Saturday, June 28, 2014

Key Ingredients For Curlies: Sulfate Free Cleansers

Most of you parents and caregivers know by now that sulfates can ruin your child's curls - leaving a stripped dry mop begging for revival to its full, moist and bouncy potential.  You may also becoming hip to the fact that you really want to minimize shampooing, even with the gentlest of cleansers and defer instead to using conditioner or a co-wash for most cleansing procedures.

However, there are just times in your kid's life that a thorough sudsy head cleansing is required - especially if you have been using styling and conditioning products that promote build-up.   Sulfate free cleansers are all the rage, even for straight haired folks.  Here is a cheat sheet to help you better recognize the gentler surfactants (cleansing agents) when the label does not clearly indicate that the product is  sulfate-free.

Common Sulfate Surfactants

Ammonium lauryl sulfate
Sodium lauryl sulfate
Sodium dodecyl sulfate
Sodium laureth sulfate
Sodium lauryl ether sulfate
Sodium myreth sulfate.

Common Sulfate Free Surfactants

Sodium C14-17 alkyl sulfonate
Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Sodium cocoamphoacetate
Lauryl glucoside
Sodium cocoyl glutamate
Sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate
Decyl polyglucoside
Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate
Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate

Friday, June 27, 2014

Key Ingredients for Curlies: Marine Botanicals and Bamboo

I thought that I would explore some interesting botanicals that are great for curly hair.

Marine Botanicals

Simply put plants that grow in the ocean are excellent for hair and skin in general, and great for curly hair in particular.  Various kinds of seaweed and algae are highly mineralized so always strengthen the hair follicle from root to tip, thus preventing breakage and adding necessary nutrients that aid in growth.

Frequently, sea plants have a gelatinous quality when macerated and filtered, so they are great natural alternatives to conventional hair gels, providing soft hold without tack or crunchiness.

Additionally, seaweed and algae have humectant properties, meaning they attract moisture to the hair strand, from the environment or from the scalp itself - so they make an excellent vehicle for moisture retention for curlies that are sensitive to glycerin.

Marine botanicals also have film-forming properties - meaning they coat the hair strand - which in turn means that they prevent moisture loss and encourage curl definition and clumping.

Marine botanicals frequently show up under the following INCI names in your hair products:

  • Sea Kelp Bioferment
  • Kelp Extract
  • Algae Extract
  • Seaweed Extract
  • Chondrus Crispus (Irish Moss)


Bamboo has been around for a while in the eco-world and used for clothing, flooring, housewares and fencing.  It's appearance in the beauty industry is relatively recent.  Even though bamboo extracts are great in skin products as well (usually for adult facial products), I will be focusing solely on their value in hair products.

Bamboo is rich in silica, which really strengthens the hair shaft, in addition to coating it and fortifying it.  Bamboo adds a slippery and sleek look and feel to the hair, thus promoting shine, aiding in detangling and giving a more polished look to your curls without the crunch or greasiness usually associated with moist bouncy curls.

Bamboo also volumizes thin or fine hair without creating bulk for those already blessed with a lot of hair.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Key Ingredients for Curlies: Behentrimonium Methosulfate & Ammonium Salts

It is all well and good to look at the ingredients of your hair products, checking for things that might be bad for your family, but in the absence of the usual suspects- parabens, fragrance, sulfates etc - what should you make of the ingredients that remain?

This month we will be focusing on some key ingredients that make a product potentially great for curly hair.  This will help you in your search for the perfect cleansers, conditioners and styling agents - even if the product is not marketed as being customized for your kid's particular hair type.

I will limit each post to no more than 2 categories, with examples so as to avoid overwhelm.

Behentrimonium Methosulfate

This is a conditioning agent that helps with wet combing and detangling.  It is great for all hair types and is wonderful for tight curls and coils.  It is the mildest of all the synthetic conditioning agents on the market and is gentle enough to use on babies and children.  It is also suitable for leave-in products so even if the conditioner is not marketed as such, it is worth trying it as a leave-in on dripping wet hair.  It is derived from the Colza plant from which rapeseed oil is produced.

