Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is the CG Emperor naked?

Since going CG and visiting the discussion boards at, I've heard over and over how using the right products will bring moisture to your hair and restore its "health." Testimonial after testimonial repeat the same messages:

"My hair is not nearly as frizzy as it used to be."

"My hair curls so much more now than it did."

"My hair is so much smoother now."

I don't doubt that people are seeing a difference but I think we need to look a little more closely at what we're comparing.

Some people come to CG with very damaged hair. Maybe they've been flat-ironing for years and/or using any assortment of chemical treatments that have wreaked serious havoc on their defenseless tresses. When they start CG and give those things up, when the new hair grows in, of course it feels and behaves better. CG won't fix what's damaged but it will help the new growth look better.

But what about people whose hair was not damaged prior to CG? What can they expect? This is the point on which I'm still not clear. I want to believe the folks who sing CG's praises -- the ones who say that even without product, their hair looks and feels better. They indicate that months or years of CG care and attention (and some even say a few days or weeks) has done them so much good that even without using any product (beyond conditioner), they see a noticeable difference in their hair.

I want to be one of these people. But I have to confess that I am not.

My hair looks fabulous compared to how it looked a few years ago. I like it most days. But if I didn't use gel or curl creme or my all-time-favorite, Kinky Curly Curling Custard, I can tell you right now that my hair would look and behave exactly as it did prior to my going CG. I don't see any real improvement in its natural state.

Has anybody else had this experience or are all of you blessed with visibly better hair since going CG? Don't get me wrong: I am NOT going to stop following the CG regimen I've created for myself but my point is simply this: the conditioner has done a world of good, yes, but without the styling products, I wouldn't have clumpy curls and I would have frizz.

How about you?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Curl Junkie Giveaway!

When Marsha at Curl Junkie puts on her thinking cap, new and improved products are sure to follow. Over the past few months, she created FIVE new concoctions that already have the curly community buzzing. (I haven't tried them yet, but you can bet I will soon.) I love the way Marsha runs her business but mostly I love how her passion is reflected through product innovation. Her products are unlike any others, and I swear this woman's brain NEVER stops thinking about ingredient combinations!

In case you haven't been apprised of the new products, here are the official descriptions:

Beauticurls Daily Conditioner - a lightweight instant conditioner/detangler that is perfect for everyday use for all hair types.

Beauticurls Leave-in Conditioner - The companion to the daily conditioner, this is an emollient rich, yet lightweight, detangling, and glycerin-free leave-in.

Curl Assurance Smoothing Conditioner - Got Frizz? This is the conditioner for you. It is perfect for giving you daily moisture with just the right amount of frizz control. This will come in a 12 oz. size!

Curl Fix - Intense Hair Treatment - This is a wonderfully restoring deep treatment that is rich in proteins and amino acids to help your damaged/dry tresses. This is a well balanced treatment that does not leave your hair hard or dry. It can also be used in place of a leave-in as an all-day hair treatment. Wonderful for fine-haired curls as well!

Curls in a Bottle - Curl Styling Solution - This product is all you need to get your curls looking right. Perfect for all hair types especially fine hair, this hair styling liquid gel has a flexible, not hard, hold and due to it’s lightweight conditioners, it won’t dry out your hair. Works well with leave-ins and other styling products and adds great shine and bounce to curls! This also comes in a 12 oz. size!

So, did you just have a brain freeze when you read all that? Yeah, me too. I wanted them all and couldn't decide what to try. But you know what? Decision-making just got easier because if you post a comment and state why you love Curl Junkie, I will read them all, choose the two best comments (maybe I'll go with heartfelt, maybe wickedly amusing, maybe scientifically accurate -- there's no telling, really), and GIVE AWAY ONE CURLS IN A BOTTLE and ONE CURL FIX!

Don't let this chance slip away! You have until December 18 to tell this blog what's so great about Curl Junkie -- and possibly win some free product if your comment curls my toes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How can a product review be useful to you?

Have you ever purchased a product because you read a good review of it? Have you ever had the same experience with it as the reviewer?

If my own experience is any guide, you answered "yes" to the first question and "hardly ever" to the second. So what does this mean? Is there something wrong with your (and my) hair? Are these product reviewers lying? Did we misunderstand the reviews?

Except for reviews that are written by shills for a given company, the answer to all of those questions is "no." But that takes us back to the original questions of why it's so rare to have the same experience with a product as somebody else.

You know why there are so many products out there? Because there's so much variation in hair! There's porosity, texture, volume, and elasticity to consider. And not only is there variation among heads but there's the mineral content of the water you use, the temperature and dew point where you live, the other products you might also be using in your hair, how badly your hair needs to be cut, your diet, your stress level, and even your hormonal activity.

