10 DIY Natural Hair Products: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

I unapologetically love my super curly hair. I wear it natural (no chemical relaxers or “blow outs” are touching this mane) and I take care of it myself using healthy potions I make at home. Now and again, I’ll toss in a natural gel or conditioner from a beauty brand, but I enjoy making my own hair products more.

After three years of handmade detanglers, gels and color rinses, I have it down to a science. And my hair is healthy and happy. But when I first began my quest away from conventional hair products with their harsh sulfactants and questionable preservatives, I was at a lost. In my experimental stage, I tried all the rumored “miracle” ingredients – from okra to yogurt. Here’s what worked and what didn’t.

For Cleansing

Baking soda – A simple baking soda and water mixture worked wonders as a detox when I was switching over from commercial products. I needed to remove the sticky build-up of gels, waxes and hair sprays, and this cleanser did the job wonderfully. My recipe: Mix ½ cup of baking soda with 3 cups of very warm water. Pour over your hair and scalp in the shower. Distribute through your hair and rub on your scalp. Rinse with warm water until your hair is grit free.

I couldn’t do this every time I wash. It would make my hair dry, but many women with oily hair use this a few times a week to keep their mane sparkly clean and shiny.

Bentonite or Moroccan Rhassoul clay – using clays as hair cleansers is still off-the-grid enough that people are shocked when I mention it. But I assure you, I didn’t invent the idea. Many online hair care forums are cluttered with women singing the praises of clay as a hair cleanser. It’s inexpensive, filled with vitamins and minerals and it’s easy to use. Getting past the “no suds” issue is hard for some women, but once you’ve tried clay, you may not care about bubbles. You can find Bentonite and Rhassoul clays in bulk at fine health food stores.

You’ll only need about a 1/2 cup of clay for shoulder length hair. Mix it with distilled water until you have a thin paste. Spread on your hair and cover it with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap part is important because you don’t want the clay to dry out and become hard. It could break your hair. Wait about ten minutes and rinse thoroughly in the shower. This, like baking soda, is a great detox for hair that’s been burdened with too many styling products. I use this method several times a month.

Soap Nuts – In India and Nepal, there are trees that produce a nut (actually, it’s a berry, but for some reason people call them nuts) with natural cleansing properties. These “Soap Nuts”, as they are called, can be used to make laundry detergent, hand soap and shampoo – all without any harsh chemicals or artificial dyes. Making shampoo from soap nuts is super easy. Grab a handful of soap nuts and toss them in 3 cups of water. Boil for 30 minutes, then let the solution cool. That’s it. Use it as you would shampoo.

It’s especially good for individuals with sensitivities to dyes and fragrances. Works as a baby shampoo, too. Be sure to make the solution fresh each time. There are no preservatives in these. But you can get several solutions from the same nuts. You can find soap nuts at Bubble & Bee.

Conditioning

Mayonnaise – I know this product only counts as homemade if you, well, make it yourself. But lots of women swear by the conditioning properties of mayonnaise for dry hair, so I’m going to include it in this article. I have slathered mayonnaise (the jar kind) on my curls several times, hoping to discover the fascination. But I never found it to be particularly nourishing. It was incredibly greasy, though. The main ingredient in the bestselling mayo brand is soybean oil. Soybean oil does not penetrate the hair shaft like coconut or olive oil, so I’m not sure what lasting benefit it would yield for dry hair. The other ingredients: egg yolks, lemon juice (and salt?) could be put to better use without the soybean oil. My consensus? I’ll pass on this DIY hair remedy. I find no evidence of why (or if) it works.

Bananas – mashed bananas are regularly touted as the best hair conditioner ever. I’m told even Dr. Oz did a show on the fruit’s many benefits. Bananas contain potassium which softens the hair; and Vitamins A, B, C and E. They also contain natural oils that help with hair’s elasticity and prevent split ends (providing you’re not trashing your hair with heat). Great. But I’ve still not discovered how to utilize this mysterious mask without certain “side effects.”

The first time I tried a banana mask, it was summer. I was going on a date and really wanted the guy to be impressed with my healthy, beautiful curls. So, I threw a banana in the blender and made myself a hair mask. After struggling for thirty minutes to get all of the bits of bananas out of my hair, I was annoyed. But, I figured pretty hair was worth the effort. Two hours later (on my date!), in the hot July weather, my head started to smell like…baby puke. No lie. I smelled like a six month old had brought up her Gerber mashed bananas all over my head. My date kept asking, “Do you smell that weird pukey scent?” “Nope. I don’t smell a thing.” I never did the banana mask again.

