Indian Herbs and Techniques for Hair Care



Ayurvedic Hair Care
compiled by Shell

Indians believe that the health of the hair, skin, and nails indicates the health of the person, and that someone with unhealthy hair needs to manage their diet better. Specifically they lack protein (Indians generally recommend milk protein to remedy this--especially yogurt), and fruits and vegetables. The ideal exercise according to Ayurvedic practitioners is walking.

Traditional Indian health theory involves balancing the various body types (dosha), of which there are three general types. This involves diet, exercise, lifestyle, and in some cases herbal treatments. For more information on Ayurvedic theory you may want to read ''Essential Ayurveda'' by Shubhra Krishan or ''The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies'' by Vasant Lad. Both of these books explain the theory of the doshas and recommend lifestyle choices to maximize health.

Most herbs used in Indian hair and skin care (yes many of the herbs below are also good for your skin!) are good for everyone, regardless of dosha. If you have particular problems or concerns, you may want to contact an Ayurvedic practitioner for a professional consultation.

Generally using herbs for healthy hair maintenance involves some kind of oiling (see below) and an herbal wash. You may also add an herbal rinse. The wash and rinse can be one mixture, or used separately, but together they should contain at least one cleansing agent (such as shikakai or aritha/reetha and one conditioning agent such as amla). Some Indians also use rice starch as a type of natural emulsifier to bind the herb powders together and make them easier to apply and rinse out.

Indian women tend to oil their hair daily or every other day, and to wear their hair in a single braid or a bun. Very rarely do they wear their hair down.

Please keep reading for some wash and rinse recipes and advice, and for tips on oils and oiling, and some information on the various herbs and commercial products that you can use with Indian herbal hair care. We hope that you will use this knowledge both to care for and grow more beautiful and longer hair, and to improve your health and lifestyle in general.

Basic Washes
compiled by violetflowers

Icydove's Wash Mix

2 tbsp. shikakai powder
2 tbsp. amla powder

Add 4 cups of hot tap or heated water to powdered herbs. Allow to steep until comfortably warm (at least 5 minutes), strain ( use a metal coffee filter), and pour tea over wet hair and massage in. You can do a highly diluted ACV rinse. The amla is conditioning, but for a little extra boost, apply coconut oil as a prewash treatment and apply a conditioning rinse after washing.

Shell's Wash Mix

2 tablespoons of shikakai
3 tablespoons of amla

Mix together with warm water and let sit for 5-15 minutes. Use as a paste. Apply to scalp and hair, distribute/massage very gently, and let sit for 5-15 minutes. Massage gently again and then rinse thoroughly.

Pre-washing oiling is advised anytime you use shikakai. Follow this up with an AVC rinse and some post wash oiling.

mira-chan's Indian Herb Hair Gravy

whole aritha – 3 to 5 berries
whole amla – 1 to 2 tablespoons
whole hibiscus – 4- 6 flowers

Boil in two cups of water till about a cup boils out. Strain. Then put on a low heat and add arrowroot starch (mixed with cool water so it doesn’t clump) and mix until it turns to a gravy consistency. Let cool and use. Will last a week at most with refrigeration. (Acts similarly to Dianyla’s herb gravy)

Epiphanee's Wash Mix

Use 1 tablespoon of shikakai powder and mix it up with about 3 cups of water until it is a thin paste (as opposed to a thick mud).

Apply the paste to your scalp and hair length - everywhere that you have applied coconut oil.

Just apply the paste and don't "massage" it in. It is very slightly abrasive so massaging it in would not be good for the hair shaft.

Leave for 10 - 15 minutes and rinse thoroughly.

Neoma's Purple Sludge Mix

1 tablespoon amla powder
2 tablespoons shikakai powder
2 tablespoons methi powder
2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers

Pour a cup of boiling water over the first three ingredients. Put the hibiscus in a tea ball and add them to the rest of the brew. Cover and steep 30 minutes. Remove the tea ball.

