Thursday, May 26, 2011


Make Your Own Semi-Functional Hairstyling Products

Years before I quit shampoo, I stopped using styling products. They made my hair look good but gave me rashes and breakouts on my face and neck (which for some reason never seem to be in style). Plus I felt the requisite eco-guilt about throwing away plastic bottles — and the CFCs in hairspray. Oh jeez, don’t… just don’t. So what’s a girl to do when she wants her hair to look killer, but doesn’t want to mess up her skin or the environment or her bank account? Try homemade natural styling products is what!

Sounds good in theory, but do they actually work? Well, I decided to find out by making three different recipes and trying them on my hair. I chose sugar hairspray, lemon hairspray, and flaxseed hair gel. What follows is the result of my grand experiment. (Standard disclaimer: Everybody’s hair is different, so my results are not necessarily going to be universal.)

Sugar Hairspray


- 2 teaspoons sugar

- 1/2 cup water

- 1 drop essential oil (optional)

Bring the water to a boil. Then take it off the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. If you want, add a drop of essential oil, but I found even one drop of jasmine oil smelled overwhelming, like a very pretty flower punching my nose back into my brain.

Let it cool slightly, then pour it into a spray bottle. (A funnel would have been helpful, I discovered too late!) Use it as you would any kind of regular hairspray.

Total time: Less than ten minutes.

Total cost: I spent $8.26 ($1.97 on the spray bottle and $6.29 for the jasmine oil), but if you skip the oil, it’ll just be however much the bottle costs you, assuming you have sugar in your pantry.

Result: Ehhh.

My hair looked pretty much the same as it does when I don’t use any product, but it got sort of oddly flat and staticky on top. (It’s hard to show in a photo, but it happened.) When I put it in a ponytail, I got the same amount of frizz and pieces that wouldn’t stay up.

All in all, it wasn’t much different from no product at all. But if you’re interested in natural beauty stuff, you should at least try it out, because it only takes like six minutes, you already have the ingredients, and the recipe is stupidly easy. You could literally fit this recipe on Twitter if you wanted. And it might work better for you than it did for me.

Lemon Hairspray


- 1 lemon

- 2 cups water

- 1 drop essential oil (optional)

Slice the lemon up into small pieces and simmer them in the water for between 10 and 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Then strain the whole thing over a bowl, which leaves you with the hair care product you’ve always desired: a colander full of wrinkled-up, steaming-hot lemon wedges, mmm!

Just kidding — you actually get a bowl of scalding, cloudy lemon juice, mmm!

After you’ve strained it, let it cool before you put it in a spray bottle. (Again, a funnel would be helpful, and, again, you can add a drop of essential oil if you want.) Use it like regular hairspray — except you have to store it in the fridge, and it only stays good for a week or two.

Total time: 20 minutes.

Total cost: $2.25 for a lemon and a spray bottle.

Result: Decent.

When I wore my hair down, this spray held the curl better than the sugar spray, but I had to apply a lot of it and do a couple rounds of drying with a finger diffuser. This probably isn’t a big deal to folks who normally spend a lot of time on their hair, but it made me 15 minutes late for work. In fact, I didn’t have time to take a picture in my bathroom at home, so I had to take this picture in the ladies’ room at my office, and I spent the whole time worrying that one of my coworkers would walk in and see me taking pictures of myself in the bathroom mirror — or worse, just see me taking a camera into the bathroom.

When I put my hair up, the spray did a decent but not great job of smoothing frizzies and keeping all the hair up. Maybe I should have used two lemons?

Definitely better than nothing, but not as effective as store-bought stuff. Depending on what you want from your hairspray (effectiveness vs. cheapness/eco-friendliness/no rashes), this might be a worthwhile tradeoff. It also might be of interest to you to know that while wearing this I didn’t get swarmed by fruit flies or gnats or any other bugs — and I live in Texas, which is basically just an enormous insect hive.

Flaxseed Hair Gel


- 2 tablespoons flaxseed (preferably golden)

- 1 cup water

Bring the water to a boil. Add the seeds and turn the heat down low. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Then strain into a bowl. (Tip: immediately rinse, soak, or wash the pot. Otherwise it’ll be very annoying to clean later.) Store the gel in the fridge for 1–2 weeks in a Tupperware container or whatever you have. Use it as you would any regular gel.

