Not long ago, when a single can of aerosol hairspray could lay waste to an entire swath of the ozone layer (to say nothing of what it could do to your hair), the phrase "natural hair-styling product" was an oxymoron. But things have changed. Purity no longer comes at the expense of quality or variety. The transition didn't come easily. Simply knowing that conventional gel was laden with plastics was not enough to turn many people into devotees of natural alternatives, especially when the alternatives weren't exactly high-performance.
"Initially, we had problems finding natural ingredients to convincingly replicate the effects of synthetics. We had quite a learning curve for a while," admits John Masters, whose New York City salon and product lines have gone all-natural. But with help from herbalists, aromatherapists, and chemists, Masters and other manufacturers have found suitable substitutions. For instance, scleroteum gum (a mushroom-derived thickening agent) makes an excellent alternative to the plastic holding agents in conventional gel, says Masters. Beeswax, olive oil, and mango butter make for more earth-friendly pomades than petroleum-based versions.
Knowing that the latest naturals should work well for your hair and for the environment, we put a number of them to the test. Here are the winners:
Hamadi Shea Pomade
With a grand total of three allorganic ingredients -- shea butter, bergamot oil, and ylang ylang oil -- this groomer is particularly adept at smoothing, spiking, or tousling short hair, but it also adds shine and hold to longer hair.
Carol's Daughter Hair Milk
Work this product through damp hair for curl definition and softness. Despite its heavy-sounding ingredients list -- vegetable and nut oils, shea and cocoa butters, and lemongrass essential oil -- this hair milk is surprisingly light in both weight and scent. Chances are, it smells like your favorite spa.
John Masters Organics Bourbon Vanilla and Tangerine Hair Texturizer
This may well be the planet's best-smelling hair product. What's more, its styling abilities are formidable and include smoothing, shining, and, of course, "texturizing" (code for creating that enduringly popular "piecey" look).
ShiKai Color Reflect Shine Serum
This featherweight liquid handily tames winter flyaways. Although these light-bouncing drops admittedly contain the same silicone you'd find in conventional shine serums, they also employ silk protein and organic jojoba oil for extra brilliance.
Text by Abbie Kozolchyk