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As we continue to work from home and practice social distancing, we also continue to embrace our more natural tendencies. From skincare to hair care, this can get challenging. Transitioning to natural hair can seem akin to conducting a chemistry project: It takes time, it can get messy and complicated and it can be a process to figure out the perfect formula for your hair.
From navigating multiple hair textures and running trial-and-error experiments with products, it can be tempting to throw your hands up in the air, grab your flat iron and run off with a tub of relaxer. It can also be tempting to visit a salon, if you’re comfortable doing so.
Going natural, or growing out hair that hasn’t been treated with a relaxer, can get frustrating. From navigating multiple hair textures and running trial-and-error experiments with products to the breakage you’ll invariably encounter along the way, it can be tempting sometimes to just throw your hands up in the air, grab your flat iron and run off with a tub of relaxer.
But once the transition period is over, you could find a full head of gorgeous kinks and curls emerging and looking to thrive atop your head. To help take some of the guesswork out of your own journey, we asked three professional hairstylists about their favorite products for natural hair. Living a natural hair lifestyle can be life-changing and affirming — but it’s also complicated and demands swaths of patience. With a few of these products in your back pocket, some of your time and a lot of self-caring love, you can likely achieve the natural hair you’ve been aiming for. Below we offer up their tips as they pertain to cleansing your hair, styling it and, finally, treating it.
If you’re going natural, it’s time to get comfortable reading the small print on labels.
Best cleansing products for natural hair
The hair stylists we consulted all agreed about one thing: When it comes to cleaning natural Black hair, moisture and manageability are key.
“Using a shampoo and conditioner that are paraben- and sulfate-free keeps hair much more manageable,” Vanessa Collington, a stylist at Mizu Hair Salon New York, told us. If you’re going natural, it’s time to get comfortable reading the small print on labels.
- Parabens are chemical preservatives that help fight bacteria and fungus. You can identify them by their prefixes methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butylparaben.
- Sulfates are also preservatives that hair products utilize to reduce the spread of funky mold. Sodium lauryl sulfate may thicken your hair but it and other sulfates can also irritate and dry your scalp and hair and can keep moisture from your hair.
Dani Priester, owner of HaUs of BeaUty Salon in Englewood, N.J., is a fan of the entire Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Moisturizing & Detangling line, particularly the shampoo and conditioner. Both products work to hydrate, soften, and detangle your hair while leaving it feeling clean but not stripped. That squeaky-clean hair feeling is not welcome in the natural hair world — squeaky-clean hair to naturalistas can mean that it’s over-stripped of its natural oils, which can lead to damaged hair prone to breakage.
“These are amazing products for retaining the moisture in your hair," Priester said. “They perfectly hydrate for the natural-haired, and those with any type of real texture.”
For those who love washing their hair with conditioner, or co-washing, Collington recommended the Oribe Cleansing Crème.
Co-washing can get complicated. It’s not just about washing with conditioner to avoid the drying and stripping effect of shampoos. Rather, it’s using a cleansing conditioner specifically formulated to clean your scalp and moisturize it at the same time.
“[Oribe’s co-wash] cleans hair without stripping it of its natural oils,” Collington said. “It’s a heavier product for hair that is thicker and frizzy, so it also tames your curls.”
Priester, on the other hand, is a huge fan of the Curl Immersion Conditioner, which is designed to target kinky, curly hair.
“It’s sulfate-free, extra moisturizing, and great for nourishing curls,” Priester said. “It’s coconut oil-based, which is great to avoid breakage and promote healthy hair growth.”
For naturalistas seeking a truly natural product (or one you might find outside of your bathroom, maybe in the kitchen), hairstylist Tippi Shorter highly recommended using an apple cider vinegar rinse. In contrast to shampoo, it will clarify your scalp and remove impurities — all while maintaining your hair’s natural oils.
On top of that, Shorter explained, it’s “great to keep the hair and scalp in its proper pH level, all while giving a gentle cleanse.”
Best treatments for natural hair
Another key in going natural with your hair is finding the best treatment for it. More specifically, that means finding a functional leave-in treatment, a mask or a detangling spray.