A word of caution: Do NOT cook the seeds for more than 10 minutes. If you do, you’ll end up with an unholy glob of concentrated slime that can’t be defeated by any mortal colander or cheesecloth. Here is one of my failed attempts:

What does that look like to you? The egg sac of an outer-space spider, right? Just keep it at 10 minutes. Maybe nine, to be on the safe side.

Total time: 15 minutes, assuming you don’t simmer it too long and have to start over again.

Total cost: I spent 75 cents for 1/3 pound of flaxseeds, which is about, I don’t know, 10 times more than you need.

Result: Great!

The finished product has the exact same consistency as cold snot.

But it works!

Pretty good curl-definition and hold when I wore my hair down. Very few flyaways/frizzies when I wore it up. It worked just as well as any (non-Dep) gel I’ve ever bought at a store, but with far less crunchiness and no acne patches. It also smelled kinda hair-product-y, almost like aloe vera, even though I didn’t put any essential oils in it.

If you’re looking for a “natural” alternative to conventional hair products, this is probably your best bet. It’s absurdly cheap, and fairly easy to make — just, for the love of God, don’t boil it too long. (Recipes adapted from herehere, and here.)

Lauren O'Neal grew up near Berkeley, California, but didn't become a dirty hippie until after moving to Texas.

60 Comments / Post A Comment


Can you add essential oils to the flaxseed hair gel, even though it has the consistency of cold snot?


@wee_ramekin Yes, but you have to do it right after you drain it while it's still hot.

Lady Pennyface

Ooh. First I was all, "Sugar hairspray! Why have I never thought of that?!" And then I was sad it didn't work. You have pretty hair, Lauren O'Neal!

Also, does anyone know of a natural recipe/alternative to Garnier Smoothing Milk, or similar? My hair is too baby fine for most gels. (Though maybe Flax Gel would work - I like that it's not crunchy! Don't like the potential Alien Egg Glob.)


@Lady Pennyface I have super fine hair too and I've had luck with just plain aloe gel for smoothing flyaways and the teensiest bit of hold. I learned it from here: http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/2009/11/natural-homemade-hair-gel/ (I stumbled on that site after falling down a google hole of no-pooing after that article here. It's awesome and has other natural product recipes!) I haven't tried the super hold recipe she has yet but I plan on doing it soon since I just chopped off all my hair and can do funky stuff with it again.

Lady Pennyface

@groggette Thanks! I will have to pick up some aloe when I go shopping this weekend. My hair is longish (shoulders) and I just want something that smoothes a little. The best thing is that if I don't like it, it still has other uses! (Hello summer sunburns in my future...)


@Lady Pennyface Ha, I know right. I had the aloe sitting around just for sunburns and then when I saw the bonzai article I decided to give it a go. Evidently you can also use aloe gel as a shaving gel? I plan on giving that a shot when I run out of conditioner (which I use as a shave gel instead of as hair conditioner... I'm not good at following directions on the package!)


@groggette yes! as a shave gel! your legs are sosososo smooth after. it's especially awesome if you like to shave your legs in the sink because it doesn't drip like conditioner does.

Lady Pennyface

@groggette @contrary For shaving? This just gets better! I use shampoo to shave with but will have to try the aloe too. I probably haven't used actual shave gel for 8 or 10 years.


@Lady Pennyface @contrary So when the apocalypse happens I should stockpile baking soda, vinegar, and aloe. Got it!


Wait I hope this isn't off-topic, I commented on Jezebel and I know how crazy they are with their comments but whatever.

Anyway, I have a question, since I really like the idea of the flaxseed gel. I had short hair for years, so I know how to use hair gel/pomade/wax with short hair. But ever since growing my hair out, I have no idea what to do with it (yes, even with the Jane Feltes how-to's). It's kind of thick and a little wavy, and I love it as it is--I wash it just with shampoo every other day and just go to bed with it wet, and the next day it ends up great--but I'd like to, you know, advance a level in Girl Skills? How would one use gel on long hair? I thought gel was only for like...spiking? Or whatever? Because the flaxseed recipe looks great and I'd like to try it out, but I wouldn't know how to use it!!