Ammonium Salts

The most common ammonium salts that you will see in hair products are centrimonium chloride, stearalkonium chloride, behentrimonium chloride, honeyquat and a variety of polyquaternium and quaternium salts.
They vary in how friendly they are towards small bodies, but most of them are quite safe. ( A quick look at the skin deep scale should let you know how comfortable you feel putting the said product on your child's hair or scalp.)  The presence of ammonium salts in a list of ingredients suggest the possibility of the following properties
 - superior wet and dry combing
- antistatic properties
- strong detangling properties
- superior curl definition.

The downside of these ingredients are that they do tend to build up in the hair - particularly the polyquaternium and quaternium salts.  This however may also not be the case if used in really low percentages.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

EWG Skin Deep Scale and Whole Foods Premium Body Care Standards

These, in our opinion, are the web's 2 best places for understanding whether the ingredients in your favorite shampoo are friends or foes.  Just because something has a long scientific name, it does not necessarily mean that it is toxic.  Even with that said, it is more than wise to stick whenever possible with an ingredient list that is basic and simple to understand.

If you come across cosmetic chemicals (or even food grade chemicals) that you are unfamiliar with, the EWG Skin Deep scale is the place to go to ascertain how toxic or friendly it actually is.  You just type in the chemical compound of choice in the allotted space and their little search engine will churn out a number for you, between 0 and 10 - with 0 being not harmful (e.g. olive oil) and 10 being highly toxic.

The numbers are based on decades of scientific research and EWG will actually give you the necessary reference information should you need it, that supports it.

EWG also has many food and cosmetic brands in its database that you can check out in a similar way.

Generally speaking - you should not use anything with a rating higher than 4 on babies or children.  This is just my opinion.

Whole Foods deserves big kudos lately for really narrowing down what they will allow in their personal care aisles.  This was not always the case.  In recent years, they implemented their Whole Foods Premium Body Care Standards and published a list of hundreds of chemicals that they will not permit on their shelves.  This list of "ingredients unacceptable for skin care"
, in concert with the Skin Deep scale is also a good way to ascertain whether your children's (or your own) body care products are safe to use on a regular basis.

Bear in mind that the Whole Foods List also includes a few ingredients that are actually safe like willow bark extract and cocamidapropyl betaine, but which are irritants to a small segment of the population. So that might not make the product concerned a throw away for you.

Either way, these two resources are great for parents or caregivers who are pressed on time but want to be sure they are doing the right thing for their child.  It shaves off quite a few minutes from having to slog through your Google search results.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Create Your Own Herb Infused Oils

Herb Infused oils

What Are They

Herb infused oils are precisely what they sound like.  Specifically, they are carrier oils that have had fresh or dried herbs infused into them over time, and now carry some properties of the relevant herb(s).

How Are They Made and Can You Make Them Yourself?

You absolutely can make them yourself, and frankly, I feel this is the best way to guarantee the quality and potency of the final product.  Not all herb infused oils are created equally, and this is of course dependent on the quality of the initial ingredients and the method of infusion chosen.

Choosing Ingredients

Ideally, you want to shoot for organic, wildcrafted or at the very least guaranteed pesticide free herbs.  Herbs can be fresh or dry, but honestly for certain methods, as will be discussed below, dry is usually better.  Unless the moisture is completely evaporated, I personally wonder about the possibility of introducing bacteria in a situation where water and oil have been allowed to mix without a preservative. 

Of course you could use conventionally grown herbs for some reason of convenience (perhaps price or ease of access) but in all honesty, if you are going out of your way to make something this special, a few extra bucks (and usually that’s all it is) on guaranteeing that you are not also infusing pesticides and herbicides into something that you will use on your child’s head is worth the price.

Cold pressed and virgin oils are always best – they carry the most nutrients.  Organic, wild-crafted and or pesticide free still applies.  The price jump for this quality becomes much more bearable when you are buying in bulk. 

Be aware that some oils are more sensitive to having their nutrition content altered than others.  For example I would never use grapeseed or sunflower oils for any infusion method involving heat.  I might use olive (albeit reluctantly) and sesame in a pinch.  Ideally for heat infusion I would use coconut oil.  Sesame oil has been used for heat infusion traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine, for centuries, for topical applications, so I might use sesame too, in cases where for whatever reason, coconut oil is not preferred.