Avocados –Avocados are used in commercial hair and skincare products for their serious moisturizing properties. If you have super dry hair, this is the fruit for you. The easiest way to enjoy the benefits of an avocado mask is to buy the fruit very ripe and toss it in the blender with a ½ teaspoon of olive oil. Like bananas, avocados can be hard to wash out of your hair, but the trick is to blend them down to a super smooth paste. The olive oil helps. Cover your hair with the paste and seal in your body heat with plastic wrap. Leave it on as long as you like. I sometimes deep condition for two to three hours. Then wash with a mild cleanser (like soap nuts). My hair is shiny for days.

Yogurt – The lactic acid in yogurt is a godsend when I’m having a frizzy hair day. I can’t comment on yogurt’s benefits on straight hair, but for all you curly heads out there, yogurt will bring manageability. It even temporarily loosens the curls, which I like. I use plain Greek style yogurt because it has less liquid. But beware not to leave it on too long. Like bananas, yogurt can mix with body chemistry and heat and let off a funky odor.

Final Rinses

Apple Cider Vinegar – healthy hair rinses help restore pH balance, kill bacteria and create smoother cuticles. The easiest final rinse I’ve found is apple cider vinegar mixed with distilled water. I pour 1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar into 1 qt of water and pour it over my hair in the shower. Some women mix herbs like lavender or thyme (for oily hair) or essential oils into their mix. This is a little more time intensive, but does offer great results.

Herbal rinses – I’ve read quite a few blogs that recommend using packaged herbal, black or green tea blends as a final rinse. The first few months into my natural lifestyle revamping, I did the packaged tea blends. And as much as I liked the convenience of just popping a tea bag into the water without much fuss on my end, I found I wasn’t getting exactly what my hair needed.

My dry hair needs herbs that help moisturize and add slip for detangling. I don’t need lemon or orange leaves. I don’t need herbs that are added strictly for flavoring. So, after a few months, I studied the properties of organic herbs I found at my health food store and mixed my own “teas”. A diffuser and a cup of steaming hot water were the only required “tools”.  Now my hair is thriving. This is, hands down, my favorite DIY tip.

Gels

Okra – Somebody, somewhere told me that boiled okra makes a great hair gel. And I believed them. I want to save you the time on this one. It doesn’t. You know how okra has that slimy stuff inside? Well, eating that is great for your health. Trying to harvest it as hair gel is a waste of time. At least it was for me. I can perhaps see this working if you have super fine hair and don’t need much hold. But overall, this was a bust. And messy.

Flax Seeds – this one actually worked, but was far more trouble than beneficial. I boiled a handful of dark brown flax seeds (the golden seeds didn’t yield much mucus) in a pot for about ten minutes. A nice, thick gel formed in the bottom of the pan. Great. But then there was the issue of the seeds. As the gel cooled, the seeds stuck in it like glue. No matter what I did, I could not get the seeds out. Okay. Round two. I placed the seeds in a tea diffuser and then added them to the boiling water. Didn’t work. All of the thick gel was trapped inside the diffuser along with…drum roll, please – the seeds. My final attempt involved cheese cloth and a lot of patience. I did eventually get about ½ a teaspoon of gel that worked quite nicely on six of my curls. Totally not worth the effort. I broke down and bought Aubrey Organics hair gel. It’s wonderful. And easy to use.

What have you put on your hair that you’ve found useful or embarrassingly worth avoiding?

12 Responses to “10 DIY Natural Hair Products: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”
  1. Coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil, really. We use it almost exclusively for cooking, so I always have some handy.

    A few drops on your hands, then drag your hands through your hair. I use more than this when my hair gets dry – I have thick wavy/curly hair that’s at just below bra-strap length, so I’ve got a lot of hair to deal with. It makes my hair so much easier to comb. And if my hair is particularly bad, I’ll use a few tablespoons, coat my hair as much as possible, and let it sit for a half hour or so before I wash my hair. The effects of the oil last for weeks.

    I even use it on the hubby’s hair – not as thick as mine, but very curly and also long. It makes his hair much easier to comb as well.