A product review can only be helpful if the reviewer has a head of hair similar to yours and lives in conditions that approximate your own. What are the odds of that? I don't know. I flunked math in school because I preferred English.

I see blogs dedicated to reviewing products and to be honest, I rarely read them. They are well-intentioned and I'm sure the reviewer feels she's rendering a service, but without knowing any of the variables I listed above and without knowing how much product the reviewer used, the review is pretty worthless to me.

Reviews also can be helpful, though, if the reviewer compares the product to another product. Then you have some frame of reference, especially if you've used either product. When a reviewer has reviewed many products and can compare and contrast, you can start to get a feel for what her hair is like -- and how it differs from or is similar to yours. In my case, my hair tends to be pretty sensitive to humectants. I limit them and avoid products that have a lot of them high up on the ingredient list. If a reviewer gives a thumbs up to products that are humectant-heavy, I know that her hair is very different from mine and I won't pay too much attention to what she says because we're comparing apples and oranges. It doesn't mean she's a bad reviewer or that the product is bad (or good) -- it just means that the combination of ingredients in that product is better suited to her hair than to mine.

But wait, you might be saying. Wouldn't you be able to figure most of this out just by reading the ingredient list?

Yep. And that's why I think product reviews are of limited value. Read the ingredient labels for yourself and you'll be able to make your own determination about what will work for you. Even this method isn't foolproof obviously, because although we know what's in a product, we never know how much of each ingredient is in it. That's where experimentation comes in, and only you can do that for yourself.

If you've found a product reviewer who seems to like the same products you do, you are one lucky curly head. But for the rest of us, the only reliable way to know whether a bottle or tube or jar contains our holy grail is to read the label and/or try it ourselves.

And then, of course, you can write your own product review, if you like.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ready, Set, SHOP

Holy Curmoly, the number of sales today is dizzying. I'm going to try to group them all in one post for your spending convenience:

Curl Junkie: Five (!) new products being released today! Woo hoo! And to top it off, on Black Friday only, they are offering 10% off your order of $50 or more (use the Code “NEWSTUFF” at checkout). They are putting a few products on 50% off sale!

Komaza Care: They're giving 15% off everything you buy between November 26 and 29! Just be sure to enter the word Thanksgiving as the coupon code during checkout to take advantage of your 15% discount.

Curl Mart: They're cleaning house over there to make room for new products. So grab your favorites while you can! Get 30% off 26 brands they carry -- for example, Wen, AG and Curl Junkie-- only while supplies last.

Sally Beauty Supply: They are offering a number of promotions for the holiday season that give you two products for the price of one, including free dryers, curling irons and flat irons. (This means one for you, one for somebody else. See how that works?)

Donna Marie: Get 20% off everything -- but only on Black Friday. The secret code is DMBLACKFRIDAY.

Have fun!

Friday, November 20, 2009

I heart Perry Romanowski

No, he's not famous (although see what you get when you Google "most famous cosmetic chemist") but I just love Perry Romanowski. He's been part of a few roundtables here at No-Poo Jillipoo not only because he knows his stuff but because he is a quirky, funny, smart, and gracious person (for instance, he always participates in my roundtables rather than saying something like "Who the heck are you, No-Poo? I work with dimethicone, dammit, and I have no time for your foolishness!"). He contributes to several blogs (Beauty Brains and Chemists Corner and perhaps others with equally alliterative names) and recently, he gave a presentation on "Skepticism and the Cosmetics Industry" in Chicago at the Midwest Society of Cosmetic Chemists.

In this presentation, he addressed what he calls the five most popular beauty myths. And here they are:

- Natural is safer
- Cosmetics are toxic
- More expensive is better
- Cosmetic woo works
- Pantene is plastic

Could a perspective be any simpler? Or for that matter, funnier? (And no, I'm not entirely sure what "cosmetic woo" is, either, but I'm sure that if I'd been at the event rather than ogling his PowerPoint presentation online, I'd have been utterly titillated by his definition.)

I guess another reason I love Perry is because his observations about the beauty industry are not influenced by his "feelings" or superficial evidence or anything other than straight-up science. I adore the no-bullshit insights. He's my kinda beauty blogger. And as long as he is willing, I'm going to keep on including him in my roundtables. Mwah, Perry!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Always learning

On Saturday, I was part of a group of curlies who paid to fly Tiffany Anderson Taylor out to San Francisco (well, Fremont, actually) so she could cut out hair. I've gotten to know Tiffany through various means for the past year or two, and even helped copyedit her e-book, Live Curly Live Free. (If you don't have the book, by the way, I strongly urge you to purchase it. It provides more help and information than any book ever written on the topic of curls. And I am not exaggerating.) Here is a photo of Tiffany that I took at the event and as always happens with my stupid iPhone camera, you cannot see curls!

