What's In Your Shampoo?

 

They say "don't judge a book by its cover," and a similar thing applies to hair products. Don't judge a shampoo (or conditioner or gel, etc.) by its bottle. Fancy labels and high price tags don't necessarily translate to good products. What DOES matter is what's in those products, so the most important part of the label? It's not the brand or the sparkly letters or the miracle promises. What matters is the stuff in tiny type -- the list of ingredients.

And that's why professional salon products especially formulated for curly hair are often the best, since they have the ingredients you need and avoid the ones you don't. But the stuff you find at the local drugstores? They can be great, too, if you know what you're looking for.

The rule of thumb for bouncy curls: No sulfates, which is a type of surfactant, aka detergent.

Sulfates
A surfactant—sometimes referred to as a detergent—is a substance that, when dissolved in water, gives a product the ability to remove dirt from surfaces such as the human skin, textiles, and other solids. There are several types of surfactants, from harsh to mild, and sulfates are in the most harsh class. Common sulfates as found on hair product ingredient bottles include:
  • Alkylbenzene Sulfonate
  • Ammonium Laureth or Lauryl Sulfate
  • Ammonium or Sodium Xylenesulfonate
  • Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate
  • Ethyl PEG-15 Cocamine Sulfate
  • Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate
  • Sodium Laureth, Myreth or Lauryl Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
  • TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate
Milder surfactants—less drying and recommended in lieu of sulfates — include:
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine
  • Coco Betaine
  • Cocoamphoacetate
  • Cocoamphodipropionate
  • Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate or Cocoamphodipropionate
  • Lauroamphoacetate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
Now, makes sense that we wouldn't want harsh detergents messing with our curls, right? Next week we'll talk about proteins! Meanwhile, you can learn more in the Live Curly Live Free e-book, Unlocking the Secrets Behind the World of Beautiful Curly Hair.

Curly Hair 101- Revisiting the Basics

by Tiffany Anderson of Live Curly Live Free

Over 65% of the world's population has curly hair, yet many girls with curls chemically straighten and/or damage their hair with blow-dryers and flat irons rather than wear their natural curls. Why? Because they are sick and tired of struggling with dry, unmanageable frizz day after day, tired of bad haircuts from stylists who don't know how to properly handle curly hair, and tired of spending large sums on money on products that promise perfect curls, but only let them down time and time again. No more dealing with their "problem hair," they vow, so they resort to straightening it―only to end up damaging it further. It's a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Curly hair in and of itself really isn't the problem, however. The vast majority of curly hair problems are due to improper haircuts, bad styling products and ineffective styling techniques. As impossible as it may sound, when you have the right cut, use the right type of products, utilize the proper styling techniques, and understand the basics of curly hair, your curls will seem to magically change from frumpy, out-of-control frizz to healthy, defined curls almost immediately.

 Let's start putting this together to understand how it all works by first focusing on a few hair basics:

What is Hair? 

Hair is actually a nonliving fiber made from a protein called keratin. Keratin, in turn, is made up of long chains of amino acids created from what are known as the COHNS elements: carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and sulfur. These chains are linked together end to end like beads and are also cross-linked together by what are known as side bonds. These bonds are responsible for the strength and elasticity of the hair strand of which they are a part.

Each hair strand is made up of three parts: the cuticle, the cortex and the medulla. The medulla is the innermost layer of the hair; however, not everyone has one and it is most commonly found only in thick, coarse hair. Since the medulla is considered unimportant when it comes to hair services, we'll only be paying attention to the cuticle and the cortex.

The Cuticle 

The cuticle is the outer layer of hair. It is not one solid layer, but instead is made of individual scales that lay against one another just like roof tiles. The cuticle of a healthy hair strand will lie flat and protect the inside of the hair shaft against damage, as well as keep moisture in your hair where it belongs. Learning how to keep the cuticle of your hair shut is one of the most important things you can do to keep your hair healthy, moisturized and frizz-free.

