Does My Hair Need a Metal Detox?

A comprehensive guide to strengthening and softening your locks against heavy metals.

A fashion model demonstrates combing her hair on 24th September 1949 in London, United Kingdom. Imag...
Photo by Bill Brandt/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If you’ve got your finger on the wellness pulse, you test your heavy metal levels at least yearly. You don’t need to be a celery-drinking, crystal-toting health fanatic to know that, whether through diet or environmental factors, the body retains heavy metals that medical practitioners say can cause health ailments like excessive lethargy, headaches, and allergies. The hair also retains metal buildup through regular washings (not to mention foils from highlights and straightening chemicals, too)—there are, no doubt, a certain level of metals in your water. (The amount of heavy metal buildup on your hair varies geographically; for instance, London is amazing for hair— limestone-rich, less metal deposits—while Los Angeles is nothing short of a healthy hair nemesis, due to added ammonia and chlorine. And who knows how much self-tanner has seeped into the water from Malibu?) This metal residue will also cause your hair color to grow dull or green-ish, and can lead to damage. Recognizing the metal buildup is one thing—getting rid of it is another.

“Metals are everywhere, including toxic heavy metals that are in most of our daily products: aluminum cans, cookware, foil, pipes, water, even foods,” says Philip B, the veteran hair maven that counts the Rolling Stones, Nicole Kidman, and Gwyneth Paltrow as fans. “Once metals are in our system or on our tissues or hair, they are stationary unless we work to remove them. Our bodies are designed to specifically filter and eliminate heavy metals along with other bacteria, viruses, and toxins. But if the amount exceeds our normal filtration system—we are overloaded. Those heavy metals can oxidize and cause inflammation, which can leave our body susceptible to a host of other damages. Once the cellular team of defenses spends too much time constantly fighting off chronic inflammation, is when we are most vulnerable to illness.”

There are several excellent purifying hair solutions on the market to help detoxify your hair and scalp. Below are a handful of our favorite products that promise to remove and balance your hair’s metal levels—so the next time you decide to order a second spicy tuna roll, you can reason that your hair metal levels, at least, are under control.

The L.A.-based hair guru Philip B has two products that work in tandem to help purify the hair and remove unwanted metals. “Listen, some metals are okay for the hair, and are beneficial,” he explains. “Some are found naturally in our hair pigments or skin cells. And while long-term, outside copper is in and of itself potentially bad as it oxidizes, the peptides from copper are extremely important for scalp and skin. They will attract copper from your body, enabling both repair and future protection from damage. The danger we are talking about is prolonged exposure to the presence of heavy metal toxicity— such as mercury, lead, aluminum, copper, arsenic, and even nickel.” Since metal deposits over time can be dangerous, we can use our skin, scalp, and hair to open, draw out, and allow the metals to slide out in the process. It’s necessary to use products that open the cuticle, Philip B explains. “The Rejuvenating Oil I developed helps in this instance precisely. Key essential and carrier and oils are incredibly beneficial and help tremendously during the detoxification process. My rejuvenating blend supports the natural detoxification of metals with lavender, geranium, ylang-ylang, and orange peel. Because of the porosity of the keratin protein structure of our hair when heated, the cuticle will open, and the oils will attract and eliminate all the ‘unwanted guests’ literally getting them to slide out of the cuticle.”

“I would follow the oil with Peppermint Avocado Shampoo, because it’s a super clarifying combination,” Philip B continues. “The botanicals and deep cleansing oils further attract and attach to toxins. There are 16 plant extracts including peppermint, lavender, jojoba, and juniper working to lift from both the scalp’s surface and the keratin protein strands. Then, add water and lather up; this will help clear away the metals, excess sebum/scalp oils, debris, environmental pollutants, pathogens, and product residue to get your hair and scalp superclean without stripping.”

When applied for the correct amount of time, this product leaves your hair remarkably lustrous and soft to the touch. To prove its efficacy, L’Oréal’s system underwent 102 instrumental tests in the labs with L’Oréal Professionnel scientists, as well as over 1000 tests that were performed by professionals on real clients to verify results. The at-home hydrating two-step shampoo, along with the hydrating mask sold as a duo, were specifically created to detoxify hair and neutralize the metals trapped inside the hair fibers to protect the richness of your hair color, while keeping it soft and nourished.

