Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fear of success?

I've had more bad hair days in the past couple of weeks than I've had in the whole year prior. And I just can't take it anymore! Especially since those bad hair days were all the result of straying from combos that I already know work for me. (By the way, that's not a photo of me. She looks a little better than yours truly of late.)

What the heck goes on in my mind, I wonder, when I decide to forego the tried and true in favor of the unknown? Do you do this too? Maybe I think I'll discover something new. Or maybe I just have a subconscious wish to look less than pretty. The old "fear of success" phenomenon. (Which, according to that link, I actually do have. Awesome.)

So what's to be done? I hereby vow, for at least this coming week, to use only products and combos that I know will work for me. Things I've tried before and really liked. This experimentation stuff has got to stop. I am sabotaging myself!

Plus, I really do need a haircut. That's probably not helping matters.

Anybody else want to go in on this pact with me?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fun game!

On L'Oreal's site, there is game that runs too long but is still quite fun -- especially if looking at things (such as hair) under a microscope is your idea of a good time. It's called the Hair Profiler. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Are "natural" products better?

Gradually over the past decade, perhaps with our enlightenment about the harm we're doing to the planet, we've come to regard all the plants and their existence in our products with great reverence. We want to buy products that are "natural" and look with suspicion on hair care that is devoid of herbs, flowers, and obscure, lesser known oils.

What does "natural" mean, anyway?

I'm serious. That was not a rhetorical question. I want to know. If you had to define it, what would you say?

I've come up with some reasons why I suspect people think so-called natural products are better.

No Preservatives
I've addressed this before but it bears repeating. Preservatives are not universally bad and in fact, without them, you would have a head full of bacteria. Bacteria is natural, too. Does that make it good?

Natural products use preservatives, too, and sometimes, they are not straight from nature. Paula Begoun, author of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me has this to say: "...natural or plant-based preservatives have extremely poor antimicrobial or antifungal properties. Complications for skin due to a product being contaminated are a serious consideration when it comes to how a product is preserved."

Concerned about parabens? Even the Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Database lists most of them as having a score below 5 (the group's highest score, which indicates the highest level of danger or toxicity, is 10). And the EWG, considered alarmist by some, overly cautious by others, could not possibly be accused of underestimating the danger of any ingredient. So, if methylparaben and sodium methylparaben achieve scores of 8, these may be cause for concern if you use a lot of products that contain this ingredient, but do you know how much of this stuff you'd have to use in order to be worried? Tons! There's no way you could use and/or absorb enough to adversely affect your health. Better you should worry about getting hit by a bus or slipping on a banana peel.

Mother Nature is Our Friend
Well, yes, often she is. Except when she isn't. Some examples:

- Hurricane Katrina
- Belladonna
- Smallpox
- Poison ivy

I hope you see where I'm going. Not everything that is of the earth is good for us. Lots of things are, though, and we would hope that those would be the things that end up in our products. Is this true? Sometimes.

In the Paula Begoun article I mentioned above, she lists some of the compounds found in nature that are good for our skin and/or hair -- and some of the ones that are not so good (such as lavender oil, lemon, rose, and sage). Tea tree oil is another one that's been getting some attention lately, and according to Dr. Benabio's Dermatology Blog, there's reason to be cautious with this substance. Although the article is about the efficacy of tea tree oil used to treat acne, he raises some excellent points about how harsh it can be for many people.

Natural or Organic Equates to Purity
No, it doesn't.

Did you know that a cosmetics company can claim anything is natural or organic? And that they can do so because there are no FDA guidelines or definitions for either word (in the cosmetic industry)? This means that if a product is 90 percent water, which is "natural," a company can claim that its product is natural. Even "organic."

Most of us cannot step out into the backyard, pick a plant, and apply it directly to our bodies and wait for beauty to happen. Herbs and plants and oils need to undergo various processes to either make the ingredient compatible with other ingredients or to extract what is actually useful from a plant. These processes almost always involve the use of chemicals. Are all chemicals bad? Hell no. In fact, many of the unpronounceable ingredients in hair care products are responsible for making our hair manageable, beautiful, and better conditioned. (Case in point: Cetyl alcohol, which is not a drying alcohol but an emulsifier and emollient -- a "fatty alcohol" -- yet companies such as Aubrey Organics list it as "coconut fatty acid base" because it sounds less "scientific" than what it really is. Without a lab, this ingredient would not exist. Is that natural? You tell me.)

Here, at last, is my point: If you are using "natural" hair care products because you think they are better for your hair, you are probably deluding yourself. There is no evidence to prove that they are any better for you, or work any better than synthetic or non-organic or unnatural products/ingredients. By all means use them if you like them (I use several myself), but do not be fooled by the hype.

