Help me be a mad scientist with my shampoo!
November 24, 2012 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Calling all chemists and haircare junkies: is it possible to add salicylic acid and/or ketoconazole into a shampoo, rather than buying off-the-shelf shampoos with these ingredients in them? If so, how do I do this? If not how do I prevent over-washed and dried out hair?

I have dandruff and other scalp issues, and through a long process of trial and error, I have discovered that all of this is best managed through washing my hair first with a shampoo containing 1% or 2% ketoconazole (Nizoral), and then with a 3% salicylic acid shampoo (the CVS generic version of Neutrogena T-Sal, to which I have added tea tree essential oil and lavender essential oil). I do this probably three times a week

So far, so good, right? Unfortunately, while all of this keeps my scalp issues totally under control, it's really drying out the length of my hair (a bit past shoulder length at the moment). My hair is fine in texture (each strand is), but reasonably thick (as in, I have a fairly large amount of it), and wavy/curly. After each shower, the length of my hair is dry, frizzy, poufy, and generally unmanageable for at least a day, until it gets some of its natural oil back. But by that point, my scalp needs to be washed again. I've tried just concentrating the shampooing on my scalp (and putting conditioner on the length), which has been somewhat successful, but some shampoo still gets on my length and dries it out. Conditioning after the two shampoos helps a bit, as does a leave-in protein conditioner (Terax life drops), but it's still dry and fluffy. (Too much conditioner makes my hair limp and stringy because of its fineness, so I'm loath to add too much more.)

What I would like to do is to move to shampooing only once rather than twice. Is it possible to use either the Nizoral as a base and add in salicylic acid, or to use the T-Sal generic as a base and add in ketoconazole? Can the non-chemist layperson buy these ingredients in powders (?) anywhere? If so, how would I know how much to add to a six ounce bottle of shampoo to get the right concentrations? And would they dissolve in the shampoo at room temperature if I just add it to the bottle? The ideal for me would be to buy a much gentler shampoo and add both salicylic acid and ketoconazole to it, but I would be happy to use one of the existing ones as a base if that won't work. Help?
posted by UniversityNomad to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
No chemistry help here, but I just wanted to mention that if you use Moroccan Oil (or pure Argan oil or coconut oil) on your wet hair when you step out of the shower, it will deal with the dry, stripped out issue without making your scalp greasy. Those of us who like it really love it.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:11 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

DarlingBri - thanks for the help! While I happily use oils on my face and body, I was scared off of using them on my hair because I tried coconut oil and then argan oil on the length of my hair a while back and it ended up lank and greasy with both. But I may well have used too much - I didn't do any research before I tried it. Do you know if it tends to work as well for fine hair as it does for more coarse hair?
posted by UniversityNomad at 8:18 PM on November 24, 2012

As far as I can tell (IANAC/P, but play one on... Well, I just know a bit about it in passing), they won't interact directly. Salicylic acid counts as a fairly weak acid, and ketoconazole holds up fairly well to acids anyway.

You can pick your base shampoo and add the other chemical. Personally, I'd consider it easier to get sal acid in the US, but if you have a convenient way to get ketoconazole capsules, go with it.
posted by pla at 8:27 PM on November 24, 2012

ketoconazole, yes. it's added to animal shampoo all the time.

salicylic acid, could work if you add it to a ph neutral shampoo. a lot of shampoos are weak bases, just like soap is a base, while some are ph neutral or ph balanced.
posted by kellybird at 8:39 PM on November 24, 2012

Nthing a light, argan oil spray. Awesome stuff!!
posted by pearlybob at 8:41 PM on November 24, 2012

I have scalp issues too, and I use a shampoo with Piroctone Olamine precisely because it conditions my hair better (aka: strips it less) than other types of dandruff shampoo. You can try the Body Shop's ginger scalp care shampoo if you haven't already.

In addition, I no longer condition my hair, unless it needs some heavy-duty detangling. I use a very small amount of product-- some sort of oil & silicone - and gradually build up to the amount I feel is necessary (it varies every day).
posted by acidic at 8:44 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

you can do a google search and come up with a lot of hits for "gentle ph balanced shampoo" that you can buy.

that being said, both of these ingredients act on your scalp, not your hair. if you're a female with long hair, you might be better off massaging them into your scalp after you put them into a gentle shampoo base.... and using a 2nd shampoo for the length of your hair and ends.

you'd likely waste a lot of medicated shampoo and dry out your hair by shampooing the entire hair with these two products. also it'll be hard to get them in a non-cream base. i've never seen non-cream salicylic acid. a veterinarian may be able to help you with liquid ketoconazole.

for dry hair -- in addition to argan oil, jojoba oil is similar size/shape to natural scalp oils and you can add a small amount to your hair. it's cheap too.
posted by kellybird at 8:48 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why don't you just mix the 2 shampoos you're already using and merge them into one application?
posted by DoubleLune at 8:51 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Concentrations for solid ingredients in a shampoo are going to be given as weight/weight (w/w) percentages. So to make 100 grams of a 3% salicylic acid shampoo, you'd add 3 grams of salicylic acid to 97 grams of the shampoo base. Note that this assumes you have pure salicylic acid to work with.

