What Indian and Middle Eastern Women Know About Good Hair That We Don't

Updated 02/14/19
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Impossibly glossy, long, lustrous, and unequivocally healthy-looking… We've yearned to know the deepest, juiciest secrets behind the gorgeous strands of Indian and Middle Eastern women for some time now. And really, what better time than March (when we're diving deep into global beauty) to explore the subject? True, we've already spent time delving into other aspects of their highly covetable beauty routines and secrets for happiness, but we felt an ode to Indian and Middle Eastern manes, specifically, was in order. And not surprisingly, we learned so much. (Truly, you and your strands are in for the sweetest of hair treats.)

To gain some expert intel, I interviewed three amazing experts. First, celebrity hairstylist Cassondra Kaeding, who not only tends to the shimmering strands of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kim Kardashian West, and Olivia Munn here in the U.S. but also spends time in Dubai and the Middle East, where she takes bookings and clients. Additionally, I tapped Michelle Ranavat, the founder and CEO of Ranavat Botanics (think the dreamiest hair and skincare products inspired by Indian royalty), and Shiva Tavakoli, co-founder of the Persian-inspired haircare brand Joon. So what do the women of India and the Middle East know about healthy and gorgeous hair that we don't? Keep reading to find out.

1. Haircare Is an Extension of Skincare

Courtesy of Michelle Ranavat

Interestingly enough, this seems to be an international theme, and we've heard it before from the mouths of skin- (and hair-) gifted Scandinavian women as well. In other words, it's probably time we take heed.

According to Ranavat, one major difference she notices between the way American and Indian tend to their hair transcends products alone. "I think the biggest difference is we take care of our hair just as we would our face," she explains.

We make sure we are conditioning it, treating, and protecting it with the best natural products. Here in the U.S., there's typically an emphasis on reactive treatments, but I truly believe something as simple as utilizing a high-quality hair oil (just as you would on your face) can improve your hair and prevent potential damage.

In the United States, we rely on deep-conditioning treatments when our hair is feeling especially dry or after our hair has been colored. But in India, it's really cared for on a preventative basis." As Ravanat tells us, Indian women will massage cold-pressed oils into their strands a few times a week and apply an oil for protective measures anywhere they go, similar to how we would approach SPF in the United States.

Hair Tips Middle Eastern Women Swear By
Emily Roberts / Byrdie

And the magic doesn't just stop with oil-based elixirs and serums. You should also be masking up your hair as you do with your face, and preferably with homemade DIY ingredients. "Middle Eastern women use a lot of hair masks, many of them homemade, which increase the hair's elasticity and prevents breakage," adds Tavakoli. The masks will also moisturize, soften, and provide nourishment."

"One thing I have noticed about women's hair rituals in Dubai is that the women really do stick to their hair routine as we would with skincare," reiterates Kaeding. "They do their research and are very knowledgeable. Most of my clients in Dubai have their favorite hair products; however, they're also always wanting to know more about what's out there.

"They're always asking me for my perspective and want to know what I would recommend. And if they have a routine they're already committed to, they often want me to assess the health of their hair and tell them whether or not I think it's in good condition. And if it isn't, they want to know what they can do to help."

2. They Embrace a Hair-Healthy Diet

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"I think it's also important to mention that the Persian diet is filled with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices," says Tavakoli. In other words, lots of whole, nutrient-dense foods that encourage shine and growth.

"You cannot walk into a Persian household without there being some fruit on the table, pistachios and/or dates sitting out for snacking," she adds. "We also eat a lot of dishes with ingredients such as eggplants, saffron, pomegranate, fenugreek, turmeric, chickpeas, and the list goes on."

"Essentially, you get all the vitamins, minerals, protein, fatty acids, and antioxidants you need for optimal hair health from your diet," Tavakoli confirms. Thus, it's not likely you'll spy an arsenal of aqua-colored hair gummies and supplements on a Persian person's bathroom vanity.

3. Hair Rituals Are Learned in Childhood

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"In India, caring for our hair is incredibly integrated into our culture," Ranavat explains. For instance, she tells us if we were to look at a line of schoolgirls, we would immediately notice their hair universally styled in braids and neatly combed through with oil to ensure protection and nourishment (in stark contrast to our elementary school tresses coated with Sun-In and temporary dyes). "Overall," Ranavat continues, "I think the biggest difference between India and the U.S. is how often we care for our hair and how much a part of our culture it is."

As Tavakoli explains, the Persian approach is similar: "In general, Middle Eastern women have a more holistic approach to their hair routines compared to the United States. They grew up with their mothers and grandmothers passing down beauty rituals that have been around for decades, if not centuries. The idea of natural, nontoxic, DIY beauty has always been a given, which hasn't always been the case in the United States."

However, Tavakoli does acknowledge our increasing movement and awareness toward more natural options as we've slowly become more comfortable the idea of holistic beauty, with many Americans slowly seeking out more homemade beauty remedies and nontoxic products available to us on the market.

4. They Don't Take Hot Showers

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Ah, another beauty secret we've heard before from our international beauty friends: Cold water is friend, not foe (especially, mind you, if you're looking to emulate the glossy, hydrated strands a la women from India and the Middle East).

"Even just regular habits you might not think twice about can improve your hair health," Tavakoli reminds us. "For example, you can be utilizing the most moisturizing ingredients and products in your haircare routine, but if you are rinsing with hot water, you're just redrying out your hair."

Stick with lukewarm water in the shower and then brace yourself for a quick hit of cold water at the end to seal the hair cuticles.

