Tag Archives: basics

SKILLS NOTES: Product Ingredients


So, I was thinking about how overwhelming it can be when you first discover the online natural hair web-iverse. There is sooooo much information out there and some of it is very technical, while other is anecdotal. And, while the education can be enlightening, it can also cause more issues than remaining ignorant!! Been there …  done that. LOL!! However, I do believe there is a “sweet spot.”  You know … that point where you’ve read enough, watched enough and tried enough to make informed decisions about what products, techniques and regimens will work for you and also know enough to figure out on which ones you should take a pass? *Singing* “Walk on byyyyyyyy.”

Well, all that being said, it may take some time to reach your very own personal “sweet spot.” Shoot, it took me a year plus! LOL! But, I thought that I might be able to help some reach their spot more quickly and navigate some of the ins and outs of natural hair by providing some fundamentals in a simple format, as well as links to additional information for those desiring more details. And thus, the idea for Skills Notes was born ;). (Yup, Skills Notes. Hairscapades was too long and Skills has been my nickname since college. ;))

So, with that, welcome to the first installment of SKILLS NOTES!


SULFATES: Cleansing agents found in many shampoos. Traditional sulfates can be harsh and strip hair of necessary moisture and oils. However, there are now many cleansers on the market that are sulfate-free and/or formulated with mild sulfates. WHO NEEDS TO KNOW: Those who are following the Curly Girl (CG) method, the Tightly Curly Method (TCM) and/or those with dryness issues. WHY: These individuals should avoid harsh sulfates and seek sulfate-free or mild sulfate alternatives.

For more information on sulfates and the alternatives, check out these articles:
Naturallycurly.com: Which Sulfates Are Safer Than the Others?
CurlyNikki.com: What’s in Your Shampoo

SILICONES: Conditioning agents used in shampoos, conditioners, stylers, serums and glosssers that provide slip and shine. Most ingredients ending in “cone,” “col,” “conol” or “zane” are silicones. There are four basic categories of silicones: water-soluble, slightly water-soluble, non water-soluble but repels build-up, non water-soluble and build-up prone. Non water-soluble silicones can eventually prevent the hair from absorbing sufficient water/moisture to remain hydrated, which can cause dry hair.

WHO NEEDS TO KNOW: Those who are following the CG Method or the TCM and/or conditioner only regimens. WHY: These individuals should either avoid non-water soluble silicones, use mild sulfate or sulfate-free shampoos that remove silicones or incorporate a “clarifying” sulfate shampoo into their regimen as needed. 

Want to learn more? Check out these articles:
NaturallyCurly.com: The Real Scoop on Silicones (silicones explained)
NaturallyCurly.com: What’s the Scoop on Silicones (chart with recommended cleansing agents by cone)

PROTEINS: Protein is used in many conditioners to reinforce and strengthen the hair structure, especially when hair is damaged or weakened by chemicals (i.e. permanent colors and/or chemical relaxers and perms). Protein treatments should be followed by moisturizing conditioners to restore elasticity or the hair may become brittle and feel dry. “Protein sensitivity” is a term used for hair that responds negatively to protein, either because the hair has sufficient protein or becomes brittle despite post-treatment moisturizing conditioners.

WHO NEEDS TO KNOW: Everyone ;). WHY: Ensuring that hair is strong and moisturized aids in appearance and reduces breakage that can impede length retention goals.

For a listing of proteins as well as tons of other useful information, check out this link:
CurlyNikki.com: Curls 101 FAQs

GLYCERIN: Humectant found in many products that is used to attract water into the hair shaft.

WHO NEEDS TO KNOW: Those with porous and frizz-prone hair, those with low porosity hair and those with dry hair. WHY: In humid climates (i.e. high dew points), glycerin can cause high porosity hair to frizz and tangle. For those with dry or low porosity hair that is hard to moisturize, glycerin can help draw water from the environment into the hair and help reduce/eliminate dryness. Many curl activators contain glycerin in order to aid hair in moisture retention and some naturals/curlies have found success with these type of products.

For a list of common humectants, see the CurlyNikki.com: Curls 101 FAQs link above.

ALCOHOLS: There are two basic categories of alcohols used in hair products: short chain drying alcohols (bad) and long chain “fatty” alcohols (good). Short chain drying alcohols evaporate quickly, so they are used in products to decrease the time it takes hair to dry. In contrast, long chain “fatty” alcohols are lubricating, moisturizing and “film-forming” in order to lock in moisture.

WHO NEEDS TO KNOW: Everyone. WHY: Short-chain drying alcohols should be avoided whereas long-chain fatty alcohols are fine and can be sought out for their moisturizing properties.

