Saturday, August 29, 2009

Crazy name, crazy story

I've got samples to give away of a product with possibly the dumbest name on the planet: Curl Gel-les'c. Have we really run the gamut of nomenclature when we have to resort to hyphens and apostrophes in a product name? Yikes.

It's billed as "not quite a gel, not quite a serum." It has fans as well as detractors, as does every product for curly hair. But I can't use this product because it has Polyquaternium 11 in it, and that ingredient makes my hair throw up. Here's the full ingredient list:

Ingredients: Purified Water, Polyquaternium-11, Sorbitol, Certified Organic Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Polyquaternium-37, Vegetable Glycerin, Certified Organic Coconut Milk ( Cocos Nucifera Fruit Juice), Certified Organic Linden Seed Oil ( Tilia Cordata Flower Extract), Certified Organic Flaxseed Oil ( Linum Usitatissimum Seed Oil, Certified Organic Chamoile Extract (Anthemis Nobilis Flower Extract) Certified Organic Rosemary Extract (Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Extract), Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol

To win these samples, you must post a comment with the funniest hair story you've got. I figure a product with a crazy name needs to go to a curly with a crazy hair story. I want to laugh BIG, people, not just an "isn't that cute" kind of story. If we chuckle hard enough, maybe we can forget about how bloody hot it is out there! I will choose the winner by September 7.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Weird Product Wednesday: John Masters Organics Citrus and Neroli Detangler

It is possible to like a weird product. Take KCCC, for instance. Same is true for John Masters Organics Citrus and Neroli Detangler.

The difference, however, is that I will buy KCCC over and over again because the weirdness is goofy and lovable. Silly, even. But the factors that make me like Citrus and Neroli Detangler are distinctly separate from the reasons I won't repurchase it.

The Good
What a lovely aroma! I am unfamiliar with neroli but if it's the vaguely flowery/creamy scent that melds so deliciously with the subtle citrus, call me a fan. It's not overwhelming in the slightest way and is feminine without being cloying. A+ on scent.

Terrific ingredients. Specifically:
Aloe barbadensis (aloe vera leaf juice) gel,* aqua (water), behentrimonium methosulfate, cetearyl alcohol, panthenol (vitamin B5), hydrolyzed soy protein, wheat amino acids, sorbitol, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil,* cocos nucifera (coconut) oil,* helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil,* lecithin, tocopherol, glycerin, citric acid, citrus mentha piperita (peppermint) leaf oil,* rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf oil,* rosa damascena (rose) flower oil,* pelargonium graveolens?(geranium) flower oil,* mentha spicata (spearmint) leaf oil,* nardostachys jatamansi (spikenard) leaf oil,*sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, arnica montana (arnica) flower extract,* camellia sinensis (white tea) leaf extract,* chamomilla recutica (chamomile) flower extract,* calendula officinalis (calendula) flower extract,* equisetum hiemale (horsetail) leaf/stem extract,* foeniculum vulgare (fennel) seed extract,* lonicera caprifolium (honeysuckle) flower extract, linum usitatissimum (flaxseed) seed oil,* borago officinalis (borage) seed oil,* sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid), sulfur *

(I have bolded all the ingredients that my hair likes. Your hair might have different affinities.)

So, I was all set to be enamored with this product. And yes, I did like it. So did my hair.

The Bad
The stuff retails for $16. You get 8 ounces, which works out to be $2 an ounce. Not exorbitant, but not what you could call a bargain. The real problem, though, was that I got about 10 applications from this bottle. Maybe 12. If I conditioned my hair every day, I'd be running to the store for more conditioner in less than 2 weeks. (That is, if I didn't have 15 other bottles of various conditioners in my bathroom right now.)

My hair slurped this potion right up. I found I needed a lot of it to get any slip (or "squish factor" as my pal Del calls it), and although it feels very luxurious in my palms and my hair, I was appalled by how much I needed to work it through my hair in the shower. I would have thought the behentrimonium methosulfate would have provided the slip I like, but it didn't seem to.

It's weird to me that this is marketed as a detangler. Tangling, for me, is one of the few hair problems I've been spared, but I'm thinking that for those who do need something to combat that situation, Citrus and Neroli Detangler doesn't seem like it would be up to the task. I take that back -- it would do the job as long as the user didn't mind going through a couple of bottles a month. (Maybe this product should be packaged like AfroDetangler....)

The Ugly
The crying shame of such a lovely product being too expensive to consider for regular use. A damn ugly shame.

