Friday, May 21, 2010

Chemistry of your hair: African hair types

I admit I've never formulated for African hair types, so I present to you what I have found in my research. I would love to hear from any readers who have this hair type so we can add more information to this post.

African type hair has a flattened elliptical cross section, which is responsible for the ultra-curliness, and the follicle size tends to be quite thick. It tends to contain much lower levels of cysteic acid than other hair types. It is more hydrophilic (or water loving) with a negative charge. In addition, it tends to have lower levels of bonded lipids on the hair shaft, which explains why this hair type tends to love oils!

African type hair is much weaker than other hair types due to the kinks in the hair shaft - more kinks equal more opportunities for breakage - and is less resistant to strain on hair and scalp. It can take as little as 33 grams of strain to break an African hair type while wet (about 43 grams for Caucasian and 63 grams for Asian hair, about a 100 grams for these hair types dry), which means any slight pulling can cause hair loss! The elasticity of African is hair very limited - whereas Caucasian hair types can take average pulling and Asian above average pulling when wet - African hair can break when even more than slightly humid!

African hair tends to be very dry, but this does not mean we want to add humectants to our products because too much water can lead to that increase in breakage. So we have to add moisture in other ways, through oils and by sealing in what's there through silicones. 

The cuticle is different in African hair - whereas Caucasian hair might have 4 to 7 layers of cuticle, and Asian hair 11 plus, African hair has about 7 to 11 layers of cuticle. Fewer layers means more alterations by chemical treatments like dyes, straightening, or perming, so African hair is about the average of chemical absorption with regards to cuticle (with Caucasian being lower, Asian being higher). But flatter hair strands absorb more chemicals, so in the end African hair is probably more accepting of chemical treatments than other hair types.

As for hair care products, it's recommended that African hair types use intense conditioners filled with oils and very few (if any) humectants. Because water is not your friend - humidity can increase breakage dramatically - you want to use things like silicones to prevent your hair shaft from absorbing it. Oils are your friend, so oiling your hair with like avocado, babassu, and coconut will increase the hydrophobic (water hating) nature of your hair to keep that nasty water out!

Sebum is your friend, so you want to use very gentle, daily use shampoos at pH 6.5 or so on your hair filled with conditioning agents and silicones because we don't want to remove all the sebum and we want to seal out the water. (It's uncommon for this hair type to be really oily!) You want to use the most gentle surfactants suitable for dry hair at very low levels, and you don't want to wash your hair daily. Please for the love of all that is good do not use cold process (alkaline) shampoos or shampoo bars on your hair - this can increase the breakage of your hair!

We'll be formulating some very nice daily use shampoos and intense conditioners in the coming weeks suitable for the African hair type. 

I'd suggest getting some cetrimonium chloride in your conditioners at up to 5% to increase the combability of your hair and increase detangling, which will also increase softness and aid in removal of styling products. (Although combing is really not your friend, so don't do it often!) Incroquat CR is also a good choice for softening. Cetrimonium bromide will penetrate the hair shaft to moisturize from within, and BTMS-50 is always a good choice for lubricating and conditioning all hair types.

Leave in conditioners are great for African hair types, and some can even use daily use type conditioners as leave in conditioners. Make sure you are formulating with lots of oils and few humectants, and ensure you are using styling products with low levels of alcohol (which can dry out your hair and make it easier to break!)

Although some protein is great for African hair, you want to limit your usage of it until you see how your hair responds. (Page 607, Handbook of Cosmetic Science & Technology notes that the addition of protein hydrolysates - hydrolyzed proteins - is "highly recommended", but I've seen some people say they don't like them.) Something like Phytokeratin - a combination of low and high molecular weight proteins - is probably your best choice because you'll get the film forming benefits of the oat protein with the moisturization provided by the corn or soy protein. If you want to use proteins in your products, save it for the conditioners or styling products and use it at about 2% - 1% something like silk, 1% something like oat so there's a balance of penetrating vs. non-penetrating proteins.