The Cortex 

The cortex is the middle layer of the hair shaft (for many, it is also the innermost layer of hair for those who don't have a medulla). The cortex itself is responsible for approximately 90 percent of your hair's total weight; additionally, the natural color of your hair is determined within the cortex by a pigment known as melanin. The permanent chemical changes that take place in your hair due to permanent haircolor, texturizing, perming, straightening or relaxing take place within the cortex.

The pH Scale – What It Is and Why It Is Critical to Curly Hair Care 

The pH scale is what we use to determine the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. The scale ranges in value from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline:


 Pure water carries a pH of 7 or “neutral,” so anything below 7 on the scale is considered acidic and anything above 7 is considered alkaline. So why is that critical for curly hair? Remember when I said learning to shut your cuticle is one of the most important things you can do to keep moisture inside your hair shaft and help to keep the frizz at bay? Acidic solutions are what shut the cuticle and keep the hair from damage, while alkaline solutions open the cuticle to let anything invade the cortex. That's why choosing the right products and learning how to use them properly makes all the difference in the health and appearance of your curls.

Here's an example. Your hair ranges between 4.5 and 5.5 on the pH scale. Technically, that means even the act of putting pure water on your hair is damaging all by itself because water is naturally more alkaline than hair. That's why you hear so much talk about “acid-balanced” shampoos and conditioners, or why rinsing with apple cider vinegar (pH value 3) or lemon juice (pH value 2) can be so effective. Acid-balanced solutions, when used while cleansing your hair, bring your hair back into balance and shut that cuticle back down!

While the difference between 5 and 7 might not seem like a big deal at first glance, it is important to note the pH scale is what is called a “logarithmic” scale: each change in number means a tenfold change in pH. So, according to the scale, lemon juice at a pH of 2 is actually 10 times more acidic than vinegar at a pH of 3. And that means water is actually 100 times more alkaline than hair. Looked at in that way, it all of a sudden becomes a very big deal indeed. Understanding how pH works and how you can manipulate it to your advantage will help you in keeping your curls healthy and frizz-free.

What is Hair Texture?

Simply put, your hair texture is determined by the diameter of the hair strand itself. Fine hair has the smallest diameter, coarse hair has the largest, and medium texture is somewhere in between. Your hair texture plays one of the most important roles in how you should care for your curls, not only through daily maintenance, but also when considering any chemical services such as haircolor or texturizing. Let's take a closer look at the different types of hair texture:

Fine Hair 

Fine hair can appear very limp or flyaway and does not hold a style well. It frequently seems dry, when in fact it is quite often over-moisturized. It is very easy to over-process and is quickly damaged by chemical services if great care is not taken. Products with a lot of humectants and emollients should be avoided in favor of those with protein, which acts as a strengthener and gives fine hair the strength and structure that Mother Nature did not.

Medium Hair 

Medium hair is what is considered “normal” hair, meaning it has a mid-range texture. It does not require any special considerations for chemical services and usually processes normally. Undamaged hair with a medium texture can generally support products with a wide range of ingredients, although it is usually advisable for those with a medium texture to avoid protein in penetrating products, i.e., conditioners, deep treatments, etc.

Coarse Hair 

Coarse hair is much thicker and stronger than fine or medium hair, but typically does not bend and cannot hold a style well. It is also often dry and brittle, due to an overabundance of protein. Coarse hair is much harder to process and is often very resistant to chemical services. Products with a lot of protein should be avoided in favor of those with humectants and emollients, as protein adds strength to an already abundantly strong hair strand and can cause a dry, hard, "broom straw" effect.

