safe and sound hair products

i often have to deal a heartbreaking blow to new clients when it comes to hair products. after checking the ingredients of what seems like hundreds of products, the sad news is that most of them are comedogenic and will complicate acne-prone skin.  for example, that smoothing serum? the one that tames the frizz and makes your hair look awesome? it’s totally breaking you out. as are the leave-in conditioners, moroccan hair oils, and most of your styling products too.

before getting clear myself, i used to use all kinds of hair potions and serums for my curly locks. i also had cystic nodules on my jawline and acne on the sides my face where my hair would hit or from sleeping on pillows covered in hair product residue . my hair always looked on point but i was broken out all over.  i felt like i had to make a choice. do i want clear skin or good hair? i chose clear skin, obviously. but then after a while of being completely clear i started to get antsy about my hair.  and so began the search for acne-safe hair products. which, by the way, is far from over. so here you have it. the information i have gathered thus far. hope it helps!

the super basic. when i started working at sS, i poo-pood at the thought of using a shower gel as hair shampoo. i was a disbeliever, until i actually tried it. i found out that the shikai stuff works surprisingly well! i now use it about once a week as both a shampoo and conditioner (it has oatmeal and aloe which i find moisturizing enough for non-color-treated hair).  it’s an easy and efficient option, one product, all over.

environmentally approved.  we also carry earth science fragrance free shampoo.  it’s a nice, unscented shampoo for normal to oily hair that will not break you out.  also safe and quite similar is john masters organics “bare” shampoo. in fact, they are almost the same product. so if you’re out shopping somewhere and they don’t have the earth science, try the john masters. these shampoos work well with our skinSALVATION brand conditioner.

salon style.  for those of us who need a little more care in the shower, we have been offering acne-safe selections from the AG Hair Cosmetics line. these are salon-quality products that will leave your hair feeling smooth and conditioned. fast food shampoo is sulfate-free and works well with either the ultramoist conditioner or the colour savour conditioner for color-treated hair.

we did a test run of these last year and had zero breakouts, which means the fragrances are a-ok here.

others to try.  nature’s gate makes a variety of shampoos and conditioners, most of which seems to be acne-safe. the sS jury is still out, but i do have a bunch of clients using them months in and no breakouts so far. they are available at whole foods, natural stores and i think even walgreen’s, at a very decent price point. the feedback i’ve got from clients is that you have to leave the conditioner in for at least 5 minutes to get a nice and smooth result if you have dry hair.

another winning combo can be found at trader joe’s. the tea tree tingle shampoo and conditioner are both acne-safe, and great if you have oily hair. the tea tree will give you a little zing!

if you’re battling with dry scalp or dandruff, you should know that the beloved head and shoulders is cloggy. try instead using selsun blue or aveeno nourish + dandruff control shampoo. our clients have tested these to be safe.

a word about fragrance. it’s such a tricky thing. unfortunately, the beauty industry, by law, does not need to disclose the ingredients belonging to a fragrance – and “fragrance” is in almost everything. it’s considered a trade secret in the united states and most companies do not provide information to the consumer as to what in fact a particular fragrance contains. that means we can’t exactly trust products to be acne-safe, or non-toxic for that matter, when the word fragrance is included in their ingredients list.  often times our clients will experiment with products in hopes that the fragrance doesn’t break them out and often times they are disappointed. proceed with caution if you choose to try products that contain an unchecked fragrance. and if you’re still trying to get clear it’s probably best to not use anything questionable for now.  you can read our blog post about it here.

to poo or not to poo. for some folks, going the no poo route is the best option. now, not everyone will have good luck with this kind of hair management or lack thereof (ahem, kim’s blog post ), but for the true minimalist it can be a saving grace.

honorable mention to the dry shampoos we have experimented with, and have thus far passed our standards.  l’oreal new ever style, garnier fructis volume extend, and oscar blandi’s pronto dry (the powder version, not the cloggy + sticky spray!).

styling products are the hardest to come by for sSers, but we do have a few standbys to recommend trying. i’m still on a quest to find a smoothing serum, but there is a calendula and green tea conditioning mist from john masters organics that can help with dryness and frizz. another safe product from john masters is his sweet orange & silk protein styling gel. if you have short hair and have been using pomade or gel, try switching to giovanni wicked wax. it has a light texture and hold but adds definition.

some of our more crafty clients have made their own products. one even made this recipe for flax-seed gel.  if you’re looking for texture or a summertime look, you can do one one savvy client did and diy a seaweed-free salt spray (but be sure not to add coconut oil, ever!). 

