If you use store-bought hair gel, you may be coating your hair follicles and scalp with hazardous chemicals. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group, an investigation by a global coalition of environmental and public health agencies revealed that six out of seven tested hair gels contained phthalates, chemicals used in the plastics industry that are known to produce birth defects and damage to the male reproductive system. Fortunately, there are safer alternatives.
Gelatin is a natural product that comes from collagen, the group of proteins found in the skin, connective tissue and bones of mammals. You’re probably familiar with gelatin as a quick-setting dessert, although it’s also used to make certain confections, like marshmallows. In order to be considered food-grade for humans, gelatin must undergo hydrolysis, which is a chemical reaction in which water molecules are split into hydrogen molecules. This breaks down the collagen bonds in the material so that they can be reordered when heated and cooled. When introduced to water, gelatin forms a colloid gel, which means its molecular components are evenly dispersed through the mixture. This is what gives gelatin desserts their texture and form. It also enables gelatin to serve as an effective and safe alternative to commercial hair gel.
To use gelatin as a hair gel, stir 1 tsp. of unflavored gelatin into one cup of warm water until it is completely dissolved. When thickened, use as you would any hair gel. This product will keep up to seven days in the refrigerator.
Flax, also known as linseed, produces a seed that provides oil from which linseed oil is made. The seeds are also used in cooking to bind foods together, sometimes as a substitute for whole eggs. You can make a natural hair gel by boiling 2 tbsp. of flax seeds in 1 cup of water for 10 minutes; strain off the liquid into a clean container. This hair gel does not need refrigeration, but should be used within 10 days. In addition to keeping hair in place, using this alternative may improve the condition of your hair and scalp, since flax seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and lignans, a group of plant chemicals that provide antioxidant properties, according to "The PDR For Herbal Medicines."
The fresh gel squeezed from the leaf of an aloe vera plant works well as a styling or setting gel for hair. It dries quickly when hand styling, or it can be blow-dried to “freeze” hair into position.
According to Janice Cox, author of "Natural Beauty at Home," other alternatives to commercial hair gel products include sugar water, lemon juice, almond oil, pink grapefruit pulp and even champagne. In addition, botanical essential oils may be added to the base formula for scent.