I recently used shikakai powder on my hair. I had been using Fructis, mainly for my scalp. It is the only shampoo that has the stripping power to clear my recurring seborrheic dermatitis. If I switch to natural organic shampoos, my scalp starts to get congested again and then itchy. It’s not pleasant. Unfortunately, Fructis is not the best for my hair, leaving it stripped, lifeless and feeling ‘soapy’. I guess it builds up in my hair over time. I found an old packet of shikakai powder in my boxes and thought I’d give it a go.
Not sure how to use it, I got a jug, poured the powder in and filled it up with water. It went frothy on top. I just poured it over my hair. I admit, I had to use a little bit of (different) shampoo to get the ‘bits’ out of my hair. I guess you could leave your hair to dry then brush the bits out.
Result: My hair has gone healthy, soft and shiny again, with no heavy, sticky residue on it. It feels stronger.
This is after just one time. Over time it would really strengthen your hair and make it very healthy. It is also much better for the environment than harsh shampoo detergents.
So, what is shikakai powder when it’s at home?
Shikakai powder is an ancient herbal shampoo made from the fruit-pods, leaves and bark of the Acacia Concinna shrub, which grows in Southern India. It was commonly used in India before shampoo was ever invented. The name ‘shikakai’ means ‘fruit for the hair’. It strengthens hair with frequent use, which is especially good for my brittle, dry Vata hair (which breaks off when I try and grow it long).
Shikakai is rich in vitamins (vitamin A, C, D, E, K), enriching the hair follicles to promote healthy hair growth. Apparently, shikakai has more than 100 times the vitamin C than grapefruit, so is highly antioxidant. It is astringent and has a low pH value to promote a healthy scalp. It is anti-dandruff and anti-inflammatory (which is good for my dermatitis). It is antiseptic and excellent for sensitive scalps. It supposed to even detox the blood in the scalp and prevents grey hair forming. It actually cools your scalp, which will stop hair falling out and encourage hair regrowth.
What shampoo can boast all of these qualities?
How to use shikakai
A palmful of shikakai powder should be mixed with a bit of water until it becomes a paste, and then massaged into the scalp and hair. Shikakai has natural saponins, so goes slightly ‘soapy’ (but it will not be the same lathering effect of shampoo). Rinse out throughly. You can either use a bit of shampoo if there are lots of bits in your hair, or brush out when dry. As an alternative idea, you could possibly put the powder in a muslin bag, then strain in a jug of hot water to make a herbal rinse without the bits.
You won’t need a conditioner afterwards, as shikakai is a natural conditioner too. It doesn’t strip natural oils like shampoo does. Traditionally, coconut oil was applied to hair overnight to condition it and then washed off with a shikakai rinse, but this may leave a slight residue if not done in the right amounts. If you have very dry hair, it might be worth doing.
It was also sometimes mixed with reetha, or soapnuts (which are available from Commonsense Organics). Mix 2 parts of reetha and one part shikakai. Amla powder (Indian gooseberry) can be added too, to really treat the hair.
[A word of warning: Don't get the rinse in your eyes! It hurts!]
Shikakai powder and amla powder are available from most Indian shops in cardboard boxes and don’t cost very much.
Links on shikakai: