Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Do I need to "straighten" up and fly right in 2009?


It's possible I'm verging on militant when it comes to curls. Am I alarmed by this epiphany? Only a little. Which is further proof that I may have a problem.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs today, babyassface, wherein Jennifer is extolling the virtues of the Conair Infiniti Hair Designer. Jennifer claims to not have "good curly hair," and there's certainly not a curly-headed person in the world who hasn't shared that sentiment at one time or another about his or her own hair. And if you've tried a million ways to make your do what you believe it ought to do, and it simply refuses to obey, what alternative seems more expedient than to straighten it? The Conair Infiniti Hair Designer accomplishes this, at least for Jennifer. And you gotta love a story with a happy ending.

(I tried another Tourmaline ceramic product in the Conair Infiniti line a couple of years ago, hoping for the results that Jennifer apparently got. I was hugely disappointed, but then, I never have been very good at wielding hot appliances around my head. Maybe if I had more confidence with them, I'd get better results.)

But back to my militancy. Is it wrong that I am disappointed that yet another curly-haired person has had to seek refuge in straightened hair in order to feel presentable/sexy/well-groomed? I honestly don't know. I haven't straightened since August 2007 and I don't think I'm wearing it as a badge of honor, but am I kidding myself? Why does it bug me so much that society deems only certain types of hair "pretty" and that straight hair is so consistently lauded?

My reaction is so strange to me because I am a girl who loves her accessories. I even have hairpieces that I wear on occasion just to give myself a different look. So why am I so opposed to straightening my hair?

Is there a doctor in the house? Calling all head-shrinkers! Please diagnose my anti-staightening obsession.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cold weather hair care


Have you been confused about why so many of the products you normally rely on suddenly seem to have stopped working their magic? The answer: WINTER.

(Apologies if you live in a different hemisphere and are in the middle of a humid summer. I promise to cover that more in depth in about 6 months...)

Back in August, humidity might have been the demon you were fighting and so you adapted your routine to keep moisture out because there was just too much of it in the air. Summertime dew points were upwards of 55 and the weather was warm. Now, maybe your dew points are more in 'teens and twenties and it's much colder. Does that really affect how products perform? Does it ever. Laurabeth has a fantastic post about the difference in hot and cold weather and the effect on hair, if you care to learn more from an expert.

When the weather gets cold, your primary goal is to keep your hair moisturized. It's impossible to get the moisture from the air, so you have to use products that will do the trick. This means lots of aloe vera, creams, and butters (if you hair can tolerate butters). Humectants such as honey or glycerine may defeat your purposes -- remembers that humectants pull moisture wherever it's needed, so if the hair is dryer than your hair, guess where the humectant will pull from to try to hydrate the air??

In addition to the dew point situation, you also have to remember that your hair cuticle is tighter (like most things, hair contracts when it's cold). This means that not much pollution is getting in, sure, but it also means that not much moisture can, either. Even the type you apply yourself. Where does that leave you? For some people, it means just using bigger helpings of moisture. For others, it means applying moisture more than once a day. If you're in an environment where heaters are running to combat the cold, consider that a double whammy -- the air is already devoid of moisture and now the heater is making things even drier. Oy vey, what's a girl to do?

- Use heavier conditioners. Now is the time for serious stuff, not the empty conditioners I'm always railing against anyway. You want to pull out your Aubrey Honeysuckle Rose or White Camellia or Island Naturals, your Jessicurl Too Shea, your Karen's Body Beautiful Hair Milk. Try to leave some in or if you aren't a fan of that, add some as a leave-in.

- Ditch the light leave-ins. Especially if your dew point is below 20, just don't waste your time with anything that doesn't contain some oil or shea butter. (Try to stick to jojoba, coconut, and other hair-friendly oils. Stay away from mineral oil, also known as parafinium liquidum. Depending on your hair, you might also want to steer clear of castor oil, but I'll leave that to you to decide.

- Use creamy curl cremes. I'm a fan of Pink Boots curl creme, but in this cold weather, it is not enough unless I put something under it (yes, in addition to my leave-in). Curl cremes I've been loving so far this winter include Loma Imply, Donna Marie's Lock & Twist (just a little goes a LONG way), and Karen's Body Beautiful Super Silky. All of these are excellent! They either contain no glycerine at all or have it in very minute amounts.

- Avoid gels that contain humectants. I've noticed that I get better results with, say, Max Green Alchemy Sculpting gel as opposed to Biotera. Aubrey's B5 gel is really fabulous in this weather.

Not sure what constitutes a humectant? Check out this article for some guidance. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the article for a list of humectant names in products.

- Consider scrunching out your crunch with the help of a butter. Jane Carter's Nourish and Shine was a favorite among many last year, but this year, I'm hearing raves about Karen's Body Beautiful Hair Cream as well as Butter. (I don't personally scrunch out this way but many curlies have success with it. I'll be trying it when I'm in New England next week -- their dew point is scary low.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My true identity

I have too many identities and for anybody who might care enough to be confused, I thought I'd clarify things in this post.

My name is Jill. Hence the "jillipoo" at NaturallyCurly.com and the name in this blog's URL.

The Botticelli Babe title was my own creation back at the end of 2007 but subsequent to that, a woman who posts a lot on the discussion boards at NaturallyCurly.com calls herself that. (Which is perfectly fine -- it's not copyright protected or anything.) But I am not that woman, although I wish I were because her hair is fabulous and she is famous for cooking up awesome hair potions in her kitchen.

So who is "Sage Vivant" who signs all these posts? She is my nom de plume. I used to write erotica under that name and that's how Google knows me. I was too lazy to register another name for this blog. If you are interested in my sexual self-help book, Your Erotic Personality, by all means, visit SageVivant.com and learn all about it. I would, of course, be extremely grateful if you bought a copy of the book, especially since I'm pretty sure my agent and my publisher think I've dropped off the face of the earth.

And there you have it. And you thought I was going to tell you I was Wonder Woman, didn't you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weird Product Wednesday: Greg Juice


Ever buy a product and not be entirely sure what it's supposed to do? Such behavior is a telltale sign of product junkieism, and I was afflicted with it when I bought Oyin Handmade's Greg Juice.

Is it a conditioner? A detangler? A curl rejuvenator? Or is it so full of herbs and essential oils that you feel virtuous just owning it?

This is one of those products that can be whatever you want it to be. Which at first vexed the hell out of me because I have been trained to read instructions and use a given product in the manner and for the purpose that the manufacturer has deemed appropriate. Yeah, that's right -- I'm a product lemming.

One thing that going CG (Curly Girl) has taught me is to get creative with products. Mix them together. Apply to wet as well as dry hair. Add them to your eggs in the morning. As you learn what ingredients your hair likes and how it likes to receive them, you also learn how to break out of narrow product label restrictions.

Given what's in this product:

- water infused with horsetail, lavender, roses, chamomile, and nettle
- aloe vera juice
- organic flax seeds
- vegetable glycerine

You can assume that it will:

- smell nice
- provide moisture
- inspire some clumping
- attract moisture from the air (if there is any)

As with many products that are designed for a certain type of hair (in this case, thick, possibly wiry, very curly hair), its benefits will vary with the quantity one uses. The label says it "softens loose hair to ease detangling" and I'm not entirely sure what "loose hair" means in this context but I'm willing to just go with the detangling part. It also says that a "quick spritz helps refresh thirsty locks," and that's the first way I used it.

