Updated: Mar 18, 2019
During my adolescent years in Los Angeles, everyone I knew had natural hair. Of course, we didn’t call it that, we just called it “hair.” No matter how long or short, it had to be perfectly pressed, full of body (see you later 1970’s “grease press”) and healthy in order to be acceptable. There were a few girls here and there who wore their hair in “natural styles” (bantu knots, twists, or afro puffs), but they were the unique ones.
I never thought twice about the products I used on my hair or their chemical makeup. I just used whatever my mom bought from the local beauty supply and went on with my life. No worries.
One product I wouldn’t use however, was a relaxer. Oh, the “Creamy Crack” was a sin in my neighborhood. I was taught that Relaxers were harsh chemicals and they damage your hair. So you can imagine the culture shock I experienced when I went away to college in the south and everyone’s hair was relaxed. I mean EVERYONE! It was the complete opposite of what I had known. Suddenly, all of us (the California girls) became the unique ones. We wore protective styles (braids, extensions, etc.) to maintain our hair because we struggled to find stylists who could competently style our natural tresses without subjecting us to the dreaded “Creamy Crack.”
Unfortunately, after years of resisting, I gave in to the convenience and permanently straightened my hair. It was a short season. After four years of routine touch ups, I noticed that although my hair was growing longer, it was also thinning. It wouldn’t hold a curl anymore and lacked the body and fullness that I knew it was capable of, sans relaxer.
It was time for a change. Time to get rid of the chemicals and get back to my God given coils.
As I navigated my way through my transitioning journey, I realized that some of the products that were formulated for black hair contained some of the same harmful chemicals as the relaxer I was trying to get away from. Most commonly, Parabens, Mineral Oils and Petroleum, and Artificial Fragrance. That’s a ton of chemical exposure when you consider how many hair care products black women use daily. We can possibly increase our cancer risk through a product as simple as a shampoo. I mean, isn’t life hard enough? Well, now that I know better, I’m doing better. And today, I’m going to help you do better too.
It’s 2019, so by now we should have heard about the dangers of Parabens. If not, allow me. As a self-taught product formulator, one of the first things I learned was that parabens are the best preservative you can use. They’re broad spectrum and can protect against bacterial growth, mold and yeast for years. So, what’s the problem? Parabens are endocrine disruptors, which can mimic estrogen in your body and may lead to thyroid conditions, fibroid tumors and an increased risk of breast cancer. You’ll most likely find them in your shampoo, conditioner, or any water-based product, since they all need to be preserved to maintain their shelf life. If you want to avoid parabens, be sure to read the ingredients on the back of the products. You’ll find them listed as butylparabens, propylparabens, or yuckyparabens. Yeah, I made that last one up. 😊
Mineral Oils and Petroleum
Mineral Oils and Petroleum are two ingredients that I was all too familiar with as they’re the foundation of most hair grease and scalp oils made for black hair. Unfortunately, these two ingredients are cut from the same cloth: The petroleum refining process. So what the heck are they doing in our hair products? Well, mineral oil and petroleum are both emollients and are generally used to form a barrier on the hair and skin to prevent moisture loss. They’re also inexpensive. While this doesn’t sound like a bad idea, the problem with these compounds is the potential contamination risk during the refining process. Although the studies are conflicting regarding their carcinogenic properties, I still avoid these ingredients to make sure that I’m not exposing myself to any potential toxins.
True story. One day I’m in the grocery store and the cashier asks if I used a certain cloyingly sweet coconut-scented product in my hair. I laughed and asked how he knew my business. “Oh, my whole family uses that product so I can recognize that smell anywhere.” See, that right there should tell you that there’s absolutely Too. Much. Fragrance. in a product if someone can smell it from several feet away! Clearly product manufacturers don’t think so. They also don’t seem to be concerned with the fact that added fragrance ingredients can also be, you guessed it, Endocrine Disruptors! They’re also linked to cancer, birth defects, and allergies! See, I’m not sure where you are in your life, but I’m still child bearing age, and I don’t need anything disrupting my hormones and affecting my fertility. The best way to avoid the worst fragrance ingredients is to purchase products that are fragrance-free or fully disclose their fragrance ingredients (including essential oils). I know it may be tough to let go of your favorite fruity yum-yum products, but it’s just not worth it, friend.
It has been 6 years since I began my pursuit to return to my natural hair roots, and I don’t regret it one bit. My hair is the healthiest it’s been in years and it all comes down to one simple principle: “Natural hair care requires natural products.” Our bodies are designed to heal themselves, and honestly, a lot of our hair (and body) care products do not complement that process. We have come a long way in the natural hair community when it comes to producing high quality hair care products, but some of them are still heavy laden with harmful toxins. Come on, sis! Let’s toss those products and prioritize our long-term health goals over our short-term hair goals. Let me know if you need my help 😊
Rochelle C. is a homeschool mom, Co-Owner of LiveFree Natural Home and Body Care, and a Green Living Consultant. After teaching high school and college for 7 years, she traded in her red pen for a baby rattle and joyfully embarked upon a new career as a stay at home mom. When she’s not changing diapers, Rochelle works with her husband in the family business. Together they own LiveFree Natural Home & Body Care, a Health & Wellness company that specializes in formulating all natural home and body care products as well as teaching classes in their community on the dangers of harmful chemicals in everyday personal care products.