Tiffany cut hair all day Saturday and all day Sunday. It's clear that she thoroughly enjoys her work! Everybody left looking better than when they arrived. Except, strangely enough, me!

I am fortunate to have an outstanding hair stylist here in San Francisco: Bebe of Sassy Salon. She does not cut my hair according to the Deva method. She gives me a traditional, layered cut that takes my curls into account. I have never had a bad haircut from her. When I arrived at my appointment with Tiffany, I knew my hair already looked ... well ... fabulous. (I've been using Mop Top Daily Conditioner, Karen's Body Beautiful Hair Nectar as leave-in, and a combination of KCCC and Fuzzy Duck gel as my styler -- this combo has yet to let me down!)

Tiffany asked me why I wanted anything done to my hair. She said she didn't think she could improve on it. And really, I kind of agreed but thought I kind of needed a trim so why not let her do it?

So, Tiffany sat me down and inquired about what products I used, what my routine was, and what I wanted from the haircut she would give me. All very good questions and ones that every stylist ought to ask their clients.

She cut very little, which is what I wanted. She gave me a tip or two to relay to my stylist, but insisted that my cut was already just great. (I can't wait to tell Bebe that her work was so appreciated!) Now that a few days have passed, I don't see much difference in the way my hair falls, and actually, that's fine by me.

Then came the wet-down and product application. And this is where I started to learn one major lesson: not everybody follows the same routine! Tiffany used Aquage conditioner and gel on me (I preferred that to the Deva products she had available). Both the conditioner and gel contained protein, so that was good by me. But from this point forward, I think things started to go awry for me.

Through no fault of Tiffany's, my styling and drying sequence contrasted fairly sharply with what I do at home. But I wanted to stay open to new techniques, so I went along.

1. She applied the gel to sopping wet hair. I don't do this. I squeeze out as much moisture as possible and then apply gel. If I don't do this, my hair is weighed down by the water, takes forever to dry, and does not encourage curl.
2. She clipped my hair with metal clips. My experience with metal clips has been abysmal, but the ones she used were of better quality and they actually did work well. (I use these plastic ones and love them because they hold better and don't get tangled in my hair like the metal ones generally do.)
3. She put me out to air-dry before diffusing. I generally diffuse right away to get some volume and then I air dry.
4. She used the Deva Fuser dryer. She likes it but I can honestly say that for all the curlies I saw that day, all of them had their curls broken up and slightly frizzed because of this dryer. It is just god-awful and I must be honest about that. At least two of us who had terrific clumpy curls when we arrived, left with no clumps after the Deva Fuser was used on us. Maybe it's a case of operator error with this thing, because Tiffany did not personally blow-dry most of us -- a curly "helper" did. In my case, I used it on myself and hated it so much that I asked the person whose home we were at if I could use her blow-dryer and diffuser. Marginally better.

After two hours, I couldn't take it anymore and scrunched out the crunch. It looked terrible. Tiffany saw my disappointment and offered to do me all over again. We did that and this time, we followed a routine that more closely resembled my own. Although my results were better, they were still not great.

I really want to emphasize that none of this is Tiffany's fault. She didn't do anything wrong, and she even asked all of us to bring our favorite products if we wanted her to use them. I should have brought my KCCC!

I learned that there is simply no right or wrong way to care for curly hair. Everybody's hair is different, and more important, everybody's preferences for the end result are different. Some people don't want clumpy curls. I do, and I want them by the truckload! Some people don't want volume. I do. Some people can't stand a really wet head and I am one of them. My routine has been adapted to my preferences. And it works for me, but it may not work for everyone. Tiffany's routine may work for some clients but it did not work for me.

So, next time you're trying to follow a routine that's been posted somewhere on the Internet yet you aren't getting the results you want ... TRY SOMETHING ELSE. Pay attention to your hair and don't be afraid to alter your routine or your products to honor your instincts.

The right way to care for curly hair is whatever way works for you.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Are you doing CG correctly?

Once upon a time, a hair stylist wrote a book about how to care for curly hair. The information and guidance in the book were based mostly on her experiences with her own as well as her clients' hair. The book helped a lot of curlies, including me, and I'm forever grateful to have found it.

But let's be clear, people. It is a very big mistake to regard this book as some kind of bible.

I say this because it seems that a lot of people go to great pains to "get CG right." They agonize over whether a product is CG, ask as many CG followers as they can about the "correct" way to apply product, and they think that if they make a mistake, it's like being an alcoholic who takes a drink--and that they must "start over" again.

My view is that it's time to relax about being CG.

What is the CG method?

