Serpentine Hair

Serpentinehair shampoo bar

A shampoo bar from Serpentine Hair.

By Jessica Pasko

If you've ever gotten frustrated with the way commercial products make your hair feel, you're not alone. Albany's Kim Wingfield was tired of her hair feeling grimy and dry, and was sick of using the chemical-filled solutions from her local pharmacy. She'd tried some natural, sulfate-free products, but they were often either too expensive or smelled a little more earthy-crunchy than she wanted.

That's when she decided to make her own.

So, Kim did some research on the web and started dabbling with various mixtures. Taking the name Serpentine Hair from her long-time internet moniker, Medusasbedhead, she launched a line of her own hair products online about a year ago. She now whips up the shampoos, shampoo bars and perfumes in her downtown Albany apartment (she has a day job as a security guard). The 26-year-old Utica native hopes to add a facial line in the future.

Kim keeps the prices low: shampoo bars are $4.50, liquid shampoos come 2 oz. for $2.50 and 8 oz. for $6, and perfumes come in either a $4 three-pack or a $6.50 six-pack. The funky scents include Bridezilla ("sugary-sweet scent, evocative of happiness and joy"), Edge Of The Earth ("the primal scent of the ocean along with the fruits of the tropics") and Immortal Beloved ("A heady blend of violet and sandalwood"), but Kim says the two most popular fragrances are Kahlua and Medusa. (She also makes unscented products.)

Right now Serpentine products are primarily available online, but Kim's planning on trying to get some local stores to carry her goods. And a store in Nashville, Tenn. will also soon be carrying some of the products.

So what are they like? Your intrepid AOA writer gave the Immortal Beloved shampoo bar a shot this week. While it felt a little weird at first to be rubbing what looks like a bar of soap on my head, I dug its clean, non-overpowering scent and the pretty lavender color. Even better, it left my thick, straight hair smelling good and feeling manageable.

I'm thinking some of these might make good (and local!) holiday gifts.

Comments

I'm a little bit biased because Kim's my homegirl (that's my wedding picture on Serpentine Hair's site), but her products are fantastic and smell wonderful.

Oh, and the shampoo bars she provided for my wedding guests? They were a Hudson Valley-inspired blend of tulips and mint, and people snatched them up like hotcakes.

Do you know if she sells in person at any events?

These sound like a great addition to the shampoo bars at the Co-Op, and I admit, if it's brightly colored, it's already got half of my vote.

Tyler Durden would be proud.

I'm not positive, but I think this bar shampoo would escape the TSA liquids-snare at the airport. As someone who travels a lot, this might be a great marketing angle. I've given up bringing my favorite shampoo on trips and leave my hair at the mercy of the hotel selection on the hotel bathroom counter. You may be able to go to the shops at Albany Airport and get your products displayed there.

This stuff looks awesome, but I think a lot of people wouldn't consider buying this type of thing without smelling it. Please keep us posted if it becomes available for sale at the co-op or a local boutique!

"The truth about sulfates"

Sulfates is a very broad class of chemical compounds. Sulfate group itself is a very benign, non-toxic piece of a molecule which can be found in wide range of products.
The chemical ignorance of this soapmaker is stunning and disturbing.

It is very very strange to hear something about the dangers of chemicals from a person who nonetheless put a whole lot of unnecessary pigments containing toxic heavy metals, such as chromium, in her products. The Chromium Hydroxide Green pigment she uses is proven to be harmful for skin and eye contact and also a suspect carcinogen.

I would rather buy something certified than use body products prepared in someone's "Downtown Albany apartment" in unknown sanitary conditions.

By the way, soap preparation always involves some harsh chemicals such as NaOH (lye). I wonder what she does to hazardous chemical wastes which are inevitably formed in a process and must be disposed properly according to state and federal laws.

It is also interesting whether her building lease permits the establishment of a chemical factory in the apartment.

