There’s one question that I ask every person I talk to about hair care, and I get the same answer about 98% of the time. If you’re on a journey to grow healthy hair, you have to do this even though I know nobody wants to.
What is this magical thing that will turn your hair around? Deep condition more often? Wear a silk scarf at night? Is it a magical product?
Of course you need to be taking care of your hair and you need to use the right products – but how do you know if a product is right for you? Google? Youtube? Phone a friend?
The answer – you have to read the ingredient labels. Not the label on the front that tells you what the product claims it will do for you. That part is marketing – because hair care companies know that 9 times out of 10 the marketing is what’s going to make you buy the product.
Companies put a lot of time, effort, and money into creating a product name and description that will make you want to try it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Of course nobody is going to buy a product that’s just labeled “hair cream,” but more important than what’s on the front label is what’s on the back.
The ingredient list tells the real story. You can make whatever claims you want to make on the front, but if your product contains petroleum jelly and mineral oil, you can’t hide that (I mean you could, but that would be quite unethical).
For black women it’s even more important that we learn how to read product labels because our hair requires special care and is easily damaged by bad products.
We have to at least know the basics of what to look for and what to avoid. So many women that I have consultations with are shocked to learn what’s actually in their hair products and why those products haven’t been working for them, or have been making their problem worse.
Why are the ingredients so important?
Let’s say you’re looking for a product to moisturize your hair. You’re on the hair care aisle looking over your options and you find 3 products that all claim to add moisture to dry hair.
How do you choose the right one? What if you checked the ingredient labels and found that products 1 and 2 were just water and fillers? You would immediately know that product 3 was the right choice.
But what if instead of saying "water and fillers", the ingredient label listed a bunch of chemical names that you don't know how to pronounce – would you still recognize that the product is not right for your hair?
When I look at the ingredient list for a product I can almost immediately tell if that product will dry my hair out, cause it to tangle, irritate my skin, or if the product contains any toxic ingredients that I’m trying to avoid.
Reading ingredient labels makes it easy to determine the quality of a product without getting tricked by creative descriptions or clever marketing.
How Is the Ingredient List Made?
The ingredients are listed from highest to lowest amount. That means that the product contains a lot of the first ingredient and a very small amount of the last ingredient.
In general, you want the first ingredient of your hair products to be either water or aloe. This means the product will absorb more easily into your hair and provide more moisture than a product that has something like shea butter as the first ingredient.
Ingredients 2 and 3 are also present in large amounts so these are important to note. If the second ingredient is shea butter or any kind of oil – this product should be used sparingly as a sealant for your hair or your ends, but not as your primary moisturizer.
What about those fillers?
A lot of products contain inactive ingredients as the 2nd or 3rd item on the ingredient list. What does that mean? It means they use an ingredient like cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, or behentrimonioum sulfate right after the first ingredient.
These ingredients are not bad for your hair. They help to thicken the product, make into a cream, and give it a smooth texture.
However, these are not the ingredients that nourish, soften, or moisturize your hair. The top 3 ingredients in a product can compose up to 80% of the formula. So if the first ingredient is water, the next ingredient is cetyl alcohol, and the third ingredient is behentrimonium sulfate – what are you really paying for?
Yes you expect your products to be smooth and creamy, but you don’t want to pay good money for a conditioner that’s made of just water and thickener.
Is there a “special” ingredient that’s supposed to make this product do amazing things for your hair? If so, how far down the ingredient list do you have to go before you find it?
You shouldn’t always expect this key ingredient to be way up at the top because it depends on what the ingredient is and how it’s used.
However, you don’t want all the good stuff to be way down at the bottom as the last ingredient on the list because that means there’s hardly any of it in there.
What Should You Be Looking For?
You don't need a degree in chemistry to find good hair products. You don’t have to know what every ingredient does. If you see a word that you don’t recognize, that’s ok. The main questions to ask yourself are:
What’s the first ingredient?
I prefer water or aloe for a moisturizer, cleanser, or conditioner. For oils and hair butters we’re looking for high quality nourishing ingredients.
How far down the list do I have to go before I find an ingredient that’s good for my hair?
You don’t want to see all the active ingredients (the stuff you recognize) buried at the bottom of the list.
Stay away from products containing isopropyl alcohol, benzyl alcohol, parabens, and mineral oil.
At Indara Naturals, I am passionate about my ingredients (can you tell?). Everything is hand crafted with as much of the good stuff as I can fit into each product. I want you to always be assured that you're getting the absolute best possible treatments for your hair when you purchase any item in our store.
Take a look at the products you’re currently using and see how they stack up. If you have any questions about any products or ingredients, send me an email and I’ll be happy to answer your questions!