What do you think? If you've used this, did you have to use a ton of it, too? Or is my hair proving once again that it is a demanding beast?

Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm all a-Twitter

Yep, I succumbed to the siren song of 140 characters or less. I am now on Twitter, for any of you who might be interested. Find me here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Let's clarify

(I originally wrote the following post for the now defunct Daily Curl blog, but I thought it was time to give it a second life here, especially for those readers who never saw it the first time.)

In this age of toxic purging and antibacterial cleansing, we always seem to be seeking ways to remove every vestige of dirt, grime, goo, and muck off our skin and certainly off our hair.

It is apparently no longer enough to wash your hair. Now you must clarify it.

I had never heard of such a concept until I was a few months into my CG journey. I first read about it on a discussion group post and wondered whether it was something I needed to do. (Yes, I began CG without ever having clarified. More on this later.)

Clarifying is a fancy word for a good, thorough cleansing — the kind that will remove silicone (and in some cases, hard water) residue from your hair. Before people begin the no-poo routine, they will often clarify to ensure that they are starting with a fresh slate.

My opinion is that clarifying is optional before going CG, but there are plenty of curlies who disagree. Some non-water soluble silicones are nasty, stubborn little buggers but my feeling is that it’s unlikely they will stay in your hair more than a couple of days. If anyone reading this found that it was absolutely necessary to clarify before starting, please feel free to post a comment. Unless you have a whole bunch of built-up gunk in your hair, I think you can move right into co-washing without too much trauma to psyche or hair. If your definition of clean is synonymous with “scrupulous”, then by all means, clarify. If cleanliness is more of a relative term to you, you can safely skip the clarifying.

So what should you use to clarify, in the event that you’ve determined you need to? Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to use sulfates to clarify. Don’t believe me? Check out this list by’s Curl Chemist. Shampoos with cocamidopropyl betaine or cocobetaine remove even the toughest silicones.

As Tiffany at Live Curly, Live Free says on her blog: “If your cleanser is sulfate-free, but contains another surfactant which is milder, such as cocamidopropyl betaine, you will receive the benefits of clarifying without the harsh effects of sulfates.” Surfactants, not sulfates, are the key to clarifying.

Which leads us to another question about clarifying, and that is whether acidic rinses such as vinegar or lemon juice will accomplish the task. The answer: no, not thoroughly. Acidic rinses are good for getting water-soluble product out of your hair and many people claim that they close your cuticle, which perks hair up and even gives it some shine. But because it is not a surfactant, it won’t do for you what a shampoo will.

Once you are up and running with CG, there should be little need for clarifying because you aren’t using anything that needs serious surfactants to remove them. Hard water or medication build-up, however, might be an issue for you, in which case, clarifying might be in order.

What about clarifying conditioners? They're a great choice for those who want a mild cleansing -- but you can get the very same thing by mixing your shampoo with your conditioner. Why pay for another product?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Do you know a great curly-hair stylist?

The folks at recently launched a sister site called To thrive, the site needs the kind of enthusiastic membership and participation that NaturallyCurly has, so I'm helping to get the word out here. Do you have a stylist who understands and loves curls? Somebody who has worked wonders with hair you thought was hopeless? Then CurlStylist might be a site they'll love.

The site is a cool resource for how to cut, style, texture, color and care curly hair (even how to [gasp!] straighten it). The content is chock-full video, articles, pix, and tips. And you don't have to be a stylist to benefit from some of the videos -- they show you how to apply a variety of products and how to style with them. (I'm not a fan of Miss Jessie's products, but there are loads of videos from that company on the site, so if you use the products, you might pick up a trick or two from videos. I saw a few from Deva, as well, and even some from companies and stylists I'd never heard of.)

As I was prowling around, I found the equivalent of NC's CurlTalk, which is called ChairTalk. If stylists are anything like clients, this part of the site should get pretty lively fairly soon. Right now, though, there wasn't too much going on. Give it time, though, give it time.... Actually, you don't have to be a stylist to join. By joining, you can participate in the ChairTalk discussions and write product reviews.

I'll be telling my stylist about the site next time I see her. Maybe I'll even type in the URL while color sits on my head -- I get bored with the gossip rags she stocks!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Knights of the aloe vera roundtable

Despite aloe vera's ubiquitous appearance in products, few of us know exactly how it works and why. Many believe that it is the supreme source of moisture for hair, yet for some people, aloe vera makes their hair "squeaky" and brittle.