If you were to distill the Curly Girl book down into a few sentences (and believe me, you can), here are its tenets:
1. Avoid sulfates
2. Avoid silicones
3. Treat curly hair gently (no brushes, no rough towels, no blow-dryers)
4. Gel is your friend
5. A good conditioner contains a blend of moisturizers, protein, emollients, and humectants
5. Don't touch your hair before it's completely dry

There's also a bunch of silliness about "typing" one's hair, none of which is terribly helpful but a delightful little exercise that helps give the book some substance and allows the author to use celebrity photos to demonstrate her points. People love celebrities. So do publishers. Celebrities help make everything sell better.

The book asserts that silicones coat the hair and starve it of moisture. It goes on to say that shampoo (at least the kind that contains sulfates, which is pretty much all that existed when the author wrote the book) is what's needed to remove the silicones, but the sulfates strip hair of its natural moisture, thereby forcing us all to reach for silicones to give us the shine we crave. And hence, a heinous cycle of interdependency ensues.

And that, along with the hair typing and a plethora of curly confessions, is the sum total of the book.

Points of confusion

Sulfates. Not all of these are created equal. What's more, not all shampoos have the same amount of them. And finally, there's not a single silicone in existence that requires the use of sulfates to remove it. Surfactants, no sulfates, are what's required to remove silicones (and most products in general). (So-called harsher sulfates include sodium laurel sulfate, sodium, laureth sulfate, and ammonium laurel sulfate. Milder surfactants that will do the job for you include sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, and sodium cocoyl isethionate. Still milder are non-sulfate anionic surfactants, including sodium laurel sulfate, sodium, laureth sulfate, and ammonium laurel sulfate. Least harsh are the amphoteric surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, and sodium cocoyl isethionate.)

Silicones. These come in many guises and have many names. Some adhere to hair (dimethicone), some evaporate in a few hours (cyclomethicone), and others are extremely mild (dimethicone copolyol). Not all of them evil. In fact, many would argue that none of them are. In 2009, we have many more cleansing options than were available in 2002 when Curly Girl was written. There is no reason to be draconian in your avoidance of any ingredient ending in "cone" unless you have discovered that your hair really despises all silicones. And even if it does hate silicones, maybe if you found a way to remove them that your hair doesn't hate, that peaceful coexistence of cleansing and silicone could work for you. You never know unless you try.

Gel. Have you ever tried using the amount of gel recommended in the book? Fuggedabowdit. I use about five times as much gel as the book would have me using. It took me a few months to figure out that the quantities (of conditioner as well as gel) Curly Girl suggests simply are too skimpy for me. And in case you haven't noticed, amazing advances have been made in the formulation of gels, and now you also need to watch for certain polyquats. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security about a gel just because it doesn't contain any 'cones. What's more, some people's hair doesn't respond at all well to some of the most common (and seemingly harmless) gel ingredients such as propylene glycol, PVP, acrylates, and others. Just because something is technically CG doesn't mean your hair will thrive with it.

Conditioner. Another aspect of CG that required trial and error for me was conditioner selection. First, not everybody likes protein. (The author has done a rather abrupt about-face on this point herself: her products no longer contain protein and she preaches an anti-protein approach to her followers.) I adore protein and need more of it than I ever would have expected, but coarser haired curlies don't need and don't want protein. Humectants are good in theory, too, but depending on your hair's porosity and the climate you live in, you may not need humectants in the same quantities that somebody else would. Excess humectants result in frizz for some of us. So, when you read that a good conditioner must contain all these ingredients, proceed with caution because your hair may not want them all and it may not want them all in equal proportions.

How much conditioner you leave in your hair is also a huge variable among curly-headed people. Some people like to just not rinse it all out. Others like to rinse it all out and then add a bit more so they have more control. Still others use a curl creme instead of a conditioner. Some like no conditioner left in at all. You are the best judge of what your hair likes. The guidance in the book should only be used as a general suggestion about the need for curly hair to have some moisture left on it somehow. You can figure out for yourself what that moisture should look like for your hair. (And yes, figuring that out can take a while. But it's better to experiment than to blindly follow the advice of one stylist who has never seen your hair.)

Touching and being gentle. This is some of the best advice ever. Make sure your hair is totally dry before you scrunch out your crunch. It does make a world of difference! I have also found that towels with no nap make the best choices (I avoid terrycloth and even microfiber towels, which act like velcro on my hair, even when it's wet).

The Curly Girl book is a great introduction to the needs of curly hair. After you read it, loiter at the discussion boards (do NOT believe everything that's posted there, however!) to get some new insights, and read some of the blogs I've got listed in my favorites. Acquire information.

If there were one right way to handle curly hair, everybody's curly hair would be perfect and beautiful. But the sad truth is that there is no surefire way that applies to everyone's hair. All you can do is learn what you can, talk to people, and experiment. And when you experiment, you may discover a trick or two that will help someone else.