@descie For wavy/curly hair, gel can help keep your waves/curls from going flat or getting frizzy. You "scrunch" it in while your hair is wet, then either let it air dry or use a hair dryer with a finger diffuser. I don't know if gel has a purpose for long hair that is straight.


@descie Look up "plopping." I have thick, kinda wavy/kinda curly hair and it. is. AWESOME. I don't use a diffuser because I don't have one, but leaving the wrap in and then refusing to touch it works wonders. I use Aveda Be Curly, haven't tried to make the homemade flax gel yet (I'd probably give myself a third-degree burn, and I don't like throwing away perfectly good hair products).

Lily Rowan

@descie If your hair is great, why do anything else? You don't need product if you are happy without it!


@notjenny Oooh! I am totally going to try plopping!

Although I have to say, I was worried that by googling that name I'd come up with something in the lemonparty department. Thankfully NOT!

simone eastbro

@madamvonsassypants i, too, had this fear about "plopping."


So, okay. Can we have a tutorial/explanation on what hair product does? I haven't spent much money trying to figure this out for myself, but I have never, ever, ever had any hair product do anything to my hair other than make it greasy (gel), crunchy (also gel), or smelly (hairspray.) I'm sure I'm not doing it right and my hair's weird wavy texture probably doesn't help, but what is supposed to happen?

Edgar Allan Bro

@wallsdonotfall PLEASE! I had no sisters, and my mother's hair technique was "wear it long and straight and sometimes have your husband lop off the dead ends in the backyard so the birds can make a nest out of it" and I grew up BAFFLED by hair product. She used to yell at me that my hair was too lank and in my face, so for awhile in middle school I hairsprayed these weird fake widow's peaks into my hair to "hold it off my face", and I have basically not touched hair product since then.

Tragically Ludicrous

@wallsdonotfall YES. I pretty much only used hair product when I went through my weird mohawk phase, which ended when I had to start doing college interviews (and now I'm 26). When it was shorter my hairdresser would put stuff in it, but then I could never quite figure it out by myself and whenever I tried it just went back to its natural state within a few hours so I stopped. Now that it's long, all I do is wash it at night and sleep it dry. And it's pretty fun and curly, but could it be MORE fun and curly?


As I don't use product too often, I'm not going to beat myself up about it. However, I'm a month into the poo-free experiment, and it's working out swimmingly! I can't shut up about it! I wake up, and my hair does exactly what I want it to do.





"The egg sac of an outer-space spider, right?"


Bus Driver Stu Benedict

I used to use plain old bar soap, it's naturalish, right? But that's probably too something-or-other for dames. Now I just use high-grade tique.

Jaime Green

Ooh! This is great. I've been happily off shampoo for a few months, but my bob is kinda boring - a little flax gunk on the ends would do me good.

This stuff rinses out in warm water, right?

(Oh, and for the sugar hairspray... maybe not great for summer, when bugs are around?)


@Jaime Green It does rinse out in warm water, no shampoo or other cleaning agents required. For some reason the flax gunk is hard to clean out of a pot if you let it dry, but comes out of your hair really easily. Science...or magic?

I didn't have any problem with bugs, even outside, and I live in a hot, humid, buggy area.


@Lauren_O'Neal Science, magic...or Jesus?

dracula's ghost

this is cool. However I have to say that since going no-poo (just baking soda every once in awhile) I actually don't NEED products anymore. I wake up and my baby-fine hair already looks/feels like it has my cool old texture-and-volume-enhancing mud in it, and so I'm good to go! I believe this is my hair's natural oils, normally kept 100% at bay by shampoo, asserting themselves. Thus the natural state of man is to look awesome and products just fuck that up. Probably that is a generalization. Also I use no products on my face and I am a wrinkly, freckly mess, so just ignore the "natural state of man" comment I made. The rest of it stands.


