A GUIDE TO PICKING YOUR PRODUCTS
Honestly, we have a lot to say when it comes to the best way to pick products, but if you really just don't have time, why not try out our product picking tool here and we'll do the hard work for you!
Picking products is a very individual thing. What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for the next. That's why whenever I get one of the most frequently asked questions "What products should I use for my natural hair?" I am always hesitant to start reeling off a standard list of products.
As I point out in the FAQs, when you first go natural, I always recommend focusing mainly on increasing your moisture levels, eliminating products with sulphates, silicones and mineral oil, which is why we make a point of stocking as many products as possible without these ingredients (check out how we pick our brands here). After you have an understanding of your hair, you might find that products containing these ingredients actually work well for your hair, and that's fine. However, as a first step, try going without.
So how do you narrow in on specifically what products you need? First of all, it's important to consider the 5 basic steps of a routine: cleansing, conditioning, moisturising, sealing and styling, and then thinking about whether you have a product that works well for you in each category. It is also important to note that some products perform well for multiple functions, for example, the Elucence Moisture Balancing Conditioner is great as a deep conditioner, but also light enough to use as a leave-in (moisturiser), or sudsy enough to use as a cowash.
So let's delve into each category in a bit more detail:
Essentially, washing. This could be by way of a shampoo, whether clarifying or moisturising (depending on your hair's needs), a cowash (washing with conditioner), a detoxifying mud wash (using a clay such as bentonite or rhassoul mixed into a paste with water, aloe vera juice and some oils, depending on preference) or even clarifying with apple cider vinegar or baking soda... but we'll go into these homemade cleansers in more detail in a later post.
Cleansing prepares your hair for the rest of your regimen, and is essential for removing all the grime that has accumulated since your last wash (obviously), and removing build-up that could have occurred in that time, allowing your conditioning and moisturising products to penetrate effectively.
If you haven't been using any particularly heavy products since your last wash, or your hair is feeling particularly dry, a cowash or a moisturising shampoo is perfect for you. If you've been using heavier products (butters, e.g. shea or cocoa butters, or some sort of whip containing these ingredients) or products containing silicones, you'll need a clarifying shampoo once in a while.
Adding the moisture and nutrients back into your hair after washing. With natural hair, it is particularly important never to skip this step especially if you've cleansed with a shampoo. Most naturals will soon discover that with its multiple purposes, conditioner is the one product they can't live without, and they will go through it about ten times faster than they can ever use a bottle of shampoo!
Like cleansers, conditioners come in several different forms depending on need, including rinse-out conditioners, deep conditioners and masks. Products marketed as a rinse out conditioner can be made into a deep conditioner or mask by adding in ingredients such as honey and oil...my staples.
It is important to note that your conditioner should have water as its first ingredient. Some people like to make their own, mixing ingredients you can find in your kitchen, and I frequently have people telling me they condition with a mixture of shea butter and honey (for example), but they are still experiencing dry hair. These ingredients are not sufficient to condition your hair on their own. So the best thing, as I suggested, is to use an actual, ready-made conditioner as a base (doesn't have to be a particularly expensive one), and just mix these ingredients in.
It's extremely important to keep this step in after rinsing out your conditioner, and also during the week between washes. Moisturisers can take the form of lighter conditioners (leave-in conditioners), creams, hair lotions and spritzes.
Again, the difference between moisturisers and sealants should be noted here. Oils are NOT moisturisers. Therefore you cannot moisturise your hair with an oil.
You need to be looking for products with water as the first ingredient, or ensuring water (or aloe vera juice) form the basis of your store-bought or home-made spritzes.
Now, this is where your oils and butters come in. They serve to seal in moisture already present in your hair. Therefore anything oil or butter-based should be used on damp hair, or over a water-based product.
Several sealing products also work well as a styling product. See below.
This depends on how you choose to wear your hair. If you're going to keep your hair in twists, or some other sort of protective style, you will probably find gels or puddings to be unnecessary, and that you're fine twisting with your butter.
For twist outs, braid outs, roller sets, etc., products with hold works best. This includes your gels, curl puddings and setting foams.
Note that in Nigerian humidity, it's best to avoid any product, but especially stylers, with glycerin high up on the ingredients list, if you're wearing some sort of stretched out style. This is because glycerin is a humectant which draws moisture out of the air and to your hair, causing your style to swell, shrink and frizz.
If you want to wear your hair in a wash 'n go, and your hair needs help with defining and holding a curl, I find layering a gel with stronger hold (e.g. Ecostyler Argan Oil gel) over a gel with a softer hold (e.g. SheaMoisture Curling Gel Souffle), to be particularly effective (and conversely, products with glycerin work well here, to introduce some softness to the possible gel crunch).
Once you've figured out all the stages of your regimen, it's quite easy to see where you need additions to your product arsenal. At this point, you can try out a few products from each category to decide on your staples. I find that it's best to find 3 products in each category that are staple products, so that if you can't get your hands on one, you can substitute it for one of the others.
It's also important to play around with products. What might not work for you in the advertised way might be great for you in another way. For example, the SheaMoisture Deep Treatment Masque did nothing for my thirsty tresses as a deep conditioner. But as a product for twist outs and braid outs? Heaven in a jar!
And finally also note that there are several homemade alternatives to each category, but to prevent this post dragging on for years, we can cover this topic in more detail at a later date.
Once you've figured out a basic regimen, you'll soon find it easy to tweak your regimen and possibly find variants that work better for you, or fit best into your lifestyle, like I discuss in this post.
For example, some people like to add in the "pre-poo" step, using a conditioner or oil before they shampoo. I sometimes do, and sometimes don't depending on how much time I have, what products I am using (I tend to pre-poo if I am shampooing, but not if I am conditioning), or generally what mood I'm in.
There are also several treatments that can be added into your routine, such as protein treatments, or you can add in henna and ayurvedic treatments. For some people, this is a necessity, for others not so much. Again, this is about research, trial & error, but yet again, more on this at a later date!
Yup, we warned you, it's a lot of info! If it's too much, try out our product picking tool here and we'll do the hard work for you!