I sprayed it on dry hair one night when I knew I'd be in all night. I figured in the event of a hair disaster, I didn't want to be out in public. I spritzed as suggested on the bottle and didn't touch it. Then I sat at my computer and got involved in something for at least 30 minutes before remembering to check on my hair. It was much curlier! But it was also a little frizzy. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the curl factor.

I tried it another night and got lots of curl again but less frizz. Hmmm. I was feeling hopeful.

I tried it yet another night and just got frizz, with very little increase in curls. But it's worth noting that with this application, I scrunched the product in, and possibly used too much.

Based on the weather conditions and the state of my hair in all three cases, I came to believe that when weather conditions make my hair a little dry at the end of the day, Greg Juice is a viable way to give them a necessary drink.

And then I saw that Shellynot used it on wet hair before applying gel. I liked this idea and so I applied it before using Biotera. And for the first time since going CG -- EIGHT MONTHS into it, in fact -- I had my very first great hair day that actually lasted all day. That combo has since worked well for me almost every time I've tried it since.

So. We have success with the mysterious Greg Juice as a hair rejuventor and a ... what? Pre-gel application? Post leave-in? There is no name for the function of this product! And that's just weird.

Final tip: Don't use too much. Your hair will get a little sticky and weighed down.

Also, there is a Frank Juice and a Juice and Berries -- they are all the same except for fragrance. So if you don't care for the way Greg Juice smells, try the others.

How did this product get such a weird name? Read about it here on Oyin Handmade's site.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Animal testing


Here's the part where people will label me with all kinds of nasty names and accuse me of having no heart or soul.

I just saw a post on one of my more frequented message boards where the poster said she didn't want to use L'Oreal products because they did animal testing. (To make matters worse, another poster then made a totally unsubstantiated claim that L'Oreal had links to Nazi Germany. Hey, thanks for throwing that out there. It's always a great idea to spread rumors when you have no evidence -- the Internet thrives on that kind of fastidious fact-checking.) But back to my original point about L'Oreal and animal testing in general. [Addendum: Turns out the Nazi Germany link is not pure rumor, despite the poster's lack of knowledge about it. There is a book on the subject, if anybody is interested: Bitter Scent: The Case of L'Oreal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott. ]

I do not claim to have an inside line on what happens within the walls of the huge conglomerate cosmetics companies, but I have read some interesting commentaries and observations by people who do. For instance, in this Beauty Brains post, they point out that the companies who proclaim that they do not test on animals are simply using ingredients that other companies have already tested. So, yes, those companies can safely make their claim, but what they're really doing is profiting from some other company's "dirty" work, no? Paula Begoun, author of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, also writes on her Web site that:

Many companies proudly boast that they do not test their products on animals. Nonetheless, despite the fact that they don't test their finished products on animals, there isn't a company selling a sunscreen or using vitamins or myriad plant extracts in their products that doesn't know about the efficacy of these ingredients based on recent or current animal testing. While it is wonderful that companies like Beauty without Cruelty do not test their products on animals, as is true for many companies, a good many of their formulations are a result of animal research. If Beauty without Cruelty does excel in one area, it is that none of their products are sourced from animals. That is somewhat unique in the industry and definitely a plus for vegans.


Okay, but that doesn't get to the issue of the big companies that actually do the testing. I keep digressing....

The FDA doesn't require or discourage animal testing -- it just says that companies must use whatever method best substantiates the safety of their products. Unfortunately, although great strides are being made in the product testing arena, animal testing continues to be a highly reliable (in many cases, the most reliable) method of determining how a product will interact with humans. New methods are being developed all the time, and that is definitely a good thing. It will be a great day when no animals are sacrificed just so we can be prettier.

My research once again brought me back to the Beauty Brains, who wrote an excellent post about how this issue is simply not as black and white as most consumers would like to think.

So what about L'Oreal? I found lots of evidence to indicate that even if L'Oreal had once been an offender, it is determined to change its ways. This highly encouraging story at the cosmetics news site, Cosmeticsdesign.com that indicates L'Oreal is taking some very positive steps to move away from animal testing. And that story is more than a year old.

Another cosmetics insider site, Invitroskin, indicates that L'Oreal has discovered a new way of product testing called Episkin, which is essentially a human epidermis reconstructed on collagen.

I don't know about you, but I think it might be time to stop bashing L'Oreal for animal testing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cationic polymers (or: Why I didn't major in chemistry in college)


Yikes. Looking pretty is a hell of a lot easier than learning how products do what they do.

I spent about 30 minutes researching this cationic polymer issue that was the subject of my previous post. And yes, it's amazing what you can find online, but I didn't understand most of it because they talked in terms of molecule chains. I'm the girl who took nutrition classes to get out of taking chemistry back in college. Get what I'm saying? 95% of it was over my curly head.

But fortunately, Tonya -- the Curl Chemist at NaturallyCurly.com -- had written a column a while back that I think tells those of us with inquiring minds what we need to know. I'll try to sum it up in a paragraph. Here goes.

Cationic polymers are most often identified by Polyquarternium and some number. Polyquat-4 is water-soluble and does not result in build-up. Polyquat-10 is more prone to build-up than Polyquat-4, and Tonya says that guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride performs in a very similar manner. Polyquat-11, which I personally avoid because it kills my curls and makes my hair feel unnatural, does indeed build up. Furthermore, Tonya says that many polyquats can be resistant to removal even by clarifying shampoos. I don't know if she means sulfates when she refers to clarifying shampoos.

Most of her article is too scientific for me, but if you love molecular talk, check it out at the link I provided earlier. At least what she wrote was a bit more accessible than what I found elsewhere on the Web.

Bottom line is that the Beauty Brains were correct in expressing real concern about cationic polymers (although to say that all of them are problematic may not be correct). And I must emphasize here that they are only problematic for those of us who want to avoid sulfates, which strip the hair. If you use a shampoo that contains sulfates, go ahead and use silicones and polyquats.

(Why do cationic polymers, silicones, and polyquats exist? Two reasons: they smooth out hair and make it easier to comb, and they also protect hair that is exposed to heat styling. With cationic polymers, there is also the added benefit of the substance going to the most damaged part of the hair and filing it in -- kind of like spackle. This remarkable chemical reaction can help hair look and feel smoother. Again, if you don't mind using sulfate shampoos to remove it, this effect could be beneficial to you.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stylers potentially worse than silicones?

One of my favorite blogs, The Beauty Brains, has a forum where people can discuss beauty-related things, and I came across a thread about silicones in hair products that intrigued me. If you can get past the typical in-fighting and the allegations of plagiarism (sigh -- gotta love the Internet), you read down to Left Brain's post in which she says:

More troubling in hair care products than silicones are Cationic Polymers. These ingredients like Guar Hydroxypropyl Trimonium Chloride or Polyquaternium-10 have been demonstrated to build up on hair. They ionically bond to hair and you do need to shampoo more to get them off. Silicones don't stick nearly as well as those ingredients.

I wonder why there is no controversy about Cationic Polymers?


I am very interested in following up on this, mostly because I believe cationic polymers are indeed far worse than anybody cares to talk about. My objection to them is based on pure experience -- nothing scientific. Since going CG, I have definitely noticed that stylers with polyquaternium-10 and -11 leave residue on my hair that requires more than a conditioner-wash.

I'm going to be doing some research on this in the next few days and will keep you posted.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Weird Product Wednesday: SilkShake


What comes in a poorly designed bottle, smells like cake batter, and might make your curly hair look better? Blended Beauty's SilkShake.

I confess that I bought this product solely because somebody at NaturallyCurly.com said it smelled like cake batter. I think I had just started my diet and probably figured that if I couldn't eat cake, I'd be just as happy to wear the aroma on my head.

And it really does smell like she promised. Imagine vanilla cake batter with some cinnamon and nutmeg. Quite yummy.

But then comes the application process. Quite annoying.

This is one of those products that separates a little when stored, so shaking it is absolutely necessary before use. Okay, I can handle that. But it's also rather thick, which means you have to shake it a lot and with gusto.

Now, I ask you: does it make any sense to put thick product in a spray bottle? No, of course it doesn't. When SilkShake emerges from the bottle, it all speeds to one point on your head. So unless you like the Something-About-Mary look, you should avoid the spray nozzle on this product. In keeping with our cake batter theme, I will demonstrate the effect like so:



In the above image, the cake batter is your hair and the thin stream of liquid would be SilkShake. I don't know you, but I know you would not enjoy this particular application process.

Usage tip: Take the nozzle off and pour the product into your palm. Or, alternatively, spray a bunch of it into your palm. From there, emulsify it a little in your hands and then rake or scrunch it into your hair. I've only used it on dry hair and I will say that it gave me immediate moisture, rejuvenated curls, and an unrelenting desire for baked goods.

I don't know what the Blended Beauty people were thinking when they decided a spray bottle was the best way to dispense SilkShake, but I think they might want to reconsider. Meanwhile, sidestep their faulty wisdom and apply this Canadian creation by alternative means. It's decent stuff, just packaged badly.

Anybody ever use this on wet hair? I'm curious, but not curious enough to give up a day of good hair if it fails. Plus, do I want to smell like cake batter all day? No, really -- I'm asking. Do I?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Weird Product Wednesday


I'm going to start a new feature on this blog called "Weird Product Wednesdays." I made this decision earlier today when I got the idea to blog about all the strange products that exist for curly hair. And when I realized that I could also take advantage of some excellent alliteration by doing such reviews on a Wednesday, that clinched it.

So today, ladies and gentlemen, we will be talking about Kinky-Curly Curling Custard, which is its own alliterative marvel. With the aroma of coconut and the consistency of snot, this stuff seems to flummox even the most experienced of curl mavens.

First, the enormous jar. You don't know whether to think, "Wow, what a deal! I'm set for life!" or "I guess I'm supposed to use a lot of this every time I apply it." Imagine your surprise when you learn that neither is true.

(Well, I fib here. For 3a hair like mine, not much is needed. But from what I understand, type 4 hair requires gobs of it.)

The jar costs about $25 and you will probably have to get it online either at Kinky-Curly's site or CurlMart. (Some hair boutique and beauty supply stores carry it, but odds are, you don't live near one of them.) This seems a little pricey, but when I look at the range of products already in my bathroom, I see that this product is pretty standard, price-wise.

Next, we have the aesthetic appeal of the product itself. Yuck. It is just simply gross. If you've got little boys under the age of 12 in your house, keep it away from them or it will end up as fodder for a good old fashioned slime party.

But the aroma goes a long way toward offsetting the visual impact. It smells like a cool coconut drink or a yummy coconut dessert. So, you really don't mind dipping your fingers into its gloppiness.

Once you dip into the jar, you realize you have no clue how much to use because the consistency of Curling Custard is unlike anything you've ever used before. Mysteryflavored at naturallycurly.com did a nice little video showing how much she uses and how she applies it, but prior to that, most of us were really struggling with exactly what to do with this concoction. Big thanks to mysteryflavored (who is adorable and has good hair even without product).

Another bizarre feature (some might even call it a problem) of this product is that it can be awkward to distribute. And so, you might need to call upon your Denman brush to accomplish the task. I tried this once and it worked okay -- some people swear by the brush method so I would be remiss if I did not mention it here.

To add insult to injury -- or oddity to strangeness, in this case -- your hair will kind of suck this stuff up, which is why the company strongly recommends that you use a healthy dose of its leave-in, Knot Today. The idea here is that if you can get your hair reasonably saturated with emollients and moisture before the Curling Custard goes on, you hair won't absorb as much of it. And believe me, you want to avoid too much absorption. Why? Because your hair will take forever to dry otherwise. (But you definitely can use any leave-in of your choice. Using Knot Today is not a requirement. In fact, today I used EO Rose and Chamomille Conditioner and it worked like a dream.)

Kinky-Curly Curling Custard (KCCC) goes on gooey and wants to keep your hair very hydrated for many hours afterwards. Mostly, that's what curly hair craves, but your challenge in this case is to control how much hydration actually happens. Left unchecked, KCCC will stay "wet" for hours.

Tips:

* Apply to hair that's less wet than you'd normally want to apply products to. This tactic will help minimize the amount of water that gets locked into your hair via KCCC's moisturizing qualities.
* Use a little more leave-in or conditioner than you normally would. You want a slicker surface on which to apply KCCC.
* Use the towel of your choice to absorb water from your hair after you apply KCCC (and gel, if you've opted to use it)
* If you're prone to frizz, you might want to apply gel after KCCC and before you dry your hair.

My verdict: Once you figure out how to use this product, it is likely to give you gorgeous hair. Patience is key -- you will undoubtedly experience some really god-awful hair days as you experiment. Or maybe you'll get lucky and get it right the first time. My advice is to keep trying, though. I took me probably 7 or 8 tries to get today's fantabulous results!

(A related fun curly tale: After months of sporadically trying to get KCCC to work for me, today I finally had success! My hair looked wonderful today -- and I couldn't get a decent photo of it! And at lunchtime, a woman who works on another floor got into the elevator with me, complimented my hair, and we proceeded to talk about curly hair for the next five minutes. Hers is curly, too, and although pretty, would very obviously be curlier and healthier with the right products and care. So, I have KCCC for not only giving me a good hair day but also for being a catalyst in hooking me up with a fellow curly, who I think will become a friend! Yay, curls!)

Added on April 20, 2009:
I have discovered that absorbing some water *before* applying KCCC yields even better results than applying it to wet hair. Add your leave-in as described above, and then mop up excess moisture (but not too much -- you do want your hair wet, just not really wet). You can plop or squeeze or whatever you like to do.

I have also found that mixing KCCC with a little gel is terrific! For strong hold, I use a bit of BRHG. For lesser but still good hold, I use Max Green Alchemy Styling gel.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Super secret hair drying tips


If you follow the CG (Curly Girl) routine, as I do, you know these facts about drying your hair:

1. Don't use a blow-dryer without a diffuser
2. Avoid terrycloth towels -- they rough up the cuticle
3. Air-drying is kinder to your hair than blow-drying


Maybe you know some other stuff, too, but that's basically what you learn from the Curly Girl book. Well, shazaaam! I have stumbled upon a few other interesting tidbits, but they come to me via that old nasty teacher named Experience. Some of these may not work for you, but they worked for me and what the heck, I can't be that different from you, can I?

INVALUABLE TIP NO. 1
Give your hair a few minutes to relocate its curl after you apply leave-in and/or curl creme.

Lots of people apply styling products to soaking wet hair, but that doesn't work as well for me as applying them to hair that has had a lot of the water scrunched out first. My hair is more porous than most, I think, so if I let it drink drink drink, it expands and pays me for my trouble with frizzies. So, what I've been doing for the past few months is squeezing out as much water as I can, then raking through my curl creme (I use either Loma Imply or Pink Boots but that doesn't mean you have to), scrunching again, and then waiting a couple of minutes. My curls get a chance to assert themselves better when I do this, which is what you want before applying gel because gel will tend to set your hair in whatever curl formation its in when it meets the gel.

So, wait for some curl to set it, then scrunch in your gel (or use your Denman brush to distribute it if your curl pattern can take it). This tip is likely more applicable to those of us with 3a curls, by the way.

