When soft hair becomes a bad thing!

I’m guilty of committing a rookie hair care mistake. I’m still experiencing a bit of postpartum shedding though it has slowed down considerably. However because I’m so used to seeing quite a few strand of hair on washdays it took a bit longer than it should have to realise I was dealing with a bit of breakage. It wasn’t until I noticed my hair tangling a lot whilst flat twisting that I stopped to examine some of the shed hair. Now I knew the breakage wasn’t due to dryness as my hair is super soft at the moment…too soft but I’ll get back to that in a moment. I immediately clarified my hair to get rid of any potential build-up on my scalp and hair but the tangling and breakage still persisted. So I did an elasticity test on wet hair and my hair just kept on stretching, till it was almost double in length before breaking and the light bulb finally went off in my head…I needed protein.

If you don’t already know, hair straddles a fine line between moisture and protein, as it needs both to be truly healthy. Protein gives hair its structure and strength but too much makes it hard, brittle and prone to breakage. Moisture on the other hand gives hair its elasticity, makes it pliable and soft, but too much is definitely a bad thing and you’ll get mushy, limp hair that’s too stretchy and that also leads to breakage.

When I had relaxed hair, protein was a staple in my regimen and product arsenal because my hair needed it. But since being natural, it’s something I’m often guilty of slacking on. I also LOVE rich moisturising conditioners and leave-ins, which really hasn’t helped matters. Once I realised the issue I immediately did an intensive protein treatment using Protein Defence + from Enitan Healthy Hair Studio. It’s basically pure hydrolysed protein that can be added to any moisturising conditioner and turns it into a one step protein treatment. Usually a protein treatment has to be followed by a moisturising conditioner in order to soften hair. I’m a busy mum so anything that cuts down my wash routine immediately gets a thumbs-up. Because my hair was super elastic I added a bit of hydrolysed Baobab Protein also to really intensify the treatment.

The results were immediate, my hair felt less mushy, springier and stronger and the breakage was reduced significantly. It took a while for my hair to become over moisturised and it will also take a little bit of time to fix it. I plan to add protein to my weekly conditioning session for the next month or so.

Replacing Curl Junkie Curl Assurance Smoothing Lotion with Keracare Natural Textures Leave-in Conditioner

I always dread the moment when a favourite and much loved product is suddenly discontinued or reformulated. It’s like losing a good friend. Well I recently lost one of my besties, otherwise known as Curl Junkie Curl Assurance Smoothing Lotion. This has been my go to leave-in conditioner for the past year and half. It has the most incredible slip and does a fantastic job of moisturising and softening my hair. I especially love layering it under styling products as it reduces crunch and stiffness. A while ago, Curl Emporium who were the main UK distributor of Curl Junkie announced they would no longer stock the brand. My heart sank, so I promptly bought a couple of bottles and stuck my head in the sand like the good ole ostrich I am. Of course I knew that my little stash would eventually run out and I’d have to go in search of a replacement, but I was still in mourning darn it!

Well as you probably guessed, my last bottle ran out a couple of weeks ago and I finally had to pull my head out and get looking. I had very specific requirements for this new bestie. Firstly it needed to be freely and easily available in the UK, there was no way I was going through this palaver again. Secondly it needed to be affordable. At £15.95 for 340ml, Curl Assurance Smoothing Lotion was fairly pricey, but because it worked so well, I’d grit my teeth and buy it. Well no more gritting, it was time to give my wallet a break. Lastly it needed to give the same or similar results as the Smoothing Lotion. After some research, I finally came across a product that looked like it might fit the bill…enter Keracare Natural Textures Leave-in Conditioner. I’d never tried the Keracare Natural Textures range but having used the brand when relaxed, I knew it to be a high quality range of products. So I bought me a bottle and I’m back in love! Here’s a break down of how the two products compare.

I’m always going to lean towards a product which contains the least amount of cosmeceutical ingredients and on that front, the Smoothing Lotion wins hands down. To be fair to the Natural Textures Leave-in, the product is chocked full of natural oils and extracts and the inclusion of Ayurvedic etxracts such as amla and shikakai are a plus.

Curl Junkie Curl Assurance Smoothing Lotion: Water, Cetearyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Vegetable Glycerin, Slippery Elm Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil, Panthenol, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Propylene Glycol, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Fragrance.

