As we become more aware about exactly what ingredients are in our products and what they’re doing to our skin, hair and body, we’ve also been introduced to a slew of clean, healthier alternatives. Natural skincare brands have exploded in popularity over the past few years, and clean hair brands aren’t far behind. Using clean hair products on natural “afro” hair is especially beneficial, especially when it comes to the way the natural oils affect the strength and growth of our curls. With thousands of products on the market all claiming to be clean and good for your hair, it’s important to understand how to cut through the marketing speak and choose the brands that deliver on what they promise.
Whether you wear your hair natural and styled in an afro, braided, or concealed under wigs, it’s important to treat it with utmost care by using the right products. Afro hair—the type 3 to type 4 coils and curls—needs moisture and plenty of oils for it to be healthy and happy. Luckily, there are plenty of products on the market to help nourish your coils with natural, hydrating formulas. Keep scrolling for our recs.
(As of now, the FDA has not regulated the use of the word “clean” in relation to beauty products, but we take it to mean that the product is free of ingredients proven to be harmful to your health. We’ve put together a carefully-selected list of ingredients in our Clean Beauty Pledge, so you know exactly what we mean when we call a product clean. The list includes parabens, sulfates (SLS), triclosan and triclocarban, PEGs, phthalates, and more.)
Use a Pre-Shampoo Treatment
Your pre-wash is equally important as the main washing event. Applying a simple product like coconut oil to your hair before cleansing will help it avoid what’s known as “hygral fatigue.” Hygral fatigue is when the hair is wet and the hair shaft expands and fills with water and then contracts as it dries; over time, this can weaken the hair structure. One way to avoid this is by applying an oil to the hair, which not only binds the proteins already in your hair, but also means fewer water molecules get through the hair shaft to cause excess swelling. Coconut oil is a great natural alternative to apply beforehand; or we recommend the Camille Rose Coconut Water Curl Coating Cowash. Designed to strengthen the scalp’s barrier by feeding essential nutrients to the hair shaft, the primer acts as the perfect base before shampooing. Formulated with coconut water, ghee butter, avocado oil and vitamin E, the infusion allows for a strong foundation that will protect the hair before cleansing.
Tip: Coat your hair in this primer and place a shower cap over your hair for around 30 minutes.
Choose a Sulfate-Free Shampoo
When it comes to cleansing your hair, it is important for afro hair to not be over-washed. You need to use products that will gently cleanse the hair without stripping it of its natural oils. If you’re looking for a clean option, we recommend the Charcoal Coconut Clarifying Shampoo by Anita Grant. It’s a sulfate-free shampoo that uses activated charcoal to remove toxins, purify the scalp, and reduce irritation.
Condition Before Detangling
After cleansing your hair, applying a conditioner or leave-in conditioner is a great way to add additional moisture and detangle the hair without pulling, tugging or breaking it with a comb. We like the Shea butter-infused Innersense Hydrating Hair Masque and Anita Grant’s Double Cream Moisture Balance Leave-In Curl Conditioner. This water-based conditioner was formulated to deeply penetrate the scalp with enriching ingredients like vitamins A, E K and F, omega-3 and 6, as well as cocoa butter. The biological compounds that make up this conditioner allow for it to strengthen the hair, as well as lock in moisture and help the tedious detangling process.
Tip: Always detangle with your fingers or a wide-toothed comb or detangling brush.
Choose Products for the L.O.C. Method
Before styling, it’s vital to follow the L.O.C. (Liquid Oil Cream) method of moisturizing your hair. Spritz your hair with a hydrating mist, like the Flora & Curl Jasmine Oasis Hydrating Hair Mist; aside from being plant-powered, sulfate-, silicone- and everything-free, this natural mist hydrates, softens and soothes hair with a potent mix of clean botanicals (think organic rose water for hydration and aloe vera to lock in moisture). Layer on a light oil afterwards, like the African Citrus Bloom Superfruit Hair Oil, to help your curls retain their moisture; made with a mix of jojoba, kalahari, crambe and baobab oils, the oil seals in moisture and protects your curls. Finish off with a curl cream—for a failproof clean pick, we recommend the Inahsi Coconut Avocado Curl Defining Custard, which acts as both a styling product and thick cream to help moisturize and strengthen the hair.
Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015 Jan-Mar;7(1):2-15. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.153450.