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Ayurveda is an ancient school of medicine that originated in the Indian subcontinent. Although classified as a pseudoscience, it has earned a reputation for being a holistic form of healing that uses natural ingredients and yogic techniques to correct imbalances within the body.
Ayurvedic philosophy dictates that the human body has three main components: tissue (dhatus), waste products (malas), and biomaterials or life forces (doshas).
The doshas are further divided into three types, namely, vata, pitta, and kapha, and everybody contains all three of them in varying proportions, with one being more dominant than the others.
Each dosha has its own composition, characteristics, and function. The interplay of these energies determines an individual’s anatomy and temperament, (1)(2) but external factors such as the diet, weather, etc., can cause fluctuations.
According to Ayurveda, a perfect equilibrium between all the three doshas is the only way to achieve perfect health. Conversely, an imbalance between the three doshas is considered the root cause of illness.
Different Hair Types According to Ayurveda
Everyone is born with their own specific mix of life energies or doshas, which may fluctuate from time to time.
But an individual’s basic nature and physical constitution (prakriti) depend on the most overpowering energies running through them. The same rule applies to hair type, leading to the following classification:
1. Vata hair type
If your prakriti is controlled by a strong vata dosha, you will have a vata hair type, which is usually thin, straight, and coarse. This hair type tends to grow rapidly and absorbs and retains a lot of moisture.
2. Pitta hair type
If your prakriti is dominated by pitta dosha, you will have a pitta hair type, characterized by medium thickness, soft texture, deep color, slight curls, and high-protein content.
3. Kapha hair type
If your prakriti is dominated by kapha dosha, you will have a kapha hair type, which is thick, voluminous, shiny, and curly.
Imbalance in the kapha dosha is associated with sebum overproduction, which invites the growth of dandruff-causing fungus. In such a case, your greasy scalp develops a lot of flaking and itching. This hair type is prone to other scalp infections as well, such as seborrheic dermatitis.
Guidelines for Your Ayurvedic Hair Care Regimen
Keep the following principles in mind while planning your Ayurvedic hair care regimen:
1. Choose the right hair products
Hair products often come packed with artificial fragrances, foaming agents, and other chemicals that may provide some instant benefits, but these may damage your hair structure or prakriti in the long run.
Even the hair oils, serums, shampoos, and conditioners sold under the banner of hair repair may carry these harmful agents. So, you must always go through the ingredient list before making a purchase.
The main chemicals to avoid are parabens, sulfates, formaldehyde, formalin, and alcohol. These chemicals not only disrupt your normal scalp pH but also remove the natural oil from your hair and scalp, rendering your hair increasingly dry and frizzy.
Such chemicals can even increase your cancer risk.
Now that you know what to avoid, here’s what you should look for in your hair products. Ayurveda practitioners have found the following herbs as particularly good for hair maintenance and repair: (3)
- Indian ginseng (ashwagandha) (4)
- Licorice (5)
- Aloe vera
- Black sesame
- Allium cepa
- Hibiscus (6)
- Indian gooseberry (7)
- Rosary pea (gunja)
- Grape seed extract
- False daisy (bhringraj)
- Valerian root
- Soapnut (reetha)
- Soap pod (shikakai)
- Triphala (8)
- Indian pennywort (brahmi)
- Holy basil (tulsi)
2. Use Shiro lepa for healthy hair
Shiro lepa is an Ayurvedic term for herbal hair masks that moisturize, nourish, and rejuvenate dull and damaged tresses. You can either prepare these masks at home or purchase them at any cosmeceutical store.
What to use:
- Henna, Indian gooseberry (amalaki), and fenugreek are all excellent for your hair. You can quickly get these herbs in powdered form. Mix them with a bit of water or yogurt to form a smooth paste. The consistency should be thick enough for the mask to stick to the hair and scalp.
- Aloe vera gel is also favored by Ayurveda for hair health. Packaged aloe gel may contain preservatives, so it’s always preferable to extract it fresh from the leaf. But if you don’t have an aloe vera plant, choose a good-quality commercially prepared gel.
How to use:
- Slather the paste or gel all over your hair, and gently massage it into your scalp to stimulate blood circulation in the head.
- Cover your head with a shower cap to avoid product transfer or dripping.
- Let the mask do its magic for about 20 minutes before rinsing it off with plain water.
- Use the mask once a week for several months to see visible results.
3. Wash your hair properly
Each strand of hair is rooted inside a tunnel-like sac on the scalp called a hair follicle. Since the follicle’s mouth always remains open, it’s easy for impurities to settle inside it.