Drying alcohols: SD alcohol, SD alcohol 40, Alcohol denatured, Propanol, Propyl alcohol, Isopropyl alcohol

Fatty alcohols: Behenyl alcohol, Cetearyl alcohol, Cetyl alcohol, Isocetyl alcohol, Isostearyl alcohol, Lauryl alcohol, Myristyl alcohol, Stearyl alcohol, C30-50 Alcohols, Lanolin alcohol

MINERAL OIL: Mineral oil is used in products as an emollient, to seal in moisture, block humidity and enhance clumping/curl formation. It is non-water soluble. Mineral oil does not penetrate into the hair shaft to moisturize on its own. It simply aids in sealing in water/moisture. Mineral oil has gotten a bad rap, because it is often used in products with other ingredients (like petrolatum and lanolin), which are sticky and/or greasy. These combination of ingredients can cause build-up on the hair and scalp, as well as attract dust, dirt and lint from the environment. Some naturals avoid mineral oil at all costs, but it does have benefits. Cosmetic grade mineral oil can be light and non-sticky.

WHO NEEDS TO KNOW: Those who follow co-wash only/shampoo free regimens and those with scalp issues. WHY: Products with mineral oil combined with petrolatum, lanolin and some vegetable oils can be sticky, greasy and build-up on the hair and clog the pores of the scalp. Therefore, they require a cleansing agents to remove.  

Want to learn more about mineral oil and how it stacks up against coconut oil? Find more information here:
NaturallyCurly.com: Using Mineral Oil for Hair
NaturallyCurly.com: Mineral Oil vs. Coconut Oil – Which is Better?

PETROLATUM: Petrolatum is used in products to seal in water, provide a barrier against heat and chemicals and add sheen to the hair. It is non-water soluble. Petrolatum is sticky, which can attract dust, dirt and lint from the environment. It can cause build-up on the hair and clog the pores of the scalp. Petrolatum is found in many traditional hair “greases.”

WHO NEEDS TO KNOW: Those who follow co-wash only/shampoo free regimens and those with scalp issues. WHY: Products with petrolatum, lanolin and some vegetable oils can be sticky, greasy and build-up on the hair and clog the pores of the scalp. Therefore, it requires a cleansing agent to remove.

PARABENS: Preservatives used to extend the shelf life of products by protecting against a wide range of microorganisms. The most common parabens found in cosmetic products are methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben. WHO NEEDS TO KNOW: Those who want to use all-natural and/or organic products exclusively. Those who want to avoid this preservative due to concerns about toxicity and studies that indicated that parabens disrupts hormones and were detected in breast tumors. WHY: Self-explanatory ;).

For more information about the FDA’s position on parabens and the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) assessment and recommendations, check out these articles:
FDA.gov/Product and Ingredients Safety: Parabens
EWG.com: Parabens and Skin Deep Database
SafeProducts.org: Parabens

And that’s it for the first edition of SKILLS NOTES, Product Ingredients!


So, how’d I do?? What ingredients would you add to the list of basics?


More Pattern Mixing


Yup, I’m at it again ;). Since I wore my hair in a bun most of last week and it is currently full of deep conditioner waiting to be rinsed, I don’t have a hair update for you this morning. I had planned to henna on Saturday night, but unexpected plans resulted in me getting home later than I expected. And by the time I finished pre-pooing, washing clothes and doing dishes, I knew a two-step henna/indigo would have me up to midnight. So, regular wash day it was!!

Anywho, since I don’t have anything hair related for you this morning, decided to share an outfit I wore last week. As you may know, I like to mix patterns and my first fashion tips post was about how to do this with ease (see it here).

Black and white tend to be staple colors in everyone’s closet and, for good reason. But, these basics can get very boring when always worn in solids and together. However, pairing black and white patterns can make these standbys “pop!” Here, I decided to wear a lightweight wool, A-line, black and white plaid skirt (Marshall’s) with a short-sleeve, heart print, black and white sweater (Joyce Leslie). I completed the look with herringbone textured black tights, black booties (Joe’s Jeans) and, for a pop of color, rhinestone studded strawberry earrings.

I think that a brightly colored tight would have been another way to add interest to this look, but decided to create a long, unbroken leg-line with a monochromatic look this time.


 How do you give your basic blacks and whites personality?

Navigating the Natural Hair Highway


imageTips & Tricks Number Eleven

So, you’ve recently discovered the online natural hair community: blogs, websites, YouTube channels, Fotki albums, Tumblr … the list seems to go on and on. And, while you are ecstatic that there is soooo much information out there about which you never knew, you are overwhelmed that there is soooo much information out there about which you never knew. Welcome to the club ;)!

Seriously though, I was thinking about the advice I would give someone who is new to this world and trying to navigate through it all. It’s not like anyone gives you a roadmap and it can be very easy to find yourself spending endless hours online, aimlessly wading through the information and trying every product and technique under the sun. Ultimately, if the time and energy spent is fruitless, it can be extremely discouraging and frustrating. So, I thought that it might be helpful to put together some tips about navigating through all of the information online in the hopes that it’ll make the experience a little easier, more efficient and rewarding for someone.

