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Over the past few years I have learned that I am allergic to many things, many of which are ingredients in sophisticated beauty products. I’d spent years sifting through increasingly expensive serums and cleansers to solve a shapeless, shifting cloud of hair and skin issues — flaky scalp, red skin, dryness, breakouts — that eventually came to a head. dissipate once I realized the problem was contact dermatitis, not that I wasn’t exfoliating hard enough. My skin felt a million times better after switching from La Roche-Posay cleanser to cheaper, fragrance-free micellar water, for example, and after swapping Dr. Dennis Gross peels for the old facial soap. Cetaphil. The difference I felt most dramatically was swapping a hair routine that involved Olaplex #3 and a $42 Briogeo Charcoal Scalp Scrub (bought out of desperation to heal my scalp) for a very clinical and unglamorous shampoo: Vanicream, formerly known as Free & Clear.
Many products marketed for sensitive skin contain essential oils and botanical ingredients, which intuitively seem healthier – it just seems like bathing your hair in goat’s milk and wild oats would be restorative – but if you’re one of the minority of people who are allergic to these natural ingredients, they are not so benign. Every time I had a reaction to something, a piece of the puzzle fell into place – that explained why other products had never worked well, but also knocked out part of my skincare shelf. After the aloe gel I used with my NuFace device turned my face lobster red, for example, I stopped using Seaweed Bath Co.’s unscented shampoo and conditioner, Olaplex #3 , and Manic Panic hair dye (all of which contain aloe). A bottle of lavender soap made my hands dry and my skin cracked like it was the dead of winter, which washed away the lavender-containing fur oil I combed into my scalp to moisturize dry hair . At first I tried to track down which ingredients seemed irritating, but the next time a product with a dozen extracts led to a breakout, it added another set of variables, until I did facing endless branching paths, like the protagonist of a postmodern Borges story tasked with keeping a skincare diary.
The good thing about Vanicream’s hair products is that they eliminate that need for conspiratorial and potentially irritating ingredients, because the brand has already done that for you. The label, which looks like it was designed in Microsoft Word and is attached to the bottle with glue that causes it to wrinkle and warp after getting wet, reads as if it was written on the other side of the process. Allergen Removal: The shampoo is “free of dyes, fragrances, masking fragrances, lanolin, protein, parabens, and formaldehyde releasers,” as well as sulfates, gluten, and betaine, which I don’t hadn’t yet learned to avoid most.
The first time I used the shampoo I was in disbelief that I didn’t experience any tingling or itching, which I thought was a normal side effect of cleaning your hair. “Does your scalp still hurt after taking a little shower?” I texted my sister, who is also on a hair journey that has yet to come to an end, and told her about the shampoo. “My scalp never hurts after a shower,” she politely informed me. “But that’s good news!”
Since I bought the shampoo, my hair routine has become easier and cheaper, and reliably produces days of curly hair. I also bought the brand’s conditioner, which I like, although it can leave my hair feeling dry and fluffy, which I don’t like. Still, switching to Vanicream eliminated most of the scalp tingling and flakes (during extra dry stretches, I’ll skip the shampoo for an apple cider vinegar solution in a squeeze bottle). After a few months my hair was healthy enough to fade blonde, and since then I’ve stuck with Vanicream instead of switching to color specific products with longer ingredient lists – instead of buying an after -violet shampoo, for example, which helps prevent blond hair from turning brassy, I mixed Pravana semi-permanent color into my Vanicream conditioner, with very good results. (The Pravana dye contains lanolin and fragrance, but I still found the homemade infusion to be better for my scalp than other purple conditioners.)
I’m not the only Vanicream fan: The brand makes a facial cleanser that dermatologists recommend for use with acne medication Accutane, which dries out skin and requires removing harsh or irritating ingredients from your routine. . Her one-pound jar of moisturizer is also popular — strategist writer Lauren Ro bought it while eliminating certain chemicals from her skincare routine and named it her favorite buy of 2021. (She wrote that she was “immediately impressed with how luxurious and rich the cream felt on my skin.”) Although the Vanicream shampoo might not have as many bells and whistles as my luxury leather scrubs hairy, I realized that sometimes the boring thing is just what you need – a conclusion that’s easier to swallow when it costs $11.
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