The Solar Folk Method of Infusion

Quite honestly, this is the only method I feel comfortable using.  I am however bracing myself to try an oil-water exchange (how most ayurvedic oils are made.)  I just haven’t come round to it yet.

The advantages of the solar folk method are that it is the easiest of all methods to do and produces the highest quality oil when done properly.  The disadvantage is that the infusion process happens over the course of 6 to 12 weeks, so you have to wait forever for your oil to be ready.  Basically all this consists of is filling a mason jar all the way to the top with herbs (or at least 7/8 full) then pouring oil over those herbs until the mason jar is full once again.)  You then want to seal the jar with its appropriate lid, and place it on the sunniest window sill in your home or work space for 6 to 12 weeks.  I realize that this is a long range, but it is dependent really on the following factors

-          How much sun is your infusion receiving?  If your sunniest window is still kind of shady because of the climate you live in, the season or the positioning of your home, then you are better off leaving it for longer.
-          Longer times are also beneficial for window sills that do not receive a lot of warmth.
-          How strong do you want this blend to be?  Were you for whatever reason unable to fill the jar with herbs at least 75% full?  Then a longer infusion time might help to make up the strength gap a little bit.

During the time that your oil is perched on the window sill, you will need to shake it “daily” just to make sure all the goodness is being distributed and to help the process along.  Once a day is sufficient.  (Psst… to be completely honest – if you miss a few days here and there and only do it a few times a week, your infusion will not be a fail.)  I promise you, unless you are a Type A personality and you have all the time in the world, there will be days where you just … forget.

Best Herbs for Hair

Some of the best herbs to try for hair blends are nettles, rosemary, marshmallow root, lavender, sage, hibiscus, neem, horsetail, chamomile and gingko biloba.  I will go more into the properties of such herbs in a future post.  Good luck infusing and let us know how it turned out for you.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Oil Reviews: Part 4 - Avocado, Marula and Baobab


Avocado oil makes a great all purpose oil for natural, curly and coily hair textures.  Even organic and fair trade versions are relatively inexpensive.  It moisturizes quite well, without being overly greasy.  It is however a wet oil, so I would limit it as a finishing oil to just on wash day (especially for free hair in dry weather) and on the ends in between washes.  Otherwise, for pre-poos, deep conditioning and oil rinsing – have at it.

It also is a great moisturizer for skin, but I prefer it at a lower percentage in blends, because it is a little heavier.  It comes highly recommended by many for people with sensitive skin.


This amazing oil, along with its two counterparts tsamma melon seed oil(reviewed in the previous blog ) and baobab oil, is one of the most celebrated cosmeceuticals to come out of Southern Africa.  It is extremely nourishing for both skin and hair and is starting to show up in many mainstream hair products.

I find it to be a lighter wet oil when used on skin, though most people experience it to be a very fast absorbing dry oil.  The fast absorbing quality makes it ideal for moisturizing the face, for people with oily skin and for curlies with baby fine hair that can’t handle heavy oils. 

It is expensive as all get out so on thirsty curly hair it is best used as a sealing oil or finishing oil between washes.  (Yes it is light enough for this.)  If you can afford it, I don’t see why you could not try it as a pre-poo or oil rinsing oil, but at over $11.00 per ounce, on average – unless you buy it in bulk, that is prohibitive for most folks, especially if you have more than one curly head of hair in your household.  It is also great in a blend with other expensive oils if you want to stretch it out a bit, or whipped with your favorite butter.

I feel that the fairly traded product from Shea Terra is the best quality baobab oil that I have experienced, but if you plan on buying a ton of it, New Directions Aromatics has the best price I have seen on it.


This is one of my favorite oils for the face, when I have it on hand.  It also works really well on the hair and acts very similarly to both marula and watermelon seed oil in its nourishing and absorption tendencies.  That is to say, it is light, yet highly emollient.