and let’s not forget the importance of using a high quality flat iron or heat styling tool, which can make all the difference.  with using one of these, it’s likely you won’t need any product at all!

this is by no means a comprehensive list but, it’s what we’ve come up with so far.  if any of you dear clients have been using a product for some time that doesn’t break you out, please do share with us so that we may pass it on to others.  🙂

no-poo : an acne safe*ish way to go (but still a work in progress)


in light of many things: the california drought, trying to cut down on all the chemicals we use on the daily, saving money, being the san-francisco-native-hippy that i am and add a dash of laziness (not having to wash, blow-dry and flatiron my hair everyday), i decided to jump on the no-poo train.


if you haven’t heard of this, no-poo basically just means, no shampooing.  you still clean your hair, but you just don’t use shampoo!  with a little internet searching, i found three basic & different ways people do this:

    1. you simply rinse the hair with just water.  yep, just water.  nothing else.
    2. rinse the hair with water, and then just condition (with a regular hair conditioner, or a diluted apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse).
    3. do a baking soda rinse (diluted, this step takes place of shampooing) and then a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse (to condition).

all of them sound a little weird (and the just water thing just sounds too good to be true).. but definitely worth a try!


at the end of january, i was able to spend a few days on the beach in mexico – and when you’re in such a hot, humid and tropical climate, there really isn’t any use to styling your hair or putting makeup on, for that matter.  your hair gets flat, and your makeup melts off..  so by the time i got back from vacation, i had gone almost 4 days without washing.. and figured, i’m already almost to a week, why not do the full dingo and not wash for a month?


in an effort to eliminate all hair product, i simply rinsed and blow dried my hair.  i thought it would be awesome to eventually get to a point where i didn’t need any product to keep my hair clean, and thought that i didn’t want to ruin my baseline with experimenting with even the baking soda + ACV trick.  my fine hair did eventually get a bit limp within a few days of arriving back to SF (away from the beaches of sayulita), so i remedied this by pinning my bangs back, and tying my hair in a ponytail.  some days my hair looked greasier than others, some days it looked great, like it was freshly shampooed (and i could wear my bangs, and hair, down – but maybe the back of my head looked a little greasy, or wet)!  i couldn’t figure out exactly what causes were associated with what effects, but i eventually got tired of my hair looking like it was just drying from a shower or tied up – i missed wearing my hair down on the regular.

to sum it up, just using water, my hair didn’t look so bad.  definitely not as bad as i would have expected, but definitely not as clean as freshly-shampooed hair, or super greasy gross hair.  if it did look ‘greasy,’ it just looked like it was damp, still drying from a shower.


enter sS’er LH, who came in for a treatment with nat.  nat was telling her that i was doing the no-poo thing, and LH had been doing it for a few months already, so when she came out of the treatment room, she was kind enough to share her recipe with me!

LH simply said that she uses about 1TB of baking soda and apple cider vinegar (separately, into 2 bottles) to 12 ounces of water each.  she had some dandruff/flaky scalp issues, so she instead diluted the apple cider vinegar with green tea and added a few drops of tea tree oil with much success!

so, i took some empty bottles home and BS/ACV’ed it up.  and the results were, great.  actually, more awesome than i expected – for the day, anyway.  the next day, my hair seemed greasier than when i was only using just water.  blah.

ig no poo!

after instagramming this, and chatting a bit with LH, it seems i still have a bit more acclimating to do, and playing with ratios to find the right combo for me.  so, i will trudge on experimenting to see if i can really get down to no-poo’ing only once every 7-10 days (!).  LH said it took her 6 weeks, and i suppose i am at about 2.5 weeks into BS/ACV’ing, but 4.5 weeks from last shampoo’ing my hair if you count the ‘just-water’ing’ (!).

and for the record, at no point did my hair smell like salad dressing, or generally smelled bad (from what my fellow sS coworkers + beau had to say!).

oh the things we do for beauty.. and the planet’s oceans!

