Natural hair care products have evolved primarily to address the needs of curly hair. This evolution marked the beginning of the Sulfate-free movement in hair care that has grown beyond the niche group of curly haired women to the mainstream. Today Sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners are the standard for all haircare products that make natural claims. Brands like Deva Curl specialize in sulfate and silicone-free products created specifically for curly hair.
Most mainstream hair care products are formulated with a strong emphasis on removing oil and getting hair squeaky clean through a daily regimen of shampooing and conditioning. Women with curly hair have completely different hair care needs. Curlier hair tends to be drier and typically does not requires daily washing; using “regular” shampoos and conditioners actually work against their needs by stripping and causing hair to become frizzy. Curly hair needs products and ingredients that nourish, moisturize and hydrate the hair.
The ingredients that accomplish these goals tend to be found in nature and many women started making their own hair care products with ingredients like Shea Butter and oils like Olive, Argan, Coconut Oil, Hemp seeds and sweet Almond to name a few. Niche brands that emphasize these natural ingredients are becoming part of the fast growing segment in retail channels like Target, Walmart and CVS. Brands like Oyin Handmade and Shea Moisture both emphasize the natural oils in the product formulas.
Natural hair balms, butters and pomades are staples for most women with thick curly hair. These oil-based products are great for styling and are being utilized in many curly hair regimens. Hair balms and butters contain rich moisturizing shea and cocoa butters, argan, hemp, olive, almond and coconut oils are used to nourish and moisturize dry curls that have been stripped by harsh shampoos.
The primary challenge in formulating natural hair care products is the delicate balance of naturals and effectiveness. When it comes to hair, the effectiveness of the product to deliver the desired result is key and most women will not compromise on efficacy. The major challenge developing natural products for hair is in the area of shampoo, conditioners and other water-based styling products. Finding natural replacements for synthetic ingredients that are important for conditioning, detangling, and strengthening the hair shaft to prevent breakage and promote growth for curly hair can be tricky. Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine, polyquaternium- 7, 10, 28 and Behentrimonium Methosulfate or BTMS are synthetic ingredients that offer excellent conditioning and detangling properties for thicker, curly hair. Without a natural replacement for these ingredients, conditioners would not be as effective even if there were other natural oils in them. Natural oils and butters and other additives like hydrolyzed wheat protein and hydrolyzed keratin are excellent for curly hair and work best when paired with other ingredients like BTMS and Stearamidopropyl dimethylamine.
Formulating natural hair care products that deliver results will require some synthetic additives because of the nature and chemistry of hair. Eliminating sulfates and replacing petrolatum and mineral oils with natural oils and butters is an important step in moving formulations as close to natural as possible. Adding natural additives like aloe vera, panthenol, essential oils and other naturally derived ingredients gives products a more wholesome ingredient list. Loading up on natural replacements can produce formulas that are 80 to 90% natural, which for hair care is a great accomplishment, for a product that is both natural and delivers the desired results.
About the author:
Funlayo Alabi is the co-founder of Shea Radiance, a natural beauty brand dedicated to transforming hair, skin, thinking … and lives into something more beautiful than what it was before. Alabi is a global business leader who speaks domestically and internationally on matters of international business, market and economic access for African women, Africa’s agricultural sector and Shea butter. Alabi and Shea Radiance were selected to be honored in the 2017 Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program offering education, business support services and access to working capital. Shea Radiance was founded in 2008 by Alabi on the premise that women need to care for themselves and each other. Shea Radiance crafts artisanal skincare and haircare products that are all-natural with the purest, small-batch, women-sourced shea butter from West Africa as a primary ingredient. Shea Radiance promotes the power of community and empowerment for women around the globe.