Black women who have turned their backs on relaxers and weaves and who embrace their afro textured hair are women who are hungry for knowledge. Two of the most popular topics within online communities for naturals are how to grow hair and how to style it.
But top of the list is what products to use on natural, afro textured hair: whether to be an organic purist, what to use to correct dry hair or repair breakage; what to use to colour the hair – henna or permanent colour, and the list goes on.
It was this hyper-level of curiosity by followers of natural hair guru Chicoro, who inundated her with letters requesting hair product advice that inspired her new book, Hair Products 101. It is an excellent sequel to the highly acclaimed Grow It.
Right at the beginning of the book Chicoro makes it clear that Hair Products 101 is not a list of recommended products but more usefully, the presentation of a four-step process to help women determine for themselves what products will be most effective for their hair.
This is an important principle since every woman’s hair is unique and what works well for one person may not work for another. For example, the cause of hair breakage could be down to stress, certain medications, chemical damage and many other factors, so it makes perfect sense to take an analytical approach to choosing hair products rather than just going on someone else’s say so.
The first step of the Hair Products 101 Process is Understanding the Human Hair Fibre. This chapter is devoted to the scientific structure of afro textured hair and the characteristics of both healthy and damaged hair. It was in this chapter that I found the answer to a question to which I have seen contradictory answers on hair forums.
The question is whether you should detangle the hair when it is wet or dry. I have always detangled my hair when wet when I am applying a conditioner. The answer: if your hair is very curly and you are using a brush or comb, it is better to detangle when wet. But if your natural hair is quite straight, it is better to detangle when it is dry. (p.23)
Step two in the four-step process is Understanding Your Own Hair. In this chapter Chicoro challenges the reader to be reflective and self-inspecting of the hair and scalp and the products currently used but also broader areas of life, since stress can have a detrimental impact on hair.
Step three is devoted to Understanding Product Formulation, which is probably the most significant. Here, Chicoro does not just focus on the most common ingredients used in hair products, but also gives a scientific explanation of what the ingredients do to the hair. For example, shampoos that contain sodium laurel sulphate (SLS) lift the cuticles and degrade or remove protein from the hair.
Step four: Putting It All Together is about connecting all three steps in an analytical way to use as a template for determining the selection of hair products. So for example, before you decide to purchase a protein conditioner that a friend says did wonders for her hair; you need to think about the composition of afro textured hair and how proteins work, reflect on the condition of your own hair and what you have been using in it and what ingredients the conditioner contains, before deciding if it is right for you.
It’s that straightforward! At the end of the book there are some useful case studies to give readers a dry run on how to use the four-step process. There are also sections within the book with space for readers to write notes.
Hair Products 101 is very useful reference book that you will want to dip into every now and again, especially to read over some of the scientific and biological explanations of the hair structure and how different ingredients work. It contains valuable information and I would recommend it to any black woman who is either serious about growing afro textured hair or who just wants to keep it healthy.