As I have alluded to earlier, I have tried many products throughout my natural short curly afro journey. Some have worked, at least initially, but most, if I were to be brutally honest, have not! With a few exceptions, the ones that have worked continually – with my hair getting healthier and more manageable with each use – are the products that are not really marketed as “hair products”. They are the staples (in part or combined); easily found in my kitchen or bathroom cupboard no less. They have given my hair life!
Below is a list of staples every natural sporting an afro must have:
Distilled or Filtered Water
While tap water – with all of the associated minerals (i.e. fluoride) can be great for the teeth, it can be anything but for the hair. Small changes, such as adding water filters to remove heavy water, using distilled water (my preference) or any other means to ensure your hair is not exposed to harsh elements can have a significant improvement in the texture of hair. (Bottom line – any water that touches my hair must be soft water; I do not care how Diva-like this sounds. My hair simply cannot handle heavy water!)
I cannot say enough about aloe vera be it directly from the plant (preferably two years old), or bottled as a juice or gel. This stuff is amazing, in part, due to the added nourishment for the hair, but also because it has an optimal pH range (4.5-5.5) that hair loves. It is great to use right on damp hair or can dampen hair with it. (One word comes to mind when I am out of my aloe vera – panic!)
Apple Cider Vinegar
This stuff is a true staple for any curly girl – especially one that has a short curly afro. The key to using ACV is making sure it is organic and has “the mothers” – the sediment at the bottom of your ACV jar that contains raw enzymes and gut-friendly bacteria – all things necessary for overall health. When using on hair, there are various degrees of dilutions, but generally, 2 tablespoons of ACV to 8 ounces of filtered/distilled water should suffice.
Given hair is essentially made up of proteins, and eggs are a natural source of protein, eggs are vital for hair health. They are what I use to do my weekly co-washings (yep!) and they are what help my curls pop. (Note when using egg in hair: a) a few drops of essential oil and/or lemon goes a long way and 2) use look-warm/cool water – filtered or distilled – to rinse; if water is too hot, the egg will literally cook on your hair!)
Who would have thought that after being chased around the house by my parents to have my honey as a child, I would be obsessed with honey as an adult. Honey, like many of the other ingredients on this list, is excellent for your overall health, but for your hair, given it is a humectant and natural cleanser, it is excellent to add to your co-wash. The key to honey is to make sure it is pure – free of any pesticides and/ or chemicals – and generally speaking, bought locally. Also, if using honey on the hair, note that different honeys can affect your hair differently. For instance, buckwheat honey – dark in colour and a source of iron – I found to be heavy on my hair. Generally, when using honey for my hair, I prefer the lighter coloured versions (which tend to be lower in iron than the darker honeys) – for instance clover. (My choice of course!) (Sidebar: Honey is a great facial cleanser; it is what I have been using to effectively cleanse my face for over five years!)
This is an absolutely amazing seed. Not only are flax seeds great for your insides (your are what you pooh!) but they are just as fabulous for your hair, namely, when used to make flaxseed gel. If you are frugal, like myself, it is well worth a try!
There are many great essential oils out there – enticing the senses and all, but given they can be pricy, I choose the ones specific to my hair and overall health needs. For instance, I do not wash my hair with any type of shampoo (no, I’m not nasty, I’ve just accepted the fact my hair does not like shampoo – gentle, harsh or anything in between). Add to this, I do not use traditional conditioner; I make my own shampoo/conditioner – co-wash – making sure to add essential oils that enhance my co-washing routine. At the moment, I am loving peppermint oil. Not only does this oil smell great and adds that tingling sensation on my scalp, it is also great for blood circulation and hence helps prevent hair loss (great if you wish to grow your hair longer and/or maintain a full, healthy afro). Also, not for nothing, peppermint oil maintains overall scalp/hair hygiene (To a lesser degree, it is great for the prevention and treatment of lice; other essential oils more powerful for lice treatment are – tea tree, lavender and neem – to name a few)
Carrier Oils and Butters
Not all oils/butters are created equal for any given individual. Despite the rave reviews of coconut oil, my hair hates it. Coconut Oil + My Hair = Cement (I cannot explain this; I just accept it for what it is!) Also, shea butter, though my skin loves it, my hair absolutely rejects it! In contrast, however, my hair cannot get enough of jojoba oil; it has a positive effect on my hair. The more I use jojoba oil, the more my hair needs it, the healthier my hair becomes. (go figure!)
Personally, I feel a Denman brush is a must have for all hair types, but especially for accentuating curls in short afro hair. If you happen to be the few in the natural community who is yet to own a Denman, get one (or some variation of one!)
The possession of scissors to cut your own hair is completely optional. Though you need frequent hair cuts, I do not recommend you cut your hair yourself (at least not without much appreciation and know-how of your hair; this takes time). Currently, I cut my own hair (though definitely on the look out for a curly girl specialist!). This has not always been the case, but after much acceptance and understanding my hair texture, when needed, I feel comfortable cutting my own hair. (Bottom line, make sure to get frequent hair cuts – flattering to your face structure)