Natural conditioning treatments for dry hair

By Candice Zen (

Customers often complain that their hair is dry, and in this blog post, I will look at the reasons for this, and some effective and natural conditioning treatments which can be prepared yourself at home.

Skin on the scalp produces natural oils in the form of sebum, produced by the sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands occur all over the body skin, and the sebum they produce keeps the skin moisturised, supple and water-tight. As we age, our sebaceous glands become less active and, while we might enjoy a few less blackheads (hopefully), the flip side is dry skin prone to wrinkles and fine lines.

Sebaceous glands occur in scalp skin as well, and the sebum produced by them keeps the scalp moisturised and hair shiny. 

Why is my hair dry?

Several causes for this:

1. Curly hair is usually dry because the sebum can’t travel down the length of the hair (due to gravity!) as easily as straight hair. It literally gets held up in the root area.
2. Very long hair normally has dry ends due to 2 causes:
a. the scalp doesn’t produce enough sebum to reach the ends
b. the ends of the hair are exposed to more weathering from sunlight, wind etc.
3. The scalp skin is naturally dry - not much sebum is produced. Normally facial skin is dry too in this case.
4. Chemical treatments - such as colouring, perming and relaxing disrupt the hair’s cuticle and mean it cannot retain moisture as well. The hair then behaves like a sponge - soaking up water but drying out very quickly.
5. Exposure to sun, salty water, the elements.

What can I do about it?

1. Get a haircut. Taking off the dry, weathered ends of the hair will immediately improve the overall condition and feel of the hair as a whole.

2. Try not to use shampoos with strong detergents (sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate) which will strip the skin of its oils a bit like washing up liquid cutting through grease. Try using a mild shampoo with isethionate or glucoside detergents as the first ingredient after water [1].

3. Wear a hat to protect scalp and hair when in the sun.

4. Try a natural conditioning treatment once per week or more if the hair is really damaged or prone to brittleness.

Great ingredients for a natural conditioning mask

Combine any of the ingredients below for a mask you can prepare yourself at home or look out for these in conditioning products.

Avocado - avocado oil is one of the few to penetrate hair shaft. Mash up an avocado if you want to try this out for conditioning your hair.

Coconut or olive oil (or even better, a mixture of both) - melt/warm up the oil by putting in a bath of warm water. Coconut and olive oils also penetrate hair shaft very effectively.

Egg - contains fats and proteins beneficial for the hair.

Mayonnaise - again, contains fats and proteins for the hair

A few drops of aromatherapy oils if wanted

Step 1. Wash your hair, and gently towel-dry. Too much water in the hair will dilute the treatment.

Step 2. Apply your conditioning treatment to the mid-lengths and ends of the hair first, since this is where conditioning is most needed. If you are using oils, warm them in a hot water bath first to help them penetrate. Then apply the treatment to the roots if scalp or hair is dry here too. Comb through with a wide-tooth comb or Tangle Teezer - this will mechanically ‘push’ the conditioning agents into the scales on the hair surface..

Step 3: Cover your head with a plastic shower cap and wrap a towel turban around your head. This will keep body heat in the shower cap which helps the conditioner to penetrate deeper. Leave for anything between 1 hour and overnight.

Step 4: Rinse the hair really well using warm water. Don’t use hot water, especially if you used egg - you’ll end up with a lovely scrambled egg hair mixture! You might have to do a light shampoo or two if you used oils to condition. Note - as coconut oil can be difficult to shift, you might even want to use a shampoo with a sulphate-detergent-base shampoo to get the hair clean at this point.

Dry the hair and enjoy the condition. Do this once a week or more to really see the benefits!

Special benefits of coconut and olive oils

Coconut and olive oils are recommended for hair because they both penetrate the cuticle and get right inside the hair, helping it to retain its natural moisture content. Coconut oil in particular behaves like the hair’s natural lipids. It is derived from lauric acid which has an affinity for keratin protein and is a small molecule which can slip between outer hair shaft cuticle layers [2]. The longer you leave it on, the better the effect. The more porous type of hair e.g Afro-Caribbean, heavily chemically/heat damaged will find coconut oil particularly beneficial. Combining the two can make them extra effective.

Useful references

Basic haircare tips for long hair

By Candice Zen

This week’s blog post is all about how to take care of long hair effectively.  The condition of long hair can vary enormously from person to person and depends on factors like:

•    How wavy/curly or straight your hair is – wavy and curly hair tends to be drier on the ends because less of the natural oils produced by the scalp get distributed to the ends
•    How often you use irons/straighteners or tongs on the hair – straightening or tonging very regularly knackers the hair, especially if you don’t use heat protection spray. Blow-drying is less damaging (and good for the scalp), although if you use a round brush to smooth the ends, you should also use heat protection spray.
•    How long the hair is – Hair grows on average around 1cm per month or 12cm per year. Hair at the ends of long hair can be 3-4 years old+ so it will be more weathered.
•    How long between haircuts you leave it – if you leave it 6 months to 1 year between haircuts, your hair ends are probably going to be split and frayed.
•    How tight you tie it up – if you wear your hair tied back tightly with an elastic all day every day, you may be causing it mechanical damage/stress, as well as potentially pulling the roots out and thinning the hair (traction alopecia).
•    How lucky you are! – some people have naturally strong and dense hair. If your hair is fine or naturally dry/brittle, you should perhaps give up on trying to grow it much past your shoulders. Treat it with care and with a nice haircut, it’ll look good.

So here are some basic haircare tips for people with long hair:

1.    Wash your hair every 1-3 days
Regular washing shifts scalp sebum (natural oil) and all the dirt and pollution particles stuck to it. 

2.    Dry your hair (roots at least) with the hairdryer.
Drying your hair with a hairdryer is a good idea in winter, enough said. At other times, at least dry your roots next to the scalp even if you leave the ends to dry naturally. This helps to prevent fungal yeast growth (and dandruff) on the scalp. Use your fingers to lift the hair next to the scalp when drying and circulate the air.

3.    Always use conditioner
It helps to reduce static so the hair lays better, as well as reducing brittleness and breakage. You don’t need to put it on the roots – concentrate it on mid-lengths and ends. To get your conditioner to work harder, comb the hair through with a wide-tooth comb while in the shower and leave on the hair for a few minutes. Don't bother with those 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioners. Just run some conditioner through after shampooing and rinse well - an extra 45 seconds.

4.    If your hair is tangled when wet, use a Tangle Teezer
You can buy these from most chain pharmacies – they’re about £10. Cheaper versions that are similar can be found in Poundland. The soft plastic bristles gently detangle without ripping the hair. Remember – hair is more delicate when wet.

For those people with hair in poor condition, first of all get a trim, then reduce usage of heated tools/straighteners. Finally consider investing in a leave-in conditioner, or a hair mask (concentrated conditioner) twice a month. At the Totem Hair pop-up, we use Davines Dede Leave-in Hair Mist which is light and non-greasy. For a more heavy duty effect, Aveda’s Damage Remedy Daily Hair Repair is lovely or Redken’s Extreme Anti-snap treatment is light-weight and non-greasy.

Masks are a whole other topic, which I will blog about more soon. But for a natural mask, start with a mixture of coconut and olive oil on the freshly washed hair ends for 1-2 hours (then a light shampoo to remove).

More on that soon. Any more questions, mail in at the address above!