You can use it as soon as it cools sufficiently or keep it a few days in the fridge. I always use it on oiled hair. Finger-comb in the shower under running water to remove the herbal debris. May stain light hair or surfaces.

Leia's Herbal Wash and Condition

1 tablespoon bhringraj
1 tablespoon amla
1 tablespoon aritha
1 tablespoon neem
2 tablespoons shikakai
2 tablespoons sandalwood

Mix a little with boiling water, wait for it to cool a bit, and apply the paste to hair and scalp (sometimes after oiling with olive oil); leave on all night. You may use a bowl to catch the runoff and rinse again in the morning.

Violetflower's Wash Mix I

1 dessert spoon of amla powder
1 dessert spoon of shikakai powder
1 dessert spoon of cassia obovata
6 dessert spoons of my soapnut shampoo

Massaged a small handful into dry hair, wet hair, then aplly the remainder, making sure that to cover all hair root to tip, massage scalp gently, then wrap cling film around hair for about 10 minutes. Rinse.

Violetflower's Wash Mix II

1.5 dessert spoons of amla
1 dessert spoon shikakai
1 dessert spoon of aritha
1 dessert spoon orange peel
1 dessert spoon brahmi
1 dessert spoon neem
1 dessert spoon tulsi
2 dessert spoons kapoor kachli
2 dessert spoons maka
3 dessert spoons marsh mallow
1 and a half teaspoons of virgin coconut oil.

Wash as usual--makes hair very shiny!

Conditioning Mixes That May Be Used As Gentle Washes
compiled by mira-chan and Shell

Mira-chan's Mild Wash Mix I

Take half a cup of fresh hibiscus leaves and crush them. The boil them in about a cup of water for 20 minutes. Strain, let cook and use as shampoo. The hibiscus leaf wash is not to be used post oiling or on oily hair unless it is very concentrated. It will not remove much oil. It mostly acts as an anti-dryness barrier.

Mira-chan's Mild Wash Mix II

Take two table spoons of powdered hibiscus flowers, mix with a cup of boiling water. Let cool. Apply to hair and leave for 5 to 20 minutes. Rinse well. Gives shine and cleans non-oiled hair well. Would be good for those who want to wash very often (daily or every other day) or for non-oiled naturally dry hair/ scalp.

Shell's Herbal CO (Conditioner Only Wash)

Use three tablespoons of amla in about two cups of warm water. Let sit for 5-15 minutes. Apply to hair and scalp. Gently massage scalp with a bit of water splashed on. Leave in for 15 minutes or so. Won't remove any but a very light oiling. Nicely conditioning and gently cleansing. Also makes your hair smell nice.

Rinses and Conditioners
compiled by Icydove

Traditionally, prewash oilings and using conditioning herbs in the washing mix serve as the Indian herb user's only conditioners. However, some people use Indian herbs for additional conditioning needs or for deep treatments.

Icydove's Herbal Rinse

1 heaping tsp. of hibiscus
1 heaping tsp. of elderflower
1/2 tsp. of honey
Add the herbs and honey to two cups of hot water. Let steep for about 5 minutes, and strain. Dunk ends in the mixture, then pour it over head. Rinse lightly to prevent the hibiscus from staining. TIP: Use the mixture while the water is still warm or the honey could stiffen hair. Use aloe vera gel and jojoba oil mixed together as a leave-in.

mira-chan's Hibiscus Conditioner

3-4 flowers of hibiscus
one tablespoon fenugreek seeds ( coarse powder or just crushed)
1 table spoon of arrowroot powder/ starch.

Mix arrowroot powder with a little bit of cool water. Make a large mug worth of strong tea with hibiscus and fenugreek. Strain then add arrowroot. Allow to cool then use as a conditioning rinse.

Kissedbyfire's Indian Herbal Wash/Condition

1 tablespoon neem
1 tablespoon shikakai
1 tablespoon aritha
1 tablespoon amla
1 tablespoon sandlewood
1 tablespoon brahmi
1 tablespoon hibiscus
2 tablespoon marshmallow root
1 cup tea (rosemary, chamomile, lavendar, etc.)