For some reason that I find rather baffling, it is cheaper than marula oil.  In my perception, having been raised in Zimbabwe, I thought marula trees were more abundant than baobabs, therefore the cold pressed oil of the latter would be more “precious.”  Clearly, there are some facts in play that I do not understand because that is not the case.

Either way, it is still more expensive than your run of the mill health food store or beauty supply oil, so realistically for most families, it will be used as a face oil, or a finishing/ sealing oil on wash day and between washes. 

It works on every hair type and is available from Shea TerraOrganics and From Nature With Love, at an amazing price I might add.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Oil Review Part 3: Pomegranate, Argan, Castor, Grapeseed and Pracaxi Oils


I initially bought this oil for skincare (for myself and to try in a custom blend for a client.)  Truthfully, for this purpose, despite it’s rave reviews  (apparently Lupita Nyong'o loves it and we all know her skin is FLAWLESS,) it really did not blow my skirt up.  I found it a little too slow to absorb for my taste, especially on the face.  However, fast forward to a few months later, it occurred to me to try it on Jubilee’s hair, albeit reluctantly, for no other reason than I had it and could not bear to throw it away.  (I am an ingredient junkie.) 

Wow.  Now this oil blew my dreads back.  It is light and easily absorbed in hair.  It works well for daily use between washes, as well as sealing on wash days.

The price though, however is a little prohibitive for pre-poos, oil rinsing and any hair projects involving massive amounts of oil (unless you’ve got it like that.)

It blends well with other oils so makes a good mixing oil for expensive hair finishing oil blends.

The best price for pomegranate oil that I have found is from New Directions Aromatics.


This Morrocan oil is becoming more and more mainstream, and with good reason.  A lot of people love it for skin and hair, even on its own without any mixing.  As far as curly hair is concerned it is a great finishing oil.  It absorbs quite well on most hair types and is suitable for daily use.  I do find it way too light for pre-poo’s and oil rinses.  It is also quite costly, which makes use beyond sealing purposes prohibitive for many.
I love to blend it with other oils in our Oggboo formulas for its nutritive properties (we only use an organic, fair-trade and cold pressed argan oil in our products.)

A lot of curlies love it on their skin too, because it is also suitable for use on the face at all ages.

The best place to buy a high quality Argan Oil, in my opinion is Shea Terra Organics.  Be sure to sign up for their newsletter which frequently offers great deals, including 30% off coupons on a regular basis.


This may be my favorite hair oil of all time.  It absorbs well in so many different textures of hair, from straight to curly, and is great for the scalp.  It does not build up easily and is quite affordable when you buy it from your local grocery store.

Grapeseed oil works well as a pre-poo, oil rinse and sealing oil.   It also blends beautifully with other oils.


This exotic Brazilian oil is definitely an interesting one for most curlies.  It is heavier and stickier than I expected, so I recommend either using it for a pre-poo or oil rinse.  I am not wild about it as a sealing oil, or daily finishing oil between washes because of the stickiness, for any hair texture, but I think it is an excellent choice for deep conditioning, the above mentioned purposes and blending with other oils and butters.

It defines curls nicely too!

It is rather expensive though, but used in a blend a little goes a long way.  The best quality and price I have found for it is from New Directions Aromatics.


If your child has thin hair, baby baldness, slow growing hair, scalp issues or is still trying to recover from patches hair patches lost or growing slowly because of infant sleeping positions, then castor oil is your friend.  It is also highly moisturizing so works great on very dry and coarse textures of hair too.  For lighter textures it is too heavy to leave in, so I suggest using it only as a pre-poo.

Castor oil promotes hair growth and thickening, and balances an itchy scalp.  It also provides moisture for days, making it the ideal sealant for a protective style that you intend to keep in for a while.

It is definitely not suitable for daily use if you are not washing the hair every day.  It is quite inexpensive and is easy to get at any health food store or online.

Jamaican Black Castor Oil is my favorite.  It is a darker color because the beans are roasted first, and it is purportedly the resulting ash content of this oil that makes it even more effective.  The roasted version does smell a bit ashy, so you will definitely want to haul out your favorite essential oil for use with that one.

Products that contain castor oil also make excellent choices for thicker, tighter and thirstier textures of hair, like 3’s and 4’s.