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Natural Hair Care

Sulfates & Natural Hair: The Low Down (Are they harmful?)

7th April 2015
why sulfates are bad

Sulfates & Natural Hair: The Low Down

A hot topic in the natural hair community is the usage of sulfates in hair products and whether they’re harmful or not. My on going battle with dry hair is one that has boggled my mind, trying different methods only to see the issue     temporarily alleviated. I didn’t realise that one of my favorite hair products that I’d been using daily since I’d gone natural contained sulfates. I can’t explain why but looking at the ingredients never crossed my mind. Seeing that I’ve been using this on my hair for nearly two years I’d say that I’m the perfect source to attest to the issues of using sulfate enlisted products. 

What are sulfates?

Sulfates are a synthetic ingredient that are created from the reaction between lauryl alcohol and sulfuric acid. It can be produced using ingredients such as coconut oil and petroleum and many other substances.

Why Are They In Hair Products?

They’re an excellent foaming agent that is cheap to use in the production of hair products and have the capability to remove massive amounts of dirt and oils that build up in the hair.

What Sulfates Do To The Hair

Sulfates can make the hair dry and brittle due to the fact that they’re engineered to clean so well. They completely strip the hair of essential oils that are produced naturally for moisture and therefore leave your hair dried out causing split ends.

Continuous Use of Sulfates 

Experts say that the continuous usage of sulfates has the potential to cause long term damage that will materialise in the appearance and over all health of the hair. In some cases these products can cause irritation of the scalp and eyes (which is why some shampoos burn when they come in contact with the eye). They also can cause severe reactions such as swelling of the hands and face.

3 Main Sulfate Products In Shampoos

Sodium lauryl sulfats (SLS), Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS):

 

Sodium lauryl sulfats (SLS)- SLS is usually synthesized from coconut or palm oil then it is reacted with other chemicals to make the final product. It is also found in other essential products such as toothpaste, cleaning products, detergents, shaving creams and bubble bath. SLS can produce allergic reactions that make the skin more sensitive according to the National Institutes of Health Hazardous Substances Database. SLS is also a common eye irritant found in shampoos.


 

Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)-  SLES is a detergent and surfactant found in a lot of hygienic based products. SLES is a chemically similar to SLS and can dry out the skin and is another eye irritant found in shampoos.


 

Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS)- ALS is a very high foaming agent that is mostly found in  body wash and shampoo products. It is also an eye irritant and according to the National Institutes of Health Hazardous Substances Database ALS can also become a respiratory irritant.

They’re Harmful but What’s The BIG Deal?

Putting chemicals like these in your scalp and skin is worse than eating them. Enzymes in your saliva aid in breaking down components in several things that we ingest and then flush out of our bodies. The scalp and skin don’t have that protection which raises the risk of these harmful chemicals becoming absorbed into our blood stream which will lay in wait within our bodies and cause health problems later in life. Products that have sulfates in them can also contain impurities due to the synthesising process that occurs from the production of sulfates. Ethylene dioxide is a precursor that is used during the formulation process that forms these impurities and is a possible carcinogen and organ system toxicant.

My Experience

When using hair products that contained sulfates which I’d done mistakingly for two years, I noticed that while they curl your hair up or even seem to make it softer they dry your hair out over a course of a few days. While your sealants are working hard to keep moisture in the chemicals in sulfates are taking it out. You can use any method you wish but continuously using products with sulfates will in fact keep your hair from retaining maximum moisture. The products never caused my hair to become so severely dry that it broke off but it did make my mission to have moisturised hair ten times harder! Within weeks of stopping the use of the product my hair retained moisture easier and my ends weren’t as dry and brittle. I thought all of this time that it was my hair that I was fighting with when really it was this product holding me back from moisturised hair. It’s not worth it and there are tons of other products out there with better ingredients that actually make a positive difference.

When Searching For A Shampoo

Shampoos without sulfate usually don’t foam because the foaming agent in most shampoos is a sulfate. Shampoos that use other surfactants (a substance which reduces the surface tension of a liquid) tend to be pricier because they use a different formulation. Sulfate based shampoos are thickened with cheap ingredients like sodium chloride which is terrible for your hair but this thickener doesn’t work in sulfate free shampoos formulations. Look for organic shampoos with 100% vegetarian ingredients with no preservatives, synthetic colors or fragrances.

Transitioning Away From Sulfates

If you’re transitioning away from these products your hair needs to be cleansed from any product build up containing sulfates and then highly moisturised. I recommend a good cleanser to remove build up then a weekly co-wash for four consecutive weeks implementing a deep conditioner two out of the four weeks. Google “sulfate free shampoos and conditioners” and take your pick.

Sulfates are a messy and nasty business that can pollute our bodies and dry out the hair in my research I found that these products are in several things that we use everyday! Check and recheck product labels again and again your body will thank you for it later. Who knows, maybe some health issues that you may be experiencing are due to the prolonged usage of  sulfates. Now that I’ve stop using them the moisture in my hair is so much more prevalent!  Sometimes it’s hard to break away from these products because they tend to be cheaper in price but the long term effects simply aren’t worth it. If you do use sulfate prevalent products  use those that contain no more than 1% in concentration. Take it from me, removing these products from your hair regimen is the key to the end of your dry hair battle.

