by Tiffani Greenaway of

Walk into your local beauty supply store, and you'll find tons of products that promise longer, stronger, healthier hair. From castor to monoi oil, cleansing conditioners to conditioning repair creams, the choices are endless. But as you scrutinize the labels looking for parabens and cones, you may still be damaging your hair--and much more.

Do you know what's really in your products? "All natural" might not always mean what you think. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed over 1,000 products marketed to black women--and found that 1 in 12 contained chemicals that can be hazardous to your health.

You know the dangers of relaxers and texturizers--ingredients like lye and sodium hydroxide can have lasting effects--baldness, growths in the uterus, and premature birth and low birth weight in pregnant women. Sales of relaxers have dropped almost 40% in the last eight years as women transition, big chop, and begin embracing their natural curls. And while relaxer sales have dipped, more and more "natural" hair products are making an appearance on store shelves. The sales of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products marketed to maintaining our natural kinks, curls, and waves have gone up by 27%.

But just because it's marketed to women with natural hair, that doesn't mean the ingredients in your favorite curl creme are all natural. The EWGs' report found that many of the gels, lotions, and butters we product junkies stock up on contain parabens, estrogen, and hormone disruptors like resorcinol.

Black people make up about 13% of the U.S. population, but black dollars account for 22% of the $42 billion spent on personal care products each year. That means that we buy and use more potentially harmful products--products that can result in allergies, tumors, diminished fertility, and even skin cancer.

The next time you stock up on edge control, look on the label for:

Parabens. Exposure to methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isopropylparaben have been associated with diminished fertility, lowered thyroid hormone levels, and other reproductive problems.

Retinyl palmitate. Government tests show that this antioxidant ingredient can cause the growth of skin tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin--and it isn't just in your hair products. The EWG's report found that almost 2/3rds of concealers and more than 30% of foundations marketed to Black women contained retinyl palmitate.

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are ingredients meant to preserve cosmetics by releasing small amounts of formaldehyde over time. The concentration of formaldehyde released is small, but it's a strong skin sensitizer and allergen. It's also used in funeral homes.

Methylisothiazolinone. The use of this potent allergen and sensitizer has been restricted in Europe, Canada and Japan, but the EWG found it in 118 of the products it tested.

Fragrance . The EWG warns that "fragrance" can mean anything--it isn't one specific ingredient, “but a mixture of unknown chemicals hidden by a vague, umbrella term. “Fragrance” can encompass any number of more than 3,000 ingredients, all of which are kept hidden from the public."

Some fragrance mixtures include ingredients linked to hormone disruption, skin sensitizers, and allergens.

Before you go to the beauty supply store, check EWG's Skin Deep® database. Its "Hair Products for Black Women" catergory features more than 500 products that don't contain hazardous or questionable ingredients. Shop safe.

Tiffani Greenway is the wife and mom behind MyMommyVents, a New York city parenting blog. Her tips have been seen on Yahoo Parenting, Mommy Noire, and Fit Pregnancy. Find more of Tiffani's work at

IG @tolaniav

by Charlene Walton of

Paraben free. Sulfate free. Silicone free. Yes, we’ve all seen these words plastered across a lot of products but what does this stuff really mean? What’s really inside natural hair products and how does it affect your hair? Often, we gravitate to what sounds great on the front of a label. But the proof is in the pudding aka the ingredients. Brands are required to list the scientific name of ingredients on the labels, therefore; you may think an ingredient is harmful simply because you can not pronounce the word. I’m here to tell you that’s simply not true. Here’s how to understand the ingredients in natural hair products the next time you’re about to spend your coins on the latest product or if you’re shopping with us at of course!


Understanding Ingredients In Natural Hair Products

What is a sulfate?
A sulfate in the most general form is detergent. Sulfates are found in hand soaps, dish-washing products, laundry detergents and yes shampoos. Sulfates have grown to get a very bad reputation because they completely strip the hair and leave behind a rough, brassy-like feeling to your stands. Although this could work in your favor to remove extreme product build up, there are moisturizing sulfate free options that will still allow you to have a great cleanse like the tgin Moisture Rich Sulfate-free Shampoo or the Obia Naturals Neem & Tea Tree Shampoo Bar. If you do choose to use a shampoo that contains sulfates, following with an intense deep conditioning treatment is definitely a must do.