Giving your hair a last-minute dose of moisture can make the difference between smooth, bouncy curls and a disastrous moment of floppiness. Good treatments also help protect and save your hair from future damage like split ends or breakage. A good hydrating or moisturizing treatment will keep your hair looking and feeling healthier for longer and help your hair stay frizz-free for longer.
- During the winter: As temperatures drop, the cold won’t suck all the moisture out of your hair and dry it.
- Into the summer: When temperatures rise again, you won’t have to worry about having puffy curls.
Shorter calls Mizani’s 25 Miracle Milk her “everything.”
This leave-in conditioner boasts 25 benefits that keep hair protected from heat, while also preparing it for detangling, providing hydration, and counteracting dryness so your curls will be soft and bouncy. We asked Shorter for some examples of how she uses the Miracle Milk.
“Detangler, curl refresher, blow dry refresher, leave-in, hair primer,” she offered, for starters. “I could just go on and on.”
Vanessa Collington prefers the similarly named It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-in treatment.
“I recommend using this after you shampoo and condition because it detangles and makes hair easier to manage,” Collington said. “[It’s] great for hair because of its amazing benefits, such as eliminating frizz, restoring shine and enhancing body, and it’s also great for damaged hair.”
For the wash-and-go people of the world — or those who tend to wash and style their hair without manipulating heat or protective styling — the leave-in, oil, cream, gel method (LOCG) is likely the way to go.
And to best perform it, Priester recommended Jane Carter Condition And Sculpt. The smoothing gel (the G in LOCG) will lock in moisture while smoothing the hair cuticle, fighting off frizz and protecting and conditioning hair.
“When applied while hair is fully saturated with water, it dries in the same state that your hair looks like wet,” she explained. “It dries hard, like gel, but can be finger-combed because it still gives a flexible hold with no flakes or product build-up.”
Best styling products for natural hair
As with a majority of natural hair products, what works for one person may not work for another. An entire family can gather a full pantry of products and what works for mom might dry and bring forth a flaky mess for one of the kids (that’s personal experience speaking).
Styling natural hair, therefore, can be tricky.
- Some naturalistas love wash-and-go options.
- Some want to prepare their hair for protective styles like wigs, weaves and crochet braids
- And some want to take care of their hair so it’s at its strongest before they apply heat.
When it comes to blow drying or flat ironing hair, the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer and its curling counterpart, the Airwrap styler, both help protect against extreme hair damage and reduce the drying time on wash days, a notoriously lengthy experience in the natural hair community. The Dyson Supersonic hair dryer is crafted to protect hair from heat damage and the controlled styling can increase smoothness by 75 percent, according to the brand.
This Dyson styler landed on the Allure Best of Beauty list in 2020. It includes multiple attachments including a 1.2-inch barrel, a 1.6-inch barrel, a firm smoothing brush, a soft smoothing brush, a round volumizing brush and a pre-styling dryer. As previously mentioned, it is designed to protect against heat damage and you can take Dyson’s hair diagnostic tool to find which attachment is best for you.
Every single expert we consulted recommended using a heat protectant spray
Priester recommended Paul Mitchell Flexible Style Hot Off The Press Thermal Protection Hairspray since it is “perfect for a silk press or wand curls and barrel curls.” The spray uses rice hull extract to create a lightweight barrier between the hair and the hot tool.
“It’s an anti-humidity spray that allows a flexible hold,” he said, “allowing the hair to stay sleek and straight against the elements that cause it to revert.”
For curl-seekers, EDEN BodyWorks All Natural Coconut Shea Pudding Soufflé is a great option, according to Collington.
“It's lightweight but it works wonders on finer texture curls, bringing out shine and definition.”
Relying in part on its all-natural ingredients, the Coconut Shea Pudding Soufflé will get you setting, twisting and curling your soft and moisturized hair. A curly balm that gets the job done just as well is evo’s Liquid Rollers Curly Balm, which holds your curls and afros in place while eliminating frizz
Shorter recommended finishing off any look with the Alterna Bamboo Smooth Kendi Dry Oil Mist. This dry oil spray works to fight off hair damage while smoothing, strengthening, and softening it. And , of course, it postpones the frizz.
While it may be an oil, a lot goes a long way. If you use generous amounts of it on your damp hair, it won’t get greasy or weighed down. The mist is free of parabens, mineral oil, and sulfates and sports a light citrus scent.