What if we told you that you could achieve smooth, strong and silky hair via luxurious treatments such as scalp massage and hot oil treatments? These are just a few of the secrets of Ayurvedic haircare. Best of all, you can do all of them at home with a few simple natural ingredients that won’t break the bank.September 06, 2021 3:00 pm September 06, 2021 3:00 pm
A quick recap on Ayurveda
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medical system which has been around for thousands of years. If you would like a bit of background on it, we recommend starting with our article on Ayurvedic food. There, we explain a few of the basics of Ayurveda.
However, as a quick recap, Ayurveda encourages you to think of your body as a delicately balanced system. It aims to keep that system in equilibrium so that you stay happy and healthy.
It is based on the idea that everything in the universe is made up of a few basic elements: fire, air, water, earth and ether.(1)
Different combinations of these then make up the three doshas, or essential life forces. Everything from the trees to animals to seasons of the year are made up of these doshas. So are we, as humans.
Finding your dominant dosha is essential to figuring out everything from your natural temperament to the sorts of foods you should eat (and when).
The three doshas are called Kapha, Pitta and Vata.
As many people principally associate Ayurveda with traditional remedies or a particular diet, you may be surprised to hear that there is an Ayurvedic approach to haircare.
However, remember that Ayurveda is all about treating the entire body as an ecosystem. Adherents believe that the health of your hair can be an indicator of other areas where your body is out of balance. Thus your hair is just as important as any other part of your body.
As well as the doshas, in Ayurveda our various bodily systems are divided into different categories. These are: Dhatu (tissue, such as bone and skin), Malas (waste), Mana (the mind) and Gunas (spirituality).(2)
Your hair is closely related to bone tissue (called Asthi Dhatu). So, whatever you can do to strengthen this system will also benefit your hair.
Several common hair and scalp conditions have their own Ayurvedic names and treatments. You’ll recognize many of them! For example, premature greying (Palitya) and dandruff (Darunaka) may be treated by blood-letting, purification therapy, nasal drops or scalp oiling.(2)
While we may not recommend any blood-letting, there are certainly some Ayurvedic hair treatments that are much more appealing. Not only do they have their roots in traditional medicine, they could easily stand in for an indulgent spa treatment!
Understand your dosha, understand your hair
As mentioned above, understanding which is your dominant dosha is vital in Ayurveda. Most treatments, diets and practices in this traditional system of medicine are assigned based on this.
There are lots of factors involved in figuring out your dominant dosha (and lots of helpful online quizzes to point you in the right direction). However, here’s a very basic guide to finding yours. Simply look at the below and select the description that sounds most like you.(3)
Vata: Made up of a combination of air and ether, this dosha belongs to you if you have a delicate build and fine hair. You’re generally cheerful, chatty, and creative, while your moods and decisions can change on a moment’s notice.
Pitta: Your dosha is made of fire and water. You have a medium, muscular build and a warm nature, but your temper can turn fiery if you’re crossed! You’re not afraid to be a leader and you’re comfortable speaking your mind.
Kapha: Made of earth and water, the kapha dosha is yours if you have a solid frame and a calm disposition. You’re easy-going, thoughtful and loving.
In food, medicine and haircare, you should always be aiming to balance your dominant dosha. So if you naturally tend towards Pitta, you should choose foods and treatments from the Vata and Kapha doshas. This helps your body stay balanced.
What happens when the doshas are unbalanced?
When your doshas are not in equilibrium, health problems can start to occur. This is just as true for your hair as for the rest of your body.
Your head is considered to be the region of Kapha. If the balance tips too far towards Kapha, you may experience prematurely white hair.
For example, if the balance tips in favor of the Pitta dosha, you might experience an itchy, burning sensation on your scalp. This makes sense, as Pitta is the dosha most associated with fire.
Not only that, but if one dosha falls behind and the other two become dominant, this can lead to its own problems.
Vata and Kapha in combination are responsible for dandruff, while Pitta and Vata can come together to cause hair loss.(4)
So, you can see why it’s so important to keep that balance!
What are the causes of dosha imbalance?
In Ayurveda, prevention is always better than the cure. So what can you do to keep your head and hair in balance?
Some Ayurvedic advice fits in perfectly with similar thinking in our modern day. For example, stress, anger, grief and fear are all related to prematurely greying hair.
However, others seem a bit more out of sync with our Western understanding of health and haircare.
For example, one of the most famous and celebrated Ayurvedic doctors, Acharya Vagbhata, thought that there were quite a few factors that could cause poor hair health. These include indulgence in water sports, holding back tears, drinking too much water and wine, always looking down and talking too much.(4)
That said, his advice dates back to 600-650AD. So, it’s fair to recognize that opinions have changed a bit since then.