What is a paraben?
Parabens, in simple terms, are a class of preservatives widely used in the cosmetics industry due to their ability to limit the amount of bacteria growth, mold, and yeast in products. Due to this reason, it is common to find parabens in moisturizers, lipsticks and shampoos as parabens are also odorless, tasteless and colorless. But the list does not stop there. Parabens are one of the most widely approved and used preservatives also found in our daily consumer goods such as lotions, deodorants, and hand soap. So what is the big deal? According to an article by Sister Scientist, in 2004 the Journal of Applied Toxicology was the first to report the appearance of parabens in breast cancer tumors. Since then and due to other reports curly women have been avoiding parabens like the plague; however, further research is definitely needed. As of today, there has been no definitive link of parabens to breast cancer, just claims in multiple studies. This does not mean you should not avoid parabens if you feel strongly about this issue. As with any other health claim, do your research before making a definitive decision. The good news is there are tons of amazing hair care brands to choose from now formulated without parabens.

Mineral Oils vs. Natural Oils
The main drawback with mineral oil is that it does not penetrate the hair shaft. The oil simply coats the hair, without providing any additional nutrients. Due to this coating, it is harder for moisture to enter the hair and similar to silicones a great shampoo session is needed to cleanse the hair after using. Simply co-washing after using mineral oils will only do so much. Remember products always work best on freshly cleansed and clarified hair. Natural oils like argan oil, avocado oil and coconut oil with low molecular weight actually penetrate the hair strands while nourishing the hair and scalp key vitamins like vitamin E.

Good Alcohols vs. Bad Alcohols
The word “alcohol” might sound scary but not all alcohols are created equal so don’t run away just yet. General store-bought, isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), should not be used on the hair as it is too drying so you won’t see that on a label anyway. Fatty alcohols are considered “good” because they often provide slip to our favorite conditioners. Here are the most common alcohols you will see:

Fatty Alcohols that Provide Slip
-Behenyl alcohol
-Cetearyl alcohol
-Cetyl alcohol
-Isocetyl alcohol
-Isostearyl alcohol
-Lauryl alcohol
-Myristyl alcohol
-Stearyl alcohol

Common Scientific Names Listed as Ingredients in Natural Hair Products
Now on to some of the hard to pronounce ingredients. Don’t be fooled by these scientific names. Clearly as you can tell these are some of our favorite oils and butters.

-Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter)
-Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil
-Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil
-Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil
-Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil
-Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter
-Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil
-Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera)
-Panthenol (Pro Vitamin B5),
-Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E)

Common Proteins Listed as Ingredients in Natural Hair Products
Understanding which products contain protein is also important to determine what your hair needs. Maybe your hair is protein sensitive and you need a strictly moisturizing option. Check for these ingredients to help in determining which conditioners and masks are best for your hair.

-Hydrolyzed wheat protein
-Hydrolyzed keratin
-Hydrolyzed silk protein
-Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
-Variations of hydrolyzed collagen
-Variations of hydrolyzed soy protein

Have you been intimidated by hard to read ingredients in natural hair products? Let me know in the comments!

The almond is a drupe (not a 'nut' by definition) which calls the Middle East and South Asia home. During ancient times, this beauty miracle started making its way along the Mediterranean through Africa, Europe, and eventually the United States. Now it's in many of our hair and beauty products.

Sweet Almond Oil is one of the best oils for use on your hair--it helps damaged and dull hair become shinier & stronger. Almond Oil is an all natural substance high in vitamins A, B, D and E, magnesium, zinc, potassium as well as healthy fats. All hair types will benefit from this awesome oil.

Read On!>>>

1. Perfect for Sealing Moisture
Sweet Almond Oil is extremely nourishing to not only the lengths of the hair but the roots as well. Almond oil is lighter than many other helpful oils, which makes it an excellent natural resource for leave-in protection. Because Almond Oil is lighter, it is also an excellent option for finer hair that gets weighed down very easily. Also because of it's weight, almond oil a perfect base for other helpful essential oils that may further moisturize the scalp, helping to fight off dandruff.

2. Adds Sheen 
Sweet almond oil contains a high concentration of proteins and vitamins A, B and E, all of which help add shine to dull, dry hair. Additionally, fatty acids omega 9, 6 and 3 help to reflect damaging UV rays and protect hair from the sun. This helps prevent the dullness that comes from hair that is very dry. It also forms a thin, oily layer on the hair which protects it from further damage and strengthens existing hair. Applying the almond oil also gives the hair a lustrous, healthy and attractive appearance and is therefore great for people with dull hair. If you want more shiny hair it is definitely worth giving almond oil a try.

