By Tanya Maswaure
Last week we spoke extensively on the politics of black hair in all of its states, natural, relaxed or braided. Black hair has always been an important conversation amongst black communities internationally. It goes beyond cosmetics and looks, it is our heritage, and we are determined to keep it alive. With that in mind, for hundreds of years, women have maintained, grown and styled black hair in unique ways and with many different products. Presently if you are to walk into a pharmacy or drug store, there are rows of products specifically for black women. Unfortunately, as we discussed in the previous article, some of them promote straight hair and texture change. With the new natural hair awakening, many have literally turned to our roots. Black women are resorting to natural products, and we are here to discuss the best of them and how to use them.
If you are to read the ingredients in most hair products, coconut oil is usually part of the list. This may be due to the moisturising and strengthening properties. Since it is also hydrophobic, coconut oil helps to regulate the wetness and dryness of your natural hair. This allows it to deeply penetrate the hair and protect the hair cuticle from damage that is caused by frequent wetting and drying, says Lavanya Krishnan, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist. Historically coconut was also found and recorded as being used in Egypt and India for natural hair as a conditioner.
Aloe Vera is great as a conditioner, but it also promotes hair growth. A natural remedy to many ailments, aloe has also been noted to assist with the moisturisation of natural hair and can be used as a hair mask. Furthermore, because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties, aloe helps to reduce dandruff. This is great for natural hair as it may be easy to get a dry scalp when maintaining natural hair. Aloe vera has been used for medicinal purposes in several cultures for millennia: Greece, Egypt, India, Mexico, Japan and China. Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra used it as part of their regular beauty regimes.
Tea tree oil
Like Aloe Vera, tea tree oil has antibacterial properties and aids in moisturising the hair. The main difference is that tea tree oil is predominantly for the scalp rather than the actual hair. As the hair grows from the scalp, having a healthy, moisturised scalp is crucial for healthy hair growth. In addition, this oil has been used in many other products and shampoos specifically.
Possibly one of the most famous for black hair growth, castor oil has been used and advertised in many black hair products. Alone, the oil promotes hair growth and minimises hair loss. The oil also thickens hair and manages split ends. Although many studies show it does not literally cause an increase in hair growth, it strengthens the hair and limits breakages. Originating found in tropical east Africa, castor oil is another age-old natural product used by millions of black women before us.
Another hair growth natural product is rice water. The starchy water leftover from soaking or cooking rice has been used since ancient times by Chinese women. Although Chinese hair is very different from our natural black hair, there are recorded benefits for our hair type as well. Rice water has been recorded to help make hair stronger and smoother. Used as a deep conditioning treatment, the vitamins found in the rice water can bring strength to the hair and potentially aid hair growth. Historically, black women during the slave trade and before would braid rice into their hair, which was meant to assist them in their journey, but this also benefitted their hair and scalp.
Listed above are only a handful of natural hair products that benefit natural black hair. They can all be used naturally with no additional chemicals such as shampoos, conditioners and moisturisers. When I started my hair journey, my hairdresser told me that hair is part of our body, and sometimes we do not know what chemicals we put in our hair, “If you cannot eat it, why to put it in your hair!”, he said jokingly. Besides tea tree oil, every listed product here can actually be consumed, and my favourite thing about them is that they have all been used historically by many women before mass production of hair products came along. Let us embrace our natural heritage and take a step further to try and use our ancestors’ age-old products.