However, Ayurveda does offer some recommendations for preventative, or ‘maintenance’ hair treatments. These are designed to stop you experiencing issues with your hair and scalp.
"If the balance tips in favor of the Pitta dosha, you might experience an itchy, burning sensation on your scalp. This makes sense, as Pitta is the dosha most associated with fire."
Ayurvedic treatments for healthy hair
1. Dhumpana (oil treatments)
One of the best ways to take care of your hair is by regularly applying an oil treatment. According to Ayurveda, this will ensure that your hair grows long, strong, deep-rooted and with no greys.
Which oil should you use? Different experts recommend different oils, including mustard, coconut and almond oils.(2)(5)
(You can also use it as a foodstuff. Ours is organic and sustainably sourced, and we love it in salad dressings or drizzled over a bowl of porridge!)
To give yourself a relaxing oil treatment, heat your chosen oil gently until it’s just warm to the touch. Then section your (dry) hair and apply, smoothing the oil over each part with a ‘prayer hands’ motion. Make sure you massage it into your scalp as well.
Leave on for around thirty minutes, then wash and condition as normal.
2. Snana and Kshaurakarma (good maintenance)
Snana means ‘bathing’ – so far, so normal. However, Ayurveda recommends a few more specific tips around hair-washing to get best results.
For example, you should not wash your hair with warm or very cold water. This is because pouring warm water over your head is thought to weaken your hair and eyes.(2)
Use a natural shampoo which is free from chemicals, and wash at least three times a week. Herbal shampoos which contain ingredients like henna or triphala are recommended.
Some practitioners also recommend shampooing with amla powder as it acts as a ‘tonic’ for the roots of your hair.(6) Amla, sometimes called Indian gooseberry, is a sharp fruit with powerful antioxidant properties. It is used in many Ayurvedic preparations, including triphala.
Meanwhile, Kshaurakarma refers to getting a frequent trim. According to Acharya Charaka, another highly influential contributor to ancient Ayurvedic thought, the optimum frequency for haircuts (as well as shaving and nail trimming) is three times a fortnight.(2)
Another practice called Ushnishka refers to wearing a turban, hat or head covering to protect your hair and scalp from wind, heat and dust. Regular combing is also beneficial.(2)(4)
3. …and a few we won’t recommend
Other Ayurvedic haircare methods don’t fit so well into modern life.
For example, leech therapy was once thought to help with baldness, as was smoking certain medicinal herbs.(2)(4)
Some Ayurvedic practitioners suggest using Anu tail, a blend of special herbs which is administered via a nasal drop.(4)
Anu tail is used for all sorts of ailments, from colds to headaches.
One paper recommends that everyone should take a drop of this blend every day during the rainy, autumn and spring seasons “when the sky is clear from the cloud”.
While it may be a popular and often-used treatment, we can’t find any modern scientific evidence that supports its effectiveness in treating hair or other bodily issues.
Ayurvedic treatments for hair and scalp issues
Now, let’s take a look at what Ayurveda has to say about common hair and scalp problems.
For dandruff, Ayurvedic treatments include a borax mask, a paste made from mango seed and a fruit called haritaki, and oil massage.
Spot baldness (alopecia) can be treated by applying an oil infused with specific herbs such as Rangoon creeper, Ceylon leadwort and oleander. Thereafter, a paste made with other special herbs can be applied.
Premature greying calls for a treatment of nasal drops involving herbs such as salparni and false daisy.(2)
Needless to say, it’s quite hard to get hold of some of these ingredients, and the treatments listed above are not supported by modern science.
So, should you adopt an Ayurvedic haircare routine?
Ancient Ayurveda has a lot to teach us about our health. While not all of the ancient treatments for haircare seem palatable to us today, there are still some excellent points to take forward.
Firstly, Ayurveda recommends oil treatments for general upkeep of healthy hair. Scientific research also supports this. It seems that certain oils can stop your hair absorbing so much water, which in turn prevents swelling that can lead to damage. They also lubricate your hair shaft, leading to less breakage.
Further, coconut oil in particular appears to reduce protein loss from your hair.(7)
Meanwhile other research has found that scalp massage may lead to an increase in hair thickness.(8)
However, perhaps the best piece of advice to take from Ayurvedic haircare is seeing your hair health as part of the overall equilibrium of your body.
Scientific research has borne out the idea that stress leads to hair loss.(9) So, if you are seeing this symptom or other damage to your hair, it may be a good wake-up call to start taking better care of yourself.
And if that act of self-care happens to involve a warm oil mask, a scalp massage and some much-needed ‘me time’, so much the better.
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