Allow tea to simmer while mixing up the herbs. Add tea to herb mixture, mix well. Let cool to a warm temperature and apply.

Start with an avc (apple cider vinegar) rinse, then dry hair. Apply mix to slightly damp hair and scalp, and massage. Let sit for an hour wrapped in a plastic bag. Rinse.

Oils and Oiling Techniques
compiled by mira-chan

Why oil? Oils are used as a protective conditioner and for treating problems of hair growth and both hair and scalp condition. They can be used daily to protect hair from the elements. Herbal oils are applied to the scalp daily or pre-wash to treat scalp conditions. More thorough scalp and length oiling is done pre-wash as a conditioner to protect the hair from the drying effects of the cleansing herbs and water.

Herbal oils are chosen depending on condition of the scalp and used either together or separately. They are applied on non wash days in the evening or at least 30 minutes before washing to let the herb act on the scalp.

Pre-wash oiling is done on dry hair at least 30 minutes before washing. Non- wash day oiling can be done on dry or damp (misted) hair depending on how hair reacts to oiling. Amount used depends on hair length and how much oil the hair absorbs. Start with small amounts and increase as needed.

Post wash oiling is done on dry or damp hair depending on the hair reaction to oils. Only a small amount is used. It helps in detangling and shine, similar to a leave-in conditioner.

Which oils might be right for you?

Coconut -– cooling oil

Used for scalp and length of hair, the body, and for cooking. Herbs can be infused in it, flavoring/scenting the infusion by immersing oils in it and letting it sit in the sun without high heat as heat from cooking a long time will alter the properties of unrefined coconut oil slightly. Prevents protein loss from hair during washing.
Applied both pre-wash and on the days between washing.

For dry or damaged ends: Wet/ mist the ends of the hair and liberally apply coconut oil, then braid. Let the oil soak in for at least a day.

Sesame –– Warming/ neutral oil

Commonly used for hair and cooking. The best oil to use when infusing other herbs by cooking. Can be applied between washing but, referred as a pre-wash oil as it has a stronger scent than coconut.

Mustard -– warming oil

It is used more in Northern India, for the scalp and for medicinal body massages. It brings circulation to the scalp due to its mild irritating properties, similar to cayenne pepper. It has anti-bacterial properties. Do not try to infuse herbs in this by heating as it produces noxious fumes. Applied pre-wash to scalp only. Has a strong scent.

Amla Oil -- cooling oil

Conditioning astringent. A cooling, pitta soothing oil. Used for hair loss, premature graying, strengthens the roots, reduces dandruff. Prevents split ends. A small amount is applied to hair and scalp after washing or massaged in pre-wash. Promotes sound sleep when massaged into the scalp.

Brahmi Gatu Kola (Bacopa monnieri)

Herb infused in oil. A cooling, pitta soothing oil.
Used to combat dandruff and dry scalp.

Bringraj (Eclipta alba)

Oil of the herbs called the king of herbs for hair infused into oil such as sesame. Aids in hair growth. Used for prevention of premature balding, and helps with sun damaged and color treated hair. Massage into the scalp pre-wash.

Commercial Products
compiled by Shell

Indian women, like women everywhere, want to take good care of their hair using the best ingredients, but they also want the convenience of prepared commercial products. The following links will take you outside of this page to learn more about commercial options in Indian Herbal hair care. Many people here at TLHC have used these products.

One quite popular brand is Dabur. They make a variety of oils and shampoos, a few of which I will highlight here. Please be sure to click on their website for more in-depth information. All information on their products comes from their page.

Dabur Amla Oil is described by its manufacturer thusly: "...a scientific blend of the purest mineral and vegetable oils. Mixed hygienically in the correct ratio these oils nurture the scalp, give hair a luxurient glossy look, keep them silky and long, and prevent hair damage from the extremities of weather, premature graying & falling of hair. When massaged into the scalp it relaxes the mind, eases out stress and promotes sleep. It also nourishes and strengthens the hair roots." A lighter formula of this oil is also available.