 

Natural Hair Care

4 Reasons Why Your Natural Hair Is Dry & Breaking

28th March 2015
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4 Reasons Why Your Natural Hair Is Dry & Breaking

Natural hair is beautifully tedious and requires a lot of care which can be at times overwhelming. Especially when you have what you think is a good hair care routine and yet and still you’re not seeing retained moisture or any less breakage. Every hair type is very different and may require a little more of one thing and a little less of the other however, scientifically everyone’s hair is made up of the same thing’s that when taken into account can cause improvements. Here are 4 factors that might be making your natural hair dry and break.

Your Wash Routine

This day for most naturals is very time consuming but within the madness you must pay very close attention to everything that you’re doing. I came to this revelation one day as I was co-washing my kinky curly clip-ins. I lathered the conditioner into them and began to rinse them through water but I could still visibly see product in them. I then took my thumb and index finger and pinched the hair in a downward sliding motion to gently wring out the product. As I got closer to the ends all of the oil and product from the hair finally rinsed out and left the water very dirty. I began to really put some thought into it and realised that the ends of the hair were dry and easy to tangle after every wash and never really became moisturised without constant application of leave in conditioner. I finally figured that due to them being so curly the product wasn’t able to work it’s way out completely during the wash and was just drying around the ends. So I then implemented this method into my own natural hair wash day process and noticed a significant difference in my ends within two weeks. This repetitive accidental neglect of washing everything in my scalp down to my ends and leaving it there to have even more product placed over it was so easy to miss. This could have caused breakage by potentially causing protein overload at the ends (depending on hair product ingredients) or a build up of too much product that can weaken your ends. Don’t just count on that downward stream of water to wash it all out really work your shampoo and conditioner through all the way down to your ends with your fingers and you just might see a difference in the health of your ends.

This repetitive accidental neglect of washing everything in my scalp down to my ends and leaving it there to have even more product placed over it was so easy to miss.

Your Diet

Your hair is made up mostly of protein so it requires protein to continue growing properly. The hair operates in two cycles, one being the growth cycle and the other the rest cycle. At any given moment 90% of your hair is already in the growth cycle, this cycle last up to 2-3 years. After this period the hair that was in the growth cycle enters the rest cycle for a period of 3 months where they’re shed and replaced by new hair. However without enough protein in your body a disproportionate number of your hair will prematurely enter into the rest cycle and make shed hair more noticeable and cause more shedding. A very poor diet effects everything in your body so make sure that you’re drinking plenty of water and taking in an appropriate amount of protein. There are protein treatments for hair but keep in mind that too much protein can make the hair break so a balanced diet with a lot of water is key!

Your hair is made up mostly of protein so it requires protein to continue growing properly.

Your Detangling Process

Curly hair is prone to knots and tangles because of the intricate swooping and bending pattern of each strand. What and how you work out those tangles and knots is important and also key in length retention. If you use a brush to detangle your hair make sure that you’re starting at your ends first to pull through any curls that may be in a knot (most knots start at your ends). Another good practice is to hold on to your hair as you brush downward, some people have coily hair as wells as fine hair. Fine hairs are thinner and not as strong and can break from medium to hard tugs. One recent discovery that I’ve seen tons of reviews on from some of my favourite naturals was the Denman brush. I was reluctant because a brush is a brush in most cases and they’re all created equal! Giving into the hype I bought the D3 brush they recommend for thick natural hair and I can say I am a believer! This brush actually pulls product all the way through to the ends defining all of your curls and eliminating frizz during styling. In effect it gently grips onto the hair and doesn’t let go! This isn’t a product review so I’ll stop right there. If you finger detangle be careful to not do so on anything less than very damp hair. Not doing this caused me to get my first single strand knots which have to eventually be cut slashing length retention in half. Lastly, always follow the golden rule; never comb your hair dry this will break your hair and cause unnecessary knots.

What and how you work out those tangles and knots is important and also key to length retention.

D3 Denman Brush

D3 Denman Brush

Magnified Single Strand Knots

Magnified Single Strand Knots

Ignoring Signs

Your hair will show very specific signs when it is dry and breaking. Signs of breakage are short tiny curls that measure no longer than the length of your pinky nail. Natural shedding comes from the roots and will have a small white bulb like tip where it’s become detached from your scalp. Other signs of breakage show up in places where people are more prone to tug a little harder due to muscle positioning. These areas include near the nape of your neck, the middle of your head and around the front of your hair so If short hairs appear in this area you’re brushing with too much force. Signs that your hair may not be getting enough moisture is dry hair texture after washing the hair before any product is applied, hair that quickly soaks up water and very brittle ends. If you’re having problems with extremely dry hair try co-washing more often (Once a week for a month) and implement a deep conditioner (Every other week for a month before co- washing). This will help your hair’s moisture retention significantly.

Your hair will show very specific signs when it is dry and breaking.

Breakage (Very Small Curls)

Breakage (Very Small Curls)

These tips were formed by minor habits that I noticed myself and other naturals doing through research. Through every problem there is a solution and by experimenting with these suggestions you might just find what your hair has been lacking. Another good tip for stronger edges is to daily apply strengthening sealants (oils). Check out my previous blog post “6 Praise Worthy Oils For Natural Hair” for a complete list of those oil’s.