 To determine your texture: hold a single strand up to the light.
  • Does the hair strand look delicate, a bit insubstantial, somewhat translucent, and seem almost as if it's "barely there"? If any of these characteristics fit, the hair texture is most likely fine.
  • Does the hair strand look thick, wiry, and sturdy? Does it seem substantial and strong, with a very definitive presence and a distinctive lack of suppleness? If so, the hair texture is most likely coarse.
  • Does the hair strand seem somewhat solid, but not overly thick? Does it have some substance to it, but is still fairly supple? If so, the hair texture is most likely medium.
Please remember it is quite possible to have hair of varying textures all over your head―texture isn't always a "one size fits all" kind of hair property!

There is one exception to the rule and that's for hair that's been lightened or bleached. When you put bleach on your hair, you blow holes in the cortex that look just like potholes. It doesn't matter how “healthy” your hair feels after your lightening service―that only means you've been what we call properly “reconstructed.”

Every time you get lightened, you need to have a protein reconstruction treatment to fill in those holes, no matter what your hair texture. If you have coarse hair, however, one good reconstruction immediately after the service will probably do the trick, considering you naturally manufacture an overabundance of protein within your hair shaft anyway. Those with fine hair should consider a series of treatments to keep their hair healthy.

What is Hair Porosity?

Porosity refers to the ability of your hair to absorb moisture and is determined by the state the cuticle of your hair is in. Porosity is a critically important factor in determining curly hair care since moisture is what shapes and defines our curls. If you don't know your hair's porosity, you won't be able to make the best product and maintenance routine choices to maximize the amount of moisture your curls retain. The existing "curl classification systems" never seem to mention porosity in their categorization process. Odd, considering lack of moisture is one of the biggest causes of frizz, the demon of Curly World.

There are three different classifications of porosity:

Low Porosity

Low porosity is when the cuticle of the hair shaft is too compact and does not permit moisture to enter or leave the hair shaft. Hair with low porosity is much more difficult to process, is resistant to chemical services, and has a tendency to repel product rather than absorb it.

Normal Porosity

With normal porosity, the cuticle is compact and inhibits moisture from leaving or entering the hair shaft; however, it allows for normal processing when a chemical service is performed and will readily absorb and retain product properly formulated for this hair type.

High Porosity

Hair with high porosity, also known as “overly porous” hair, has an open cuticle that both absorbs and releases moisture easily. Overly porous hair processes very quickly and can be easily damaged if extreme care is not taken when a chemical service is performed. Although overly porous hair absorbs product quickly, it is often dry as the open cuticle does not allow for product retention within the hair shaft.

To determine your own hair's porosity, grasp a hair strand firmly between your fingers. Slide the thumb and index finger of your other hand from end to scalp (opposite direction as for texture test). If your fingers "catch" going up the strand, or feel like they are ruffling up the hair strand, your hair is overly porous. If it is smooth, you have normal porosity. If your fingers move very fast up the hair strand and it feels exceptionally slick, you have low porosity.

Why Hair Texture and Porosity are the Keys to Understanding Your Curls

This is where the so-called "curl classification systems" can be problematic. If Type 2 is supposed to mean fine, wavy hair, what happens if you have wavy hair with a coarse texture and high porosity? Or you have tight corkscrew curls often wrongly categorized as coarse, but your hair is baby-fine (as are many with curly hair) with really low porosity?

If you have wavy hair and follow the routines and use the products normally suggested for this curl type, but your hair is actually coarse and overly porous, you are going to end up with hair like straw–plus, you won't be addressing the problem of your high porosity, which blows product out of the hair shaft anyway.

If your corkscrew curls are fine and you load them up with the humectants and emollients often recommended for this hair type, your hair will end up a limp, stringy mess, assuming you can get the product into your hair in the first place. It just doesn't work that way.

Taking into account the deets above, what's your hair's profile? What products work best for you? 

Curly Hair Product Ingredient Guide



So, how do you actually identify sulfates and non-water soluble silicones on product labels? The list of formal ingredient names below will help you to stay on track and avoid purchasing products that are not suitable for optimal curly hair health.

