Believe it or not, but the word shampoo entered the English language from India during the colonial era. The word was derived from the Hindi word Chāmpo, taking its origin in the Sanskrit root Chapayati, meaning to press, knead or soothe. At this point in time, a mixture of herbs and their extracts had been used to clean the hair since the ancient times. Most commonly the mixtures included Reetha also known as Soapberries or Soapnuts, that naturally contains Saponins, which is a natural cleanser. It was often mixed with other herbs such Arappu, Shikakai and Amla (Indian Gooseberry). When the colonialist returned back to Europe they introduced this new habit of massaging hair treatment into the scalp and hair, which they called ‘shampoo’.
Today shampoo has come to refer to a completely different mix of ingredients, though with the same purpose – to clean and soften the hair. That being said, shampoos today will promise you much more than that – to stop hair fall, fight dandruff, give volume, straighten or curl and much more. I’ve used commercial shampoos for around 26 years of my life, and my own homemade for around 2 years. From pure experience I can say that 2 issues I had the first 26 years have completely stopped in the last 2.
1. I’ve stopped loosing my hair:
I have an abundance of hair, so hair fall was never a big worry for me. That being said I always had a lot of hair fall, and used to find my hair left behind everywhere i would go. Hair fall is a major worry of many women, and if you don’t have a lions mane like mine, it’s completely understandable. Since I’ve treated my hair naturally with different methods, I’ve stopped losing my hair, till the stage where I barely find a strand of hair on my hairbrush.
2. My hair has stopped tangling:
I used to hate brushing my hair, because it took forever and left me with a sore scalp. The only way to make it manageable was to use half a bottle of conditioner, and in student days, that was a luxury I didn’t always want to pay for. Today I can go for days without brushing it, and it will still only tangle minimally.
Now, that being said – there is a certain flow that some commercial shampoos can give your hair, that I haven’t experienced with my own homemade. I love the way my hair feels now, so I’m not bothered by it, but I’m always experimenting with new ways to keep my hair healthy, soft and shiny.
What is shampoo today
Everyone has once upon a time tried to crack the code of list of ingredients on the back on the shampoo bottle, and many probably failed. Most shampoos are mostly a combinations of detergents and chemicals, that not only strips your hair of it’s natural moisture, but also carries a number of serious health concerns. At the same time commercials tend to focus on the few naturals ingredients the shampoo actually does contains, so this is what I started to wonder some years back – why shouldn’t a shampoo consist mostly the stuff we find good enough to promote?
Getting into the list of health hazards of commercial shampoo is a post in itself, so instead I will give some options of washing your hair naturally, cheap and easy. I would like to note that there are options of Organic, natural shampoos on the market today. I choose to make it myself, because it’s cheaper and gives me greater control of what it contains.
How to wash your hair naturally
It the last years, natural ways of cleaning the hair and body has won a lot of popularity world wide. Though here in India, like mentioned, these traditions goes back centuries. When I started out I had a lot of trial and error, and some of these methods have not worked for me, but that is not to say the wont work for you. Lets start with my own favorite.
Coconut shampoo bar
Coconut oil has a number of potent medicinal properties, as well as being a very strong cleanser. Because of it’s cleansing properties, it is commonly not used at higher rates of 25 % of the total oils in handmade soap. Though by simply superfatting the soap 10%, meaning leaving 10% of the coconut oil unsaponified, you will get a cleansing though moisturising shampoo bar. For dry hair you can superfat up to 12%. I usually add Lavender or Sweet Orange essential oil, but you can add any off your favourite essential oils. What I love about this shampoo is that it lathers just as much as normal shampoo, which most other methods doesn’t. Additionally It doesn’t take any preparation other than making it once, and can easily be used as a face and body bar as well. If you would like to try this out, but have never made soap before, start here: How to make natural soap.
Soapnuts – Reetha
Soapnuts, more commonly known as Reetha here in India, grows on the tree Sapindus. The word Sap meaning soap and Indus referring to India, perfectly summing up the essence of this tree. Because the soapnuts doesn’t taste good to insects, the tree has no need for fertilisers or pesticides, making it naturally organic. Soapnuts contain something called saponin, a natural cleanser, which is why it has been used for centuries to clean hair, skin, clothes and even homes. I’ve several times heard people here in India say – “ah, we used to wash our hair in that, in my native place when I was a child”, but I have only very few times actually seen people use it. I’ve not used it much to wash my own hair, but frequently use it to wash my clothes, but let me get back to that in another post. You can get soapnuts in it’s whole form, and as a powder. Though a word on buying powders – its not unknown that vendors mix fillers in powders, at least here in India. So buying the full nut makes it 100% sure its pure soapnut. To wash your hair with whole soapnuts, simply do the following:
- Put 5-7 soapnuts in a cotton string bag or directly in 3 Cups of water
- Boil over heat and let simmer for 20 min
- Add 1 more cup of water and continue simmering for 10 min
- Take off heat, and squeeze the bag until it suds
- Rinse with water and continue squeezing
- Keep the bottle in the fridge and massage into hair like you normally would when you want to wash your hair.
Would can also go for making powder of your soapnuts, and use as a paste instead, alone or mixed with some of the following.
Arappu, Shikakai and Amla
While you can wash your hair individually with Reetha, you can also add any of these three ingredients. Though this is not the only mixture you can try out.
Arappu is often used on its own to clean and soften hair. Made from the leaves of the Arappu tree, it’s a natural conditioner and leaves your hair incredibly soft. Simple make a paste of the green powder with water and massage into hair and scalp. Rinse like normal, and feel the soft result.
Shikakai or Acacia is a tree native to Asia, whereof the bark is used to make Shikakai powder. Shikakai literally meaning fruit for hair, like Reetha contains saponins making it a great cleanser. Shikakai is not often used on it’s own but in mixture with Arappu, Amla or Reetha so that it doesn’t dry out the hair.
Amla or Indian Gooseberry is the fruit of the Amla tree. It’s often eaten and drunk as a juice because of it’s great health benefits, and is equally healthy for your hair. Amla has strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, that strengthens your hair and scalp. It can be added to any of the three above, or on it’s own as a hair pack.
To sum up – use Arappu alone – Arappu with Shikakai – Shikakai with Amla – Amla with Arappu – Arappu with Reetha – Reetha with Shikakai – or just all of them in a mix. You can even add any of these to your coconut shampoo bar!
That was all for now. Feel free to comment, if you have your own favourite combination to add to the list.