Ayurvedic Hair Care Routine for Beginners
The basic outline of your weekly cleaning and conditioning routine.
I had short hair for most of my 20s—too many other things going on to have much time for hair.
A couple years ago, I decided that having long hair was a sign of maturity and health. It was a sign that I was taking care of my mind, body, spirit.
Ayurveda teaches that hair and skin are nourished from both the inside out (i.e., what you eat, sleep, stress) and the outside in (aka, caring for your hair, skin, nails enhances your organ health).
There are a ton of great resources on all the different oils, hair masks, tea rinses, and herbs. I’ll list some of my favorites at the end.
This article provides a comprehensive overview for the daily and weekly hair care regimen. What I love about all the blogs that are out there is the encouragement to experiment and find what works for your hair. Ayurveda is the art and science of self-love, really. When you love yourself enough to learn about your hair through experimenting with what works, to embrace being uncomfortable with letting go of your old products and habits of hair care, to enjoy exploring the unknown of who you are every week, then that love has at least 3-fold benefits:
You will radiate with inner beauty. Ayurveda teaches that every human being is beautiful.
You will radiate with peacefulness. Old mental flogging and conflicts and shame will fall away.
You will radiate with genuine health. Taking care of your scalp, hair, skin, and nails has long-term health benefits. The mantle of your skin, your largest organ, is the layer of your body that touches the world. When it is strong and healthy, you’ll see all kinds of other shifts in your life.
Banyan Botanicals emphasizes the Ayurvedic tenant that hair and skin health is a manifestation of inner health. Diet is going to influence the health of your hair. Period. But diet changes are a bit harder to change than hair care routines, so maybe your first step to changing what goes into your mouth to be turned into tissue is changing those routines and rituals of self-love that is hair care.
Weekly Hair Care Routine
You really don’t need to wash your hair any more than once a week. If your hair is addicted to the chemicals of your hair products, your hair might get a little rougher/dryer before it gets better---synthetic hair products only add a superficial sheen to the outer layer of your hair. So when you switch to healing your hair from scalp to the length of your hair, from the inner layer out, you’re not going to be masking your true hair quality until your hair has taken a little time to heal up.
When I first got committed to healing my frizzy tangled hair, I conditioned it 2x a week, but I still didn’t wash it more than once. Some people might only need to wash it every other week, even if they condition it every week, or a couple times a week.
Step One: The Attitude You Bring
Sadhana roughly translates as spiritual practice. Hair care should be treated as a spiritual practice. Yogi Bhajan describs sadhana as “a personal process in which you bring out your best.”
Hair care is an opportunity to practice gratitude and acceptance. For some of you, beginning this is not going to be easy. The longer we’ve been attaching to rejection and self-flagellation, the harder it is to let go of this. This is particularly where men have difficulty. It is not easy, based on the western model of masculinity, for them to accept the discomfort of trying something like this for their hair….even though men are just as disheartened and self-critical when it comes to their hair [or lack thereof—Ayurveda has tons of recipes and solutions for hair loss.
The other attitude to bring to your hair sadhana is patient curiosity. You are unique! Finding your right ways of doing this takes trial and error, and it is naturally going to shift depending on the season or phase of life.
Step 2: Pre-oiling and scalp massage.
Oils nourish and protect the inner layer of your hair. Scalp massage enhances circulation.
You’ll want to experiment with oils. The ones I use change with the season. Coconut oil is considered one of the best (and its properties make it a natural sunscreen…). There are tons of blogs out there where women talk about what works for them.
Pre-poo (as the trendy call it) your hair by dabbing oil along your part, then reparting your hair & repeating until your scalp is covered. Massage in gentle circles along your entire scalp. Pause and enjoy the sense of relaxation and happiness. Coat the rest of your hair. Wrap your hair in an old t-shirt, pillowcase or bedsheet (oily towels/sheets should be washed separately and never dried in the dryer).
Let this soak into your hair for at least 30 minutes. You can leave it in overnight, covering your hair in a shower cap, then wash in the am. I like to oil my hair on my ‘stay-home self-love’ afternoons. My goal is to leave it in for at least 3 hours. You’ll find your own rhythm.
Step 3: Cleansing & Clarifying
There is a ton of information on the various herbs to use. You can use that information to help you find a good shampoo bar/liquid to use, or you can use it to make your own hair cleaners. I also think there is enough information out there about why you want to remove all synthetics from your hair care routine. Baby-steps, though, baby-steps. I personally just started with pre-oiling and using my old shampoo, before eventually ditching it for a more traditionally Ayurvedic method.
