John Davis, co-founder and director of AG Hair Cosmetics, has been researching herbal extracts for as long as his company has been in existence. In the early years of the business, he used to import a product from England because of its high herbal extract content, including balm mint. Today, balm mint is in 95 percent of the products manufacturered by AG -- from its Re:coil Curl Activator to its Deep Conditioner.
“Balm mint soothes the scalp, particularly if you have an oily scalp, which is a result of overactive sebaceous [or oil-producing] glands,” Davis said.
You may have only recently noticed balm mint as an ingredient in some of your upscale hair-care products, but it’s far from a new discovery. The herbal extract has been used for more than 2,000 years, mainly as a medicinal plant.
A member of the mint family, balm mint’s scientific name is melissa officinalis but it’s also known by nearly a dozen other names, including the popular lemon balm, sweet balm and bee balm. The scent of the leaves is similar to the pheromone produced by honeybees so they tend to swarm to the plant. In fact, "melissa," which is part of the herb’s scientific name, is actually the Greek word for honeybee.
Originally native to western Asia, southern Europe, and northern Africa, balm mint is a bushy perennial plant now widely grown everywhere. It blooms in the summer months with white or golden tube-like flowers, but it is coveted most for the essential oil in its lemony scented leaves. The herb is best used when it’s freshly picked, and the flavor is the strongest just before its flowers bloom. Although the dried leaves aren’t as potent, freezing fresh leaves can help preserve that potency.
“It’s soothing to the scalp, so it’s soothing on the skin,” adds curl guru Lorraine Massey of New York’s Devachan Salon, whose No-Poo hair cleanser and B’Leave-in products contain balm mint.
AG uses balm mint in a blend of herbal extracts, Davis explains.
“It has a calming effect and it’s anti-bacterial," he said. "Dandruff is a bacterial condition, so you can help prevent dandruff. It is also anti-fungal and anti-oxidative.”
This anti-oxidative effect also helps prevent the dreaded fading of hair color. Curl expert Christo of Christo Fifth Avenue salon in New York uses balm mint in his Colorective line, which is a treatment collection for colored hair.
“It creates a curl and color redemption for those who color their hair,” Christo says. “We use this to create more gloss and more shine to their color so their color doesn’t fade.”