Keracare Natural Textures Leave-in Conditioner: Aqua/Water/EAU, Cetyl Alcohol, Phyllanthus Emblica (Amla) Extract, Acacia Concinna (Shikakai) Fruit Extract, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Crambe Abyssinica Seed Oil, Phytosterols, Betaine, Citric Acid, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Serenoa Serrulata Fruit Extract, Cemellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Propylene Glycol, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Citrus Medica Limonum (Lemon) Peel Extract, Saccharum Officinarum (Sugar Cane) Stalk Extract, Potassium Sorbate, Diazolidinyl Urea, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Dimethyl Stearamine, Fragrance/Parfum, Benzyl Benzoate, Limonene, Linalool, Alpha Isomethyl Ionone.

Natural Textures Leave-in can be purchased for as little as £5.75 (inc delivery) for a 240ml bottle compared to the £20 (inc delivery) I’d pay each time I ordered a 340ml bottle from Curl Emporium. You do the math!

Once again, Natural Textures Leave-in comes up trumps, I can get it from most beauty supply stores and a plethora of online retailers. Curl Assurance Smoothing Lotion is now like gold dust in the UK unless you order it from a US based retailer and pay the associated shipping and customs costs.

Both are actually very similar in consistency, with the Curl Assurance Smoothing Lotion being an off pink colour with a sweet candy like smell. They are both light, with a creamy lotion feel to them. They spread quite well though the Smoothing Lotion used to sometimes cause problems when mixed with some of my stylers; the consistency would change into a cottage cheese type look and feel.

This is where the Smoothing Lotion shone; the slip on this product is AMAZING! Detangling post wash was always a breeze. I’ve always attributed its exceptional powers of slip to the inclusion of Slippery Elm extract in its formula. The Natural Textures Leave-in has a ton of cosmeceutical conditioners which do give the product a goodly amount of slip however it just doesn’t pack the same punch as the Smoothing Lotion.

Both products give me great softness, like candy floss softness. My husband always had his hands in my hair on wash day in my Smoothing Lotion days and he still does! What I really liked about the Smoothing Lotion was that it kept my hair feeling moisturised for several days and I have to say the Natural Textures Leave-in does equally a good job.

Aloe Vera | The ultimate natural hair moisturiser

Other than water, there is only one other thing I’ve found which instantly moisturises and softens my hair both in its natural and relaxed state. What is this miracle product I hear you ask? Quite simply it’s aloe vera. I know loads of hair gurus and bloggers who sing its praises and claim it’s their only salvation during a long stretch. I personally have had an on off relationship with aloe vera but it wasn’t until my transition that I truly realised its worth. The minute I spray some on my hair, it immediately becomes pliable and softened but more importantly this feeling lasts even after my hair has dried. No other moisturising product I’ve tried does it as well as plain old aloe vera does.

The aloe vera plant has been used for medicinal and beauty purposes as far back as ancient Greece. It contains about 99.5% water, with the rest being a mix of polysaccharides, amino acids, phytosterols, quinones, glycosides, minerals, flavones, and salicylic acid. What makes it so moisturising are the polysaccharides which are hydrating, emollient and anti-inflammatory and a phytosterol called ß-sitosterol which helps soften hair and reduce electrostatic charge (source).

Aloe vera gel straight from the plant is the most effective and efficient way to get the benefits of aloe vera, but the liquid juice available in most wholefood stores is also great. I used to have an aloe vera plant which Mohair was looking after for me. I’m not sure exactly what happened to it but I’ve not seen or heard from it in months. I now buy my aloe vera wherever I can get it cheapest. My most recent bottle was £5.47 for an almost litre sized bottle from Holland and Barrett. I make sure it’s juice from the inner fillet and that it hasn’t been diluted or made from concentrate. I keep it in the fridge once opened and decant as needed into a 50ml plastic spray bottle which also lives in the fridge.

Moisture-Protein Balance

I’ve spoken briefly about the moisture-protein balance before, which is a really important part of preventing breakage. If you can get this part right then everything else becomes so much easier. Here are few suggestions to help you on the journey to achieving that elusive balance.