INVALUABLE TIP NO. 2
When you squeeze "families" of curls in the towel of your choice (I use a Curl-Ease), concentrate as much on the scalp as the hair.

For about a year, I wasn't doing this. And I kept wondering why my hair tended to be flat on top, had more frizz, and took forever to dry. I'm a slow learner, what can I tell you?

When you squeeze fistfuls of hair into your curl-friendly towel, press your towel-covered hand against your scalp to make sure that the towel is absorbing moisture from there, too. Hold your hand at each place on your head for a good 10 seconds -- really let the towel suck up that water.

My hair takes half as long to dry now as it used to. And it isn't trying to take in more water than it needs. Score!

INVALUABLE TIP NO. 3
Shorten the air-drying phase of your routine by lengthening the blow-drying phase.

Yes, yes, I know this is contradictory to what you think you know about using a blow-dryer. And obviously, this trick won't work for everyone -- everybody's hair is different. But I used to slavishly follow the advice in the Jessicurl videos, which says blow-dry to 80 percent dry. Well, I think I was afraid of overdrying so I probably stopped at 70 percent most of the time. And then I'd wait about 2 to 3 hours for my hair to finish drying. Who's got that kind of time?

I now blow-dry to 90 percent dry. And in about an hour, my hair is completely ready for crunch out.

INVALUABLE TIP NO. 4
Using the "cool shot" on your dryer may help stave off frizz.

I am still testing this theory, but so far, I think it might be true. I know that I'm supposed to do a final rinse of my conditioner with cold water, but I am not woman enough to withstand a barrage of cold water in the shower, so I don't do that. I am hoping that the cool shot helps to close the cuticle in much the same way as a cold rinse might. If anybody has thoughts on this, I welcome your comments.

In any event, it does help your hair keep from "cooking" too long. I liken it to blanching green beans -- you boil for 2 minutes and then throw the beans into ice water to stop the cooking. (Hopefully you are not boiling your hair, but I think you get my analogy.)

I hope these tips help you. If you have others, by all means, share them in the comments.

Monday, November 24, 2008

This blog meets curl fame!


The nice curlies over at NaturallyCurly.com have put my blog in their Top Ten Beauty Bloggers list! This is rather shocking to me, as I have been a little lazy about posting lately, but I'm jazzed nonetheless! Thank you, Naturally Curly!

I'm in pretty cool company, too, which makes it all the nicer. You'll find the other nine in my link list at right. Pretty nifty.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ficcare sale!

Hey, with regard to my previous post, I just learned that Ficcare is giving 15% off everything (except shipping) from November 21 through December 14 if you use the promo code: FALL2008

And if your order is more than $80, shipping is free!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Beyond the bobbie pin


Not every day is a good hair day. So on the days when frizz hits, curls droop, or stringiness invades, it's good to know that you've got fabulous hair accessories.

Today was one of those days for me. I've been experimenting with Karen's Body Beautiful hair products, and although I love the conditioners, the hair cream seems to disagree with my hair. I'm not ready to rule it out of my rotation yet, though, because I probably just need to find the right way to use it. Until I figure the stuff out, though, I suspect I will fall victim to a few more yucko hair days.

I bought several truly striking hair accessories (I would call them clips or barrettes but they are so much more substantial than either of those words implies) from a place called Ficcare. If you haven't been there, check it out. You might at first recoil from the prices but trust me when I say that these accessories are of exceptional quality and they are killer stylish. People will comment on them when you wear them. Trust me.

Anyway, even though you can see how bad my hair looks, doesn't my "Innovation Clip" look stunning? I also have a couple of the Maximus clips, which serve a similar purpose but are curved to allow you to hold a lot of hair if necessary. Brilliant design, really. Here's a photo of one of the Maximus collections so you can see what I mean. These are serious hair accessories, which I love because I've always been pretty unimpressed with the tortoise-shell claw-clip doo-dads in the drug store. We spend time selecting our jewelry and making sure it's just right, why not also give the same attention to our hair accessories?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Give your hair some muscle


Curlies are always trying to get as much moisture into their hair as possible. But sometimes in the frenzied search for oils, emollients, and moisture, we forget that our hair (at least 3a hair like mine) needs protein, too.

About three weeks ago, I noticed the top of my hair was looking a little flat, no matter how I would clip and dry it every day. So, last weekend, I gave myself a three-minute protein jolt with Nexxus Emergencee and BAM! What a difference! It's been a week since that treatment and my hair is still looking healthy and full.

I've also been using cassia obovata since March. At first I was using it once a month. In August, I started using it every three weeks. I still am unconvinced that it's truly doing anything. But I'm too afraid to stop! I had hoped that protein treatments wouldn't be necessary if I used cassia regularly but it looks like I need to abandon that hope. And yet, there's a little voice inside me that wonders if my hair would be even more limp if I discontinued the cassia... I'll keep using it through the end of the year, and then I will stop. We'll see if there are any effects. At least cassia is not expensive. By the way, if you're interested in trying it, you can read about it and buy it here.

But back to the glory that is protein! Don't be fooled by all the homemade treatments that recommend using raw eggs. Egg molecules are too big to penetrate hair, so applying it topically is not going to do much good. Better you should eat the egg than smear it on your head.

Using Nexxus Emergencee could not be easier. I get in the shower, get my hair wet, apply as much Emergencee as I would if I were using regular conditioner and I let it sit on my head for three minutes. I rinse it out thoroughly, and then I do a conditioner-wash. After I rinse that out, I condition my hair as normal. So, really, this routine adds about five minutes to your normal co-wash regimen. And it's totally worth it.

(By the way, the thinner your hair is, the more protein you need. Curlies with thick hair frequently find they need little to none. Why is that? I will explain in my next post!)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Let's define "curly"


Being the crankypants that I am, I get irked more easily than most. And my irk meter went off tonight when I say this slideshow on Total Beauty. It's called "Trend Alert: Curly Hairstyles."

Promising, right? Yeah, well, not really. It's the usual "here are some celebrities sporting curls they paid somebody to give them" crap. Hey, Total Beauty, here's a little dose of reality for you:

1. Most of those celebrity hairstyles are so unremarkable, it's hard to contemplate why they merit special attention

2. With the possible exception of maybe two out of the ten, they are all celebrities with straight hair who manipulated (through rollers or chemicals) it into a curly style. Maybe this helps straight-haired people embrace a new look. For a curly-haired person, however, it is as illuminating and inspiring as an interview with Sarah Palin.

3. Um, several of the styles are hardly even curly?! (Like the Gwyneth Paltrow look I've posted here.)

And of course, there's also the issue of having a hairstyle that looks great on Jennifer Lopez also looking good on the rest of us. Sure. That'll happen.

Oh, and while I'm dissing celebrities, I want to know WTF is going on in Andie MacDowell's head? For years, she was a curly icon, proudly sporting her signature hair. But now she's doing ads for L'Oreal again and suddenly, her hair is smooth and moves with the perfect swish of a rollerset. Nice, Andie. Is this a temporary change in look or have you decided that for real glamour, you have to straighten your hair?

Damn. I should go eat some chocolate. I need an attitude adjustment.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Acceptance


A few times a month, somebody compliments my curls. I am always flattered and -- because accepting compliments never comes easily to me -- invariably I then tell them that a year ago, I decided to stop fighting my curls and just accept them. That's true, of course, but there's also the part that I don't tell them, which is that I finally learned how to care for them.