Dabur Vatika Oil is described by its manufacturer thusly: "...a premium coconut hair oil enriched with Henna, Amla (Indian Gooseberry), Lemon and five other trusted herbs. Vatika's unique natural formulation ensures deeper oil penetration. Giving your hair and scalp complete nourishment for problem free, healthy hair. While Henna forms a protective coat to prevent oxidation, Amla strengthens the hair-roots and the astringent action of Lemon prevents dandruff."

Dabur Special Hair Oil s described by its manufacturer thusly: "...a non-sticky light hair oil with the goodness of Lemon and Hibiscus. Lemon gives hair a natural shine while Hibiscus and other natural ingredients strengthen the roots and nourish the hair from deep within - making them thick, lustrous and healthy." It also contains rosemary.

Dabur Jasmine Hair Oil is described by its manufacturer thusly: "For ages, the enchanting fragrance of Jasmine has spellbound people. Dabur Jasmine Hair Oil has the same fragrant goodness of Jasmine. That gives your hair a new life and makes them long, thick and beautiful." Jasmine is the only ingredient listed.

The Dabur company also makes a variety of shampoos for all hair types, including a dandruff shampoo. The ingredients of their shampoos are similar to western commercial products (including SLS) with Indian herbs added.

Song of India Herbal Shampoo comes in both liquid and powdered forms. Contains oils and herbal extracts. The powdered form supposedly contains no preservatives, but I couldn't get ingredient lists for either product.

Shikakai Shampoo Bar: this appears to made of shikakai and saponified oils. It contains no animal products and doesn't list any SLS.

Hesh Ayumix Shikakai, Neem, and Amla Shampoo Bar is a product for those looking for convenience and Indian herbs. See Keenkitty's review linked below.

Ayurvedic Shampoo Bar Neem Plus5 80g Auromere is described by its manufacturer thusly: "This unique Ayurvedic formula in a handy bar includes Neem, the premier herb for skin and scalp, plus 5 other potent herbal extracts: Reetha, Shikakai, Henna, Amla and Methi, all prized for their natural cleansing, nourishing and rejuvenating effect on the hair and scalp. Recommended for all types of hair: (Vata-Pitta-Kapha body types).

Ingredients: Coconut oil, Palmyra oil, Castor oil, Alkali,Wax, Cocoamidopropyl Betaine (from Coconut oil), Cocoamidopropyl Amino Oxide (from Coconut oil), Sandalwood fragrance, Soya Lecithin, Neem, Reetha (Indian Filbert/Soapnut), Shikakai (Acacia cancinna), Henna, Amla (Indian Gooseberry), Methi (Fenugreek).

Neem oil is commonly used in India for dandruff control and against lice. This site sells an organic variety

Meera Herbal Hair Wash Powder: Ingredients listed (courtesy of naj): shikakai, aritha, tulsi, hibiscus,vetiver, green gram,and fenugreek.

New Meera Gold Powder Ingredients listed (courtesy of LittleFlower): Phaseolus mungo - (black gram, green gram, or mung bean), hibiscus, shikakai, tulsi, usilai, vaagai, sirisa, vetiver,fenugreek (methi)

Both of the Meera products are herbs packaged in jars or sachets for traditional Indian hair washing. Both are shikakai based. Reports are that it lathers though, and that may mean that other ingredients are in the powder than are listed. This is reported an issue with some Indian commercial products. Both may contain fragrance oils. See [url=[/url] for more information and for ordering.

Meera Herbal Oil contains a variety of beneficial herbs in a base of coconut and mineral oils. The herbs continue steeping in the oil through an innovative cylinder in the bottle.

compiled by mira-chan and Shell

Albizia amara- usilai, vaagai, sirisa
For dandruff.

Amla (Emblica officinalis)
The herb is an astringent, helps dye uptake, a conditioner and is mildly acidic (high in Vitamin C).

Aritha/Reetha soapnut (Sapindus trifoliatus)
Cleansing, can leave hair a bit stiff. Aritha - can be used whole, fresh or dried, boiled then let stand of a night, as a shampoo on their own. It can also be used as a gentle fabric detergent. Some recommend it for use with shikakai and amla.