  • MASTER THE LINGO: OMgosh, I remember my first day on CurlyNikki and seeing all the pre-poos, EVOOs, VCOs, SSKs, HEHHs, CGs and thinking, “What the heck are these people talking about?!?!” LOL!! So, find a site that includes a Dictionary, Terms, Abbreviations and/or Lexicon page and bookmark it until you are familiar with all of the natural hair shorthand. It’ll make reading posts and watching videos a lot easier if you are speaking the same language!
  • LEARN THE BASICS OF HAIR COMPOSITION: Arm yourself with a basic understanding of hair structure (i.e. medulla, cortex and cuticle), the function of each component and the hair life cycle. It’ll give you a head start in regard to reading articles that reference the science behind how products and techniques work. Here are a couple of resources: Follice.com, NaturallyCurly.com and Kimmaytube: The Structure of Hair – Part I.
  • UNDERSTAND THE BASICS OF POROSITY & pH: This is kind of part and parcel with the above. However, I wanted to highlight these two areas as they will be important to understanding your own hair and how certain products and techniques work and how they may affect your hair. Here is another Kimmaytube video, which does a really good job of explaining these areas: The Structure of Hair – Part II.
  • ANALYZE YOUR OWN HAIR: You will read and hear these two statements over and over again, “What works for one head of hair may not work for another” and “Every head of hair is unique.” It is really important to learn and understand the hair growing out of your own head. Is it overly-porous, under? Is it fine, thick, dense, thin? Is it tightly curly or barely wavy? I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that only certain products and/or techniques work for certain hair types and I think that we all can learn from each other’s successes and failures. However, I do believe that one must know one’s own hair in order to make the best choices for it and somewhat predict how something might work.
  • UNDERSTAND THE KEY COMPONENTS OF A HAIR REGIMEN (i.e. Detangling, Cleansing, Conditioning [Protein vs. Moisturizing], Moisturizing/Sealing, Protecting): This is extremely helpful in regard to identifying what you are already doing and where you may be able to incorporate, eliminate and/or modify practices, techniques and/or products to maximize healthy hair growth and length retention. Books are also a great resource to build and supplement your knowledge. Some that you’ll find referenced most often in the online natural hair community are Chicoro’s Grow It!, Lorraine Massey’s Curly Girth Method and Teri LaFlesh’s Curly Like Me.
  • RESEARCH & CORROBORATE: No one is going to hand you all of the answers on a silver platter. I often see questions posted on “hair boards” and the information the person is seeking is readily available all over the site where they are asking the question, they just need to take the time to look for it. Research can take a little work, but I am a firm believer in “checking my facts” and not relying on any one person to answer all of my questions. And, I still get it wrong sometimes. The key is to understand that “facts” are not static, they are just the “facts” for that point in time. Information and research is always ongoing and what we know as a “truth” today, may evolve and be refined to a different truth tomorrow. However, that being said, if I read something on one site, I tend to “Google” it and see if I can validate it via other current and reputable sources.
  • DEFINE YOUR FOCUS AND NARROW THE PLAYING FIELD: First, figure out what you are online seeking. Are you just looking for new styles, maybe it’s product reviews that strike your fancy or perhaps you need a little of everything? I would suggest initially sticking with a few (one to five) very organized and reputable sites as your main sources of information. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t check out other sites, blogs and/or YouTube channels. However, trying to read 50 different sites on a daily basis or bouncing all over the place in no organized fashion can quickly lead to sensory overload and make it difficult to sort through all of the information. Test how deep the water is first, then jump in when you know that you can swim. I would definitely recommend CurlyNikki.com, BlackGirlLongHair.com and Kimmaytube on YouTube as places to begin your research.
  • ACCEPT THAT THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL: Ultimately, no one thing will solve all of your hair challenges and change your “hair life” overnight. Though one thing may make a significant difference, there are a variety of internal and external factors that impact your hair. Also, absent chemicals and/or faux hair, no product or technique is going to give you hair that is fundamentally different from what you have genetically (e.g. my fine, medium density, 3abc strands are not going to suddenly become the coily, thick, dense strands of Mwedzi, no matter how much henna I use ;)). I point this out to say, it’s fine to have hair crushes and lust after hair that is very different from our own (I know that I do!!). However, it’s important to be realistic in our aspirations and expectations. (And personally, I have no compunctions about getting that head of hair that I lust after, if only for a little while, with a wig, weave, or extensions. I finally got Mwedzi-lush twists with some Nafy Afro Puffy Twists hair. But, you know, that’s up to you.)

Yeah … I know, it’s a lot! LOL! But, there’s a LOT of information out there. So, here’s hoping that this “roadmap” ultimately makes someone’s journey a little easier and slightly less overwhelming!


What suggestions or words of advice would you add to the list?