The traditional method is to use a paste of herbs (mixed in water, yogurt, milk, or an apple cider vinegar/water mix) and massage it into your scalp and hair roots, then working it through the rest of your hair.
If you have dry/tangled/frizzy hair, you’ll want to be sure to use moisturizing herbs, or yogurt or milk for that extra moisture. Again, tons of great articles out there on this. Tons of great recipes.
If you have time, let the mask sit 15-30 minutes. Especially when you are at the beginning of recovering the health of your hair, this is a simple way to speed up the process. It’s not like it really adds more than 2 minutes to your hair routine (wrapping your hair up and unwrapping it to rinse out), because while it’s soaking into your hair, you can relax or work as you need.
Oh—I’ve found that this works best when I have damp hair. You’ll want to experiment with having dry, wet, or damp hair. It probably depends on your hair health/porosity.
Step 4: Conditioning Rinse
Make up an herbal tea based on your personal hair needs, let it cool. Have a bowl under your hair in the tub to catch the tea so you can pour it through your hair a few times. You can leave in the conditioner, or rinse it out after 5-15 minutes. I generally aim to leave it in at least 1x a month, or if I notice it’s getting a little more damaged from the environment.
If your hair is really tangled, or your ends fray easily, you will not want to skip this step. If your hair is pretty healthy, you might not always need this step. I have really thick curly hair, so it helps me work out the last of my shampoo.
Monthly Hair Care Rituals
A lot of people have posts on deep conditioning treatments, or switching off different types of process. There’s already plenty of articles out there on that.
Personally, I like doing a little special hair mask once a month when I’m on my period. It just makes me feel really good, and it creates in my heart and body an even deeper sense of self-love to know that once a month I’ve got this special time to look forward to being responsible to nobody but me (I also luxuriate in baths and do other little rituals and self-care stuff that weekend, too). I’ve found I’m a much nicer person, much more generous, much less likely to snap or be frustrated when I stick to an extra-special routine once a month. It’s not always super-elaborate or time-intensive, but it always has that quality of ‘special’.
Daily Hair Care Rituals
There’s a lot of health benefits to massaging your scalp every day. When you do it right before bed, it can help you relax and sleep more deeply. You can use a little oil or not.
You might also benefit from oiling the ends of your hair every day as part of your morning routine. The ends are the most vulnerable, and if you are trying to grow your hair out, you really want to protect them. It’s easy to go overboard—don’t add too much oil!
Or, if you don’t want to use oil, you can save your conditioning tea and use it as a quick spritz every morning (which is particularly delightful if you use rose petal…it is very soothing to the modern stressors of traffic and screens).
Random Notes on stuff
Like I said at the beginning, you can make changes slowly. Maybe you start with pre-oiling and keep your regular shampoo routine. Then one day you buy an Ayurveda shampoo bar. I’m just giving you an overview of the basic structure as I understand it.
If you’re making your own pastes and teas, they last about a week. So, you can make enough for 2 uses and only whip something up 2x a month, or you can make something every week. Or, you can research herbs good for your hair condition/dosha/hair goals, and find products with those herbs that help you meet your goals. This is going to be more efficient than just basing it off a product description. It really takes no time to make, it’s just the confidence to experiment to find what works for you.
Castor oil is amazing. This summer I’ve been using castor oil on my roots and coconut on the rest. I am loving how my scalp feels, and my roots are coming in thick and luxuriant. Castor oil is very healing, and helps your hair grow faster. (I’ve also been using it on my eyelashes…)
Remember, this is an adventure and an exploration!! Self-healing is not easy, as we all know internally as well as externally from the addictions and illnesses in our society. Treating your hair like it belongs to a queen will seep in to your mind and emotions in the best way. Oh—or treating your hair like it belongs to a king! I wish I knew more about how to encourage men to adopt some of these techniques. Male sense of self is just as attached to the quality and beauty of their hair as it is for women. And synthetics damage their health too!
I change my routine for each season. When I first started it was always the same, but as I’ve learned how to listen to my intuition, body, and properties of the herbs and oils, I change up my routine pretty radically depending on what is going on outside.
In the spring, you don’t need to leave the oil to soak in your hair as long. I often switch to oil 1x a month during this season.
Resources I’ve found helpful:
Great Ayurvedic comprehensive overview of the difference between modern shampoos/conditioners and traditional practices. Krya has the most in-depth Ayurvedic perspective I have seen so far, but their website is not well organized.
Hairbuddha.net has oodles and oodles of different recipes and their benefits/properties.
FancyFlairLady. Nice introductory overview to herbs and their properties.
Melanie Sachs, Ayurvedic Beauty Care. This text was one of the first to be published in English. Gives an excellent overview of Ayurvedic massage, among other things.