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Natural styling makes hair stand up and take notice

Bryce Edmonds

April 24, 2008

5 Min Read
Natural styling makes hair stand up and take notice

"Hair is dead. There are things we can do about it, but there's only so much we can do." So says hairstylist, educator and owner of Urban Pearl Salon in Boulder, Colo., S. Masyn Moyer. "There's a ton of conventional companies out there producing crap in fabulously colored bottles," but it all leads up to the "illusion" of healthy hair, she says.

Naturals companies are beginning to awaken from that illusion and give consumers more of what they are asking for—hairstyling products that are as natural as possible, but still give the kind of performance they demand.

The difficulty with creating those products is, perhaps obviously, that with a lot of conventional formulas "you can't screw up," says Moyer, who educates stores for Denver-based Modern Organic Products. On the other hand, with natural products "you have to be more of a doctor, and pay attention to what ingredients are in the products and what the end result will be. You don't just get the luxury of throwing things together," she says.

Dave Karlak, president of San Francisco-based Max Green Alchemy, echoes Moyer: "Since hair is, in fact, dead, it really can't be healed." However, he adds, "Active botanicals and other natural-source ingredients can restore shine, prevent frizzies and tangles and strengthen and impart silkiness lost through sun damage, chemical processing and mechanical stress [such as] breakage from excessive brushing."

Autumn Blum, a cosmetic chemist and president of Clearwater, Fla.-based Organix-South, agrees that the naturals world has finally caught up with consumers' demands. "You now have many botanical and botanically derived ingredients that can hold their own versus their conventional counterparts," she says. "The performance may be a bit different than what a consumer is used to, but if they give it a chance they are usually pleasantly surprised."

Karlak says in the past, many natural hairstyling products did not meet consumer's expectations, "giving natural hairstyling a black eye." According to Angella Green, spokeswoman for Jason Natural Products, "An educated retailer is the best tool to help a consumer choose the right products"—as with most aspects of naturals retailing—and restore faith in natural hairstyling products.

This can be tricky, however. "It's always interesting to me. You have a nutritionist to talk about vitamins, an aesthetician to talk about skin—and the two of them talking about hair," Moyer says. "Manufacturers are starting to hire hairstylists to talk about their products. Nobody likes a high rate of return."

Karlak says to educate consumers, emphasize natural hairstyling products' "freedom from potentially toxic ingredients, and improved performance [using] active botanicals, which can actually improve the appearance of hair." And since there are now natural versions of nearly all conventional hairstyling products, finding something that works should be possible, though perhaps still a process.

"Obviously, the consumer will need to find the products that work best for their hair types, and that might involve trying several different brands," Blum says. Helping consumers zero in on the right product might take some creativity. "For instance, if they are used to using a styling mousse, they might consider combing a small amount of leave-in conditioner with a gel or light spray," she says.

According to Green, ingredients such as cellulose and guar gums, derived from plant parts, as well as beeswax and candelilla wax can give the holding properties that customers are looking for. Ingredients such as wheat protein and aloe vera gel provide "smoothing" properties, while betaine, a sugar derivative, gives hold in gel-style products.

Karlak says conventional ingredients such as polyvinylpyrrolidone, petrolatum and methylchloroisothiazolinone—which all merit at least a "moderate" warning from the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group—are the kinds of ingredients being replaced in natural versions. The styling agents used in Max Green's products "hold up to high humidity and prevent frizzy hair, which is something that conventional PVP-based products have been unable to do," Karlak says. "So in this case, the natural versions are superior to the conventional ones."

Letting customers know that natural hairstyling products work while "conditioning and balancing and having care and concern for the environment and future sustainability" should be enough to get them to try something different, says Blum.

Both Green and Moyer say that retailers should also take it a step further. "Go back to the core, instead of saying, 'Here's some synthetic that'll make you think your hair is healthy,'" Moyer says. "If someone comes in with a dry scalp, the first thing I ask them is, 'How much water do you drink?'" Green says in addition to helping customers sort their way through the new crop of hairstyling products, "A retailer must also have knowledge of foods and supplements when a consumer is looking for healthier hair." She recommends fatty acids and a diet rich in protein, as well as biotin, zinc and iron. "Hair must be taken care of like the rest of our body," she says.

And, according to Blum, another point to make with customers is that although natural brands might be more expensive than their conventional counterparts, "The per-application cost is often less. When using high-quality, natural ingredients, you can typically use a smaller amount [of product] with the same, or better, end result."

However, as Moyer says in comparison, "Some people won't put down that conventional stick of deodorant to save their lives—literally." Showing them that natural hairstyling products can work might take more than just a bit of sampling. She recommends bringing a stylist into your store and showing customers that using natural products is "not like you thought it was." It takes effort to combat the conventional companies' huge marketing campaigns. Demonstrating that natural products keep hair healthy—and stylish—can help customers find the right products for their hair.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 11/p. 30, 32

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