Your hair and scalp collect pollutants, dirt, hair product residue, dead cells, and excess sebum daily, which, if not appropriately cleansed, will eventually trickle down into the follicle. Clogged hair follicles will not be able to receive the nutrition and oxygen needed for healthy hair growth.
Moreover, an unclean scalp provides the perfect environment for the growth of infection-causing microbes that feed on dead cells and sebum. Thus, negligent head washing can pave the way for scalp infections. (9) Therefore, it is crucial to wash your scalp and hair thoroughly with the right products, at least twice or thrice a week.
Note that some hair types require more frequent hair washing than others. For instance, people with a kapha hair type need to wash their head more often than those with a vata hair type.
- Use lukewarm or normal water to wash your hair and scalp. Don’t use hot water as it can strip away the natural moisture of your hair and scalp and make them increasingly dry.
- Use an herbal shampoo preferably with reetha, shikakai, Indian gooseberry, or neem instead of chemical-laden ones, especially those that contain sulfates.
- Rinse with a triphala hair rinse that you can prepare using the powder available in stores.
- Condition your hair, but don’t apply the conditioner on your scalp as it can block the pores and hair follicles.
4. Oil your hair
A gentle head massage with a warm therapeutic oil can be deeply soothing and can improve your hair quality over time.
The most recommended hair oils for a head massage according to Ayurveda practice are coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, or any other vitamin E oil.
Different oils work for different hair types. For instance, castor oil and argan oil are best suited for the vata hair type, coconut oil is ideal for the pitta hair type, and sesame oil is recommended for the kapha hair type.
You can also add a few drops of essential oils to your hair oil for added hair benefits. Every essential oil has its own therapeutic properties that can be used to tackle various hair issues. Some oils are best suited for a particular hair problem. To deal with hair infections, use a combination of neem oil and sesame oil.
To strengthen your hair follicles and reduce hair fall, rub peppermint oil mixed with bhringraj or coconut oil on your scalp. To address premature graying of hair, a mixture of jatamansi and bhringraj oil is recommended.
- Gently massage the oil into your scalp with your fingers. This topical stimulation improves blood circulation in the scalp, bringing more nutrients and oxygen to the hair follicles. A well-nourished hair follicle will naturally grow healthy hair and at a fast pace. Massaging the scalp also helps improve the elasticity of the skin covering it. (10)(11)
- According to traditional Ayurvedic practice, you must let the oil sit for at least 20 minutes before rinsing it out. For better results, leave it overnight and wash your hair the following day.
- Ayurveda recommends doing this two to three times a week, but the frequency can differ from one hair type to another. A kapha hair type needs to be oiled less frequently than a vata hair type.
5. Comb your hair properly
The oil glands that produce the sebum nourish your hair, but this secretion may not be evenly distributed. Combing is an effective way to spread out the sebum all over your hair and scalp.
Gentle combing also helps loosen and straighten out any knots or tangles in your hair without damaging them. This is mostly a plus for people who have naturally frizzy, curly, or unruly hair.
- Use a wide-toothed wooden comb with soft bristles such as those made with silicone to detangle or comb your hair.
- If you are susceptible to scalp infections, consider using a comb made of neem wood for its inherent antimicrobial effects.
- Forceful or vigorous combing can cause unnecessary hair breakage, so always be gentle.
- Wet or damp hair is more prone to breaking, so you must dry them before combing.
6. Get rid of split ends
Damage to the outermost layer of the hair shaft (cuticle) causes it to break open. This results in fraying of the hair, which can affect any part of the hair shaft.
Split ends occur when the tip of the hair gets divided to form two or more heads. If not addressed in time, the splitting will proceed through the entire length of the hair. There is no way you can repair the split ends except cutting them off.
Ayurvedic hair care lays great emphasis on the periodic trimming of split ends to prevent further damage and to improve the way your hair looks.
Ayurvedic Hair Care Therapies
The following Ayurvedic therapies can help correct the imbalance between your doshas to promote hair health:
- Shiro dhara therapy entails massaging your head with warm Ayurvedic oils to minimize hair fall and reduce stress.
- Shiro vasti is similar to shiro dhara, but it targets the nourishment of hair roots and also stress reduction.
- Shiro abhyanga involves massaging your upper body with Ayurvedic oils to increase blood circulation and relieve stress.
- Nasya therapy involves lubricating your nasal chambers with Ayurvedic oils to reduce and reverse hair loss.