So, the other day I was reading magazines in the doctor's office and I saw an American Express ad that featured designer Diane von Furstenberg. It was structured like a questionnaire and she provided answers that were designed to give readers a glimpse into her personality and outlook on life. When asked for her "epiphany moment," she wrote "The day I decided to let my hair go naturally curly."

You go, honey!

If I were thin enough, I'd buy something she designed to thank her for that.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The low-down on emollients


Sometimes I write like I know everything. But I don't.

So, the issue I raised a couple of months ago about "empty conditioners" nagged at me. If there were people who loved conditioners that were exclusively emollient-based, and had great results from them, could they be all bad? Maybe I had vilified those products unjustly. Seeking a good, scientific answer, I went to Tonya McKay, MS polymer and colloid chemist, who writes the Curl Chemist column at naturallycurly.com. Knowing she's got her hands full with a new baby, I tried to keep my questions to a minimum. She graciously answered them! Here is that interview. (And by the way, that photo is not a picture of Tonya.)


Lorraine Massey defines as good conditioner as one that contains oils, humectants, emollients, and proteins. Obviously, different conditioners have different proportions of these ingredients, and I've also noticed that some conditioners contain only one or two of them. Typically, humectants and emollients comprise many of the conditioners I see lately, and I'm thinking that that's almost like "fooling" hair into thinking it's gotten some benefit! You've written some excellent articles on humectants and I see their value, but I'm not as clear on emollients.

Jillipoo: I had always considered emollients to be the chemicals that allow other ingredients to work together and blend more easily. I also think of them as "fillers" and "smoothers," but Wikipedia says that an emollient has three components: occlusion, humectant, and lubrication. Can you define what an emollient really is, in hair product terms?

Tonya: I think you may be confusing emulsifiers with emollients, when you think of the ingredients that help other ingredients work together and blend well with one another. An emollient is the main conditioning agent (or agents) in a product. The term emollient is really more appropriate for discussion of skin care products, and the term moisturizer or conditioning agent for hair care products, but you will see them both used in the literature.

An emollient forms a protective film over the surface of hair or skin, which adds gloss and shine to the hair, protects the hair from water loss to the environment (occlusion), and helps the hairs slide easily against one another which facilitates detangling and prevents breakage and damage from tangle, and can act as humectants (but not always).

Examples of emollients would be dimethicone, Polyquaternium-10, dimethicone copolyol, amodimethicone, shea butter, jojoba oil, Cetearyl alcohols, many proteins, coconut oil, mineral oil, petrolatum, alkyl esters, etc.


Jillipoo: Can a conditioner that is entirely emollients (or emollients and humectants) truly condition the hair?

Tonya: I guess I am not sure what is meant by this question, since by definition, emollients are conditioning agents. If you wish to know if externally applied products can truly have any lasting benefit to the hair other than cosmetic enhancement and prevention of further damage, then my opinion is no. The role of conditioning agents and humectants and proteins are all to fill in the gaps where structural damage has occurred, to bring moisture into the hair or keep it in the hair, and to provide lubrication between hairs which leads to less mechanical damage from friction between hairs. Thus, they make the hair more attractive, feel softer to the fingers, and incur less damage. As it is protected by daily use, new hair can grow in and remain healthy and undamaged, so in that sense these products have true benefit.

Jillipoo: Are there some emollients that can actually have detrimental effects on hair?

Tonya: Certainly! Silicone is an emollient. Some feel that build up from the use of silicone can lead to dry, brittle hair eventually that gets damaged more easily. Also, some oils used as emollients can actually increase thermal damage to the hair if a person applies them and also uses heat styling techniques (hair dryers, hot rollers, curling irons, flat irons, etc.). Other emollients, such as fatty alcohols have been known to attract dirt to the hair, making the hair lose its luster and feel greasy.

So ... I am still not inclined to go with an emollient-only conditioner, but at least know we've all got a better perspective on what emollients are and what to expect from them!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The ol' switcheroo


When I first went CG (that's Curly Girl for you newbies), one of the first products I tried was Miss Jessie's Curly Meringue. Yes, that is an interesting choice for a white girl like me! The salon I go to had just started carrying Miss Jessie's products and my stylist felt my hair could easily benefit from Curly Meringue's magic powers. I read the label and was delighted to see that Curly Meringue contained nothing that contradicted my Curly Girl regimen.

My stylist was right. For the first time, my hair was smooth and curly. And the curls were bouncy (which I love). I noticed that the results weren't always great, but they often were, so I was happy.

And then a weird thing happened.

At the end of 2007, Miss Jessie's changed their labeling and came out with smaller sized jars of all their styling products. Well, new labels often signal ingredient changes, and sure enough, the smaller sizes listed the dreaded ingredient "parafinium liquidum" -- otherwise known as mineral oil. And it's the second ingredient, which means it figures very prominently in the product's formula.

The big jars, though, didn't appear to be changing. Several of us at naturallycurly.com wrote to Miss Jessie's to find out what gives. We all got vague, obtuse responses, none of which enlightened us at all.

Well, about a month ago, I discovered that even the big jars had been reformulated. And this annoys me for a number of reasons.

First, Miss Jessie, at the prices you charge for your products, cheap crap like mineral oil shouldn't be in the product at all. Second, how dare you just quietly change a product's formulation without any notice or disclosure to consumers? Had I plunked down another $40 for a tub of this stuff after the ingredients had been surreptitiously changed, I surely would have noticed a difference in the product's performance (mineral oil is impossible to remove without a sulfate shampoo) and I would have been out a lot of money for a product that pretended to be what I'd previously liked. I don't know about you, but I think everything about this formulation change is downright slimy. The price, the ingredient itself, the secret switch.

If you're a Miss Jessie's user and you are CG, I urge you to check the label of the product you're using. It's not likely to contain ingredients you can appreciate. Also, the company recently launched a new product called Quick Curls. You'd do best to run the other way if you are CG -- the product not only contains mineral oil but two very powerful silicones.

I don't like to badmouth a company but when they treat customers with this level of disrespect (changing ingredients without notice and incorporating lower quality ingredients to boot), I think people should be alerted.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And the winner is ... coconut oil!


Playing with my oil sampler has been one of the more revealing experiments I've conducted. Different women on the boards at naturallycurly.com swear by different oils. Jojoba is supposedly the most similar to human hair and skin. Neem is praised by some. Others swear by olive oil (and I like it, too). When I read (at the Beauty Brains) that only coconut oil actually penetrated the hair and got to the core, I had to try it.

And by god, those Beauty Brains are right. Coconut oil has become my very favorite oil.

It's light, odorless, and from what I can see, is also helping my hair to curl more (healthy curly hair will do that!). I bought the version that's kinda hard but melts at 76 degrees Fahrenheit -- you have to melt it in your hands, but it melts very easily. I'm loving this stuff and use it just about every night now.

Runner-up in the oil contest is avocado oil. Also very light and odorless, avocado seems to be fairly well absorbed into my hair, too, but it's not quite as perfect as coconut. But really -- it's close.

And what of the shea butter, you're wondering? Well, that's still good and in fact I'm using it tonight. I think, however, that it's a little too heavy to use on my hair every night. I don't use much at all, but still ... I notice a wee bit of buildup if I use it consistently. By buildup, I mean that it weighs my hair down a little. Nothing major but in comparison with the coconut oil, well, there is no comparison!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Nighttime treatments


Although I have no head for science, I really do wish I were a scientist. Then maybe I could tackle the perplexing question: Why does everyone's hair react differently to products and treatments?

I have 3a hair. It's thin but there's a decent amount of it, so people often think I have thick hair. But it gets weighed down easily so I do have to watch how much oil I put in my hair.