Is it possible to get easy, straightforward answers regarding aloe vera? Doesn't seem so. Even the Wikipedia entry says: "Scientific evidence for the cosmetic and therapeutic effectiveness of Aloe vera is limited and when present is typically contradictory."

I thought it might be fun to assemble a group of informed people who work in the beauty business and get their opinions. We've got Marsha, the owner of Curl Junkie, who concocts her own products and was a stylist before that. She's got definite opinions about curly hair. Next, we have JC, whose blog I wrote about a few days ago. She is a curly-hair scientist in the UK who backs up her findings and determinations about hair by quoting from specific scientific studies. Jessica McGuinty, founder of Jessicurl, uses aloe in many of her product formulations, and as she stated in a recent interview, does a lot of testing of these products and how they perform. Tiffany Anderson-Taylor, aka StruttsWife on the discussion boards, has been a hair stylist in Florida for several years, and recently wrote a book about caring for curly hair. Her site, Live Curly Live Free, is a fantastic resource for people curious about curls' unique needs. And finally, we have Perry Romanowski, an independent cosmetic formulator who is associated with one of my favorite blogs, The Beauty Brains as well as a site for cosmetic chemists called Chemists Corner. He's written a book titled Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry, and he has been a senior project leader at Alberto Culver.

That's a lot of hairy brain power. And yet, opinions at this roundtable are as divergent as Elvis Costello's discography. See for yourself.

Jillipoo: I've heard aloe vera described as pure moisture, a humectant, a protein, and an astringent. How would you describe it?

Marsha: I would describe it as a moisturizer and I believe it has a small amount of amino acids in it, but not enough that I would call it a protein.

JC: I didn't realize just how popular aloe vera was until I received repeated requests for research about it. It does contain a whole bunch of stuff including sugars, calcium, iron, vitamins, proteins (enzymes) and aminoacids. You can read the full list here Br J Gen Pract. 1999 October; 49(447): 823–828. I think aloe vera defies description and is probably one of the substances to watch for the future. It is sort of important to say though that the gel is different from whole leaf extracts (as far as medicinal properties are concerned)

Jess: I also know it to be moisturizing, without being overly heavy or causing build up. In the testing during the production of my styling products, it the batches without aloe didn't seem to allow for the same softness to the hair once dried as the batches with it.

Tiffany: Because aloe vera contains enzymes that promote stimulation of the hair follicles, I tend to view it mainly as an astringent, although I feel it certainly has its place within the other categories as well.

Perry: Aloe vera is primarily a humectant made up of polysaccharides. It is formulated into hair care products to help support a marketing natural story and is not expected (nor has it been demonstrated) to provide a significant benefit for hair.

Jillipoo: Is it really moisturizing or does it merely simulate moisturizing? My hair curls quite a lot when I use it, which makes me think it's getting moisture, but how exactly does aloe vera work?

Marsha: This is completely non-scientific, but I've found that it works as a moisturizer in that it seems to form a film (although it's a very thin, not very stable film) that helps to keep moisture in the hair. I've read that Aloe has a small amount of amino acids in it and this could help explain its film forming qualities.

JC: Most research that I have seen refers most to skin and wound healing. One journal article which was reviewing aloe vera said that it 'seals in moisture due to its high water and mineral content' (Phytotherapy Research, pg 987-1010,2003). It has been used to keep wounds moist and also help break down callusses. I guess on hair it may be a source of water for the hair to keep drawing on? This is a monumental piece of guesswork I must warn you.

Jess: I've found it to be actually moisturizing, but of course in a totally different way than we might think of oils or conditioners being moisturizing. (ie: not creamy like a conditioner or oily like butters.) The humectant properties allow it to attract and retain moisture, as the other ladies have already said. :)

Tiffany: In its role as a humectant, it attracts moisture from the surrounding environment; additionally, since it is a coagulating agent, my thought is its thickened gel state forms a protective layer that helps to hold that existing moisture in. I don't know how much moisture it can actually generate in and of itself, however.

Perry: Aloe vera acts as a humectant. When it is applied it will help to draw moisture to your hair. It has a similar function to ingredients like Glycerin and Propylene Glycol. But it will only work when delivered from a leave-in product since it is water soluble and easily rinsed away when used in rinse-out hair products.

Jillipoo: What kind of hair is likely to benefit most from aloe vera? What kind is likely to not benefit at all?

Marsha: I think all hair types can benefit from Aloe vera, but specifically, fine hair, damaged hair, and dry hair, regardless of curl pattern. If your hair type is extremely protein sensitive, then you would likely see little benefit.

