Shikakai is a traditional Indian hair care product popular as a natural alternative to other detergents and shampoos. The word shikakai translated literally into English as "fruit for hair," and is considered by some a better approach to hair care than the chemicals in many shampoos for both environmental and personal health reasons. This product is also often advertised as a cure for dandruff or for promoting hair growth. Made from powdered Acacia concinna, this natural shampoo is applied as a paste to the hair, massaged into the scalp, and then rinsed out with warm water.
Washing hair with shikakai alone works because the bark of Acacia concinna contains saponins, which are traditional cleaning agents. It also has detangling properties, so no additional products are required. Being naturally mild, it is also particularly useful for people with sensitive skin. Some people do advise oiling the hair with a product such as coconut oil overnight so that one's hair will not get dry. However, this natural shampoo does little to disrupt the hair's natural oils, so this is typically not considered necessary.
Shampoos containing shikakai that are ready to use are also available. The ingredients of these products should be inspected prior to purchase because they do not always contain only Acacia concinna. Often, a shikakai shampoo mixes other ingredients such as henna or natural oils in the same bottle. A premixed product is more convenient and less messy, but it provides the consumer with a decreased ability to tailor his or her hair care.
Traditionally, a hair oil such as castor oil or coconut oil is first applied to the scalp, massaged in, and allowed to soak in for one or two hours. Shikakai paste is then worked into the hair to get rid of the oil. A warm-water rinse follows. This traditional routine can be very messy as well as time consuming, which is why many people even in India no longer use this traditional shampoo.
Those who like this product claim that it makes hair grow stronger, shinier, and longer. On the other hand, some believe it makes hair dry, and some have had bad experiences with undisclosed ingredients in prepared powders dying their skin or hair. Whether shikakai works on a person's hair has a lot to do with the individual properties of that person's hair. Shikakai seems to work on many hair types and is a good option for those in the market for a natural product.