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The 6 best natural ingredients for your hair

Ashley Laderer   

The 6 best natural ingredients for your hair
LifeScience5 min read
Coconut oil and honey can both moisturize hair.    Martysjahlushyk/Getty Images
  • The best natural hair ingredients include avocado oil, coconut oil, argan oil, honey, tea tree oil, and aloe vera.
  • Since aloe vera has antibacterial and antifungal properties, it can kill dandruff-causing fungus on the scalp.
  • Putting coconut oil on your hair before you wash it can help protect your hair from damage.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City.

Many hair care products are loaded with artificial chemicals that can dry out your hair and irritate your scalp. But luckily, there are plenty of natural ingredients that can have major health benefits for your hair, whether you're looking to hydrate dry hair, protect color-treated tresses, or reduce dandruff.

Natural ingredients may contain vitamins, serve as moisturizers, or act as antifungal agents, depending on the ingredient. Here are six of the best natural ingredients for hair care.

1. Avocado oil

Avocado oil is a natural emollient, meaning it can soften and smooth hair. Specifically, it can help to hydrate the hair shaft and it can also prevent damage from heat styling, mostly due to the hydration it provides.

Additionally, it can promote overall hair health and reduce hair breakage, says Michele J. Farber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist of Schweiger Dermatology Group. This is because avocado oil contains fatty acids, which can help repair the cuticle, hydrate hair, and prevent breakage, Farber says.

Avocado oil also contains antioxidants. "Antioxidants help protect from environmental pollutants and reduce brittleness that can result from these exposures," Farber says. "It is also great in a hair mask to reduce frizz and prevent breakage."

2. Coconut oil

Coconut oil is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. This allows it to deeply penetrate the hair and protect the hair cuticle from damage that is caused by frequent wetting and drying, says Lavanya Krishnan, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and Medical Director of Arya Derm in San Francisco.

Constantly wetting your hair can cause your hair shaft, or the base of your hair, to swell. "When the hair shaft swells rapidly, it is more subject to moisture loss as the hair dries," says Krishnan. She recommends applying coconut oil to your hair before you wet it to prevent this swelling and protect your hair from damage.

Moreover, a 2015 review deemed coconut oil an effective ingredient in hair care, stating that it can also reduce protein loss due to its ability to deeply penetrate the hair shaft.

3. Argan oil

Argan oil is rich in substances that can penetrate the hair shaft and decrease dryness, Krishnan says. These compounds include vitamin E, oleic acid, and linoleic acid.

Krishnan says argan oil is great for adding shine to the hair, mostly due to the vitamin E component, and it's also particularly beneficial for color-treated hair. She recommends applying argan oil to the hair after dye treatments to reduce damage and dryness.

In fact, a 2013 study applied argan oil to human hair extensions that were color-treated and found that the argan oil was effective in preventing protein loss and mitigating the damage that is typically caused by hair dye.

4. Honey

Honey is rich in antioxidants, which means it can combat damage to the hair from free radicals and oxidative stress. Because of this, Krishnan says honey can help to prevent and reverse damage from too much time in the sun and environmental pollutant exposure.

Additionally, Farber says that honey is great for hydration since it has humectant properties – meaning it helps retain moisture. This can also be helpful for hair breakage.

"Although there is not a great deal of evidence for honey and hair growth, its moisturizing properties combined with antioxidant properties likely help reduce breakage that can contribute to hair loss and impede growth," says Farber.

Furthermore, honey may help with dandruff, Farber says. A small 2001 study published in the European Journal of Medical Research examined 30 participants with seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. Half of the participants served as a control group, and half did a honey treatment for four weeks. Those who did the honey hair treatments saw significant improvement in itching and scaling in just two weeks. They also had improvement in hair loss.

5. Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is more beneficial for the scalp than the hair itself. It's known for its antifungal properties, and Krishnan says it can reduce itching and scaling of the scalp due to fungal dandruff. This is because tea tree oil can reduce the growth of Malassezia yeast, which can cause dandruff.

The benefits of tea tree oil for dandruff were outlined in a 2002 study where researchers found that a 5% tea tree shampoo was more effective than a placebo. Over four weeks, participants who used the tea tree shampoo had a 41% improvement in their dandruff.

However, caution should be used when applying tea tree oil to your scalp. "Care must be taken to avoid overuse of this ingredient, as it has been known to cause contact dermatitis in patients with more sensitive skin," says Krishnan.

If you're using tea tree oil, be sure to dilute it. Essential oils should always be diluted to avoid irritation. Farber recommends adding a small amount to your shampoo, and to try a test spot first before applying to your whole scalp to make sure you don't have a bad reaction.

6. Aloe vera

The aloe plant is beneficial for both the scalp and the hair. Krishnan says aloe can keep the hair hydrated, resulting in smoother hair.

"This can be helpful for brittle hair, helping to promote hair growth in hair that would otherwise be more prone to breakage from external forces," says Krishnan.

Aloe may also be used to reduce dandruff since research has shown that the plant has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Therefore, it can reduce the amount of fungus on the scalp, which may reduce the prevalence of dandruff.

Additionally, if you're dealing with greasy scalp and hair, Farber says that aloe can reduce excess oil around the hair follicle and clean the scalp. On top of this, aloe contains collagen, which may help repair hair damage, Farber says, but more scientific evidence is needed in favor of this.

The bottom line

You can use these ingredients in your hair by themselves, or you can look for products like shampoos or conditioners that contain these ingredients.

If you have hair or scalp concerns that are not improving after using these ingredients, consult a dermatologist who can help you get to the root of the problem, and have your hair and scalp looking and feeling better.