by Nicole Harmon of Hair Liberty 

Back in the day, our mothers and grandmothers had very few hair products to choose from. They were forced to “make it work” with what they had. Some of their old school methods worked pretty well because many of us have childhood pictures featuring beautiful Rudy Huxtable-style ponytails. Today, we have access to a whole new set of tools and products. Some of those old methods need to be left in the past, while others have stood the test of time.



Old School Method: Petrolatum and Mineral Oil-based styling products

I’m referring to all styling products that contain petrolatum, mineral oil or any type of wax in the top 5. Examples include Blue Magic, Luster’s Pink Oil Moisturizer, Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Nourishing Sheen Spray, and Clairol Vitapointe. Back in the day, petrolatum and mineral-oil based products laid down fly aways and made our hair shine better than anything else could.



Why petrolatum and mineral oil-based products worked

Petrolatum, mineral oil, and wax are heavy emollients. Emollients are ingredients that leave a smooth, soft coating on the hair. Heavy emollients literally weigh the hair down with a thick coating that smoothes the cuticle.



Why petrolatum and mineral oil-based products are old school

The heavy, greasy look that comes from petrolatum and mineral oil is outdated. If you have relaxed hair or fine-medium natural hair, heavy emollients will leave your hair looking thin and stiff. To get soft, fluffy hair, most women need products light enough to smooth the cuticle without leaving an oily residue. If you have thicker strands, you might like the effect petrolatum and mineral oil have on your hair. If so, you should definitely continue using them.



The Modern Option: Silicone oils

Years of scientific research have made it possible to get the benefits of petrolatum and mineral oil without the greasiness. In 1998, cosmetic manufacturers began replacing the heavy emollients in hair products with the lighter types of emollients they were using in skin products. The newer lightweight emollients are called “silicone oils”. Silicones are synthetic oils. Examples include dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and phenyl trimethicone. Silicone oils are also used in lotions, face creams, and skin medications. These days, hair products from almost every brand contain silicones including Motions, Carol’s Daughter, Pantene, Nexxus, and many more. To learn more about silicones, read Synthetic Oils to Combat Dry Hair at HairLiberty.org.



Old School Method: Hot Combs

Hot combs are metal combs that heat on a home stove top or in a professional ceramic heater stove. They used to be the go-to tool to straighten African American hair. Electric hot combs are also available.



Why Hot Combs worked

Hot combs were used for decades before relaxers were invented. Ceramic stoves can heat the hot comb up to 500 °F which is more than enough heat to transform tight natural coils to stick straight hair with 1 or 2 strokes.

Why Hot Combs are old school

Pressing combs can cause severe heat damage. Healthy coils and curls usually have a similar texture throughout but just a few styling sessions with a hot comb can leave the hair permanently and unevenly straighter. Some call that “heat-training” the hair. Heat damage is irreversible, which means once your natural texture is gone you won’t be able to get it back. Sadly, there are no products that can repair or “define” heat-damaged curls and coils (so don’t waste your money!).

Heat damage takes away some of your hair’s versatility. When you end up with multiple textures, you have to choose between straight styles or wet-sets. Both options take much more time than a curly wash ‘n go or quick twist-out. Hot combs should never be used on relaxed hair because the high heat can cause immediate breakage.



The Better Choice: Ceramic flat irons 

To get sleek, straight hair without ruining your natural texture, it’s best to use a ceramic flat iron. Flat irons press your hair between two smooth plates that heat more evenly and quickly than hot combs. Most natural hair can be straightened with a setting between 350 °F and 400 °F. Relaxed hair responds to heat as low as 300 °F. The trick with a flat iron is to get as close to your roots as you would with a pressing comb. Take sections about 1” wide and pull the hair taut before you iron it (just like you would if you were ironing a shirt).

Old School Method: Protective Styling

Mum Oprah (as I like to call her) explained this old school method to Chris Rock on her talk show in 2009. She said, “I have worn weaves, I have worn wigs, I have done all of it, because in order to keep your hair, you can’t put heat on your hair every day! You have to give your hair a break.” Protective styles like wigs, weaves, braids, and twists have always been used to give our hair an extended break from daily combing and heat styling.

Why Protective Styling works 

Coils and curls are more likely to be damaged by simple combing and styling than any other hair type. Fine to medium strands also break more readily than thicker strands. If your hair starts to break more when it gets to shoulder length that means it’s being damaged faster than it grows. Protective styles allow you to slow down the damage cycle by not combing your hair for a few weeks at a time.

Why Protective Styling is optional 

This old school method still makes sense, but it’s not a requirement for growing long coils and curls. If a protective style is put in too tight and/or left in for too long, it can do more harm than good. The hair can become matted and brittle from not being thoroughly washed and when it’s time for the style to come out, the length retained during the rest period can be ripped away by one rough combing session. Current scientific research shows that tight styles that are left in for long periods of time cause stress on the scalp that can lead to permanent hair loss.

The Modern Choice: Protective Products 

You can slow down the damage cycle by using products that not only condition, but also protect your hair from heat and combing. Makes sure all of your products contain a combination of emollients, cationic conditioners, and hydrolyzed protein because those ingredients will patch and protect your hair with every use. It will always be important to comb your hair as little as possible, but the days when you had to “put your hair away” in order to grow it long are over!

Nicole Harmon is a Cosmetic Chemist and 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!