Or so I thought!

The shea butter experiment continues to yield terrific results. And this surprises me because most of the shea butter proponents at naturallycurly.com have thicker, curlier, coarser hair than I. But then, maybe I am just using the right amount for my hair.... When I scrunch a dime-size amount of this stuff into my hair at night, I have great curls the next day. I don't even co-wash it out -- I just condition my hair like normal.

I used to sleep in Too Shea once a week or once every two weeks, but I haven't done that in at least a month. The shea butter treatment seems to do the job just as well, and I don't have to rinse it out before taking my crack-of-dawn daily walk, like I would have to do with conditioner.

I have also started experimenting with oils. I found this fabulous oil sampler at Oils by Nature and got Avocado, Coconut, Rice Bran, Sweet Almond Oil, and Apricot Kernel Oil. I haven't tried the almond or apricot yet, but I am very happy with the avocado and coconut. The rice bran, I'm still not sure about. Again, the amount is key. For me, coating my hands and scrunching it in seems to be the way to go. The avocado oil in particular left my hair soft and curly, and gave me great curls the morning after.

I just find it very interesting that any of this works for me, because my first experience with oil was with Jessicurl's Oil Blend. Now, that has coconut, jojoba, and avocado -- so you'd *think* I'd like it! But no matter how I used that stuff, my hair looked awful: flat, frizzy, not curly. I am now inclined to believe that my hair doesn't care for jojoba oil.

Another nighttime treatment that I really like is plain ol' olive oil!

It's fun to experiment with all of this. Have you got oils or nighttime treatments that work really well for you? I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Shea butter


You know, aloe vera is not the only thing I like to feed my hair.

Over the past few months, I've noticed that my hair responds well to Too Shea conditioner and Shea Moisture Leave-in. So, I recently decided to buy some unrefined shea butter to see if my hair will respond well to it.

Why unrefined, you wonder? Good question! Just like with food, you want to use shea butter that has undergone as little processing and adulteration as possible to preserve its natural gifts. To quote from the Agbanga Karite site:

...refined shea butter has usually been extracted from the shea kernels with hexane or other petroleum solvents. The extracted oil is boiled to drive off the toxic solvents, and then refined, bleached, and deodorized, which involves heating it to over 400 degree F and the use of harsh chemicals, such as sodium hydroxide. Shea butter extracted in this manner still contains some undesirable solvent residues, and its healing values are significantly reduced. Antioxidants or preservatives such as BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) or BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) may be added as well. The end result is an odorless, white butter that may be aesthetically appealing, but lacks the true moisturizing, healing, and nutritive properties of true traditional shea butter. In addition, refined shea butter is often hard and grainy, not smooth and creamy like pure, unrefined shea butter. All that can be said for refined shea butter is that it has an extended shelf life, a white, uniform color, and no odor.


I ordered mine from Shea Terra Organics (because I got a money-off coupon!). The smell ain't great, but then, I wasn't really expecting it to be -- I'd read enough to know that it doesn't smell all yummy like refined shea often does. I also learned that the aroma of shea butter varies depending on where in Africa it is from. Mine really doesn't smell all that bad. It reminds me some kind of barbecue or oven smell. And it doesn't linger, which is good.

I was really excited when it arrived today. After dinner, I rubbed about a dime-size worth of it (maybe a little less) between my palms until it was very melted (almost like oil) then I grabbed handfuls of my hair and squeezed. (My hair was very curly today -- lots of fog! -- and I didn't want to disturb those curls by pulling on my hair to distribute the shea butter. I've found that the heat from my hands is often a good way to transfer product of any kind from my hands to my hair.

I didn't want to use too much of this stuff because despite my hair's affinity for shea butter in other forms, I know that it doesn't take much to weigh my fine hair down. So rather than scrunch in so much that my hair felt coated, I stopped short of that and just made sure that everything in my palm got absorbed by my hair.

You should see my hair now -- even curlier than when I started applying it! Whee!

Depending on how my hair looks tomorrow, I might make a habit of this application every night. We shall see.

Stupid FOG!


Yes, it's true that living in San Francisco is mostly a great experience. The wonderful restaurants, the progressive ideas (mostly!), the cultural diversity -- and the romantic fog.

Well, let me tell you something. You can keep the damned fog. It has ruined my hair countless times and shows no sign of remorse or contrition!

I keep reading about people who live in very humid climates and how their hair suffers. I'm sure their plight is a serious one but I would have to say that fog is just as frustrating.

What to do? It's weather like this that makes me wonder whether silicone-laden products might not be the best way to go! Seriously. Maybe it would take something like the evil cyclomethicone to keep the fog out of my hair. But I don't have the guts. I recall all too well what silicone products did to my hair in the past, and I have to say, even with the fog, my hair looks better now.

I just like to complain.

I've only found two gels that even attempt to battle it. One is Fuzzy Duck (which surprised the heck out of me because the stuff is supposedly made for kids), and the other is Biosilk Rock Hard Gelee. Neither of these gels wins in the war of hair versus fog, but their perform admirably enough.

If any of you have some recommendations, I'm eager to hear them!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Liking my hair today

I'm not even going to apologize for the bad photo -- by now you all know that I am incapable of taking a decent photo of my hair.

But I am very happy with today's experiment! I tried my TheraNeem gel today, but I combed it through with my new Denman brush, the way someone on naturallycurly.com said they distribute their products in their hair. I then scrunched. Within seconds, my hair was curling like crazy. I toweled and then applied Biosilk Rock Hard Gelee. Diffused a little, then air-dried the rest of the way.

My hair is so curly, I've lost a good inch of the normal dry length! Aloe continues to be my holy grail product. (And it's foggy today so I used the strongest gel I own: BRHG)

Confirmation Code: GDVSNSB8285350

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stylers on wet or damp hair?

In a strange bit of synchronicity, this morning I applied gel to towel-dried hair instead of wet hair. And a couple of hours later, somebody on the boards at naturallycurly.com said they'd done the same thing.

And we both got great results. (Sorry about no photo -- I really have a terrible time capturing my hair on film. It never looks as good as it does in real life. I don't know if it's the lighting or that I have dark hair, but no photo has yet been really accurate. Oh, except for this one.)

So, I think this is an approach I'm going to try more often. My hair's been dry for 11 hours and I still have great curls and no frizz. Woo hoo!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Empty conditioner syndrome

No, I'm not talking about when your bottle runs out. I'm talking about conditioners that provide almost nothing of value to your hair.

A few months ago, everybody at naturallycurly.com was singing the praises of TIGI Moisture Maniac. Well, the name is certainly compelling -- you can practically feel your hair sucking up the wet droplets of much-needed moisture. So, having about as much willpower as an alcoholic at Mardi Gras, I bought some. It goes on light, has great slip, and smells pretty. We girls like all three of those properties. So far, so good.

But after a few uses, I noticed my hair was frizzier than usual. I decided to really read the label. Here it is:

Aqua (Water), Cetyl Alcohol, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetrimonium Chloride, Glycerin, Acetamide MEA, Cetrimonium Bromide, Stearyl Alcohol, Parfum (Fragrance) (Fragrance), DMDM Hydantoin, PPG 2 Myristyl Ether Propionate, Pentaerythrityl Tetracaprylate (Tetracaprate), Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Tetrasodium EDTA, Silk Amino Acids, Orange 4 (CI 15510)

Sure, it's "CG" ("Curly Girl" -- which means it has no silicones or sulfates). But let's really look at that list. Everything between "aqua" and "Parfum" is an emollient or emulsifier. Everything. Oh, wait, there's glycerin, a humectant. And let's not overlook all those preservatives and artificial colors!