So wait. You're telling me that putting simple syrup in your hair doesn't have the same effect as hairspray? Right then, sticking to cocktails! [off to find more sparkly sparklers...]


@fierce_pierce My first thought, too, was "then add some gin and bitters to the bottle and spray directly into mouth."

Feminist Killjoy

great article THX THX THX

Katie Walsh

I feel like a failure, I tried baking soda and ACV hair wash for a week and it was so horrible, I felt depressed and dirty and gross and no mojo, and finally had to go buy the biggest bottle of Tres Semme and wash my hair in order to feel human again. WHAT DID I DO WRONG?!


@Katie Walsh Me too, I tried the no-poo after reading the article here and I made it 2 days. TWO DAYS.


@DrFeelGood Yep, me too. I lasted a week and broke out horrendously, so I've decided that shampoo and I just can't quit each other.


@Katie Walsh I found that having hair that's like an inch long works wonders. But your mileage may vary.


@Katie Walsh: Me too. The baking soda and ACV made my hair feel terrible. Now I either just rinse my hair in hot water with lots of fingertip scritching or 'wash' with a mild conditioner. I also brush my hair a lot more often, especially right before I 'wash' it, with a natural bristle brush.

Results: Very soft, lustrous hair (and I dye the hell out of mine, so that's saying something) that always looks and feels like 'second day hair'. It's never super post-shampoo shiny, but it doesn't it have that dry, stripped feeling to hair or scalp either. It's also nowhere near as oily as it used to be if I skipped shampooing for two days in a row and my forehead, which used to break out a bit under my bangs, is super clear.

I keep making my bf sniff my head to tell me if it smells dirty. So far, he says no. And he would definitely tell me. And then mock me.

I doubt I'll be shampooing my hair anytime soon, though I do shampoo my hairbrush a lot more often now.

Katie Walsh

@spiralbetty Wait, so did you have to do the whole 5 weeks of terrible hair process? Or did your hair just go straight to pretty lustrousness? I don't wanna do the 5 weeks of terribleness!


@Katie Walsh: Nope, I just did a week of the baking soda/ACV thing, hated it, then started 'washing' with conditioner or scritching/hot rinsing.

And so far, I'm pretty happy with it. Part of it was getting over the expectation that my hair would be that super shiny stripped kind of clean every day.

I would emphasize the brushing though. It seems to distribute the oils. In a good way.

I was also thinking that if I felt that I needed to shampoo my hair, maybe I'd dilute a little shampoo in a big thing of water and just sort of pour that on, squish it around a little, and rinse, and not insist on all kinds of lather. Kind of a compromise. But I haven't been tempted so far.


You can just low-poo and wash your hair less often and still get a lot of the same results. Also, I used these for a while with a cider vinegar rinse. http://www.chagrinvalleysoap.com/shambar.htm


@spiralbetty : Me too, exactly like this. Hot water and heavy scritching, or a little Shea butter (silicon free) conditioner that I comb through vigorously. Beautiful hair from the first day, scraggly waves/frizz turned magically into soft curls.


From my hairstylist/friend, for that day at the beach feel (great for fine/limp hair): Ocean Mist = salt water in a spray bottle.


@minijen I just started using a sea salt spray from my stylist as well, and the ingredients list looks pretty easily to duplicate and very "natural". I use Davines brand, which gives my fine, but wavy hair a lot of volume and curl definition without the crunch. However years ago I read in a magazine you could just apply drugstore saline solution to dried hair for that "day at the beach" look for a lot cheaper.


Do you think the gel would work at all using ground flaxseed or does it need to be whole, as shown? This seems to be exactly what I need, and I'd hate to have to buy more flaxseed when I already have an almost full bag of it. I figure the straining step will be more difficult, though.


@warmsungilted I haven't tried it myself, but I've read that ground flaxseed doesn't work. But you only need 2 tablespoons of whole flaxseed, which will cost seriously like 10 cents. My supermarket has them in the same area as the bins of almonds and cashews and yogurt-covered pretzels and all that. That may not be true of all supermarkets, but you probably won't have to buy a whole 'nother bag, just scoop a couple tablespoons from a bin.