Please note that professional salon products especially formulated for curly hair will always give the best results; however, drugstore products containing no sulfates or non-water soluble silicones are always preferable to any product brand containing those ingredients.

My clients will tell you I am not in the least bit concerned about what "brand" you use. I care more that you commit to following the no-sulfate, no non-water soluble silicones guidelines than I do about what brand you buy, so always feel free to experiment and use the products that are best for you and your particular curls. I still experiment with different products myself, as I suspect almost every girl with curls will do for the rest of her life!

Sulfates

A surfactant—sometimes referred to as a detergent—is a substance that, when dissolved in water, gives a product the ability to remove dirt from surfaces such as the human skin, textiles, and other solids. There are several different types of surfactants, ranging from harsh to mild, with sulfates belonging to the class that is the most harsh.

Common sulfates as found on hair product ingredient bottles include:
  • Alkylbenzene Sulfonate
  • Ammonium Laureth or Lauryl Sulfate
  • Ammonium or Sodium Xylenesulfonate
  • Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate
  • Ethyl PEG-15 Cocamine Sulfate
  • Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate
  • Sodium Laureth, Myreth, or Lauryl Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
  • TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate
Some milder surfactants—less drying and recommended in lieu of sulfates—include:
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine
  • Coco Betaine
  • Cocoamphoacetate
  • Cocoamphodipropionate
  • Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate or Cocoamphodipropionate
  • Lauroamphoacetate
  • Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate

Silicones

Silicones generally end in -cone, -conol, -col, or -xane and are found in many hair products. If any silicone name has the abbreviation "PEG" or "PPG" in front of it, however, it is water-soluble and will not build up.

Silicones that are not soluble in water, will consistently build up on the hair and will require a surfactant-based shampoo to remove include:
  • Cetearyl Methicone
  • Cetyl Dimethicone
  • Dimethicone
  • Dimethiconol
  • Stearyl Dimethicone
Silicones that are not soluble in water, but whose chemical properties allow it to repel further deposit, helping to prevent buildup (although they will still lock moisture out of the hair and require a surfactant to remove):
  • Amodimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone/Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Trimethylsilylamodimethicone
A note about amodimethicone: if you do an Internet search on amodimethicone, you will find quite a few sites that list amodimethicone as a silicone that is "slightly" soluble in water as long as two additional ingredients are included in the formulation:

Amodimethicone (and) Trideceth-12 (and) Cetrimonium Chloride (as a mixture in the bottle)

The assumption has always been that the inclusion of Trideceth-12 (a nonionic surfactant) and cetrimonium chloride (a cationic surfactant) render the amodimethicone, non-water soluble on its own, slightly soluble in water and it could be considered okay to use. Turns out that has been a completely incorrect assumption. What the Trideceth-12 and cetrimonium chloride do is render the amodimethicone dispersible in water. Once the amodimethicone is deposited onto the hair shaft and dries to a film, however, it is not water-soluble, will prevent moisture from getting into the hair shaft and will require a surfactant to remove.

Silicones that are slightly soluble in water, but can possibly build up on some types of curly hair over time, include:
  • Behenoxy Dimethicone
  • Stearoxy Dimethicone
Silicones that are soluble in water and can generally be considered safe to use (in addition to those listed with "PEG" or "PPG" in front of them) include:
  • Dimethicone Copolyol
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein Hydroxypropyl Polysiloxane
  • Lauryl Methicone Copolyol
Proteins

An additional note about proteins: some curly hair types, especially those with a coarse hair texture, are also sensitive to proteins, which can cause some curly hair to become dry and brittle. They are best avoided if any adverse effects are noted.

Common protein ingredients include:
  • Collagen
  • Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein
  • Hydrolyzed Silk Protein
  • Hydrolyzed Soy Protein
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
  • Keratin
  • Keratin Amino Acids
  • Silk Amino Acids
  • Silk Protein
  • Soy Protein
  • Wheat Amino Acids
  • Wheat Protein

The CurlWhisperer's Home Remedies


via Live Curly Live Free

While there are several fine product lines on the market for the care and maintenance of curly hair, many girls with curls are advocating a move to more natural products, including those made at home. Below are several recipes you can use if you have an adventurous spirit and would like to experiment.


Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
There is some debate on whether or not an apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse alone can clarify the hair; however, it is helpful to bring the hair back into balance after an alkaline solution has come into contact with the hair and will shut the cuticle back down. Repeated use of ACV rinses can be drying, so limit use to once or twice per month at most:

Combine:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup warm water

Pour the mixture over the hair after cleansing (do not rinse out), then condition as usual. Any lingering smell will dissipate as the hair dries.


Baking Soda Clarification

With some silicone-based products, clarification must be done to remove the product that builds up over time on the hair shaft. Rather than resort to sulfate-based shampoos to remove this build-up, which can damage and dry the hair, a baking soda cleanse is preferable:

Combine:
1 tablespoon baking soda
3 tablespoons curly-friendly conditioner

Apply mixture to the scalp and massage firmly, then continue to massage the mixture down the hair shaft to the ends. Work into hair well. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and follow immediately with an apple cider vinegar rinse.

**Note: you must follow any baking soda cleanse with an apple cider vinegar rinse. Baking soda is alkaline—meaning it will raise your cuticle and open up your hair shaft. The apple cider vinegar is acidic and will close your cuticle back down. If you don't follow the cleanse with an ACV rinse, you'll be leaving your hair shaft open and setting yourself up for more frizz than you'd probably like.


Chlorine Buster

It is always a good idea to rinse your hair with plain water prior to entering any swimming pool to prevent chlorine water from penetrating into your hair shaft; however, this remedy will help reverse any chlorine damage to unprotected hair.

Combine:
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup pureed, peeled cucumber

Massage well into hair from scalp to ends, then cover with a plastic processing cap. Process for 30 minutes hour at room temperature, then cleanse hair with a non-sulfate based cleanser.


Deep Conditioning Treatment
No time for a deep conditioning treatment? Right before you go to sleep, rake a good deep moisture treatment through your slightly damp curls. Cover your hair completely with a plastic processing cap and/or a satin sleep bonnet and go to sleep (throw a towel over your pillowcase for extra protection). In the morning, rinse out the treatment, then scrunch in your styling products, style and go. VoilĂ ! A deep conditioning treatment that doesn't take hours from your day!


Essential Oil Blend for Hair Growth
Please note there is no guarantee this oil will stimulate hair growth in every individual. However, researchers from the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in Scotland published a study of 86 individuals who used this oil for seven months and reported 44% of people in the treatment group had new hair growth compared to only 15% in the control group.

Combine:
3 drops cedarwood essential oil
3 drops lavender essential oil
3 drops lemon essential oil
3 drops rosemary essential oil
3 drops thyme essential oil
1/8 cup grapeseed oil
1/8 cup jojoba oil

Apply several drops of the mixture to areas of hair loss each night, massaging gently into the scalp for 3-5 minutes. Store oil tightly covered and keep away from heat and light.

*Contraindications: avoid rosemary essential oil when pregnant. Cautions: citrus oils are photosensitive and should not be applied prior to sun exposure.


Hair Detangler
Well-moisturized curly hair is virtually tangle-free, but this recipe can help with the tangles while you are in your re-hydration process. You can keep this in a spray bottle and spray it on in the shower to help detangle your hair while cleansing and conditioning:

Combine:
1 teaspoon aloe vera gel
1/2 teaspoon grapefruit seed extract
2 drops grapefruit essential oil
2 drops glycerin
8 ounces purified water

Mix together in a spray bottle and keep in the shower. Spray lightly to help detangle hair.

*Cautions: citrus oils are photosensitive and should not be applied prior to sun exposure.