3. Increases Circulation to the Scalp
The massaging of sweet almond oil into the scalp may help stimulate hair growth and may help to reduce hair loss. Moisturizing the scalp with sweet almond oil provides hair with strengthening vitamins and magnesium at the root of hair, which can aid against excessive breakage as well as increase blood circulation to the scalp to promote hair growth. You can massage almond oil onto the scalp the nights before you are ready to wash your hair the following day. Sleep with a satin bonnet so your pillow does not become oily. Do this consistently every time you wash for the best results.

4. Promotes Strength 
Sweet almond oil contains vitamin A, B and E in addition to omega 9, omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids that help keep hair strong and healthy, preventing against breakage. Sweet almond oil’s natural moisture-sealing properties help to replenish hair and also fight against split ends by holding moisture in hair for longer periods of time. Almond Oil is a great sealant on wet hair over stylers and can also be used on day 2 hair and beyond, concentrating on the ends, to help hold in moisture in and further protect the fragile length.

Bonus: It's a Great Skincare Ingredient!

Almond oil contains essential vitamins for skin health and beauty including vitamins A, E, and D. It also contains healthy fats which are important for keeping the skin supple and well hydrated. Because of this, many cosmetic companies use almond oil in their products as the primary ingredient. To gain even more beneficial effects with almond oil for the face you can also mix it with other substances such as honey or other vegetable oils but almond oil on its own will also work extremely well.

1. Makes Skin Softer
Almond oil massage helps to reduce dark circles under eyes, remove dead skin cells, and improves the texture of your facial skin. Another benefit of taking almond oil facial massage before bed is that the solution is actually very relaxing. Almond oil is a pure and natural substance with no chemicals.

The most common benefit of almond oil for face is that it can be used as daily moisturizer. It not only softens up rough or dry skin, but almond oil also creates protective layer on the face.

How to Use:
Apply this moisturizer daily for smoother and softer skin. The best time to use almond oil for facial massage is right before bedtime. It ensures that the oil will stay long enough so that it can perform its functions well.

2. Reduces Under Eye Circles
There are many products out there that claim to help with under eye dark circles. But if you are looking for a more natural solution, almond oil is always a good choice. You can simply apply the oil in the dark areas before bed, so you can let it work while you are asleep. For optimum results, you need to perform this treatment everyday for several weeks. This treatment will not only help the under eye dark circles fade, but it also can help to reduce dark eyelids and crow’s feet.

How to use: 
Wet your hands with warm water, and then massage the oil to all areas of your face.  You can even apply makeup after the oil is fully absorbed.

3. Prevents Aging
Almond oil also reduces sunburn effects on face, prevents aging, and gets rid of wrinkles. You can almost say that this oil is an all-in-one natural substance for your facial treatments.

How to Use:
You can do almond oil face massages as often as nightly. Massage a couple of drops onto face and in a circular motion. Be very gentle with your skin.

4. Use as a Facial Scrub
Almond oil is an excellent carrier for salt and sugar, so you can use it as the carrier oil for your facial scrub. In general, the salt or sugar works by removing dirt and rough or dead skin cells from the face. Use salt if your skin is more oily prone or sugar if your skin is more dry. The almond oil works by immediately moisturize the scrubbed skin. A mix of almond oil with sugar is also effective to soften the lips.

How to Use:
Apply this treatment once or twice a week for best results. Please remember that such solution is not recommended for people with sensitive skin or acne problems. Wash your face thoroughly by using warm water after applying this facial scrub.

5. Use as a Daily Cleanser
People with acne problems or sensitive skin are not suggested to use almond oil for facial scrub, but they can use the oil as facial cleanser. The good thing is that you don’t need to mix it with anything. Apply almond oil directly to your facial skin and leave it for several minutes.

Almond oil facial cleanser removes dirt as effectively as the facial scrub. Basically, the cleanser will open pores, which will help to force dead skin cells and dirt to come out to the surface. As you wash your face, the dirt will also go away. It also makes a gentle eye makeup remover as well.

How to Use:
Apply a generous amount of almond oil on dry skin, massage it in and then splash a little bit of water, continuing to massage. Rinse away everything with cool water and pat dry gently with a towel.

This article was originally published on October 2014 and has been updated for grammar and clarity.

I just love learning about oils that I am not familiar with but have been around forever. Another old but new oil is kukui oil and it has received some recent fame when Lupita Nyong'o shared her beauty secret with Glamour Magazine earlier this year. When she shared that she uses natural Hawaiian kukui oil and avocado oil on her face that nugget of information began creating a buzz in the beauty world.

