Whoever said good hair doesn't grow on trees obviously hasn't heard of yucca extract. If you also haven't heard about this game-changing hair ingredient, let's start at the root of it. When it comes to haircare, this natural wonder naturally foams up without the need for added sulfates, making it the perfect addition for products like clean shampoo.
What is Yucca?
Yucca is a tree-like plant of the agave family, native to Mexico and warmer regions of the southwestern United States. It has many health benefits due to the fact that it has cell-protecting phytochemicals.
Don't confuse yucca with yuca—the root of the cassava plant, which is a potato-like staple in Latin cuisine—yucca boasts long sword-shaped leaves and a woody base. "Indigenous communities commonly use this plant to make soap," says Mateo Acosta Medina, product development manager at Ceremonia, who explains that it was often referred to as the "soap root." What else can yucca do? We spoke with several experts to get the scoop.
Meet the Expert
- Mateo Acosta Medina is a chemical engineer and product development manager at Ceremonia.
- Dr. Annie Gonzalez is a Board Certified Miami Dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology.
- William Gaunitz, FWTS, is a certified trichologist and founder of Advanced Trichology.
- Trichologist Veronica Joseph is an IAT Certified Hair Practitioner and Natural Hair Brand Founder at Luxju Natural Hair Products.
Yucca has been used as a scalp cleanser for many years as Native Americans traditionally used it for things like dandruff and flakiness. "The benefits from yucca are due to its naturally acidic pH which is helpful in temporarily cleansing the scalp from things like fungus, bacteria, and excessive build-up on the scalp," says trichologist William Gaunitz.
Type of Ingredient: Cleanser
Main Benefits: Chemical-free cleanser that contains antioxidants that neutralize free radicals, fight oxidative stress, and reinforce the strength of your strands
Who Should Use It: In general, yucca is great for most hair types, as it replaces sulfates that can strip the hair, leaving it dry and making your scalp prone to irritation. Those with curly hair or sensitive skin are particularly great candidates for yucca extract.
How Often Can You Use It: Yucca is gentle enough to be used as a daily cleanser.
Works Well With: Yucca can be mixed with water or essential oils if making your own shampoo. No known interactions with other products.
Don't Use With: Yucca is categorized as safe by the Environmental Working Group, however dermatologist Dr. Annie Gonzalez says it can cause allergy or irritation for some if used as a poultice or used topically. Talk to a doctor before use if you have concerns.
Benefits of Yucca Extract for Hair
Yucca has powerful detergent properties and foaming agents that make it a natural and effective cleanser. Medina tells us it's also packed with a high concentration of polyphenols, which he says, "neutralize free radicals, fight oxidative stress, and reinforce hair's strength."
Yucca has several other benefits as well, including:
- Replaces damaging chemicals: Yucca's naturally foaming antiseptic properties replace stripping foaming agents, like sulfates, perfect for those who prefer clean formulations. "Yucca contains saponins or cleansers that reduce inflammation, dandruff—and is anti-fungal as well. In turn, your hair is not only much cleaner, but has a boost in volume while looking shiny, smooth, and healthier overall," says Gonzalez.
- Promotes healthier hair: While artificial ingredients can strip away your natural moisture, leaving hair dry and making your scalp prone to irritation, yucca leaves your strands and scalp feeling clean and healthy.
- Protects your hair from the elements: Yucca contains powerful antioxidants due to its high concentration of polyphenols. These components neutralize free radicals, fight oxidative stress, like dryness, and strengthen your strands. It also has photoprotective properties which protects your hair from UV damage.
- Supports shinier strands: Antioxidant-fed hair is healthier hair, and healthier hair means shiny hair.
- Encourages a flake-free scalp: Yucca not only cleanses the hair and rids your scalp of excess oils, it also naturally exfoliates, leaving you flake-free. Additionally, studies have shown that plant-based polyphenols (like that found in yucca root and green tea) have had a positive impact on scalp health due to the anti-inflammatory benefits. "People with flaky, irritated, or inflamed scalps with noticeable buildup are the best suited for the use of yucca," says Gaunitz.
- Promotes hair growth: "The benefits of yucca for hair are that it stimulates blood flow to the scalp," says trichologist Veronica Joseph. "The activated blood flow via blood vessels supplies nutrients and oxygen to hair follicles and hair strands that can lead to an increase of the growth phase of the hair lifecycle."