Honey Hair Conditioner
Honey is a natural humectant that can help restore moisture to dry hair. The antibacterial properties of honey will release low levels of hydrogen peroxide and can lighten the hair, however, so be sure to warm the honey before use—heating it will negate the effects of the peroxide.

Combine:

1/2 cup honey, warmed in the microwave
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Massage well into hair from scalp to ends, then cover with a plastic processing cap. Process for 30 minutes at room temperature, then cleanse hair with a non-sulfate cleanser. For added penetration, sit under a warm (not hot) dryer for 20 minutes.


Lavender Water Hair Spray
The benefits of lavender essential oil in hair care are many—it can help to disinfect your scalp and skin and it can be very effective on lice and lice eggs or nits. In addition, the scent of lavender has been shown to help reduce headaches, depression, anxiety and emotional stress.

Combine:
1 cup purified water
1/2 tablespoon curly-friendly conditioner or coconut oil
2 drops lavender essential oil

Combine in an 8 oz. spray bottle. Spray lightly on hair to refresh throughout the day. Shake well before each use.

*Contraindications: low blood pressure, pregnancy prior to second trimester.


Oily Scalp Treatment
While most curly women suffer from dry scalp, curly men often do battle with oily hair and scalp conditions. Whether you are a girl or a guy with curls, the witch hazel in this remedy will act as an astringent and the mouthwash includes antiseptic properties to help with oil reduction.

Combine:
3 tablespoons witch hazel
3 tablespoons mouthwash

Apply with cotton pads (only to your scalp); do not rinse. Cleanse as usual.


Olive Oil Treatment

Olive oil is one of the healthiest natural ingredients for hair that is extremely dehydrated and brittle. Girls with curls who have coarse hair, who historically have the hardest time keeping moisture in their hair, can greatly benefit from the following deep treatment on a monthly or twice-a-month basis (although this treatment is beneficial for anyone with dry hair):

Warm:
1/4 cup olive oil

Massage well into hair from scalp to ends, then cover with a plastic processing cap. Process for 30 minutes at room temperature, then cleanse hair with a non-sulfate cleanser. For added penetration, sit under a warm (not hot) dryer for 20 minutes.

*Tip: you can buy a can of olive oil cooking spray (such as Pam®) and use it to spray lightly on hair for shine and frizz control. Be judicious, as you do not want to make yourself oily from using too much. Keeping the spray can at least 10 inches from your hair while spraying will also help to ensure any propellants will dissipate before reaching your hair.


Protein Pack
Some girls with curls, especially those with fine hair, have a tendency to become too over-moisturized with emollients and need additional protein treatments to restore the health of their hair. This is also helpful for lightened (bleached) hair that has not been properly reconstructed after the chemical service:

Combine:
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (the full fat kind, not the reduced fat)
2 teaspoons olive oil

Massage well into hair from scalp to ends, then cover with a plastic processing cap. Process for one hour at room temperature, then cleanse hair with a non-sulfate cleanser. For added penetration, sit under a warm (not hot) dryer for 30 minutes.


What are your weekend hair plans? Any plans to try a new homemade recipe?

The Curl Whisperer on Protein: Friend or Foe?


by Tiffany of Live Curly, Live Free


It is a never-ending question on boards and web sites everywhere: does my hair need protein or not?

There seems to be a ton of debate online these days about protein and its role in hair health. Some beauty industry professionals and product manufacturers advocate lots of protein, some say protein is the devil and should always be avoided. Which of these is really true?

The world of hair science can be a bit daunting, but let's break down the information on protein needs one bit at a time to figure out how it all really works.

First of all, it is important to understand that 98% of our hair shaft is made of protein, a protein called "keratin." Those keratin protein amino acid chains are what form the structure of our hair strand; they are also what give our hair its strength. Protein in and of itself is a strengthener; for example, if you eat it, you build muscle. So it stands to reason that if you put it on your hair, it will make your hair stronger as well.