I leave you with this from the Organic Consumers Association:

The industry’s hopes for eternal youth are validated by stunning 39 percent growth in the natural and organic cosmetic sector annually. In one survey conducted by Health, 83 percent of responding consumers indicated that they would rather use all natural body products, though more than half could not define “natural” or “organic.”

"Natural" products are likely doing more to ease your ecological conscience than they are doing for your hair.

I encourage your comments on this. Did I miss any of the reasons why you choose natural over synthetic? If so, tell me.

Addendum: I found this story at Cosmetics Design a day after writing this post. It talks about how companies are getting sued by making false claims about being natural and/or organic. What's even more interesting is that the Federal Trade Commission is putting together guidelines to help companies avoid deceptive claims, and even though there is already a set of guidelines out there, the article says most companies do not even know they exist. Little wonder the greenwashing business is thriving!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Keeping it real

I hear a lot of whining (some of it's from me but let's ignore that for the moment) about product performance. Some of the familiar refrains go something like:

"This product doesn't seem to achieve Holy Grail (HG) status."

"This product failed to make me look like Melina Kanakaredes."

"This product worked for people on the discussion board I visit but it didn't work for me. I must have gotten a bad bottle!"

Time for a reality check. It's my contention that most of us are either not honest about our hair or we expect too much of products. Let's take a little quiz, shall we? Give yourself one point for every "yes" answer.

1. Do you mix or layer more than two products (yes, this includes leave-in)?
2. Have you ever used a product marketed for hair that was different than your own?
3. Are you especially frugal with application? Or especially generous?
4. Do you see photos of other people's hair and think it looks like yours, only to have a friend point out that it doesn't resemble your hair at all?
5. Do you drift in and out of the Curly Girl regimen, tossing in silicones willy nilly and using sulfate shampoos here and there?

If you got more than three points in that test, pour yourself a glass of water -- it's time for you to swallow a large and uncomfortable reality pill.

Mixing too many products.
Did you know that when a product formulation is created, it is created as a stand-alone product? Manufacturers have no idea that you use a conditioner, a leave-in, a gel, and a serum in conjunction with their product. In other words, you are introducing four different opportunities for unpleasant product interactions if you are using that kind of lineup.

When you buy a new product, use it alone first. See what it does. If it lacks a certain oomph that you know another product in your arsenal can deliver, go ahead and combine them. But if the combo isn't good, it may be unfair to blame the new product. After all, if you're a combiner, then you probably don't like any of your products by themselves. Why slam the new one? What you may be experiencing is simply a failure of these various ingredients to play nice together. It doesn't necessarily mean that the new product sucks. Maybe it just can't carry out its mission because of the competing ingredients you've piled onto your head.

Buying something not designed for your hair.
My hair is fine. With the right products, it can look normal but I know that no amount of smoke and mirrors will change the fact that my hair is intrinsically fine. So why would I buy a product that is designed for thick, coily hair? Isn't that a lot like dating a guy who tells you he's Trouble? Step aside and keep walking if you know what's good for you.

Every so often, you might get lucky when you try a product that isn't made for your hair type, but by and large, second-guessing a manufacturer's recommendation will prove frustrating. Plus, you'll be wasting money. (I know that kathymack is going to take issue with this comment but that's okay. She is an exception to most hair rules, but that doesn't mean you will be, too!)

Wrong quantities.

Here again, at least start with the recommended amount and then adjust it to your tastes. If you slather the stuff on and then complain that it weighed your hair down, didn't you invite that situation yourself? Alternatively, if you used a pea-size amount when a dollop was required, don't complain when the product "didn't do anything."

"But I know what amounts are usually good for me," you might be saying. Yes, you probably do -- but you have never used this product before and you have no idea whether it's like other products. Follow directions first, adjust later.

Not being honest about your hair.
About a year ago, I had a sobering experience. A girl with gorgeous, wavy-curly hair joined and I instantly recognized her as a hair twin.

What I failed to realize, however, was that we would have been twins if this were 1979. As much as it pains me to admit it, my hair is different now than it was in college, but some part of my brain hadn't fully accepted that fact when I saw the photos of that girl.

Ditto if you've ever just not been honest about what your hair will and will not do. Some of us will never have frizz-free hair. Some of us will never have shiny curls. Figure out what your hair will and will not do, and don't let a sexy advertisement convince you otherwise. Better yet, find the characteristic of your curls that makes them unique and play that up rather than bending your hair's will to some external image it can never match.

Doing it all half-assed.
You! The sheepish one! You know what I'm talking about. You're the one who piles on the polyquats, randomly uses silicones, and shampoos on no particular schedule, and then wonders why your hair won't "behave." Pick a plan and stick with it. Your plan can be varied but it has to be that way because you've determined that your hair responds to it, not because you just feel like mixing things up every few days. The "My religion won't allow me to throw products away" excuse is not valid, by the way. If products don't work for you, there's no sense in keeping them. Give them to friends, or put them on the swap board. Just keep them out of your hair.