Kukui nut oil has been used for centuries in Hawaii and comes from the candlenut tree (Aleurites moluccana) in Hawaii. It is a transparent oil with low viscosity that is cold pressed from seeds. Hundreds of years ago, this oil was and continues to be used by the Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders to protect their skin, especially for the babies (Fujikawa and Gray 239).

A natural moisturizer, it contains essential fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants that will help soothe dry skin, heal wounds, and moisturize dry, damaged hair. It contains vitamins A, C, and E and it is high in linoleic acid, which is beneficial to skin care.

Because it does not leave a greasy film, this oil is perfect as a hair conditioner. Hair that has been damaged by normal weathering can benefit from the oil's fatty acids that will help your tresses maintain moisture. It also can be used as a treatment for an itchy scalp or a treatment for dandruff. According to Livestrong, the regenerative effects on the skin will also have the same effects on the hair and scalp. Massaging kukui nut oil onto the scalp or using it as a hot oil treatment helps hair to regain its moisture and stimulate hair growth.

There are products that have this wonder oil from Hawaii and although not all of them have them within the first five ingredients they do have the magic oil and may benefit your tresses.

OGX Frizz Defying Kukui Curl Cream
This curl cream will give your hold, shine, and moisture from its humectant properties. Kukui seed oil is not near the top but with the other ingredients in this curl cream it may be a good product to try. Boasts of defining your curls in a weightless blend.

Paul Brown Hawaii Kukui Nut Oil Treatment
Made with water, lanolin, lubricants, conditioning agents, and fatty acid, this oil makes for a great sealer. It is lightweight and will enhance the styling performance of your hair by adding strength, resilience, and shine.

Lanza Healing Moisture Kukui Nut Oil Conditioner
Water, fatty alcohols, and glycerin make this conditioner immensely moisturizing. This emollient-rich formula boasts of giving you softer, silkier hair.

Joico Curl Definer
This curl definer is extremely moisturizing and applies with smooth application. The kukui oil is the sixth ingredient to help lubricate your strands and add shine.

Have you tried kukui oil?

I am a beast at reading ingredients in hair products (humble brag). They are extremely important to me, and while it may seem rather boring to read about ingredients, it is valid to understand the first five ingredients. The FDA requires that skin care ingredients (including hair) on the product label be listed in the order of highest to lowest concentration.

That means that the most active ingredients are listed near the beginning of the list and ingredients listed near the end of the list are typically comprised of less than 1% of the total. That tidbit of knowledge makes you look at the back of your products quite differently, does it not? The product claims on the front are not as appealing as before, are they?
Ingredients listed near the end of the list are typically comprised of less than 1% of the total.
Oftentimes products love to boast of its ingredients on the front of the packaging to get your attention, and of course they are ingredients that many curlies, coils, and wavies hone in on like argan oil, olive oil, or coconut oil. But some ingredients like sea kelp, shea butter, and rich minerals will even stir our curiosity. The bottom line is to make you think you need that product because of its ingredients, but if you turn the bottle around and the boasted ingredient is not within the first five ingredients then there is a high possibility that there is not enough in there to make a difference or a benefit to your tresses. All is not lost lovelies, for that is a general and not absolute application to beauty products. As the Beauty Brains explains:

"Now, before you start an 'Occupy Cosmetics' movement to complain about the 1%, let me point out that this doesn’t mean that none of the ingredients below the 1% line matter. For example, pigments are used at very low levels yet they are critically important to color cosmetics. And preservatives are only used at a few tenths of percent, yet I wouldn’t want to buy a product without them! There are many exceptions to this 'First Five' rule."

According the The Natural Haven, with shampoos and conditioners (including leave-ins) water generally takes up 50%- 80% of the total weight of the product. This is why you hear that water is the best moisturizer! Water does hydrate our hair and skin. It takes up the most weight in your shampoos and conditioners, but after that the next four or five ingredients matter the most or are responsible for the main purposeful properties of the product. Beauty Brains says that the four or five ingredients following the first ingredient in shampoos are the cleansers and for conditioners they are the softeners and moisturizers. That magic ingredient that made you pick up that bottle in the first place needs to be in the top of the list, so if it is not then you may want to put it back on the shelf.

Now you know why we discuss the first five ingredients and how important they are to read instead of wholeheartedly trusting the marketing claims on the packaging. The power of the product is on the back and your power as a consumer is in your ability to decipher what is best for your hair’s wants and needs.

CN Says:
I've said it before... I'll say it again.  Don't trust marketing claims... the #FirstFive tells me everything I need to know :)