Figuring out what to look for in natural hair products can be confusing. And let’s be real, there’s so many different products out there on the market. How do we know which one will work for us?
So, let’s start with what not to look for.
A short time ago, we discussed the worst ingredients for natural hair that you should watch out for in your natural hair products.
These ingredients are harmful from two perspectives: firstly, these ingredients are 50 shades of dry. Drying alcohols, synthetics and preservatives that only provide immediate and short-term hydration.
But over time these ingredients will strip your hair of it’s moisture, basically doing the opposite of what they were intended to do.
Secondly, some of the worst ingredients for natural hair are harmful for the overall health of our bodies.
These shitty ingredients have shown that they can cause skin issues such as dermatitis. Some of them, with scientific evidence backing it up, have been shown to cause early puberty in children and, at its worst, cancer!
Essentially, we want to be particular on what we put onto our hair and scalp, for both our hair journey and for our health.
And fortunately, there are a plethora of ingredients that work wonders for natural hair.
And we’re going to discuss them here.
Ready to know what to look for in natural hair products to grow long, healthy natural hair? Let’s go!
The natural hair movement is not just about rebelling against societal, patrichial and Eurocentric values.
It’s about the empowerment, education and enlightenment of the black community, both physically and mentally.
As such, as a black or brown person with natural hair, it’s important to educate yourself on what you willingly apply to your hair. Knowing what to look for in natural hair products and understanding ingredient labels is essential for your own hair maintenance.
We’re empowering ourselves with knowledge in 2020, okay!
Here are five tips for figuring out what to look for in natural hair products:
Water is the universal hydrator. When our hair is dry, it’s not craving more products, it’s craving more water!
Most, if not all, of your products (aside from your oils and butters) should have water or aqua listed as the first ingredient.
This is the case for all natural hair products you purchase, whether it’s a leave-in or deep conditioner.
If it’s not, another hydrating ingredient such as aloe vera, should be first.
On that note, aloe vera is a GODSEND for natural hair. What makes aloe vera such a unique plant is the high water content located within the leaves, which would provide an ample amount of moisture to our hair fibre without contributing to product buildup.
In addition to water, it also contains a colorful variety of different minerals, vitamins, amino acids and other essential nutrients. An amazing addition to our natural hair, wouldn’t you say?
Tip: the aloe vera in its natural form (i.e. as a plant) is more beneficial to natural hair than when it’s been processed into a bottled gel.
Off-the-shelf aloe vera products normally contain preservatives and other synthetics that prolong the shelf life of the product but contains less of the benefits that the source.
Humectants are common in natural hair products, especially in leave-in conditioners, because of the way they draw in moisture.
Simply put, humectants are agents that attract water molecules from the local environment (i.e. air) and binds them to the hair shaft, thereby promoting water retention.
Common examples include glycerin, honey, many glycols and panthenol. They’re found quite frequently in some of the most popular natural hair products.
But hold up, sis. Remember: it grabs the water from the air. What happens if the air is dry, like in wintertime?
The result: dry hair, if they aren’t used correctly.
When using humectants, it’s a good idea to lock in the moisture with an anti-humectant, like an oil or butter, especially in the winter when the air is dry.
If you use a humectant-rich product on its own without sealing it, you may still experience dry hair.
Remember: humectants are our friends when we know how to use them!
The root word of occlusive is to “occlude”, which means to block or protect. An occlusive ingredient, or sealant, does just that – it aims to lock in moisture by creating a film around your hair.
But good occlusives should do more than just create a barrier on your hair shaft – it should also provide some added benefits to hair repair.
And this is especially important for leave-in conditioners, which are often the last step in your natural hair routine.
So what kind of occlusives should we look for? Plant-based oils and butters!
Natural hair simply adores plant-based oils. This is because their molecules can slip into the hair shaft and treat the hair fibre from the inside out, but by doing so, it makes a barrier around the hair.
Plus, you can re-moisturize your hair throughout the week without worrying about buildup. Talk about a win win!
The best oils for natural hair are the ones that are “saturated” – meaning that their chemical structure are straight and non-complex.
“Unsaturated” oils have complex and random molecular structures and our hair has difficulty absorbing it.
Examples of good saturated oils for natural hair include almond oil, avocado oil, olive oil, jojoba oil and most butters.
Coconut oil is also saturated and is great at absorbing into the hair shaft and repairing internal hair damage.
But it can be drying for low porosity natural hair. Be sure to know whether you have low porosity natural hair or high porosity natural hair prior to choosing a product!
Mineral Oil vs Plant-Based Oils
Watch out for mineral oil or petroleum-based ingredients. Leave-ins often contain these “fake sealants”, and while these products may make your hair feel soft in the short-term, in the long-term these ingredients serve no real purpose to our hair fibre and will dry your hair out over time.
Nobody got time for that in 2020!
Remember: it’s all about the order of the ingredient list. If these ingredients are low on the ingredient list in your products, it’s not that bad. Just make sure the top ten ingredients doesn’t include mineral oil or petroleum.
I know, I know. You’re probably saying: alcohols are bad!
But there are some alcohols in natural hair products that are super beneficial for the hair. These alcohols are derived from natural sources such as plants and fruits and work to deliver moisture deeper into the hair fibre.
To help you in your search, here’s a table of which alcohols to avoid and which alcohols to look for in your products:
Emollients are what we think of when we’re on the hunt for what to look for in natural hair products.
We want our natural hair to be soft, conditioned, and tame-able, right?
Then bring on the emollients!
Emollients are conditioning agents that aim to soften and condition the hair strands.
They are “hydrophobic”, meaning that they repel water (hydro=water, phobic=fear).
They increase the slip of products, which assist in detangling, and smooth and flatten the cuticle surface to promote shine and glossiness.
Silicones are common emollients in natural hair products, like dimethicone.
Opt for products that contain more plant-based emollients such as argan oil, mango butter, jojoba oil, avocado oil, and cocoa butter!
Final Thoughts on What To Look For In Natural Hair Products
Choosing natural hair products for your natural hair can definitely be intimidating.
But natural hair truly thrives under certain conditions, and drying alcohols, mineral oils, and petroleum-based products will slowly suck the life out of your curls.
The next time you are shopping for a product, take a look at the back of the bottle.
Look for rich hydrators like aloe vera, butters and glycerin. Make sure water is at the top of the ingredient list.
And stick with plant-based, simple oils such as olive oil to lock in that moisture and provide additional benefits to the hair fibre.