These days, I find myself more than a little upset with Mother Nature. Her indecisiveness as to whether or not she wishes it to be winter or summer is not only causing me difficulty in choosing outfits every morning, but it’s wreaking havoc on my skin and hair. My confused, irritated scalp is dry and itchy and as I scratch at it relentlessly, it has begun to flake. Furthermore, my strands have turned dull and lifeless in the bewilderment of whether to produce oil or go into lockdown mode. I recently dragged my mother to our nearest ULTA store, where I spent twenty minutes contemplating which hair mask to spend $$$ on. Mom finally just leaned over and said, “Seriously, just put dahi (yogurt) in your hair.” When I inquired further, she informed me that when she was younger, everyone she knew would apply a plain yogurt mask to their hair, resulting in soft, silky, dandruff-free tresses.
Now, as a product of the eighties, I tend to doubt anything natural. My first inclination was to tease my mother and say “ewwww, mom, like, we have companies to MAKE that stuff for us now.” A lot of magazines will also tell you there are no proven benefits to using natural ingredients versus manufactured products. But the truth is, the advice of our mothers and grandmothers do hold a lot of merit. They didn’t have the luxury of free Kérastase treatments and blowouts – their techniques evolved from generations before them and were based on traditional and Ayurvedic medicine and/or an innate understanding of the human anatomy. Upon researching the effectiveness/science behind using yogurt in one’s hair, I realized our mothers were really onto something.
Yogurt (or yoghurt for our lovely ladies in the UK) is high in lactic acid, and has natural antifungal and antibacterial properties. The yogurt works to stimulate hair growth and fight dandruff by acting as a natural cleanser that tightens and clarifies the pores on your scalp. The protein properties help to strengthen and moisturize your hair and to tame persistent, pesky fly-aways by smoothing your strands. The creamy consistency and antibacterial ingredients help to soothe your scalp and reduce any itchiness. Finally, for those living in tropical areas – yogurt masks are incredibly cooling! Even if the Revlon mask that you picked up from CVS promises to accomplish the same, isn’t it better to try something completely produced in nature first, rather than with ingredients you can barely even pronounce?
There are several techniques used to make a yogurt mask – they usually vary in the ingredients added. The three listed below are the most basic methods used in South Asia as relayed by my mother and her friends:
1) Simple Yogurt
This is the easiest and least messy/time consuming method. Simply whip some plain yogurt in a bowl with a fork (this helps with ease in application) for use on dry hair before showering. The amount depends on how long your hair is. Starting on the left side near your ear, part your hair and rub the yogurt into the exposed scalp. Part your hair again an inch higher and apply the yogurt to this area. Continue the process until the yogurt has been massaged into your entire scalp. Brush on the remaining yogurt to the rest of your hair from roots to ends. Leave the yogurt in for at least an hour but no more than two – make sure to do this on a day you don’t need to be out and about. You may then rinse the yogurt out with lukewarm water and a mild shampoo. Conditioner is optional.
2) Yogurt and Egg
Perform the same method as #1, but this time when whipping yogurt, add an egg (the white part helps with strength and the yolk increases the shininess of the hair). This method also requires you to wear the mask for at least an hour, but no more than two. Make sure to wash your hair out with tepid water – you don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs in your hair from heat! Use a mild shampoo – by mild I mean a basic shampoo for normal hair that is not specifically clarifying, moisturizing or a dandruff shampoo – you’ll be negating the effects of the yogurt mask.
3) Yogurt and Mustard Oil/Olive Oil
This method is slightly different than that of the ones above in that it can be applied either before or after shampooing, but is recommended more as a conditioner rather than a mask. Whip some yogurt and add one or two tablespoons of either mustard oil or olive oil, whichever is more readily available. After washing hair with a mild shampoo, apply this conditioner and leave in for about 15 minutes. Make sure to have more parts yogurt than oil so you don’t need to reapply shampoo to get this mask out of your hair. If you feel you have used too much oil, you may shampoo again, but the idea is to have a little oil that is indiscernible remaining your hair to condition your strands.
Finally, there is the Western version of the yogurt mask that has appeared in magazines in the U.S. and U.K.. This technique asks you to blend yogurt along with pulp from fruits containing natural oils that soften your hair. These include avocados, mangoes, cantaloupe and most frequently used, bananas. If any one of you uses this method, we’d love to hear your techniques and results.
One last note: All the ladies I have asked about yogurt masks have advised that this is a beauty technique only to be used in the warm summer months. Yogurt has intense cooling properties and brings down the temperature of the body when applied on the head for long periods of time. This may sound like an old wives’ tale, but trust me, there really is something to the idea of “cooling” and “heating” foods. Therefore, pull out this mask when the weather turns warm (like now) and try to avoid using it in the winter.