Brahmi Gatu Kola (Bacopa monnieri)
Used for skin diseases. When used as a paste promotes growth and is anti dandruff. Similar to the oil.

Bringraj (Eclipta alba)
Aids in hair growth. Used for prevention of premature balding, and helps with sun damaged and color treated hair. Bringraj herb and oil have similar properties.

Hibiscus (Rosa sinensis)
Mild cleansing agent, promotes hair growth, softens and conditions. Hibiscus - possibility of it staining light porous hair a slight red.

Jatamansi--Spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi)
An essential oil usually mixed with sesame oil. It helps in growth and darkening of hair, prevents hair loss and premature graying. It is good for dry hair and scalp. It is used as a nerve sedative by massaging it into the scalp.

Kapoor Kachii
used for fragrance.

Methi fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum)
Very conditioning, can be used as a gelling agent in mixes for the slime factor. Gives shine to hair. Also good for dandruff and hair loss.

Neem (Azadirachta indica)
Anti fungal, anti bacterial herb. Can have an unpleasant smell if infused in oil. The herb itself has a neutral smell. It works in killing of and protection against lice, fungal caused dandruff, and any infection caused skin conditions. Helps treat eczema. Natural insecticide and fungicide.

Orange Peel (Citrus aurantium)
A mild astringent used for skin. Makes hair soft, manageable, shiny, and supple.

Phaseolus Mungo -- black gram, green gram, mung bean
Cooling agent.

Rose Powder (Rosa alba)
Cooling, soothing, and cures skin irritations. Fragrant.

Sandalwood--red (Pterocarpus santalinus)
Cooling and soothing herb. do not confuse with yellow sandalwood, which is prized for its lovely scent.

Purifying and soothing. Good for normal to oily hair in a hair mix (not a lot, has a simialr consistence to clay cleaners). Good as a face mask

Shikakai/Sheekakai (Acacia concinna)
Cleansing agent. Can be drying. Use with oils or a conditioning herb.

triphala - mix of Amla, Bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica), and Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) - promotes hair growth

Tulsi--holy basil (Ocimum sanctum)
Treats ringworm and other skin diseases, protects skin from environmental damage

Vetiver (Vetivera zizanioides)
A cooling herb, anti-inflammatory and antipyretic

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

"How do I get rid of the bits of herbs in my hair?"

There are a few standard methods to remove excess herb debris that is left after rinsing:
1) Strain the herbs so there isn't much left to remove
2) Use lots of conditioner
3) Soak hair in a bucket, filled sink or mermaid soak in a bath tub
4) After hair dries, brush out or shake out the excess herb bits. You can hold your ends and shake your hair to get out the bits. It works pretty well.

"Will Indian herbs darken my hair?"

In general, most people do not experience darkening when using Indian herbs. Factors that can increase the possibility of herbs darkening include leaving on the herbs for a long period of time and cooking herbs for extended amounts of time before application. People with light-colored hair are more likely to notice a color change, so strand testing is advised. You many find that oiling makes your hair darker, or redder. Oiling may also increase drying time.

"Where can I buy Indian herbs?"

Indian groceries are typically the least expensive place to buy Indian herbs, although the age of the stock widely varies from store to store. You can locate the Indian grocery closest to you by checking phone listings under ethnic groceries. Bulk herb and organic/natural food groceries sometimes carry herbs like hibiscus and fenugreek in their tea sections. Indian herbs are also available via the Internet.

"How much oil should I apply to my hair before washing with Indian herbs?"

It is usually helpful to start off with small amounts of oil and work toward an optimal amount. A light oiling can consist of a thumbnail-sized amount or less of coconut oil or 1/2 tsp. or less of a liquid oil. Giving the oil time to soak in before washing can help ensure a thorough removal by the herbs.

"Can I rotate Indian herbs with other methods?"

Yes, of course you can. If you like, you can use Indian herbs as your only method, along with other products, or just as an occasional deep treatment.