JC: I can't really answer this one scientifically as there is not much research on this subject. I definitely think it is hugely popular among the readers on my blog so my anectodal research would say it is good for the gorgeous super curly/kinky haired women whose locks are prone to dryness. I think many people are opting for natural products along with their natural curls so I think many will try it regardless of hair condition.

Jess: Since it's so light in texture and doesn't build up, any hair type can use it, as it won't weigh down fine hair. Some people are allergic to aloe, so obviously they shouldn't use it.

Tiffany: Anyone with moisture needs should most likely find aloe to be beneficial, although individuals with porosity issues should be careful, as any product ingredient with humectant properties can cause issues by forcing the hair shaft to "drink" moisture out of the atmosphere until it is bloated and swollen.

Perry: Aloe vera is actually an ingredient that cosmetic chemists refer to as a "claims" ingredient. It is not actually put in hair formulas at a level that would (even if it could) have any effect. The only effect that it has is to create a story for the product that consumers find compelling. The "work" of the formula such as moisturizing, cleansing, & conditioning is really done by ingredients that have less compelling names like 'dimethicone', 'cetrimonium chloride', and 'cocamidopropyl betaine'. But aloe vera is a humectant and may have some moisturizing effects when delivered from leave-in products. However, other ingredients are much more effective at a lower cost. From rinse-out products, aloe vera has no effect since it just gets rinsed away with all the other non-substantive ingredients.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The quest for truth

Forty-plus years ago, we put a man on the moon. How come hair science still remains so much of a mystery?

The little bit of information that does seem to find its way to us, the unwashed masses, is often as much folklore as science. But we have no idea what's true and what isn't. In the end, all we really know is what works for us individually, and making that determination is fraught with confusion and often costly experimentation.

I am always on the hunt for scientific explanations. Not being a scientist, however, makes this adventure a little harrowing at times but seeing as how I don't have the time or inclination to get a degree in cosmetic science (or any kind of science for that matter), I want to rely on people who know what they're talking about.

So I turn to people in the industry who have earned their degrees, read the right research studies, and understand ingredients from a chemical perspective. I recently found JC, who writes The Natural Haven blog. She is a natural-haired lady in the U.K. who is a scientist unaffiliated with any cosmetic companies, and I've learned a couple of things already from her blog. What's also nice about this blog is that you get the feeling JC is sometimes learning along with you. She is curious and knows where to go to get information that answers reader questions. She never makes people feel stupid for not knowing something.

First thing I learned
Cuticles don't swing open and closed like doors. Not only is the movement teeny tiny (which it would have to be since hair is pretty damn thin to begin with), but once the cuticle is opened (such as through heat styling or subjecting hair to water, which is alkaline), it cannot then be closed by the application of some product or substance (such as vinegar or cold water). She does quote a study, however, that indicates certain conditioners can help make the cuticle feel smoother -- and they contain silicones.

This flies in the face of everything we thought we knew, doesn't it?

One reader questioned her about why her hair feels smoother after she uses ACV (apple cider vinegar) rinses. JC doesn't discount the reader's experience at all, and tells her that there might be some other reason why the acidic rinses do this. She confesses, though, that she doesn't know what that reason might be. She says that her research indicates that a substance with a low pH is not responsible for closing a cuticle.

I am amazed that science cannot account for this phenomenon. We can propel astronauts millions of miles into space but the simple behavior of a hair cuticle vexes scientists into silence. (I'm not pointing to JC here -- I'm shaking my fist at cosmetic science in general.) I can't find scientific evidence to support the long-standing belief about shutting down the cuticle with acidic rinses, but if any of you find something, by all means, post a comment and share it! (Much cosmetology-based information is available but this is not the same as scientific studies. I looked in my egghead book about hair and found nothing to support the acidic-rinses-closing-the cuticle theory, but I did find several references to alkaline raising the cuticle.)

Second thing I learned
I also learned that coconut oil applied before wetting the hair can not only help retain whatever protein your hair has, but also minimize how much water your hair takes in. So, if you have a little problem with hair expanding too much after getting wet (porosity), you might find that coconut oil controls that issue for you. I have certainly noticed this to be true of my hair. Ever since I started using coconut oil at night, I do have less frizz than I used to. I knew the coconut oil was responsible but I wasn't entirely sure why. So, thanks, JC!

The Natural Haven is now on my blog list. Maybe it should be on yours, too.