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May 28, 2012

Find the Right Leave-ins For Your Natural Hair




by Nicole Harmon author of Coils & Curls: The Hair Product Handbook

It takes just the right blend of water (for moisture) and emollients (for smoothing) to tame coils and curls. The emollients are the tricky part. Too heavy and they’ll weigh your hair down, too light and you’ll end up with frizz. To find the right leave-ins for your hair, it’s important that you understand your “strand thickness”, which can be categorized as “fine to medium” or “medium to thick”. When you see those words on a product label, they’re not referring to how much hair you have; they’re describing the thickness of each individual strand on your head. The words “coarse” and “thick” are used interchangeably, but they both refer to the size of individual strands of hair. Your “strand thickness” isn’t determined by your ethnic background. Two women may have similar looking coils, but one woman’s strands might be twice the size of the others. The only way to know exactly where your hair falls would be to visit a trichologist or dermatologist who has a special microscope that measures strand size. Fine hairs are around 60 micrometers in diameter; thick hairs are around 100 micrometers. However, you don’t need to be that exact. The tell-tale sign of fine hair is thick-looking roots with a thin-looking ponytail. If you have fine hair, you’re likely to have a lot of strands. Those strands look nice and dense near the roots, but as the hair grows longer, the relative thinness of the strands becomes more noticeable.

The strand thickness slightly varies on different parts of your head, so it can still be difficult to decide how to categorize your hair. Don’t worry about getting too specific, you just need a general idea, so you can find products that make your hair look and feel the way you want. Choose your leave-in conditioners and stylers based on the emollients that you see in the top 5. If you think your strands are fine to medium, choose products that contain lightweight emollients. If you think your strands are on the thicker side, look for products that contain heavier emollients. Whether you’re using a leave-in conditioner or styler, you need to be able to distribute the product evenly, from root to tip, without worrying that it will leave your hair looking greasy.

Lighter Emollients for Fine to Medium Thickness
Argan Oil
C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate
Dimethicone
Grape Seed Oil
Mango Butter
Phenyl Trimethicone
Soybean Oil
Sunflower Oil
Sweet Almond Oil

Heavier Emollients for Medium to Coarse Thickness:
Avocado Oil
Castor Oil
Cetyl Esters
Cocoa Butter
Coconut Oil
Jojoba Oil
Olive Oil
Mineral Oil
Shea Butter
Sorbitol Esters

It will take some trial and error to find leave-ins that you love. Many products contain a combination of light and heavy emollients. This is a good time to read the rest of the product label, not just the ingredients list. The descriptions on leave-in products usually mention “fine” or “thick/coarse” hair.

Have you figured out your strand thickness? What helped you decide?


Nicole Harmon, Cosmetic Chemist and author of Coils & Curls: The Hair Product Handbook", is the founder of HairLiberty.org. She has received rave reviews for her seminars on ethnic hair education and science. She's on a mission to help the Product Junkies of the world save MONEY, sort through marketing HYPE and buy SMARTER! 

Hair Liberty (def.): The freedom to rock whatever style you want, whenever you want. Curly, straight, natural, relaxed, whatever! Free yourself!

41 Chime in!:

iveyluv3 said...

Great info, but would. tutorial on the hairdo.

Anonymous said...

GReat info. WAs actually looking for this info today! Could you also include a list of products on the market that contain/illustrate ?
Thanks!
B

Anonymous said...

I've been battling dry hair for years, but a natural stylists gave me great product advice. A little bit of coconut oil (too much will weigh my hair down and any other oil just sits there) and Taliah Waajid Protective Mist Bodifier have been my absolute savior. I use the mist daily as a refresher and my hair absolutely loves it. Before my hair was a dry frizzy mess and now my coils are moisturized, frizz free and best of all non greasy!

An Aspiring Natural 318 said...

As usual great info.

Anonymous said...

Have you figured out your strand thickness? What helped you decide?

What helped me decide? I compared the drapes to the carpet - LOL!

All these years I believed that my hair was coarse because it was tightly kinky (4c).

I was putting SUPER relaxer on my hair y'all, and wondered why I was walking around looking like a 'perm victim' instead of like the girl on the box. LOL!

I saw Cassidy's post on hair density and that opened my eyes about my natural hair. It was a good series. HTH!

http://www.curlynikki.com/2011/01/so-fine-natural-hair.html

Ashes said...

I just spritz my hair in the morning with a mixture of water and aloe vera juice and then seal with a nickel to quarter size amount of a jojoba/olive oil mixture. it took me ten years and a second big chop to learn that my hair likes to get by on very, very little. ah, well, ya live and ya learn!

Nicole Harmon said...

Hi iveyluve3 - Thank you! That style looks like "cinnabuns" on loose hair. Here's a tutorial: http://www.curlynikki.com/2012/03/cinnabun-tutorial.html. I hope that helps!

Tchanielle said...

I must say that Kimmaytube's (youtube) leave recipe has worked wonders for my hair. I have been using it for almost two months now and I am amazed. The recipe is: 2 tbs Kinky Kurly Knot Today, 2 tbs aloe vera juice, 2 tsp jbco, 2 tsp of jojoba. Shake and apply to wet hair in downward motion (Like prayer hands). HTH somebody!!

Nicole Harmon said...

Hi B - Thanks! I'm glad I could help. You can find lots of product recommendations at hairliberty.org/shop :)

Nicole Harmon said...

@Anon 4:46 - Thank you for sharing your routine!

Nicole Harmon said...

Thank you, An Aspiring Natural 318! :)

Nicole Harmon said...

