The pH of your shampoo is important
pH indicates the acidity, alkalinity or neutrality of a substance. Hair reaches ionic neutrality (its happy place) when its pH is around 3.67. However, the pH of the scalp is more alkaline than the hair strands, sitting around 5.5 (the same as skin) and so hair becomes temporarily alkaline when it’s exposed to products that aren’t pH balanced to the optimal range.
Products with an alkaline pH increase the negative electrical charge of the hair and cause friction between the fibres. This can lead to cuticle damage, i.e.: dry frizz that’s harder to comb. In the shower, hair with an alkaline pH absorbs water right down to the cuticles, hydrating the fibres and breaking the down keratin molecules. This causes hair to lose its shape and curl, and causes breakage. Ideally the pH of hair products should be less than 5.5. Our tests revealed optimal shampoo results and experience when the product pH ranged between 3.7 and 4.9.
There shouldn’t be too much of a transition period
Look for formulas that have natural conditioners, like plant oils or fatty powdered plant material like coconut. The pH is really important as well. If you have a properly balanced, moisturising formula there isn’t really much of a transition period.
There’s a difference between natural shampoo bars and natural shampoo in a bottle
Many shampoo bars are essentially simply cold processed soap, which have a pH around 9 – 10, way too alkaline for hair. We have spotted very few shampoo bars on the market that include pH balancing ingredients in their formulations. This explains why shampoo bars leave your hair feeling super dried out and frizzy, especially if you dye or bleach your hair.
We opted for a hybrid of the two, making a pH-balanced, super moisturising powder formula that comes in an aluminium bottle. This approach enables us to create a revolutionary product that is small, portable, and natural (like a bar), but offers the same or better results as conventional shampoo.
You can find more about Awake Organics and their shampoos on their website and ther Instagram