Thursday, September 18, 2008


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 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 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.