  2. Laurie,
    I forgot all about coconut oil! You’re right. It is a wonder smoother, tamer and all around moisturizer. Generally speaking, I can’t use oils on my hair because they immediately eradicate my curls and leave me with a bushy headed mess. But coconut oil doesn’t do that at all. Makes my hair soft and shiny. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Great article and comments! Thanks for the info! I’ve been doing the “no ‘poo” thing for several years off and on now, one year solid on, and I’m really glad that I am. My hair has grown back in! :D I am looking for a better “conditioner” though –been using safflower oil– and someone on Facebook directed me to your article. Have either of you tried Sweet Almond Oil? Laurie, my hair is alot like yours. I have a friend with hair more like yours, Todra, and she swears by Avocado Oil, but she thought it might be a bit too heavy for my texture.

  4. Hi Heather!

    I have used sweet almond oil. Made my hair shiny, but didn’t do much else. I’d start with coconut oil, if I were you because it adds shine and it’s great for your hair. And it’s not too heavy.

  5. I know longer poo with regular shampoos. Too dry and very drying for the scalp. Co-washes have done wonders for strengthening and moisturizing. I keep hearing about the benefits of Clay Cleansing. I haven’t worked up the nerve to try that yet, but I’m a true “Product Junkie” so I know it’ll be in my Hair Product pantry soon! Thanks for posting the info.

    I’ve found that a honey & olive oil conditioner is great for smoothing out “frizzies.” My hair is pretty fine and loves moisture but not to much oil so the mix of honey and olive oil is perfect. Speaking of Olive oil, a friend of mine recently insisted I try Olive Oil gel for moisture and hold for Twist Outs. What a wonder this product was. Hold with no flakes, no alcohol, and my hair is soft to the touch! You can’t beat the price either $3.50! It’s definitely on my list of “Must Have” hair products!

  6. Nikk, your hair sounds like mine. Oils are a big no no, unless they are super light weight. I’m not familiar with olive oil gel. I’d like to know the process it goes through and if it is still natural afterward. Because so many things are pushed as “natural” that are anything but, I am always skeptical and usually end up making my own when the time allows.

  7. emma

    lol!!! um…as for the flax seed gel, there are TONS of videos telling you to strain the liquid, then let it cool. You literally let the seeds gel in it. Cheese cloth sounds annoying, just use a mesh strainer or the foot of some pantyhose. okra gel…eh…can’t help you on that one.

    also…for the bentonite clay, I mix coconut milk (stuff from the can, not the refrigerated kind you drink) with the clay. It does not dry out and it makes my hair feel mah-velous lol.

  8. Linsley

    I am going backpacking in Central and South America for six months, and I am on the hunt for hair care products that I will be able to pick up on the road. This article was super helpful! Thank you for sharing your research. Baking soda, avocado, and coconut oil should be accessable and work wonders!

    I have fine curly hair, and without a leave in treatment the curls just dont rise to the occasion. Traveling with my world on my back, I will have to kiss my products goodbye. Any advice on a natural leave in substance to help curls curl up and tame frizz? I know I am going on a materially minimal adventure, but I would still like to have good hair days!

    • Hi Linsley,

      Thanks for reading my article. As for a leave-in, I really love Kinky Curly’s Knot Today. It’s a lightweight leave in conditioner and detangler that works really well on curly hair. http://kinky-curly.com/shop.php (scroll down to second product).

      Have a blast on your backpacking trip!

  9. Shanel

    Baking soda has a ph that is a little too basic to use on hair. The ACV rinse is good for the hair.
    http://www.minimalistbeauty.com/diy-green-tea-cleansing-hair-rinse
    That link had a lot of good recipes for shampoo and conditioner alternatives. I love my flax gell for my super coiled, kinky, nappy, afro hair. I use a metal strainer but people have also used a nylon stocking and tongs. Naptural85 and Kimmytube both have youtube channels that have good recipes and techniques. You may want to use an herbal rinse to get the avacado or banana out of your hair. Do not set with heat with those additives and you may need to add additional oil to ease removal and give it slip. Guar gum is good for that. Hope this helps.

  10. Rosemary

    Hi Todra not to knock your suggestions but I think you need to invest in a good strainer and try again and add a little olive oil and use plastic caps to keep the products from drying out in your hair.

  11. JustMe

    Good grief, my apologies, I meant “dyed” my hair…

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