Google Header -->
Skip to main content
Curly Nikki

Decoding Natural Hair Products

By January 27th, 202111 Comments
A Rough Guide to Hair Product Naming Conventions

by Joyful Mom of Happy Girl Hair

A reader (Hi Sarah!) emailed me with a terrific question. She asked me how to tell the difference between hair products and how to figure out what each one does. Shampoos and rinse out conditioners are obvious, and detangler is usually right on the bottle, but when it comes to other types of products you can buy for curly hair, it can quickly become confusing.

Of course, every company uses individual product names, but there are many commonalities between natural hair care companies. How many butters, creams, milks and hair puddings have you tried? So many seem to favor names of dairy products, and that can actually be helpful once you decode it. Sometimes, both the name and the bottle shape give great clues about how the product is intended to be used.

Here is a rough guide to product names and uses. The words in bold are those commonly found in the product name.

Detangler – These are meant to provide “slip” and moisturize lightly, so the strands of hair can glide past each other as the hair is combed. They can be sprays, have a lotion-like consistency, or they can come in tub.

Spray/Spritz/Juice/Mist/product that comes in a spray bottle – These Decoding Natural Hair Productsproducts usually provide light conditioning and unless they have very specific instructions for use, they can used as a daily light leave-in for looser curls and/or fine hair, braids, twists, or locs, or as a curl revitalizer on non wash days. Sometimes they can also be used as detanglers. They can also be layered under heavier leave-ins or styling aids.
Pictured Jane Carter Solution Revitalizing Leave-In-Conditioner

Hair Milk/Milkshake/Shake/Hair Lotion/Leave-in -These products are meant to be used to provide daily moisture or refresh hair after sleeping. They can also be used after washing. While they are sometimes all that’s needed for loose hair, they are not styling aids. Some companies make both hair milks and leave-ins. It can be hard to know which is lighter and which richer. If you can’t tell from the ingredient listing, contact the company for clarification. Sometimes, you’ll find a milk leave-in, or a leave-in milk – just to make it interesting.

Decoding Natural Hair ProductsButter/Cream/Creme/Pudding/Custard – These usually come in a tub and have a creamy consistency, sometimes they are whipped. These are generally heavier moisturizers. The word butter often refers to cocoa butter, shea butter, tucuma butter, cupuaçu butter, mango butter, or other natural butters. These products can be used every day for those with dry, tightly coiled hair, or as an occasional treat for others. They can also be used under styling aids. Pictured: Curly Q Custard (this does have light hold

Decoding Natural Hair Products
This where it gets trickier. The words Butter, Cream, Creme, Custard, and Pudding often appear in the names of highly moisturizing styling products. If you are unsure of whether or not the product is purely a moisturizer or a styling aid, look for the word “hold” or look for a list of product uses. If it’s described as having hold and/or it’s recommended for use in twisting, braiding, locing, or setting- it’s also a styling aid. Read product descriptions carefully!
Pictured: Carol’s Daughter Loc Butter

Decoding Natural Hair Products

Products with the word “Styling”/Pomade/ Jelly/Gel/Definer
– These are always styling products. They are useful in helping braids and twists stay together, or for defining curls. Most have some conditioning properties as well. You will find these products in all types of bottles, tubes, tubs and tins.
Pictured: Original Little Sprout Whipped Styling Balm

Words like balm, nectar, and serum can apply to apply to many types of products so I’ll say it again, read descriptions carefully! If you are still unsure about what a product does or how to use products together, never hesitate to call or email the company that makes it.

I want to be clear that it isn’t necessary to have products from every category. Everyone is different and so much depends on individual needs and styling preferences. I hope I’ve made it just a little easier to choose the product you really want the next time you are looking to try something new. Happy curls!

© 2010 Happy Girl Hair


  • Anonymous says:

    Great Post!

  • Anonymous says:

    Awesome, informative and unique post. Will be using this as a reference guide. I've been natural for 2 years and still need help with what products to incorporate into my regimen. I just started using the Jane Carter Leave-in as well and it's great. Thanks CN!

  • Shea Butter says:

    Jane Carter Solution Revitalizing Leave-In-Conditioner: I LOVE the Revitalizing Leave-In by Jane Carter not only because of it's incredible scent (couldn't stop smelling the bottle when I first bought it), but because it gives a light moisture that's great on relaxed hair like mine and really helps detangle it as you blow-dry. The aroma isn't strong, but they should make a perfume out of this stuff, that's how good it smells! However, if you don't like floral scents, stay away.

  • Anonymous says:

    Nice. One of the most informative posts. I wonder who started the trend of naming these products after foods or tasty treats, i.e. "custard", "milk", "nectar".

  • KeepItMovingDotCom says:

    Extremely helpful for newbies and not so newbies! Thanks to Joyful mom (and her babies!)

    I've read so many product reviews where our sis'tren complain about products not performing in ways that aren't even mentioned on the label!!
    Suave Tropical Conditioner may work as a deep cond for some, but the intended purpose is as an instant cond.
    If a product doesn't promise hold, don't expect hold.
    Some complain about how heavy pudding/butter/custard is…ummm, did you really think they would be watery?

    Sometimes we tend to grab products without really reading the labels, LOL!

  • Amy Irvin says:

    Great post! This really clarifies ALOT, especially for newbies, I'm sure.

  • Jarmelia says:

    Great post, now we need a spin-off on how to read the ingredients on these products to see if they actually are what they say they are…

    That's the true tricky part!


  • Sheena LaShay says:

    Love this post. Very useful for newbies!

  • TiAnna Mae says:

    What a great summary, especially for newbies! I always read reviews to see how others are using products, and I also experiment on my own. Two days ago, I just realized that Matrix Biolage Deep Conditioning Balm is actually a GREAT leave-in and curl definer for my 3C-4A hair. I've never really heard of any one using a deep conditioner in this way, and actually discovered this technique by accident.

  • Kayla says:

    This is amazing! Its so helpful =D

  • GGmadeit says:

    This Is an awesome post! Great resource for newbies! Thanks Nikki!

Leave a Reply