Oh, and if your water isn't the greatest in terms of quality (as is the case for most of us), Kaeding suggests investing in a filtered showerhead or doing what she often recommends to her clients while abroad: "Since the water in the Middle East contains a lot of chemicals that are harsh on their hair, I recommend to all of my clients that they rinse their hair with filtered or bottled water after showering, which helps rid strands of excess chemicals which can actually cause damage in the long run. Sometimes we completely forget that our environment is a huge factor!"

5. Finding Hair Products & Ingredients Isn't a One-Stop Shop

Though there may be different perspectives when it comes to haircare, Tavakoli points out this doesn't necessarily mean there's no demand for Western hair products. However, since there aren't any large mass-market beauty stores like Sephora in Iran, most commercial haircare products there will be purchased from drugstores, supermarkets, and smaller-scale beauty specialty stores.

That being said, shopping for DIY remedies and specialized ingredients is another story entirely. "When it comes to purchasing natural ingredients for homemade beauty remedies, people will frequent attaris, which are traditional herbal stores that stock all sorts of spices and herbs," Tavakoli tells us.

6. They Favor Smooth Styles & Subtle Color

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Though short hair is having a moment here in the United States, Tavakoli told us that traditionally and still today, the Middle Eastern woman will almost always wear her hair long and flowing. "Clients in the Middle East nine times out of 10 will always request to get their hair styled after color service," Kaeding confirms. "They go straight to the blowout. The styles are very similar to what women like in the States—smooth, undone waves, blown out with a lot of volume."

Kaeding also explains Indian and Middle Eastern women aren't likely to try any crazy color combos or any kind of color commitment that will require lots of upkeep and maintenance. "I've noticed that many women in Dubai are more conservative with their hair color. They never want to overprocess or completely damage their hair. Therefore, their color preferences are subtler and really suit their skin tone and eye color."

7. They Favor Strategic (& Exotic) Ingredients

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We'd never heard of many of the exotic ingredients favored abroad, and they are still foreign to even the most avid of haircare junkies here in the United Staes. Curious to know which ingredients your hair has been begging for but you've yet to meet? Keep scrolling for a brief introduction:

Sedr: As Tavakoli explains to us, sedr is a special lotus powder made from the plant ziziphus—a spiny shrub hailing from the Buckthorn family. "You can mix sedr with some water to make it into a paste and leave it in your hair for about 20 minutes. It cleanses hair while also imparting shine, strengthening hair strands, and thickening your natural density," she says.

Henna: "In addition to sedr, henna is one of the most widely used ingredients for hair in the Middle East," says Tavakoli. "Many people associate henna with hair color, but it is commonly used in the Middle East as a conditioner or hair mask. It hydrates, detangles, and makes frizzy hair more manageable. Plus, it just gives hair a livelier and bouncier appearance."

Amla: Consider amla—aka Indian gooseberry—is the one wunderkind superfood berry you haven't yet heard of. Highly regarded in the scientific and medical fields as a nutritionally potent superfood with potential anti-cancer properties, amla also works wonders in your haircare routine, Ranavat tells us. (In fact, it's one of the mystical hero ingredients in Ranavat's cult-favorite Mighty Majesty Fortifying Hair Serum, $55—we're obsessed and have been singing its praises.) "Organic amla is an incredibly powerful superfood more people should know about since it has the highest natural content of vitamin C in any fruit or vegetable," she shares. "In fact, it actually has 10 times the vitamin C content of an orange."

Saffron: As one of the most expensive spices in the world, saffron is not only a quintessential component of Middle Eastern culinary cuisine, but it's also a notable ingredient in Persia's hair and beauty culture. "We often use saffron in homemade hair treatments to strengthen hair strands and even prevent hair loss," explains Tavakoli. "It's rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals, which made it the ideal ingredient to use in Joon's hero product, the Saffron Hair Elixir. (Ed. note: As mentioned in our IBE roundup, the elixir is amazing, and as long as you don't have ultra-light strands—which are unfortunately prone to stainage—we recommend dousing your hair with the stuff ASAP. Also, the packaging is to die for.)

8. But Oils Reign Supreme

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That being said, their oils of choice are different than popular picks in the United States like coconut and argan. (Oh, and as long as you utilize oils correctly, you won't end up with sopping strands—another hair myth Ranavat makes note of.)

"One major misconception in the U.S. is that oils will make your hair greasier. While that can be true to a certain degree, an oily scalp could also be your skin's natural reaction to washing too often and over-drying your scalp. If this happens, your scalp will over-compensate by overproducing oil." The Indian-inspired takeaway: If you limit the amount you wash (and eliminate surfactants that can strip the hair like SLS) and treat your scalp with oil, over time you will notice your hair does not need to be washed as often, and it will be stronger, shinier, and healthier, she says.

However, as we mentioned, the types of oils you choose can make a huge difference, and women in India and the Middle East have different preferences than some fo the commercially popular choices we applaud stateside. For instance, Ranavat notes that "cold-pressed sunflower oil protects the hair against environmental factors and dryness while organic jasmine oil smells incredible but also nourishes the scalp with its antifungal properties." (Both oils are known regarded as ancient Indian remedies.)

If you're looking at labels or searching for a pure oil to use on its own, consider giving preference to organic and cold-pressed varieties, which better maintain the potency of strand-saving vitamins and minerals.

"Coconut oil has been used pretty often as a hair mask, but I find it to be too thick. Plus, it can clog the pores on your face if the oil migrates down from the hair," she points out. "Argan oil is also used as a hair treatment since it's light and lovely to apply, but I don't find it conditions as much the sunflower as the sunflower or jasmine." (Both of which can be found in her epic Mighty Majesty formula—can you tell we're obsessed?)

This story was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

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