  • Firstly, check out ‘The Fine Art of Protein and Moisture Balancing for Black Hair Care’ by Audrey Sivasothy. This article really gave me a good insight into the science behind the principle and was a great starting point in learning how to maintain my balance.
  • Invest in some regular one on one time with your hair as the balance doesn’t remain static and fluctuates frequently. Sometimes on a daily basis so you constantly have to be listening to what your hair is saying. The quicker you become familiar with what your hair feels and looks like at its optimal level, the quicker you’ll be able to identify when things are off.
  • If your hair starts breaking, don’t immediately reach for your strongest protein conditioner. Investigate the breakage and try to identify what’s causing it before you start on a course of treatment. Dry brittle hair that’s snapping off needs more moisture not protein.
  • If you’ve chemically processed your hair in any way, then expect to need more protein than someone with a natural unprocessed head of hair. You have compromised the protein structure of your hair and depending on the strength and type of chemical process involved; you will need to adjust accordingly.
  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, read the ingredients list on your products. Many ‘moisturising’ conditioners nowadays contain some sort of protein which if your hair is protein sensitive can tip you off balance without you even being aware of it. The most popular are amino acids and hydrolysed vegetable proteins such as wheat and soy. Whilst they are quite light and mostly act on the surface of the hair, regular use can cause a build up effect which could lead to protein related breakage
  • Not all protein conditioners are made equal! There are different types of proteins which have different effects on the hair, check this article out for a breakdown. Use a light to medium protein for regular maintenance and a full on heavy intensive reconstructor for those emergency situations. Mixing up the two can have dire consequences. As a general guide when choosing a protein conditioner, light protein products have their protein ingredients lower down in the ingredients list and usually only use one or two types of protein which often take the form of a Silk Amino Acid or Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein. Stronger protein treatments usually use at least two types of protein which appear very early in the ingredients list (1st, 2nd or 3rd) and there will usually be an animal protein such as Keratin or Collagen kicking about somewhere.

Why Daily Moisturising is a MUST!!

One of my daily staples and something I’m quite fastidious about is moisturising and sealing my hair daily. A recent conversation with my sister helped me realise that a lot of you might not understand the full importance of this practice and why it’s vital to maintaining healthy hair and retaining growth.
Firstly, a bit of science: hair has two main layers, an external thin layer called the cuticle that protects and an inner shaft known as the cortex. The cortex is made up of protein called keratin and contains approximately 10-14% water, which is easily absorbed and lost. Water is very important as it increases the pliability of hair meaning the hair is less rigid and is able to move/bend easily (this is why dry hair breaks).
The level of moisture in hair depends on one key factor – the humidity of the air. If the air is dry, water can be lost from the hair and if the air is very humid, water will be absorbed. Other factors which affect the hair moisture level include heat treatments which can dry out hair and porosity which increases the rate at which moisture is lost and absorbed.
In short, hair will happily take in water but it cannot hold on to it very well on its own. Hair is always seeking to balance itself with its environment and will get rid of any ‘excess’ water to do so. This is especially a problem in dry, cold environments. This is where oils play a vital role.

Oils slow down water loss from the hair by forming a barrier to prevent water from escaping too quickly. Increased water retention in hair equals increased moisture. The body produces its own natural oil called sebum which does this quite well but is easily removed during washes. Thus oils do not in themselves moisturise the hair but instead act as a protective barrier to allow the hair to retain more of the moisture it absorbs externally.

As relaxed hair tends to be porous so loses moisture quickly, it is especially prone to dryness and greater care must be taken to keep it moisturised. The most natural way to get moisture into the hair would be via washing but as washing the hair every day is fairly impractical, a hair moisturiser is required to prevent dryness between washes.
The best moisturisers are water based obviously and the first ingredient in the list should be water. They should also contain humectants as these ingredients attract water from the atmosphere. Glycerine, Sodium Lactate, Propylene Glycol and Sodium PCA are popular commercial choices. Honey is also an excellent humectant but is more commonly used in conditioners. Moisturisers can contain oils but they tend to appear further down the list as the primary goal is to add moisture. Other popular ingredients include botanical extracts and hydrolysed proteins. Try to avoid moisturisers that contain mineral oil or any other petroleum based product. Mineral oil does nothing but coat the hair leaving it shiny but dry.

The moisturiser should be followed up with a ‘sealing’ oil. Any natural oil can be used but some are more superior as they also penetrate the hair shaft and help strengthen the hair. Coconut, Olive, Castor and Avocado oil are good examples. Coconut oil is especially beneficial as it protects the hair from hygral fatigue.

Moisturisers should be applied daily or as needed and only a small amount is required. I tend to section my hair into 4 parts and apply the moisturiser to each section separately then do the same with the oil. I use Phyto 7 daily hydrating cream as it’s got a fantastic combination of plant extracts and moisturises my hair without the heavy weighed down feeling. I then seal with Vatika Coconut oil or CCB.

Since incorporating this routine into my regime my hair feels moisturised longer and breakage is minimised and that my friends is the key to growing healthy hair!