Do you see any oils? Anything to provide moisture? A humectant will pull in moisture from the air, but what if the air doesn't have much moisture? Is there any protein in this product?

Honestly, in my opinion, it is a detangler. It is *not* a conditioner. And it's too bad the industry isn't regulated in such a way to prevent this kind of product from claiming to be something it isn't. And what is the retail price of this mislabeled product? Anywhere from $12 to $18!!!

In contrast, let's look at an Aubrey Organics conditioner. Any one of several will do, but let's look at the famous Honeysuckle Rose, as it is often referred to as a conditioner that is so potent, many people can't use it every day. I absolutely love how this conditioner makes my hair feel and behave. Check out the ingredient list:

Coconut Fatty Acid Cream Base, Organic Aloe Vera, Organic Shea Butter, What Germ Oil, Organics Jojoba Oil, Organic Rosa Mosqueta Rose hip Seed Oil; Extracts of Fennel, Hops, Balm Mint, Mistletoe, Camomile, Yarrow, Chrysanthemum, Angelica, Forsythia and Magnolia: Honeysuckle Oil, Carrot Oil, Aubrey's Preservative (Citrus Seed Extract, Vitamins A, C and E).

Now that, people, is an ingredient list with substance! Fatty acids, aloe vera, shea butter, herbs -- wow! (And if you wanted protein, Aubrey's other conditioners would provide it. This one, however, doesn't.) Not one wasted ingredient. Your hair will not only feel better after something like this, it will actually be better. Unlike with the hocus-pocus of the Moisture Maniac.

And the price? Anywhere between $10 and $12.

So, you decide what you want to feed your hair. Overpriced chemicals or oils/butters/moisture/protein? I know which one I'm choosing!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Loma Imply rocks


Yesterday, I broke out the Loma Imply Creme. I love the smell of this stuff, plus the last time I used it, I really liked what it did for my hair. So, I used it under Paul Brown's Gelatine Goo (a mild-holding gel that has strong humectant qualities).

And I loved the results. (Sorry no pics. I couldn't get the light or the angle right today!) Super soft hair, fullness, and fabulous curls.

So, I decided to look at the label, even though I'd already checked it out many times before. Guess what the first ingredient is? Aloe vera gel! No wonder it rocks! I think I have found my new favorite hair creme.

With quite possibly the worst product photography ever, Loma's site gives an overview of their offerings, but unfortunately also fails to disclose ingredient lists. I will never understand companies that don't tell people what's in their products. I won't buy something if I can't learn first what's in it. And since Loma's whole premise is natural, healing, nourishing, and organic, you'd think they'd be happy to tell you what ingredients they use. Because they don't, though, it casts some suspicion on what they sell, and that's unfortunate because I am thoroughly and utterly delighted with Imply Moulding Creme and would probably buy other things from them if they'd be a little more upfront about what's in them.

Dry hair? Try aloe vera

Over the past week, I've been testing out a theory. I'm now able to report on it.

In my previous post, you saw what dry air did to my hair. Yes, horrifying. And I am determined not to let that happen ever again. Just thinking about it makes me wince.

On the very last day of the heat wave, I scrunched in several rounds of aloe vera gel (I used Trader Joe's brand, but aloe vera gel with only preservatives would also be fine). My hair curled within minutes. Minutes! I also got some frizz but that would happen no matter what I applied to dry hair.

I thought immediately of something Lorraine Massey said in her book, Curly Girl, about the ingredients to look for in a conditioner. I'll quote that list here:

Emollients soften and smooth skin and reduce frizz in hair by smoothing the cuticle. There are hundreds of emollients. [She lists shea butter, vegetable oils, wheat germ/olive/walnut oils.]

Proteins coat the hair shaft and protect it. Look for plant proteins such as what, wheat germ, or soy protein ...

Humectants absorb water and hold in moisture. They are absolutely crucial in a conditioner for curly hair. Panthenol, vegetable glycerine, and sorbitol are just a few humectants to look for on the label.

Moisturizers add softness and control to curly hair. Amino acids and aloe vera are two great moisturizers.


(In case you were thinking -- like me -- that amino acids are proteins, let me share what Wikipedia says: "Amino acids combine in a condensation reaction that releases water and the new "amino acid residue" that is held together by a peptide bond. Proteins are defined by their unique sequence of amino acid residues; this sequence is the primary structure of the protein. Just as the letters of the alphabet can be combined to form an almost endless variety of words, amino acids can be linked in varying sequences to form a vast variety of proteins.")

So, moisturizers are among the four essential ingredients a conditioner should have. I looked through my stash and discovered that although many had a slew of humectants, few had moisturizers. (Or the moisturizing ingredients were sporting names I didn't recognize...) It's no wonder that my hair got dry -- and that squishing aloe vera gel into it made it feel and look quenched.

This realization inspired me to do a little testing. I used aloe vera gel several days this week, always on wet hair. And every day, my hair was not dry at the end of the day. Now, granted, our weather here is no longer as arid as it was two weeks ago, but neither has the air been super-soaked with moisture. Today the dew point is 55 so I didn't use the aloe vera gel, but for the past four days, I have used it in some capacity.

And I'm now convinced that it is the key to making my hair curl.

But here's the caveat. Using it when the weather is not dry will result in frizz. I'm really starting to see that hair responds to weather, products, and the combination of the two. In dry weather, hair needs moisture (aloe vera) applied to it and something to seal it in (oil or protein). In humid weather, hair needs a way to attract moisture and hold it (oil or protein).

If your hair is feeling dry, I strongly encourage you to try aloe vera gel. Good brands include Trader Joe's, Lily of the Desert, and Fruit of the Earth. I have not used completely natural aloe vera (the kind you can get at health food stores that needs to be refrigerated), but I would think that would be even better.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Unspeakably ugly


Well, in case you were wondering what one of my bad hair days looks like, I'm about to give you a front-row seat to that horrifying spectacle.

I went to work yesterday fully confident that I would have a good hair day. I conditioned with Aubrey Organics Honeysuckle Rose, followed it up with some Shea Moisture Leave-in, and then scrunched in some Biotera. All these products generally work well for me. I was purposely trying to go easy on the protein, since my hair had been feeling a little straw-like of late.

And yet by lunchtime, it was painfully apparent that something had gone horribly wrong. This photo actually makes my hair look better than it was! My hair was brittle, flat, lifeless, and frizzy. Spraying it with Jessicurl Awe Inspiraling Spray seemed to only make it worse. By the time I got home, even Chris was visibly surprised when I walked in the door.

Why did this happen? I honestly don't know, but the weather had to have played some role. The temperature soared to 85 degrees, the dew point descended from 46 in the morning to 38 by the time I got home, and the humidity was a paltry 33 percent. The environment was hot and dry -- a very rare set of circumstances in San Francisco.

But my hair had been heading in this direction for several days. Increasingly limp and less curly. Normally, these are signs of overconditioning for me. But I wouldn't accept that this time. I wanted to believe (and still want to believe) that the weather is the culprit.

I posted some photos of this hideous development on naturallycurly.com and two people suggested it might actually be overconditioning and not the weather. So, this morning, I dutifully did an ACV (apple cider vinegar) rinse. I then conditioned with Robert Craig conditioner, applied Rockin' Ringlets, and scrunched in Max Green Alchemy Styling gel (the lightest gel I own).

It helped, but not to the extent I was hoping, as you can see here in today's photo. My hair's curls are more defined but overall, it's still pretty flat.