- Dhoopana therapy aims to banish scalp infections by exposing your hair to the therapeutic vapors of frankincense, neem, or camphor, which all exhibit antimicrobial activity. (12)
Ayurveda-Recommended Diet for Healthy Hair
Consume a well-balanced diet that meets all your nutritional requirements to ensure that your doshas remain in perfect harmony. The lack of certain essential nutrients and micronutrients can be especially disruptive for your vata dosha, which, in turn, hampers your hair health. (13)
In fact, nutritional deficiencies are one of the prime culprits behind excessive hair fall and brittle hair. You need to eat healthy to nourish your hair from within.
The following nutritional elements can help improve the overall quality of your hair through their own mechanism:
- Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, minerals like iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, calcium, selenium, biotin, coenzymes, and folate help boost your immunity.
- Fiber, along with prebiotics and probiotics such as Greek yogurt, buttermilk, kimchi, and sauerkraut, promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which help your body digest your food better.
- Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herbs such as turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, clove, garlic, coriander, and black pepper help reduce oxidative stress in your body.
Note: You can also get ayurvedic herbs in supplement form, but these are not approved by the FDA, so there is no guarantee against side-effects. Even though some supplements like ashwagandha and licorice are generally considered safe, you must always consult your doctor before trying them.
Ayurveda is not only concerned with what foods to eat, but also how to eat them. It stipulates specific guidelines in order to maximize the nutritional value of your meals.
Firstly, you must set aside all other activities while eating and focus on your food without any distractions like talking, reading, or watching TV. Chew your food properly to facilitate easier digestion. Calm your mind and savor your meals instead of rushing through them. Always eat in a calm, quiet, properly ventilated environment.
Hair Care Tips by Ayurveda Experts
Here are some lifestyle and haircare tips prescribed by Ayurvedic experts to keep your hair healthy:
- Keep yourself properly hydrated by drinking at least 8 glasses of water throughout the day.
- Avoid using hair styling tools such as curling irons, blow dryers, and straighteners that release a lot of heat, which can dry out, damage, and even burn your tresses. Excessive use of these tools can disrupt your vata dosha, which is bad for your hair.
- Do not bleach or dye your hair with synthetic agents that can damage them to the core and induce hair breakage or shedding. You can use herbal alternatives such as henna powder for coloring gray hair.
- Protect your hair from airborne pollutants and the harmful UV rays of the sun by wearing a hat, scarf, or cap when going outdoors. (14) However, keeping your head covered for prolonged periods can induce scalp sweating, which can also be a source of irritation and infection. So, you are recommended to wear headgear made from breathable fabrics to keep your scalp ventilated, but not for too long.
- Smoking cigarettes and excessive alcohol consumption contribute to hair weakening, increased hair loss, and premature graying. (15)(16) Thus, you must give up smoking altogether and limit drinking in the interest of better hair health.
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine by cutting down on tea, coffee, and soft drinks.
- Limit your intake of trans fats, saturated fats, refined sugars, and foods that are excessively spicy or salty since all these can negatively affect the balance of your doshas.
- Don’t go into chlorinated pools without wearing a swimming cap to protect your hair.
- Don’t use water high in mineral ions such as chloride and fluoride to wash your hair.
- Excessive or frequent hair washing can strip the moisture from your hair and scalp, leaving them utterly dry.
- Hot water renders your hair increasingly dry. So, you must only use tepid or lukewarm water to wash your hair.
- Exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes to improve your blood circulation, heart rate, and breathing. All these positive markers help restore a healthy energy balance within the body.
- You should also practice a bit of meditation and deep breathing to relax your mind and body. Stress can greatly disturb your pitta dosha and hamper your overall health.
- It is also essential to have proper rest. Adults should get 6–7 hours of sleep to remain stress-free. Your body repairs, relaxes, and rejuvenates itself during sleep. Only a well-rested body can achieve the perfect energy equilibrium needed for good hair health and overall well-being.
The sum of your doshas decides your prakriti, which determines how effectively your body functions. Your hair health is also influenced by your doshas.
Ayurvedic hair care measures aim to keep your hair in the best of health by balancing your doshas. These measures are easy to execute, devoid of harmful chemicals, and far more cost-effective than regular hair treatments.
So, even though Ayurveda does not carry much scientific weightage, there’s no harm in trying it since there is minimal risk of side effects. However, precaution is necessary whenever trying any new supplement or topical remedy.
Supplements should be approved by your doctor first, and topical remedies should be patch tested before applying them on your hair or scalp.
The herbal ingredients needed for these remedies are often available in your pantry, or you can get them at any grocery/departmental store. When buying herbal products, make sure they are from a trusted brand to ensure you get unadulterated and premium-quality products.