Does the flaxseed hair gel go bad ridiculously quickly? Could I keep it in the medicine cabinet, or does it have to live in the fridge?


@mirror_father_mirror Hey lady (dude? Can't tell from your username, but I am at The Hairpin where it is Ladies First!, so I assume "lady"). Here is that Lauren said in the article: "Store the gel in the fridge for 1–2 weeks in a Tupperware container or whatever you have."


Doesn't lemon juice + sun exposure = hair bleaching? Isn't that what old-timey ladies used to bleach their hair? I'd hate to think that my all-natural hairspray was going to jack up my hair color (I'm having flashbacks to the horrible results of using Sun-In in the 80's).

Lily Rowan

@FMoss3 Oh yeah, I was wondering that, too. Could it be that the lemon juice I put in my hair didn't actually do anything???


@FMoss3 - Yes, THIS. This was going to be my question! Because I *know* light-haired girls who've used lemon juice to bleach their hair back in high school.

Alexandra Martell

@FMoss3 I wondered about that too, because I did use lemons to lighten my hair in high school. The other thing about the lemon hairspray is during one of these said lemons-into-hair-applications in a public beach restroom, a woman warned my friend and I that we had better wash our hands and scalp really well or the residue + sun would give us "citrus burns," which are apparently like 2nd-degree burns that the sun will cause if you have citrus on your skin. Naturally I am now paranoid for life about this (last lemon-hair application circa 8 years ago) but maybe the hairspray could also cause citrus burns to your scalp?


@aliemartell Yes, I think that is also true. I think the same way the acid in the lemon juice accelerates the effect of UV radiation on lightening hair, it probably also accelerates the effect of UV radiation on burning your skin.


@FMoss3 Oh noooo I've unwittingly given everyone on the Hairpin skin cancer on their scalps!

Although I have to say, I tried to bleach my hair with lemon juice in high school, and I never got any results at all.


@Lauren_O'Neal Lemons and limes contain psoralen which is a UVA-activated toxin that can cause severe skin inflammation and is carcinogenic. And can hyperpigment your skin! The more you know! (Drink your margs in the shade just in case.)


@MollyculeTheory This is true but mostly comes from the resin thats on the outer peel. If you are handling a bunch of limes or lemons, beware that if it gets onto your skin, you could get a severe burn reaction from the sun. This happened to me a few years ago. I was picking fresh limes off of the tree to make margaritas for a bunch of people in Mexico, and squeezed about 30-40 limes. The resin was all over my fingers and as I squeezed my hands together you could see my finger marks later as my hands were exposed to the sun. It eventually gave me severe burns that did not go away for months. It's called Phytophotodermatitis. I don't think that the actual lemon or lime juice inside will have this same effect since its just the resin on the outside of the peel, but never hurts to be careful.


I have thick curly frizzy hair and I spent like a decade trying to find the perfect hair care product for my "problem" hair, until I just stopped using products all together. Blammo! No more problems.


I'm totally trying the flaxseed gel. Thanks, Lauren. PS. you have pretty hair. :)

apples and oranges

A sorority girl I studied abroad with told me to use regular hand lotion/moisturizer as a hair product replacement... I put it in my hair and it's not frizzy. This is basically a miracle to me, because I have spent the past 4-5 years wondering how to stop my hair from going Medusa. It's not natural, but it will save you money on hair gunk!


I'm going to give that flax seed gel a try. Been doing the no-poo now for a few months & just started using the baking soda/acv once a week. LOVE IT. I have super-thick hair that is typically very dry, but not anymore! Now, I'm just waiting for it to grow out so it will quit sticking up in the air when I wake up...


i just wanna be my self and i want you to know i am my hair


Has anyone tried those Lush hair styling products? I want to believe they work...

Laura Woolridge@facebook

Great post! I tried a lemon juice spray after reading this, and it was just what I needed. I just enjoyed reading several of your articles. I would like to pass on some of your natural beauty/health advice on my blog sometime, westernwoman.wordpress.com
Feel free to drop in and post a comment if you have more valuable tips! :)


Making hairspray products such as one sugar hairspray you have mentioned is easy to make and effective too, I like to try at home.
new hair color ideas

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