Which leaves me with that weather excuse again. But what the heck should I be doing to combat this dry weather? Today was 92 degrees, a dew point of 34, and humidity of 23 percent! What is this: the Sahara? I'm stumped about what to try next, but I'm a firm believer that less is more, so tomorrow, I'm only going to use conditioner. No stylers. We'll see what happens.

Stupid hair.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Straight vs. curly

I ran across this article today, wherein the author attempts to theorize about why men prefer straight-haired girls to curly-haired ones.

Um... first of all, who said they do?

She references an article that implies that they might. I know the article she means, even though she did not provide a link to it. It's this one. Please do read it because the upshot is that men are initially drawn to straight hair but in the end, hair doesn't much matter to them.

This noncommittal attitude was recently confirmed by my boyfriend. I read the article about the woman who conducted her own little test, and then I asked my boyfriend what he believed men's feelings to be about curly hair. He looked at me a little sheepishly and said, "Honestly, most of us don't care. We're looking at other attributes."

Spoken like a guy, no?

And I believe this to be true. Even the woman who conducted her own test ultimately came to the same conclusion: initial attraction may be to straight hair, but in the end, how a woman carries herself determines whether men will sniff after her.

But honestly, this whole debate irritates me because it not only generalizes about an entire gender, it assumes all curly hair is created equal. Preposterous on all counts.

All women supposedly think Brad Pitt is to die for. I'd like to state for the record that I can take him or leave him. So, we've now blown a nice hole in any argument that begins with "All women like...." And I think we can do the same with the "All men like...." generalization as well.

In the Box of Chocolates article, the writer posts photos of Jennifer Lopez and Scarlett Johansson with straight as well as artificially curled hair. Hello? These women could be bald and they'd still be beautiful. What kind of lame argument is that?

Let's look at all the variation there is in curly hair. There are loose curls, tight curls, crazy curls, and tame curls. But most of all, there are conditioned curls and dry, frizzy curls. BIG difference. A woman who takes care of her hair is going to feel more confident, look better, and attract more interest than a woman who doesn't.

So, here's a photo of straight hair. Make you wanna touch it? Yeah, I didn't think so.

When are we going to just embrace what we have and make it the best it can be? These foolish debates are just designed to create a "winner" and thereby simultaneously create a "loser." Do we have debates about whether white women are prettier than black women? Of course not -- it would be the height of stupidity and ignorance. We are born as we are and it's completely unproductive to debate the relative merits of what we got because in the end, it's what you do with what you've got that matters.

Today's hair

This is not the best my hair has ever looked, but it isn't too bad, and since Chris was home to take a few photos -- I suck at doing it myself -- I thought I'd post it.

This is the result of Activate conditioner, Shea Moisture Leave-in, Loma Imply curl creme, and Max Green Alchemy Styling gel. I didn't expect much, and really it actually *is* a little heavy but the curls are decent. We'll see how it holds up through the day.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Recent product discoveries


I've been mixing Paul Brown's Gelatine Goo into various other styling products this week and quite liking the results! Used alone, it's kind of like a gel but it doesn't really hold quite enough for my taste. But it does add a bit of volume, so I've been mixing it with some gels (Aveda Flax Seed Aloe, Condition & Sculpt, and Max Green Alchemy Scuplting) for the best of both worlds: definition and volume! It's an interesting product, especially since I didn't expect to like it at all (seemed like it would be too humectant-heavy, which is maybe why I like it best with other things).

And speaking of Condition & Sculpt, I really like this, too! It's one of those products that has a bit of an identity crisis, so you don't actually know the best way to use it. Some people at naturallycurly.com said they hated it because it left their hair stringy and lifeless. But somebody else said they use this under gel to good effect. So I used it under Biotera gel one day last week and loved the results! It's a good clumper -- I might turn to it when the magnesium sulfate in Rockin' Ringlets makes my hair frizzy (which is often). I can tell by the consistency of it that I probably wouldn't like it by itself. It seems to need something with it, so I'll experiment with some other stuff this week.

I've been having such great hair days lately! I really attribute it to the protein I've been making sure to incorporate into my daily hair routine. I'm also scrunching more. Maybe that helps too?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Balancing act


If you read this blog, you know that I spend a lot of time on naturallycurly.com. I've learned so much there, I can't begin to recount it all. One thing I did not learn, however, was how to figure out what my hair needed and why that was important.

When you first arrive on that site, the protein-sensitive people are constantly talking about their protein sensitivity. Those who can't tolerate protein really do have some horror stories -- and horror photos! -- to prove what protein does to them.

The problem, though, is that when you're relatively new to the site, you get the distinct impression that protein is inherently bad.

I believed this for several months and kept my protein usage at a minimum. Meanwhile, my hair was getting less curly and flatter by the day. I even blamed the haircut I got in March for all my woes. And then I started using a conditioner that had absolutely no protein at all but was "light" (which I've come to discover means that it's primarily a humectant formula -- it pulls moisture from the air). My hair was frizzy and fairly lifeless. At the same time, another person with hair similar to mine, noticed the same thing when she used it. She then commented that she probably needed more protein.

And that's when it hit me. Protein isn't bad for everybody! And I was suddenly reminded of how often I would use a reconstructor (protein-heavy) back in the 90s and how it always made my hair happier. So, I set about using only conditioners with protein fairly high up on the list of ingredients. (I used Activate Hydrating conditioner but also a couple of Desert Essences types.)

Eureka! That did the trick. Suddenly my curls were back. I used to love Jessicurl Aloeba but now when I use it, I don't see the same kind of bounce and curl that the Activate gives me. I'm not saying I will stop using the Aloeba but I suspect I will use it much less often than I used to.

So my point here is not just to say that protein rocks (for me), but to urge anybody who is struggling with the Curly Girl method to do more than just avoid silicones and sulfates. Find out what balance of humectants, oil, and protein your hair likes.

This is not done quickly or easily because lots of other factors play a role. Climate, water, diet, stress level: these variables can complicate your experiments. But pay attention to ingredients (not just the impossible-to-spell ones) and see whether protein makes your hair happy. Discern whether humectants are always right for you. Learn what oil does to your hair.

You'll save a lot of money and time.

Most of all, though, don't let anybody tell you that protein is bad or that humectants suck or that oils don't do anything. Try them on your hair and come to your own decision.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hair gods

I am always invoking the elusive, nameless, and faceless hair gods in many of my posts at naturallycurly.com. Well, one member -- Riot Crrl -- whipped up this little interpretation of what a hair god(dess) might look like. I love it! (Plus, I use all the products she's holding!) You can click on the image to see it even bigger....

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Water-soluble silicones

Although silicones with PEG in front of them are supposed to be water-soluble, I have not really trusted this promise because my experience with DevaCurl OneCondition seemed to leave me with some buildup. So, I've been avoiding all 'cones, including the ones with PEG before them.

But today, someone posted at naturallycurly.com that there is a difference in solubility among the PEG 'cones. Here is what the poster (who claims to have majored in chemistry in college) said:

As far as pegylated dimethicone - yes, some of them are water soluble. Anything with less than 4 is not at all. Anything 4-6 is very slightly water soluble. Anything 6-8 is moderately water soluble. 8-10 have good (but not great) solubility in water. 10+ are completely water soluble. the "PEG" part is polyethylene glycol - a very water-soluble side chain. The longer the side chain, the more willing these 'cones are to "work" with water. It's my understanding that things with fewer than 10 are prone to buildup without sulfates.

So, this gives me a little more confidence to at least look for higher numbers when considering a product with a PEG 'cone. Good info!