Before there was shampoo, there was shikakai. An ancient hair growth-promoting cleanser, shikakai is an herbal powder made from the fruit pods of the Acacia Concinna tree. Acacia Concinna is a shrub-like tree that grows in the hot, arid plains of Southern India. Known for its hair rejuvenating properties, shikakai is used in its raw, powdered form and as an extract that's added to shampoos and other hair products.
The indigenous people of southern India discovered that the pod-like fruit of the trees that grew so readily in their jungles had foaming properties. They started powdering the fruit and used it to clean their hair. When they discovered that the herbal powder revived their hair and helped it grow long and thick, they named it shikakai--literally meaning fruit for the hair.
The scalp is an intricate organ made out of hair follicles, sebaceous glands, pigments and thousands of sweat glands. Hair growth is a result of an optimal environment in the scalp and ample nourishment to its glands. Shikakai works well on both of these accounts. Astringent in nature and with a low pH, it creates a favorable pH-balanced environment in the scalp that fights dandruff and other infections. According to the Ayurvedic Talk blog, a resource center for all topics related to Ayurveda and yoga, shikakai is rich in vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin D and other micronutrients, and nourishes the hair follicles to promote hair growth. Additionally, being a mild cleanser, it doesn't strip the scalp of its natural oils.
How to Use
Traditionally, a shikakai treatment follows a scalp massage with coconut or castor oil. The powder is mixed with water to form a runny paste with a pancake batter-like consistency. It's massaged into the scalp with the fingertips and gently worked through the hair. The saponins in the powder create a moderate lather during this process. Conditioners are skipped because of the herb’s natural hair-softening and detangling properties. Hair is then rinsed out with warm water and air-dried.
Shikakai powder is widely available in health food stores and Indian grocery stores. The inexpensive herb is sold in raw, finely powdered form in many different brands. In addition, hair product manufacturers make an aqueous extract of the herb to make it more user-friendly. The extract that contains all of the beneficial properties of the herb is added to hair products such as shampoos, conditioners and hair oils.
Various cultures have offered an assortment of approaches to growing hair and preventing hair loss based on local plants and cultural perceptions. In a culture that places great emphasis on hair care, shikakai has stood the test of time. It has been a popular hair cleanser for hundreds of years in India. Though scientific documentation of the use of shikakai for hair growth is almost nonexistent, strong historical and anecdotal evidence suggest that it's useful for promoting hair growth.