Hair Type Considerations
Yucca works well for most hair types, however those with curly hair may really benefit from it. "Yucca is a natural foamer packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients suitable for anyone looking to get a deep clean," says Gonzalez. "However, faux foamers like sulfates strip the hair of its natural oils, and those with curlier hair tend to be the most susceptible. Therefore those with curly hair are particularly great candidates for yucca products to maintain the moisture needed for rich coils. "
In addition to being effective, Medina says that it is also a safe ingredient. "There have been no studies showcasing any risks associated with or negative side effects of yucca," says Medina. "It has been defined as a 'generally recognized as safe' ingredient by the FDA." Finally, he suggests, "while yucca extract is generally safe and effective for all, if you have underlying scalp issues, we recommend consulting your physician beforehand."
How to Use Yucca Extract for Hair
Yucca can be used in a variety of hair products. Medina explains that "in order to use yucca as its highest concentration, we start by pressing the roots, stems, and leaves to extract the juice mechanically." Then, he says, "the juice is concentrated as a spray, that eventually dries into a fine powder, at which point is optimized for shelf-ready formulas." You can find many products on the market with yucca to regularly cleanse your scalp and strands.
Here are some of the best ways to use yucca extract:
- As a shampoo: "Hair cleansers that have yucca extract would be most beneficial to cleanse hair and the scalp because of a soap-like foam, called saponins, that are naturally derived from yucca," says Joseph, calling yucca a efficient and stable cleanser.
- Conditions hair and scalp: Conditioners with yucca extract have several benefits. Gonzalez explains the yucca can "help moisturize your hair, strengthening it and potentially preventing hair fallout."
- Soothing scalp mask: Applying a hair product with yucca extract on your scalp has many benefits, says Joseph, "due to yucca root extract being an antioxidant that prevents cell damage caused by free radicals and an anti-inflammatory."
- Heat protectant styling serum: Due to yucca's high concentration of polyphenols and its photoprotective qualities, look for leave-in styling serums that protect hair from heat damage from hair dyers and curling irons.
- DIY scalp treatment: Yucca powder can be used to make your own scalp treatment or even shampoo. Gaunitz says it is especially beneficial to those with flaky or irritated scalps. "You can use yucca directly on your scalp, however it should be massaged in and then rinsed within 15 to 30 minutes," says Gaunitz. Just mix two tablespoons of yucca powder with two cups of water. He does caution that you should only use this a couple times of week at the most, as "repeated use of yucca overtime may aggravate inflammation due to the pH." If you have a sensitive scalp, consider steering clear of the homemade products and stick to the store-bought products.
The Best Products With Yucca
Medina admits his favorite yucca-infused shampoo is Ceremonia's Champú de Yucca & Witch Hazel. "Not only is it a clean shampoo free of sulfates, silicones, and 2,500 other potentially harmful ingredients, it actually lathers, thanks to the natural foaming properties of yucca," he says. Because most chemical-free shampoos lack lather, the product development team took almost 12 months to create this innovative shampoo. And get this, it costs only $16. Medina sums it up: "It is an effective cleanser that doesn't strip away your scalp's natural oils."
This Coconut Hair Defrizzer contains yucca, along with jojoba and coconut oils, that helps protect your hair from heat styling to keep it shiny and smooth.
"Yucca & Plantain Anti-Breakage Strengthening Conditioner smooths and detangles hair cuticles to improve the appearance of split ends and reduce frizz," says Gonzalez. "Its formula helps weak hair resist breakfast, and the Cilantro Extract and Baobab Oil help boost shine."
Those with a dry and itchy scalp will love Ors HAIRepair Vital Oils. Infused with coconut, grapeseed and almond oils, along with yucca, massage this lightweight oil into your scalp and hair for a healthy scalp and shiny hair.
For those who are concerned about thinning hair, Spare My Hair Scalp Hair Solution replaces Minoxidil with natural ingredients, such as yucca extract, biotin, saw palmetto and horsetail extract, to promote hair growth.
Is yucca good for dreadlocks?
Because of its anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties, products with yucca extract are a great choice to keep your scalp and dreadlocks clean and healthy. You can use it as a shampoo or scalp treatment.
Does yucca help with hair growth?
Yucca can help promote hair growth as it stimulates blood flow to the scalp. "Yucca has been known to thicken hair naturally and is used as a remedy for hair loss and thinning. Although it’s not necessarily a cure for baldness, it does stimulate the scalp for hair growth,” says Gonzalez.
What are the side effects of yucca?
“Yucca extract as an ingredient applied topically to the scalp may cause irritation or allergies,” says Joseph. “Side effects from yucca being ingested could be an upset stomach, nausea or vomiting.”
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