So how does that work in relation to our hair needs?

Let's look at a fine hair strand. When you hold up a fine hair strand, it is almost translucent and has a "barely there" kind of feel. There is not a whole lot of protein in the structure of that hair strand, so it isn't very strong. Mary Pat Mestre, the fine-haired curly who runs the hair analysis service of Live Curly Live Free, calls fine hair, "floaty hair." It is kind of limp and flyaway and does not hold a style very well; it has a tendency to "float" up into the atmosphere since there isn't a whole lot of structure or weight to anchor it down.

For fine-haired curlies then, it stands to reason that protein in their "penetrating" products, i.e., conditioners and protein packs, is a crucial part of a healthy hair routine. Since Mother Nature didn't give fine hair a whole lot of strength naturally, the added strength and support provided by protein-based products will help to anchor the hair strand down, and give it a bit more structure and texture.

Protein deprivation in fine hair can often come across as a "dry" or "unmoisturized" feeling when, in fact, it is actually fairly easy to get moisture into relatively undamaged fine hair strands. What most girls with fine-textured curls are really feeling when they feel "dry" is most often protein deprivation instead of lack of moisture. (That is why so many fine-haired curlies who use a heavy emollient-based deep treatment--which are often protein-free--to combat that dry feeling often end up feeling limp and greasy, but still dry!)

While baby-fine hair usually needs protein every single day, those with more of a fine-medium texture may find that using a protein-based conditioner once or twice a week, or even every other day, is more than enough to provide optimal structure strength and control. Adjust your amounts as needed based on how your hair "feels" that day: trust me, if you listen to it, it will let you know.

And now for our coarse-haired friends.

Coarse-haired curlies are the perfect polar opposite of their fine-haired counterparts. Hold up a strand of coarse hair and you will still see it as plain as day even if you walk across the street. It is a strong, beautiful hair texture, but it is also resistant and not very supple (have you ever tried to bend a coarse hair strand?) because coarse hair strands naturally manufacturer too much keratin protein within their own structure.

When you use a protein-based penetrating product on a coarse hair strand then, what you are actually doing is strengthening the structure of a hair strand that is already too strong naturally--resulting in what I call the "broom straw" effect. When protein penetrates within a coarse hair strand, that strand immediately becomes a hard, rigid "straw" you can almost literally snap in two.

When a coarse-haired curly sits in my chair and tells me, "I tried to go the sulfate- and silicone-free route, but it didn't work for me," I can almost guarantee she was using a shampoo or conditioner that contained a significant amount of protein in it. The avoidance of sulfates or silicones was most definitely working, but the protein penetration into the hair strand was causing the structure to become inflexible and stiff.

It is important, therefore, that those with coarse hair generally avoid protein and ensure that their conditioners and deep treatments are instead loaded with plenty of moisturizing emollients, as lack of moisture is usually the biggest challenge for coarse hair. The heavy moisture from those emollients will help to soften a coarse hair strand and make it more supple (a suppleness it does not naturally possess).

And for those in the middle of the road: the "mediums."

If there is such a thing as a "normal" texture in Curly Hair World, the medium-haired curlies are pretty much it. They aren't too weak and they aren't too strong: their texture is fairly well where it needs to be. And so, the medium-haired curly hair contingent generally wants to avoid protein in their penetrating products because there typically is no need for them to strengthen their structure. If they do, they could eventually strengthen it to the point that they will start getting that "broom straw" effect like the coarse-haired girls.

To pull it all together with respect for your own hair and make it easy for yourself, use this thought process: when you think "protein," think "strength." When you are debating if your hair needs protein or not, ask yourself: Does my hair need some added "strength" right now? Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of "listening" to your hair and following its cues.

It is also important to remember that, although the above is a great general guideline, there are always exceptions to the rule sometimes; for example, a coarse-haired girl has a lot of structural damage from repeated flat-ironing or chlorine exposure and could benefit from a good protein reconstruction. Always let the condition of your hair be your guide as well as the facts of good hair science!