And finally, keep in mind that everybody has their own notions of how they like their hair to look. Some curlies like super-defined curls that look like they were formed with a curling iron while others prefer to look like they just returned from the beach. Some have a frizz tolerance of zero while others accept some frizz as part of being curly. "Good curls" are entirely personal and entirely subjective. Expectations vary wildly and one curly's great experience may indeed be another's trauma.

Keep it real, people. But most of all, keep it simple.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Clever take on coils and curls

I was tipped off to this video and thought it was pretty cute

The Coil Review is an excellent resource for natural coily and curly textured hair. I hadn't been aware of the site prior to being contacted about it, but now that I've roamed around the site a bit and gotten a sense of what it offers, I'm impressed. Not only have they got good product and style-related content, but some excellent editorials, as well. Because let's face it, being curly carries some emotional and cultural baggage in addition to frizz potential.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Weird Product Wednesday: Lock & Twist Pudding

Many people sing the praises of Donna Marie's Lock & Twist Pudding. Indeed, owner Ayanna Henderson says it is the line's "signature" product. I bought my jar back in late October 2008, and to this day, I am still a member of the "I don't get it" club.

Maybe this is one of those "ethnic" products that really does work best on hair that is different from mine. Some people use it to set their hair in twists, which I don't do. Others just use a little of this product and get nice results (which, admittedly, I did a few times in cold weather, although my results were not consistent). With all due respect to Ayanna and all the people who groove on Lock & Twist, I find this product weird on multiple levels.

1. The smell. What is it? I can't even begin to describe it. Not exactly unpleasant but certainly not an aroma you'd caress on your pulse points prior to a night of seduction. (I just asked my boyfriend to describe it, knowing he is never at a loss for words, and he said: "Fake flowers. Like it's trying too hard.") And as with all smells that you could really live without, this one lingers.

2. The label. I guess labeling is a difficult process for smaller companies, because Lock and Twist's is not the first one I've seen that's barely legible. (Karen's Body Beautiful seems to have a similar problem.) Why choose a font that's arty or undecipherable? And why have it wrap around a wide jar so that readers need to follow the text with a finger to stay on track? The label on this jar is not easy to read and that compounds the next issue, as you will soon see.

3. The ingredients. I do understand why a company would want to experiment with ingredients in order to fine-tune a product. But when I buy a product based on what the company website says it contains and then my jar says something different, or I hear from others that their jar's listing didn't match the website, I immediately question the company's commitment to accurate labeling. I'm not accusing Donna Marie of trying to pull a fast one on its customers, but there was much discussion at for a while about whether Lock & Twist contained glycerin. My jar doesn't list any but the company website says:

Deionized water, aloe vera gel, carbomer, kokum butter, mango butter, sweet almond oil, glycerin, flax seed gel extract, hibiscus extract, carrot seed extract, burdock root extract, agave nectar extract, silver citrate, potassium sorbate and natural fragrance.

I guess I should believe my jar (if I could read it). It doesn't list glycerin. The product behaves, though, as if it there were glycerin in it. It bugs me that there's a discrepancy and that the only way I can really know for sure is to bring the product to a lab, a task that virtually never appears on my to-do list.

4. The shelf life. One of the wonders in this modern world is the miracle of preservatives. Now before you get all squirmy and/or huffy at the very thought of preservatives, please note that without them, your magic potions would grow mold and allow bacteria to multiply on your person. Mold and bacteria run counter to beauty, I'm sure you'd agree.

Lock & Twist uses "natural" preservatives and there's nothing wrong with that. It relies on silver citrate and potassium sorbate to keep little blue meanies at bay. It's important to know, however, that these particular preservatives yield a product shelf life of about a year.

I don't want to alarm anybody but although I have no evidence of mold or bacteria, the appearance of the product has most definitely changed since I bought it. This is rarely a good sign. I don't know whether you can tell from this photo, but contents have separated and it looks a little more mottled than it did when it first arrived at my house. Now, it has been sitting idle for probably two months, and maybe a good stir would bring it back to normal, but if that kind of product behavior is normal, it would behoove the company to disclose that on the label. Otherwise, as a cautious consumer, I'm thinking maybe something has gone awry in this jar and I'm not likely to continue using it.

In summary, if you meet the following criteria:

- you lock or twist your hair as a styling method
- you have excellent eyesight
- you don't need your products to smell pretty
- you use your products in less than a year

then Lock & Twist Pudding may just be the product for you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hey! My hair grew!

So I was uploading a few photos to my Fotki account tonight and I noticed that since March 2008, my hair has grown quite a lot, even though it hasn't seemed that way to me as I look at it in the mirror every day.

Here it is 14 months ago:

And then here it is as of last month:

The color is different too. Hmmm... How did that happen?

The curl is tighter, too. I don't understand how that happened, either.