Tea Rinses Are The Ancestral Beauty Secret for Getting the Healthiest Hair of Your Life

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Before we had hair growth supplements and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, women in various parts of Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America were preparing hair tea rinses as an effective solution to promote hair growth and health.

While drinking tea can do wonders for your overall health, skin, and hair — we're actually not referring to the beverage. Applying tea topically to your hair can be extremely beneficial. It promotes hair growth, reduces breakage, and improves scalp health. Women from around the world have been doing hair tea rinse rituals for centuries, but it's become increasingly popular in recent years with quite a few beauty brands launching their own formulas.

In the Dominican Republic specifically, women have been treating their hair with rosemary tea rinses for generations to help reduce hair loss and shedding. The simplest recipe requires boiling fresh rosemary in water and allowing it to steep for 15 minutes before passing through a colander to remove the leaves. The rosemary infused water is then left to cool before being used as a hair rinse.

Carol Urena is a stylist and the manager of her mom's Dominican hair salon called Punta Cana Salon in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. She grew up doing natural hair treatments like té de romero (rosemary tea) to help promote stronger, healthier hair. Her own experience with hair loss during the pandemic inspired her and her salon staff to start selling the remedies they grew up using to clients at the salon.

"I think that hair teas have become popular because they are made of natural ingredients and you just cannot go wrong with that," Urena tells InStyle. "So many people are trying to go the natural, healthy way of doing things. Wearing their hair natural, eating whole foods, living a sustainable and environmental-friendly life. The same goes for what they choose to put on their bodies and their hair."

She continues, "I felt that it was my duty as their hairstylist to provide them with something that can help all of us, so I did some research and came up with this formula. We have made many batches of it and have made it available to our clients."

At Punta Cana salon, Urena sells both their hair tea rinses, as well as their Coco Coffee Hair Growth Oil (which is now available to order online). Coffee is another beauty secret in the Dominican Republic that women use to stimulate hair growth.

"The relationship between rosemary and hair dates back thousands of years and is evidenced in recorded history, oral tradition, mythology, religion, and folklore," explanis Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, an Afro-Dominican herbalist, artist, educator, community based organizer and founder of Moon Mother Apothecary. "It is said that the Greeks tucked fresh rosemary sprigs behind their ears, or braided rosemary twigs into their hair when studying for tests to increase their memory. As an herbalist, this makes complete sense to me, as I consider rosemary to be a powerful, stimulating herb that supports the full head —inside and out — including our minds, memories, and hair."

However, she does add that since there are several types of rosemary rinses on the market, it won't be a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Instead, she recommends taking the time to figure out what works for you by testing different batches out on small sections of hair and watching for any reactions or skin irritation. Bautista-Carolina also recommends going for organic herbs when you can.

"The skin is the largest organ of the human body, so anything we put onto it will inevitably seep through our skin layers and into our tissue and bloodstream — this includes the skin on our scalp," she says.

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Consy Toribio's natural hair care brand Dominican Curly was inspired by some of these Dominican hair tea rinses and herbal remedies. The impetus of her brand is "all hair is good hair" and features two rinses: the Calendula Hair Tea and the Hibiscus Hair Tea.

"I think in reclaiming our natural hair, a lot of us also reclaimed our history regarding the topic. I was inspired to reclaim using herbs in my haircare when I learned about its benefits," Toribio says. "What I love the most about hair teas is that you can use them a number of ways, making them easy to fit any routine and even the busiest schedules. Because they come in loose herbs, you can brew your hair tea as weak or as strong as you need."

When it comes to actually applying the rinse to your hair, Toribio shares that there are a number of ways to do so. First, you could use it as a pre-shampoo treatment to help with detangling prior to cleansing the hair and to soothe irritation on the scalp. You can also use it as a leave-in treatment before styling.

"You brew the tea like you would any other loose herbal tea, either with an infuser or boiling the herbs in water and then straining them out," Toribio explains. "It's not recommended that you apply the herbs to your hair, as that will get messy — you want to use the actual tea liquid only. Allow the tea to cool so you don't burn yourself and then apply it to your hair using a spray bottle or an applicator bottle."

Toribio adds that when it comes to reaping the benefits of hair tea rinses — consistency is key. She recommends repeating this ritual on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, depending on your needs. But make sure you're still properly shampooing and deep conditioning. She claims that tea rinses work best when they are combined with a well-rounded hair routine that fits your individual needs.

One of the main missions behind natural haircare brand Belle Bar Organics, founded by sisters Tianna and Solange Bell and their mother Annette Bell, is to help reconnect women of color to their ancestral roots. "Not only with the ingredients we use but with the beauty practices and traditions that have gotten lost throughout the generations. We focus on Ayurvedic ingredients and practices, African ingredients and practices, and Asian ingredients and practices," says Tianna.

The Belle Bar Organic Green Tea Strengthening Tea Rinse is an herbal blend of green tea (to boost hair growth), lavender (to balance natural oil production on the scalp), black tea (to increase thickness), calendula, and chamomile (to boost moisture), and comfrey, sage, red clover, and hops to stimulate hair growth and reduce shedding. Green tea is the main power ingredient in this herbal blend, as the antioxidants and caffeine help to stimulate blood flow and fight off free radical damage and oxidative stress.

To reap the benefits of the Belle Bar Organic Green Tea Strengthening, the founders suggest using the tea rinse on wash day, after applying your leave-in conditioner. Brew 1.5 teaspoon of tea in a provided teabag to 8oz of water. After the tea cools and is warm (not hot), pour the tea water into a spray bottle. You can spray the rinse on the scalp and massage it in. You can also spray it on strands that are slightly damp but not wet. For maximum results, it is recommended to leave it in the way you would a leave-in conditioner.

Other hair tea rinses out there include the Mane BeauTea Hair Care Herbal Conditioning Tea. Unlike some of the other formulas out there, this one comes with 14 tea bags instead of loose herbs that you can brew without having to strain afterwards.

Another option is the Fro Experts Hair Tea Rinse, which features all organic herbs including lavender, moringa (which is loaded with vitamin A, zinc, B vitamins, and silica), jasmine, peppermint, chamomile, and marjoram leaf.

Hair teas don't just do an impressive job at stopping hair loss and encouraging hair growth, but they also promote scalp health, and help to treat everything from buildup, dandruff, and itchy dry scalp. Some folks even use it to treat and soothe their scalp eczema. It also works as a natural conditioner and instantly boosts shine.

While there is very limited research to back up the benefits of hair tea rinses, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Yolanda M. Lenzy believes that there's definitely something to this ancestral hair ritual.

"Green tea and black tea both contain a polyphenol called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which may be useful in the prevention or treatment of androgenetic alopecia (AKA male or female pattern hair loss) by inhibiting the production a dihydrotestosterone or DHT by blocking 5-alpha-reductase," Dr. Lenzy says. "The drug finasteride, which is FDA approved for the treatment of male androgenetic alopecia, also works by blocking 5-alpha-reductase."

"Chinese black tea was studied topically and found to have a hair promoting effect in mice through its effect on binding to the estrogen receptor which can promote hair growth," the MD continues. "Spearmint tea has significant anti-androgen effects in individuals with PCOS and therefore can possibly have hair promoting effects. While there are no clinical studies for the use of these agents as a tea rinse, it is possible that their use as a hair rinse might also be beneficial."

From non-toxic makeup and skincare to sustainability practices, Clean Slate is an exploration of all things in the green beauty space.

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