We’ve been warned of the dangers of bad ingredients in hair products. Since going natural most naturalistas like to avoid products packed with chemicals that dry the hair, and may eventually cause breakage. We scrutinize product labels to look for those offenders which are usually hidden among a long list. But what happens when typically good ingredients become detrimental to the health of your hair? How many of us even know to suspect these ingredients; when everyone is telling you they are great or even essential for your hair?
As with everything, we all have our differences. No matter how wonderful a product is, it may simply not work for certain individuals. So what are these products or ingredients that may be doing more harm than good?
A humectant found in most hair products to moisturize the hair. Whether in deep conditioners, hair puddings or styling products; glycerin is usually a staple ingredient. Considering the fact that Afro textured hair is prone to dryness; glycerin, which draws moisture from the air, is ideal. So why can it also be detrimental?
Firstly, glycerin may interfere with your styling efforts, especially if you live in a high humidity environment. Products that contain a lot of glycerin may not be ideal during the summer months, or appropriate for styles which require definition such as: twist outs, braid outs or flexi-rod sets. I used to apply a generous amount of glycerin to moisturize my hair, before adding my styling products. My hair would usually be defined in the morning, but by the afternoon completely puffed out in an Afro. It took me a while to figure out it was the glycerin causing this. I dramatically reduced the amount I used and found that my styles gained longevity again.
Glycerin may also be linked to excessive shedding, again I can testify to this. The hair strands can only absorb so much moisture, the rest is simply excess. A healthy hair strand can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water, any more than this will weigh the hair down. Too much glycerin can keep the strands in a more vulnerable state, as hair is weaker when it is damp or wet. When using a lot of glycerin, the hair may feel slightly damp for prolonged periods of time. Styling hair in this state can cause breakage. Many who are newly natural, mistake damp hair for moisturized hair. Hair should be moisturized from within but fully dry on the surface.
If you use a lot of glycerin, it is important to ensure the hair is washed regularly, preferable once a week to prevent buildup. Once a month or so use a clarifying shampoo to give the hair a deeper cleanse.
Coconut oil is a staple for most naturalistas. It is used for prepooing, deep conditioning, detangling, you name it. It even penetrates the hair strands due to its smaller molecules and provides moisturization. Other oils such as Olive Oil can’t do this and are suitable for sealing only. Many will have nothing but great things to say about coconut oil. However, on occasion you may hear of bad experiences using it.
Some have described their hair feeling dry and coarser after using it for prolonged periods of time. Its effects have even been compared to the effects of too much protein. Coconut oil has also been accused of aggravating dandruff, rather than improving the condition. It actually has antibacterial properties, and is usually recommended to treat dandruff. The exact reasons for these problems are unclear, but it could have something to do with the molecular components of the oil. The oil is liquified when exposed to heat, but solidifies when cold. These changes in the molecular structure may disrupt the natural way in which the hair cuticles lay, or it may simply harden on the hair and scalp.
Check out some of these examples below of bad experiences with coconut oil. If you use it and are experiencing problems; try eliminating it for a while and see if the problems improve. If you can’t part from it, be sure to use the unrefined, virgin brands. As it may be the brand that is problematic, not everything labelled coconut oil is the oil in its purest form. I absolutely love coconut oil, especially for my skin. I haven’t had any problems with it but for some it has been problematic, so don’t rule it out as a potential cause of any hair issues.
Once championed as an alternative to shampoo, I certainly was on the baking soda bandwagon when I first went natural. It is slightly abrasive, so good for removing oils and buildup with no Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and other harmful chemicals. However, using it over time can cause problems such as: dryness, clumping and residue buildup.
Hair and scalp sebum is naturally at a pH level of 4.5 to 5.5. This natural acidity prevents fungi and bacteria in the hair and scalp, and keeps the cuticles closed, healthy, and with minimal frizz. The pH level of baking soda however is extremely alkaline, at 9. So this may not work with the natural composition of our hair. The cuticles may open up for prolonged periods, potentially causing loss of moisture and frizz. If you are having problems with dryness or a flaky scalp, eliminate it and try the many other alternatives to shampoo. There is bentonite clay washes such as Terressentials, co-washing and even shampoos themselves, but with natural ingredients and sulfate free.
Our hair is made up of protein, so it is essential. However, as well as protein our hair needs moisture. Some women have reported extreme dryness after using protein treatments or products that are protein based, for prolonged periods of time. There has even been suggestions by some that they are allergic to protein. However, this notion may be misguided. The protein itself may not be the issue rather, it may simply be a lack of moisture. The protein to moisture balance is what needs to be maintained in order to promote strength, yet keep hair moisturized. In an attempt to strengthen our hair, we may be drawn towards protein treatments, strengthening shampoos and styling products with protein. The type of protein contained in these products include: Keratin protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, rice and soy protein.
If most of your products are protein based, there may be a lack of emphasis on moisture. Similarly, using moisturizing deep conditioners only and never doing protein treatments, may lead to weakened hair. Protein treatments, reinforce the natural protein bonds of the hair and hence promote strength. So this step should not be eliminated from a well balanced hair care regimen.
Similarly, moisturizing treatments, shampoos and conditioners should also be included. If your hair regimen is too one-sided towards either moisture or protein, the balance is off and problems with dryness may occur either way. To maintain the protein to moisture balance, replace every third or fourth deep conditioning session with a protein treatment. So, if you deep condition your hair once a week, do a protein treatment once a month. Adjust accordingly, perhaps you may need to do a protein treatment more often, such as every two weeks. Remember, if you use strengthening shampoos, conditioners or styling products, your hair is already getting a fair amount of protein. Check the ingredients of your products to ensure they are conducive to meeting a good protein to moisture balance.
Yes, water is essential to life itself, how can it possibly go wrong? you ask. Unfortunately, not all sources of water are fully beneficial to our hair. If you live in a hard water area, you may know what I mean. Hard water, can do more harm than good. Many people go for years thinking there is a problem with their hair and try eliminating certain products and practices, to no avail. If you are in a position where you have investigated everything pertaining to your hair but are still having issues, check your water. Hard water can cause breakage, dryness and affect the volume of your hair. You may find your hair becomes more coarse, weighed down and less supple. Styling can also become more difficult and frustrating at times. You can check if you live in a hard water area online, by contacting your local water utility and asking them for a recent hard water reading. There are also methods online you could try to test for hard water.
So what can you do if you live in a hard water? Ideally, you could get a whole house water filter/softener, not only will this benefit your hair but it will also be great for your skin. A less expensive method is to give your hair a final rinse with distilled water, at the end of a washing session. This may help to remove the hard water used during the wash, and replace it with the distilled. Check this out below.
Hair problems from hard water
Hard water solution
So don’t give up on your natural hair. There may be a simple solution to the problem. We don’t often consider the good ingredients to be the cause of our hair problems but if you have tried everything else, don’t rule them out. Instead, go through a process of trial and elimination. You may be surprised about what you may find.
Have you had any issues with products that contain good ingredients? Are there any other good products gone wrong? Share below.