You'll want the salicylic acid powder to be as fine as possible. If necessary, you can make the powder finer by grinding it thoroughly with a mortar and pestle.

The best way to mix is generally geometric dilution. This would be done by mixing approximately equal volumes of your salicylic acid powder and your shampoo base (stirring until homogenous), then mixing the resulting powder-shampoo product with an equal volume of shampoo base, then mixing this product with another equal volume of shampoo base, etc, etc—repeating the process until you have the correct concentration.

Salicylic acid can burn or irritate the skin, especially in high concentrations, so double-check your math, use common sense, and wear gloves while preparing the mixture.
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:22 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the dry hair part, I use MoroccanOil on my hair---about half a dime-sized puddle in my hand, really the smallest amount I can pour out (I have short hair) and it makes an amazing difference. Without it, my hair is dry and flat and poofy at the same time; with it, it is well-behaved. Awesome stuff. Even if it is crazy expensive.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:04 PM on November 24, 2012

Any reason you couldn't just mix the two shampoos together in your palm, and then shampoo once with that mixture?
posted by Kololo at 10:18 PM on November 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I use Moroccan Oil too, but it's in a mousse and I do just one dime-sized dollop (on past-the-shoulder length hair), rub my hands together, massage it into the ends and length, and then with the remainder smooth the hair near my temples and hairline. My hair does not get lanky or heavy (and sounds similar in description to yours) unless I use too much. You can trust in small amounts with that stuff. My hair is totally dry, poufy, curly into infinity if I don't slap on some of that stuff. I tried leaving it out of my routine a couple weeks ago and forgot what a nightmare it was.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:35 PM on November 24, 2012

Moroccan Oil is great but you really only want to pour a tiny (small coin sized) amount into the palm of your hand, rub your hands together so both palms and fingers are covered and then massage into the ends of your hair working upwards so that the driest bits of hair get most and the nearer your scalp you get the less is left on your hands. A little goes a looonng way here.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:03 AM on November 25, 2012

This totally doesn't answer your question about shampoo, but I have very dry, very fine, VERY thin hair, and two things really help battle the dryness without giving me greasy hair:

(1) When my hair is in a real state I'll oil it (I actually prefer a mix of olive, castor and tea tree oil) very heavily BEFORE I wash. I'll often put an old beanie on over the oily mess to keep the heat in while I clean the house, then I shampoo twice as usual and condition from ears down (I always condition or my ends will break off dramatically).

(2) Since my ends are so dry, I always apply conditioner from the ears down before I shampoo. This actually makes a huge difference. I end up conditioning three times when I wash my hair, always from the ears down. My theory is the conditioner protects the drier parts of my hair from getting over-washed.

I've learned that I shed much less hair if I keep my scalp very clean, so I've become a bit of an expert at keeping my lengths well conditioned while washing my scalp quite often.
posted by nerdfish at 4:16 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you considered applying the Salicylic acid after you shampoo? It can be purchased at CVS in 3% concentration in a small bottle that allows you to apply it directly to the problem areas on your scalp.
posted by COD at 6:33 AM on November 25, 2012

The amateur chemistry you want to do is something that can be theoretically acomplished in a home environment with a reasonable level of safety by someone who knows what they are doing but, from the context of your question, that does not appear to be you. If you do end up playing with the powder that salicyclic acid comes in anyway, please at least read the MSDS.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:06 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Perfect Image Solutions had a shampoo with ketoconazole and salicylic acid but it was recently recalled by the FDA (which may be due mostly to how their products were marketed). There is at least one similar product on the market (for now), with Ketoconazole 1%, Salicylic Acid 2%.

Anyway I have worked as a chemist in the hair care industry [the company for which I worked did not make anti-dandruff products] and I would not recommend making your own.

Beyond the danger of working with them neither of your active ingredients are soluble in water (or shampoo) at room temperature (or even close) so with straight mixing you'd end up with a non-homogenous suspension and have dosing problems. With heating you'd ruin other elements of the shampoo, solublizing your ingredients in a solvent is going to cause other problems, etc.

I believe your best bet is looking at the conditioner you are using. There are dandruff conditioners available that contain salicylic acid (and/or tea tree oil, etc); one of these may be effective enough that you don't have to use the second shampoo.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:08 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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