CN Says:
Many gels and leave-in conditioners with hydrolyzed wheat and soy protein left me feeling stiff and brittle. I assumed I was protein sensitive and needed to avoid all protein at all cost. And that's just what I did... for years.

After a 6 month henna hiatus, I felt like my strands needed some fortifying. I read a bit about the benefits of silk protein and decided to experiment. It's a bit different than your average protein and softens while it strengthens. It adds shine, body, improves elasticity and restores moisture balance. Apparently, my hair LOVES hydrolyzed silk protein! So for those of you that are protein sensitive but still feel as if your routine is missing something, try out a different protein and re-assess!

The Curl Whisperer on Product Routines

Raena asked Tiffany:


What is the best product routine for fine 3c/4a curls?

Tiffany's response:

Great question, Raena!

First thing I want to make clear, though: there is no ONE best way to put product into your curls. That's like saying there is only one best way to get to New York from Philadelphia or only one best way to make great chili. There are more than a few best ways to accomplish all of those things: what is important is to ask yourself, "What is the best way for ME?"

There are a lot of resources on the Internet today that show how to apply product: web sites, YouTube, blogs, product manufacturer sites, forums, etc. And some of them will work for you and some of them won't. Texture, density and wave pattern play a really big role in determining your results. A girl with fine-textured, thin and wavy hair, for example, typically won't leave nearly as much water in her hair when she applies her gel as will someone with medium texture, thick and tightly spiraled curls; the extra weight of the water will most likely drag her waves down and make her go flat. Not a happy result.

That's not to say that she doesn't have choices, though. Does she want a quiet wave today? She can rake a bit of gel into her hair after a great deal of the water has been scrunched out of it, let it dry and then gently "side scrunch" to finish. More volume? She can apply mousse with a bit of gel for hold into damp hair, scrunch like mad and pop in a few clips for height. Two different routines, two different "best ways," depending on the results desired.

Our own personal best way will even change for a variety of reasons other than our look: transition from winter to summer, moving from a humid to a dry climate, the planet Jupiter is currently in Aquarius (you know we girls with curls will find any reason to mix it up :) ). I know my own routine changes in winter since there is such a drastic reduction in moisture level in the Florida winters: my quarter-sized dollop of leave-in conditioner turns into a palmful most days. However, I would be a flat, greasy, disgusting mess if I tried to do that in August when the dew points typically reach the mid- to high 70's.

The "best way" to find the "best way" is to give yourself the freedom to play and find a couple of product routines you love that work for you. Don't feel you need to hem yourself in and find one "perfect" routine or feel pressured to buy into one particular philosophy. I teach a fairly standardized product routine to my clients, depending on their hair properties, but encourage them to experiment and change it up to suit themselves. I love it when they come in for their next appointment, eager to show me things they discovered in the course of their experience as a liberated girl with curls. Believe me, I learn a lot from my clients too!

I have only one caution: if a product routine you see requires a bucketful of product to hold your curls in place, then it mostly likely isn't the best routine for you. When I am at work, I use far more product than I advise for most girls with curls, probably anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 cup of product total for my below shoulder-length, thick, medium-textured spirals. But I lean over steamy shampoo bowls all day and flip my curls around constantly, showing my clients how to plop, scrunch, clip, rake, shake, etc. I need that extra protection for the eight to 10 hours I am at work.

I wouldn't dare to use that much product when I am regular Tiffany at home, however; it would be way too much and the routine I use doesn't demand more than a few tablespoons of leave-in and gel for great hold, even during a Florida summer. If a routine requires you to really load the product on--if you find yourself thinking, "Gee, that's a LOT of product" or "That is WAY more product than I ever use"--then ask yourself this question, "Why does that routine require that much product for great curls and great hold?"

Living life as a girl with curls is always about what works best for YOU!

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