@Anon 4:54 - LOL, glad you figured it out!

Nicole Harmon said...

Ashes - So true, live and learn! Thank you for commenting.

Tchanielle - Thanks for sharing your routine! "Prayer hands", I like that :)

Dana said...

I definitely have the fine hair thing going on. When relaxed I used to have nice roots but the longer my hair grew past my shoulders the thinner it would look; same with a ponytail. I've experienced the same situation while natural so I sacrifice length for volume.

My fine hair loves sweet almond, grapeseed, jojoba, castor oils, and certain products with dimethicone but the shea, cocoa butter, and coconut oils not so much.

Interesting.

Thanks for sharing

Miss Jay said...

Hmm I never thought of which oils were best for my fine hair and so bought about 6 different oils from the 2 categories at the start of my journey.
I've found that my hair loves argan oil the most. I get so much shine and smoothness from it. I often alternate with jojoba oil (cos I use the cone heavy moroccan oil brand) but the results aren't the same. So ya, thanks for the article. great stuff.

www.thegoodhairblog.blogspot.com

Sunflowergurl said...

My hair like the simple pleasures of water mixed with EVOO to combat the dryness.

h3avensent08 said...

Almond Oil works great for hair. i wish more products used it

Nicole T. said...

My hair confuses me. I believe I have fine hair. Oils weigh my hair down sooo much, but then, my hair LOVES shea butter!

I just work with what my hair does&doesn't like, lol. Mostly through trial&error.

sugarthesky said...

Super informative. I really need to get a better leave-in, and this has really helped!

marianela said...

This is so informative. I did not know that the product labels were talking about hair strand thickness. I am so happy to find this out because I use the same product as my daughter but we have very different types of curl hence we had different results because it has been working for her but not for me. It stands that not all curly products are made for all curlies lol.

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This is really superb information. Thanks for this.

Wedding Hair and Makeup said...

This is really superb information. Thanks for this.

natural wonder said...

i still have no idea when i was still getting relaxers my hair was really thick until i was put on this medication around 2000 and it thinned it out horribly some thickness came back but i really cant tell now because it didnt come back like it was my natural hair looks really thick and it loves shea butter, coconut oil , olive oil the lighter oils do nothing to tame the frizz so i really have no idea

Anonymous said...

Dear Nicole - is the Hair Liberty Hair ID quiz broken?

It will only go as far as "FINISH", and won't reveal the recommended products :-(

For example, I selected "FINE-NONE-MEDIUM-NATURALLY CURLY-FINISH", and nothing happens!

Thanks for your advice!

watkinsabob said...

was just looking for some info for my mom who has very fine hair. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

My 4A/4B hair strands range from fine, medium, to course. What works for me is a simple mix of whipped shea butter infused with oils and water. Any more, and my strands are weighed down. This mix keeps my hair fluffy and light, yet moisturized.

And when using shea butter, you only need a small amount. I do NOT apply oils directly on my hair except for wash day. I found that oils tend to weigh my hair down and I hated touching my hair and having "shiny hands."lol

~caramelcurls

Nicole Harmon said...

I appreciate all of the comments. I'm so happy I could help you guys!

Anon 8:31 - Are you using an older version of Internet Explorer? If so, please try clicking the "compatibility view" icon at the end of the address bar. It looks like a sheet of paper. If you're not using Internet Explorer, please email me at nicole@hairliberty.org.

Caramelcurls - Thank you for sharing your experience. I know exactly what you mean by "shiny hands", lol.

Anonymous said...

"The tell-tale sign of fine hair is thick-looking roots with a thin-looking ponytail."

I understand this concept but how can I look at my roots and determine if they are thick-looking?

Btw, this is a very helpful article! Thank you

Nicole Harmon said...

Hi Anon 9:55 :)

The roots look thick *in comparison* to the ponytail/ends. I think this photos sums it up and I love that sock buns have gone mainstream, lol. http://sayyestohoboken.com/2011/09/diy-sock-bun.html Does that help you?

Anonymous said...

I've tried Giovani Leave in. Im not sure if my hair really likes it. This is informative so ill try some of these and see how it goes.

Ashley L.

ANT. said...

Thanks for this - my thick strands desperately needed attention in this summer heat! I was getting frustrated by the lack of penetration I thought my strands had from products !

l1lcat said...

How do you know if the conditioner works for your hair? I BC'd 5/2/12, so i'm so new to this...What is the right feeling of happy hair?

Anonymous said...

Nicole - the compatibility view worked! Thanks!

Faith said...

This is REALLY helpful! Thanks!:)

Anonymous said...

Healthy hair comes from internal factors as well as external ones. Using supplements like biotin, fish oils, multi-vitamins and natural shampoos help. Iherb has a lot of these and natural foods, including coconut oil. I have been using the site for years because it is s much cheaper than health food stores. You can use code SAZ980 to save $5 off of your first order at iherb.com

EandJ said...

I never knew their were so many factors to healthy hair

Leah Omonya said...

a previous blog post

Deadre B said...

i started my natural journey feb 2010 i been dealing with breakage, splitting, and gels, sprays, and flat irons !!! yikes, right? well now im using the "no poo", leave ins, and sealants correctly and im seeing a difference. it feels wonderful to visit such a blog that can truly help me in figuring out how to take the best care of my natural 3c hair!!! thanks for the leave-in post !!!

Anonymous said...

It seems that all the stuff I have and want to try I shouldn't ...lol...smh

Anonymous said...

how often are u suppose to use leave in conditioners when u are natural? i am not sure this is my first time goin natural. please help me someone...

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