Hair Essential oils are extremely helpful in hair care as they have the ability to influence the sebaceous glands and normalise their functions. They are beneficial to all hair types, and leave hair smelling good too.

Most of us tend to think of hair in terms of colour, condition and style, and forget that it also serves a useful purpose in protecting the scalp from extremes of temperature and in regulating the loss of body heat from the head. Approximately 100,000 individual hairs grow from hair follicles in the scalp and they do so at a rate of about 2 cm (just under 1 inch) a month, although this varies from person to person.

Hair is composed mainly of a protein called keratin, which also forms our nails and the outer layer of skin cells. Keratin is not a living substance, but is produced as the living cells in the hair follicle ('root') die. Because hair is a dead substance, aromatherapy can do very little to influence its condition. What we are able to do with essential oils is improve the health of the scalp, on which the condition of the hair depends.

The condition of the developing hair is largely dependent upon a good supply of blood carrying adequate quantities of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), vitamin E, vitamin C and the B complex, as well as minerals like calcium, zinc, iron and copper, to the hair follicle. Poor health, whatever its cause, can be responsible for hair that lacks lustre and life, and it probably grows unusually slowly into the bargain.

Also whilst the hair is being formed, different pigment molecules are laid down which determine the colour of the hair. Hair can turn grey early, following illness or a period of intense emotional distress, because such things interfere with the production of the pigment. A nutritionally inadequate diet is capable of doing the same thing. Hair is formed from living material, but the actual hair itself, the hair that you brush, is dead, and after a period each one is shed and replaced by another. Its condition depends on good health and nutrition as above, but also on how it is treated. Many problems such as unmanageability and split ends are caused by actually abusing the hair through using the wrong shampoos and overdoing the styling.

It is important to know your hair, to recognise whether it is normal, or whether it has a tendency to oiliness or dryness. Alongside each hair lies a sebaceous gland which secretes sebum to lubricate the hair and lend it a degree of protection. If the glands are overactive, and produce more sebum than is needed, the hair becomes oily and will need more frequent washing to take away the excess. Do not resort to a more concentrated, oil-stripping shampoo, as this will only stimulate the glands into producing even more oil to compensate. If, on the other hand, the glands are sluggish, the hair will become dehydrated and dry, so you should avoid moisture-robbing hair dryers, heated curlers and exposure to sunlight, wind and sea water.

Rosemary has been used as a hair tonic, especially for dark hair, for many hundreds of years, and essential oil of Rosemary is used in many commercial hair and scalp products. A few drops can be added to the final rinsing water after shampooing, or you can make an alcohol-based scalp rub by dissolving 5 mls of essential oil of rosemary in 100 mls of high-proof vodka.

Camomile has been used as a rinse for fair hair for centuries, and adds a gold tone, but it can be slightly drying; so if your hair is dry, use it sparingly in an oil base. Mix oil of Camomile into almond or olive oil in a 3% dilution, and massage this into the scalp. Leave it on for one or two hours, wrapping the head in ding-film or plastic, covered with warm towels, and then shampoo out. If you have oily fair hair, then you can add camomile to the final rinse and for this it is better to make a strong infusion of the flowers than to use the essential oil.

The health of the hair and scalp depend to a great extent on general health and nutrition, and a diet providing a good balance of minerals- and vitamins, or the use of supplements where necessary, is the best way to maintain the hair in good condition. Shampoos should be mild, as harsh shampoos strip off the natural coating of sebum, an oily wax produced by glands in the hair follicle. The sebum spreads along the hair shafts and keeps the hair looking smooth and glossy. Without this protective coating, the dead cells which make up the hair for most of its length, will flake and give the hair a dull and lifeless look. External treatments, such as conditioners, help to make the hair look shiny by replacing lost sebum with various other oily substances, but it is simpler and healthier to let the natural sebum do its work.

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