At some point in life, every woman has had a bad haircut. Except, maybe, for Tiffany Masterson, whose skincare line focusing on clean ingredients, Drunk Elephant, is one of the fastest-growing brands on the planet. Ever since they were kids, Masterson has had the good fortune of getting her hair cut by celebrity stylist Chris McMillan (the famed creator of Jennifer Aniston’s “Rachel” ’do from Friends). Growing up, they would go on family holidays together because their mothers were close. “Chris, who’s five years older than me, began cutting my hair when I was 12 years old,” Masterson recalls.
The Drunk Elephant founder was already considering doing haircare shortly after launching her brand in 2013, while McMillan, who also tends to the tresses of Michelle Williams and Cameron Diaz, had always wanted to partner with his friend. So Masterson and her mane man put their ideas in motion. “Chris said, ‘Let’s do a product range that allows your hair to be what it is and removes all the stuff we don’t want on our strands or scalp,’” she says. “He knows hair and I know skin, and scalp is skin, so it made sense for us to come together and develop a line that addresses both.”
McMillan had another key goal in mind: shift the popular perception of what quality haircare is. “It’s frustrating that people have become okay with using mediocre products just because they’re created by a big social-media star,” says the stylist. “Don’t get me wrong. There are some good product lines out there by famous hairstylists—good in that the formulas work. But they’re filled with ingredients that aren’t great for your hair or scalp. I knew we could make products that not only perform well but are truly, honestly healthy.”
Their labour of love took two years to develop and features a shampoo, conditioner, detangling spray and scalp scrub, all of which are free of anything Masterson deems potentially sensitising or inflammatory to skin.
The duo aren’t the first to apply the philosophies of clean beauty to haircare. Since their inception, brands such as Christophe Robin, Kevin Murphy and Aveda have been focused on replacing chemical ingredients with natural alternatives. But as Drunk Elephant with its cult following launches its collection this month, it seems haircare is about to become cleaner than ever.
From powerful plant substitutes to the potentially harmful ingredients you should avoid, here’s your guide to cleaner haircare.
Say No To...
The experts suggest steering clear of these additives for stronger, longer lengths.
Sulfates: Also found in household cleaners, sulfates are what give shampoo their lather. But if you want your glossy colour treatment to last, it’s best to avoid them. “Sulfates are very strong detergents that attack and strip hair colour,” says hairstylist and brand founder Kevin Murphy.
Alcohol: “Alcohols are often included in formulations because they evaporate quickly thus decreasing products’ drying time,” says colour artisan Christophe Robin. “But, in fact, they prevent beneficial nutrients from penetrating strands and the scalp.”
Parabens: These petrochemicals—often listed as butylparaben, propylparaben and methylparaben—act as preservatives to increase the shelf life of a product. “However, they are one of the leading chemicals that can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis,” says Diana D’Amore, product brand manager at Original & Mineral.
Silicones: “They might give the impression of soft, shiny strands in the short term, but these nasty ingredients are harmful in the long run,” says Robin. Silicones coat strands in a thin waterproof seal, disturb the pH balance and affect colour by fading the hair fibre.
The New Way To Wash
In simpler times, hair washing included two steps, however today, there are a few more to consider. Although routines should differ depending on hair type and environment, if your strands are brittle or lightened with bleach, applying a pre-wash treatment can help protect from breakage caused during cleansing.
A scalp scrub should be introduced once a fortnight, particularly if you’re a regular user of dry shampoo and styling products. Shampoo and condition as needed.
If you use hot tools to dry or style your hair, a leave-in treatment with added heat protection is a must.
Left to right: Pre-Wash Aquis Water Defense Pre-Wash, $46; at mecca.com.au Scrub Davines Solu Sea Salt Scrub Cleanser,$44.95; at ry.com.au Shampoo Kevin.Murphy Young Again Wash, $43.95; at adorebeauty.com.au Conditioner Drunk Elephant Cocomino Marula Cream Conditioner $40; at mecca.com.au Treatment Jonny + June Original Balm, $26.95; at jonnyjunehair.com
Healthy Hair Starts at the Root
The beauty industry is hooked on scalp care, and here’s why: “Your scalp produces oils that help your hair thrive,” Masterson says. “Build-up from products and sweat can clog the follicles and affect the way your hair grows. By exfoliating your scalp regularly, your hair in turn becomes healthier.”
Dyes Doing It Better
Unfortunately, colour formulas can’t be completely chemical-free, however, you can make cleaner choices. “In-salon brands, such as Faction8 by Pulp Riot, omit harsh chemicals such as PPD and resorcinol, are vegan, paraben-free and packed with nourishing, natural ingredients,” says colourist Simon Bright of Sydney’s Jonny + June.
For at-home options, Christophe Robin’s range of temporary dyes are formulated with 92 per cent natural-origin ingredients.
Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gels, $51; at adorebeauty.com.au
A Cleaner Cure
Are your strands in distress? Find your fix in these powerful, non-toxic ingredients.
Overprocessed: If dramatic colour changes have left your tresses looking flat and feeling brittle, a dose of antioxidants found in ingredients such as prickly pear oil, green tea, blueberries and grape seed extract will help to reconstruct the hair and stimulate healthy growth.
Try: Seamless1 Superfood Therapy Leave-in Cream, $24.95; at salonstyle.com.au
Heat-damaged: Addicted to your hairdryer? Revive the health of your strands with coconut oil. “It’s a very popular ingredient in the haircare industry because of its composition. Coconut oil is able to seep underneath the hair cuticle and help improve the health of the hair from within,” explains D’Amore.
Try: O&M Project Sukuroi Gold Smoothing Balm, $47.95; 1300 724 635
Dry and dehydrated: The environment, styling tools and lightening colour treatments, such as highlights, can all contribute to a loss of moisture. “When it comes to increasing hydration, I could not recommend aloe vera more—it’s a true natural treasure known for its unrivalled hydrating properties,” says Robin.
Try: Christophe Robin Hydrating Shampoo with Aloe Vera, $44; at adorebeauty.com.au
Breakage: Forever growing out your lengths but getting nowhere? “Naturally derived amino acids, such as arginine, help improve the strength of the hair, and therefore help minimise hair loss due to breakage,” says Christine Hall, Aveda’s vicepresident of research and development.
Try: Aveda Thickening Tonic, $41; aveda.com.au
Colour fade: To keep your dye job looking fresher for longer, seek out formulas with plant extracts such as desert peach or desert lime, which are high in vitamin C, proteins and essential fatty acids. These will keep hair healthy, nourished and prevent colour fading.
Try: Hunter Lab Invigorating Shampoo, $45; hunterlab.com.au
The Finishing Touch
While the haircare category is rapidly reformulating to include more natural ingredients and fewer potentially irritating ones, styling products such as sprays, foams and powders are a little slower to follow suit. Most traditional styling products contain silicones and alcohol because they provide instant results, such as increased shine. However, the benefits are only short-lived. “When used frequently, these ingredients can damage the hair fibre, affecting its natural protective barrier and overall health,” explains Robin, who recently launched cleaner styling alternatives in the form of a curl cream and anti-frizz milk.
The Style Set
Clean and effective, these products provide long-lasting care as well as the finish you want.
1 Playa Endless Summer Spray, $38; at mecca.com.au 2 Pure Curly Girly Moisturising Curl Primer, $34.95; at myhaircare.com.au 3 Olaplex No.7 Bonding Oil, $49.95; consumer.olaplex.com.au
Head image photographed by Aingeru Zorita. Hair by Chris McMillan. Make-up by Angela Davis Deacon. Manicure by Riwako Kobayashi.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of InStyle.