To Jessica: Thanks for taking the time to meet me, and thanks for a lovely writeup! :) (And thank you to all the kind and helpful people --including Ms. Siobhan-- that chimed in w/their comments here!)

And Lu, as for your unnecessarily nasty comments, most of your concerns are addressed on the Serpentine Hair website. It's explicitly stated (and backed up by links to unbiased scientific studies,) on the "Truth About Sulfates" page that while the sulfates found in most body products aren't going to make you sick, they're particularly bad for many people's hair, including mine. (We merely state the fact that sulfates strip out the *good* oils/bacteria on your head that keeps your hair strong and healthy, as well as the grease/dirt that's meant to be washed out in a routine cleaning.) As for the sanitary/legal conditions? Everything in my apartment is quite clean and quite legal. (Your concerns about the NaOH, which is indeed used in our products, since you can't make soap without it, are addressed on our FAQ page, had you bothered to read it.) If you'd prefer something "certified," that's fine, but it's hardly a cause for bashing a rather harmless company baselessly. If you do indeed have unbiased scientific proof that backs up your claims about Chromium Hydroxide, rather than fear-mongering rumor, you're welcome to e-mail me the links, and if they are indeed objectively proven dangerous in any way, I'll re-formulate the pigments.

Oh, and the building lease? My landlady is well aware of the "chemical factory" that's in here, and is more than all right with it. (She seems to rather like the products, actually.) The city of Albany is fine with it as well, as long as the production doesn't annoy/endanger other tenants, which it hasn't. (Yes, there was indeed research done before the LLC paperwork, etc. was filed.)

Many, if not most, small personal care businesses out there (of which there are many,) began or are still based out of someone's home. (The plethora of personal/body care products on Etsy.com is a great place to refer to in that matter.) As far as I know, none of those companies have produced anything remotely unsanitary/dangerous, and tend to be very up front about what goes into their products. Again, nobody is making you buy anything from Serpentine Hair, but just because it isn't produced in a factory in the warehouse district doesn't mean the products are unsanitary or dangerous.

To Lu:

1. I would rather buy something certified than use body products prepared in someone's "Downtown Albany apartment" in unknown sanitary conditions.

Ummm, that's sort of like saying "I would rather eat McDonald's french fries than fresh cut fries from a potato grown in my friend's garden, because McDonald's has the FDA's stamp of approval." If you don't see what's wrong with that statement, then perhaps there's no convincing you.

2. As for sulfates, Kim's comment above addressed a lot of that, however I felt the need to add to it. You're right: "sulfates" in and of themselves are not harmful or even that bad (unless, like Kim, you are allergic, which many people are). The "bad sulfates" that many people refer to are sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS. This is the ingredient found in most commercial shampoos and body cleansers on the market. As Kim explained, they're "bad" not because they're toxic or overtly harmful, however they are very drying to the skin and hair. When you strip your hair of natural oils, one of two things happens:

a. Your hair is very dry, and you're more likely to have breakage when you comb it out; or
b. Your hair follicles will go into overdrive, producing too much oil (to make up for the stripping), and make your hair really greasy.

More often than not, both of these things occur - greasy hair that's also knotted and damaged. For YEARS I had this problem. I chopped off my hair to chin length when I was 23 and started over with higher quality shampoos. Last summer, I switched to organic haircare, and now at 27, my hair is now below bra strap length.

Also, to those of you who color your hair: you know that brassy, flat, dull, ugly, tone your hair starts to take after a few weeks? You know what the primary cause of that is? You guessed it - SLS. If it's harsh enough to strip essential oils, it's harsh enough to strip color, too.

For the record, my shampoo has sodium olefin sulfonate, which is derived naturally from coconut oil. If you're going to have a sulfate (and it is good to use them at least once in a while, to clear off buildup), this is the one to look for, as it's very gentle.

There's a pretty good ratio of real people to sheeple on this comment board, so I'll just say: thanks for the excellent hair products, and the stimulating intellectual conversation, Kim!

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