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