3/2015: STILL ACCLIMATING, and maybe (getting) over it

ok.  so in trying to stretch out the days between BS/ACV’ing, my scalp and hair has been oily in between no-poo’s.  i can deal with that but…i am noticing that i am starting to break out from not washing too; probably from the natural oils just building up.  i found a few pimples on my scalp (sorry, gross, i know.  but the truth).

to remedy this, i’ve started no-poo’ing every 2-3 days, instead of waiting 5-7 days in between.  i am also (maybe) noticing that the length of my hair is not as shiny and healthy looking as i remember it.  coulda been the lighting that day, it could also have to do with the fact that i haven’t had my haircut in almost 3 months.  to be fair, i used to blow-dry and flat-iron my hair everyday, but have been doing that only after i no-poo, since i’m tying my hair back so much during the acclimation stage.  also, i never had this problem when i was washing with shikai body wash every day.   at this point, i’m really hoping this acclimation period finishes quickly!


i’ve found the best no-poo’ing recipe for me includes:

1. diluting about a tablespoon of baking soda into about 12oz of warm water and working that into my scalp, making sure to ‘scrub’ all over the scalp thoroughly, while feeling a little scrubby texture from the soda while working it in.

2. after rinsing thoroughly, i’ll know my hair will be washed-feeling (meaning, not oily at all) if my hair feels a bit ‘squeaky clean’ immediately after rinsing the soda out.  i found that if i didn’t use enough soda in the dilution, my hair would still be greasy post no-poo.

3.  then, i condition.  i’m still experimenting with the apple cider vinegar rinse and using sS’s hair conditioner post ‘wash’, but haven’t figured out a recipe that keeps my hair from turning into an oil slick longer than 3 days.

at this point, i’m thinking maybe no-poo’ing isn’t for me.  maybe because my hair is so fine, and even with ‘no-poo regulated’ scalp oil production, that could just be too much for my fine hair, but would be ok for someone with courser, thicker hair?

the ingredients themselves (baking soda & acv) are acne-safe, but the oil-production that doesn’t get washed away seems to clog up and break me out.  perhaps my personal no-poo limit is only 3 days; 2 days with my hair and bangs down, and the third day with my hair all tied/pinned back.

still.  a work.  in progress.

my old hair regimen: shikai body wash (in yuzu) as shampoo.  never needed to condition, even with daily blow-drying and flat-ironing.

my old hair regimen: shikai body wash (in yuzu) as shampoo. never needed to condition, even with daily blow-drying and flat-ironing.


i’ll continue to keep you all updated, but in the meanwhile, any of you out there no-poo’ing already?  any tips or frustrations you went through?   did you stick with it, or eventually go back to regular shampoo?  how long was your acclimation period?  does your hair dry out and break off if you no-poo with BS/ACV everyday (like i’m tempted to do)?

ps – i don’t have any photos to post, because i found it difficult to capture the oiliness of my hair.  on days i thought my hair was it’s oiliest, it looked normal in the photos i took with my iphone.  but i will try to take more photos to see if it’s more visible during the BS/ACV acclimation period.  better yet, just come into the clinic and check out my hair in real life 🙂

thinking outside the (hair product) box

hair products are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to clogginess, so sometimes finding products that not only work for your hair, but also don’t mess with your skin, can be a challenge. a lot of people find that non-cloggy shampoos can be drying and might leave their hair lackluster. and styling creams? good luck finding one that’s not cloggy. it can feel like you have to make tradeoff: do i want great hair or do i want great skin?

luckily you don’t have to pick… you just might have to get a little creative with the products that you already use: enter shower gel and body lotion. it might feel like sacrilege to use body products in your hair, but when used strategically, you can see great results for both your hair and body.

shikai shower gels (or shampoos!)

shikai shower gels (or shampoos!)

if finding the right shampoo is your problem, consider trying the shikai moisturizing shower gel we sell at sS. it smells great and leaves hair clean and shiny — without being drying or weighing it down. the soap-free formula is formulated with aloe vera for gentle moisture and colloidal oatmeal to help bind the moisture to skin (or in this case, your hair). and, unlike a lot of acne-safe shampoos, it comes in a ton of flavors, most of which are available at whole foods, if you feel like mixing it up.  just to be safe though, avoid the coconut “flavored” one, as it’s scent agent is comedogenic coconut oil.

derma-e body lotion

no more dry skin, and no more frizz

if fly-aways, dry hair, and/or frizziness is what you’re trying to combat, an acne-safe body lotion could really help. for dry or frizzy hair, smooth a small amount on the tips and shaft of your hair, being careful not to use so much that your hair ends up greasy. for fly-aways, rub a small, pea-sized amount into your palms and then lightly apply to your trouble spots.

see? there’s no need to compromise your hair for your skin. you just need to embrace the unorthodox and you could find your hair’s in better shape than ever.