This product is a consistent go-to for colorist Min Kim, who lauds it as “the best support system for my go-to blonding products. My clients immediately feel and see the difference after one in-salon pre-treatment service; the results are so impactful and instant they want to maintain the benefits at home with the Metal Detox Shampoo and Mask.” It is recommended to use the Metal Detox Shampoo and Mask with each wash for the two weeks following your in-salon hair color and pre-treatment. After two weeks, you can tailor your wash routine to your hair needs and use 1-2 times per week.

Who knew the holistic benefits of vinegar and kombucha can also help purify your hair? “When it comes to removing heavy metals, this formula’s standout ingredient is kombucha, which acts like a magnet to draw out impurities,” Adam Federico of R+Co says. “When you drink kombucha, it flushes toxins and impurities from your gut. It acts in a similar way when used topically on your hair and scalp. I recommend using this product 1-2 times weekly—with continued use, the hair and scalp can be free from toxins so that they can function optimally.” It’s worth noting this specialized rinse is formulated with vital nutrients that go beyond detoxification to also condition, fortify, and protect your strands long-term.

“One of the primary sources of metal deposition on hair is from hard water. This line has exceptional resistance and performance for efficacy in this realm,” says Deborah Lin, PhD. She’s also one of Better Not Younger’s brand ambassadors, and uses the product regularly in her own haircare regimen. “Hard water refers to water that contains higher levels of minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium in tap water, but can also include copper, iron, and other metals. The presence of these metals can impact the performance of some shampoos and conditioners in the shower, making it harder to spread products in the hair, have good foam, and yield a poor rinse-out. This can result in buildup on the hair shaft and leaves hair feeling dry, straw-like, looking dull and grimy over time.

“The Full Transparency line uses a sulfate-free system of gentle cleansing and foaming surfactants that have a high resistance to hard water, meaning it is able to perform well to lather and cleanse hair strands and rinses out easily in water with higher metal content. The formulations, which contain yuzu extract and citric acid, can help to cleanse and reduce buildup on the outer hair shaft while the plant biopolymers from chia supports shinier-looking, supple and soft-feeling hair strands.”

This shampoo uses a special blend of sulfate-free cleansers that are coconut- and apple-based, naturally removing excess buildup, including heavy metals caused by hard water on both the scalp and the hair. The plant-based oils in the shampoo are also infused with amaranth oil, which helps restore and rebalance the scalp from hard water damage. Since hard water can make the hair brittle, Act + Acre also created a moisturizing treatment mask to go hand in hand with the shampoo. The Restorative Hair Mask works hard to repair damage caused by hard water/metal buildup on the hair. With regular use, hair is purified, soft, and free of excess metals.

Deep-cleansing but still gentle, this shampoo removes impurities effectively without stripping or drying out the hair. Charcoal is the hero ingredient here, working to gently detoxify and remove buildup as well as any color-dulling residues from dry shampoos, styling products, chlorine, hard water, and pollution. Witch hazel and tea tree oil soothe the scalp, calm inflammation, and helps absorb excess oils. The treatment is safe for color-treated and fine, medium to thick, or coarse texture hair, vegan, and cruelty-free. It’s also free of gluten, artificial colors, mineral oils, and harsh detergents.

Clear Haze Universal Shampoo is a moisture-balancing, clarifying product designed for all hair types and textures. This luxurious, ultra-concentrated foam formula detoxifies to remove impurities, while adding essential nutrients, without weighing hair down. An added bonus: Clear Haze Shampoo is formulated with quartz, a purifying mineral that helps absorb stubborn oil buildup on the scalp and hair strands, leaving hair clean.

This shampoo uses the purifying powers of activated charcoal to clarify your hair and scalp, and remove product and hard water buildup. That often includes metal deposits—in fact, the charcoal components absorb 100-200 times its weight in impurities which is definitely a plus. The vegetable proteins in the formulation also work hard to repair and heal stressed-out locks. To be used once or twice a week.