I often get asked if it is possible to make styling products from home. The answer is YES but don’t expect to be able to re-create the vast array of products and “holds” available from the big brands – going home made in this category is a whole heap of fun BUT it isn’t quite as elegant.

A common theme behind people wanting to go it alone is to avoid all of those hard to read ingredients – after all, if you can’t pronounce it, it must be in there to kill you right?  A bit alarmist and not really true but I guess it is sensible to understand a product before slapping it all over your head!

Most styling products get their “Holdability” from polymers. These are the ingredients with long and hard to pronounce names: Polyvinyl pyrolidone (PVP),  Vinyl Acetate (PVPVA), Polyquaternium  XXX (add a number), PEG XXXX (add numbers)  and many more.  To get an idea of what these chemicals are like imagine threading a long string of beads – you will need thousands. If the beads in the chain are all the same you get a “homo polymer” PVP is one of these – long chains of vinyl pyrolidone. If you choose to use two types of beads you can end up with either a block co-polymer – maybe 500 black beads then 500 white beads, or with a blended co-polymer (I have forgotten the proper name for this) you may have alternating black and white beads: PVPVA copolymer.  These are your polymer chains. These chains can either be flexible, giving rise to a natural hold or they can be rigid (environment depending) and give you a FIRM hold.

Now sometimes, the polymer chain has a funky little end bit on it – this is called a “functional group” in chemistry circles. These “functional groups” allow the polymer to impart some conditioning or shine or body to the hair. The type of functional group will be reflected in the ingredients name.  Polyquaterniums are in this family and their functional group can impart conditioning or styling depending on the size of the polymer chain and the type of functional group attached.

So that’s a bit of chemistry, but are these ingredients really cringe worthy in terms of health and the environment?  Well, all of these have been tested for their toxicity and irritation potential in humans and while there are always exceptions to the rule, these ingredients have all been found to be safe for use as directed.  However, from an environmental angle there is little doubt that some  (not all) of these long chain polymers are toxic to aquatic systems (dose dependent) and some release VOC’s  (Volatile Organic Compounds) into the atmosphere contributing to air pollution.   While the industry is continually working to make their products perform better on the hair, there is still a way to go before these ingredients perform as well environmentally.

OK.  We found out that it is possible to  make your own hair styling products but now we need to know how!

The Natural Hold Factor.

Gum’s such as Xanthan (fermented sugar base) and  Amigel (from Alban Muller) – Sclerotium Rolfsii (fermented sugar again) are a great place to start when making your own hair gels / sprays.   These both form a jelly like structure when added with stirring to warmed water and have a natural stickiness or “Hold Factor”. In fact, I am pretty sure that you can get a half decent hair gel by just hydrating these gum’s in water and using it as is!  There are a couple of problems though:

1) Both of these gum’s come in powdered form and take some practice to hydrate effectively. If you don’t sprinkle and stir enough you end up with little “fish eyes” of un-hydrated gum which is not that attractive.

2) If you do make a gel with either of these gum’s in water you won’t be able to keep it for too long as it will be pretty attractive to bacteria and fungi! If you are not going to preserve, my tip is only make what you need!

There is also Shellac which is the natural ingredient found in the old style hair sprays. However, while this ingredient is natural it isn’t plant derived! Shellac is a resin produced by female lac bugs which some people may find hard to live with.  It gives a crispy, medium hold which has a tendency to flake after time.  On the plus side we do have this ingredient to thank for all of those beautiful 40’s hair styles so its not all bad.

While neither of these ingredients will have your hair standing on end with any ease, they can both give your style some lift and volume! The hold factor will increase with the concentration of the gel UP TO A POINT. You only need between 0.2% of gel active and 1.5% of gel active, any more and you will end up with a flaky head.

Other Ingredients To Choose.

To make a natural wax or cream you will need a few more ingredients. Things like lanolin wax, beeswax, coconut oil and shea butter all tend to get added to make the correct waxy consistency. While these ingredients do give some hold, it has more to do with their waxiness than their film forming power. These types of formulations are best for those wanting dramatic styles for going out at night or for those with dread locks who are looking for a little styling help.

Whatever you decide have fun and take care as whatever you make may well be on your head for a good few hours. Make sure you do a patch test before going out to that party.

We don't recommend resorting to this home hair styling remedy!

We don't recommend resorting to this home hair styling remedy!