Panthenol is also a great ingredient for African hair, despite the fact it can behave as a humectant. At least 2% pathenol in a conditioner can help bring moisture into your hair and form a film to keep too much moisture out! It can increase the elasticity of your hair strand, and we know that's really important for African hair!

I've written up a post with some great research I found about African hair types. Click here to see it!


Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
As an african american i found your article very enlightening. I have naturally wavy hair but it is not very kinky. I find that my hair is waterloving but if I add oils it weighs my hair down so i try not to put oils in my hair. On the other hand, if my shampoo and conditioner does not have enough moisture/oils it would leave my hair dull and dry.

I guess what i am trying to say is that it can be a little overwhelming for some to try to understand african american hair because it isn't just one hair type. However, once you can understand the different types then it's easier to see how to care it. For this reason I appreciate your article! : )

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thanks for your comment! Realistically, writing one post about African hair is a little like saying all European or Asian hair types are the same...which we know they are not! As with any generalization, we'd be hard pressed to find one person who fits every single feature! Then we have to consider mechanical, chemical, weather, and time related damage. Then the environmental factors like humidity, sun, and so on - well, then it gets completely overwhelming!

Hence the request for information from readers - I'd like to have a place where we can put personal experiences and suggestions for hair care products! Since I know little to nothing about African hair types, I'm eager to hear your experiences!

Lalla said...

Great post Susan.
I have this type of hair and strangely enough my hair loves humectants.
I often do oil rinses and my hair loves them. I shampoo, apply oil on my hair, rinse with warm water and deep condition. They make my hair really soft and detangled. I can't begin to understand how or why they work but they do.

What do you mean by low percentages of surfactants? 25? Can I use more if I use very gentle surfactants (SCI or SLSa)?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lalla. 25% is usually a good amount - on par with a daily use shampoo (which is coming up in a few days). I'd hope you always use gentle to mild surfactants on any hair type, but it sounds like your hair type really needs it! You can try using more - I like to use about 40% surfactants - but make sure you're doing all the right things to increase mildness!

SylettSoap said...

Thank you so much for this research. I am trying to formulate a product for my daughter who has what I call Hybrid hair, African & Caucasian. Mine is also hybrid but more traditionally what you would find in Africa. This information will really be helpful to me.

Anonymous said...

putting silicones (such as dimethicone) on 'African' hair is a bad idea. Silicones cause breakage after buildup. If you use silicones condition with apple cider vinegar.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi anonymous. Can you provide me with your references for not using silicones? Every reference I consulted - including a textbook for developing products for African hair types and a hairdressing manual for this hair type - indicated that silicones can be of great benefit to help resistl. And can you provide some references to how apple cider vinegar removes silicones? I've never seen this information before, and my understanding is that it could be detrimental to some - if not, most - hair types over a period of time.

If this is a personal experience, thank you for sharing, but it doesn't men this is applicable for every person with this hair type. My hair hates silk, but that isn't reason enough for me to say that everyone with Northern European hair should avoid silk. Lalla, in her comment above, notes that humectants work well for her, so there's evidence enough that everyone has different needs. That's one of the reasons we experiment - to find what works best for us!

I'm not perfect and I make mistakes, which is why I ask for your references for your statements. If I need to re-write this post to include your suggestions, I need to see some reputable sources and read more!

Madeaj said...


I love your posts and if I can help you that helps me. I have been trying to find products for my hair using facts rather than antecdotes. I keep hearing about using apple cider vinegar and baking soda rinses. But those things seem a little harsh, not as harsh as the lye relaxers I used to use.

Using your information and links to MSDS information. I have been buying products that work better on my hair. I love it. Now I want to make something personal for my hair.

I have african american hair. Using the de facto typing, its 4a/b, which means its very coily, curly. The coils on my naked (hair freshly washed, no product) hair in some instances about the size of a pen spring, some are a little bigger in diameter than a no2 pencil and the hair at my nape are more big waves than coils or curls. Also, my hair is very fine and fly away. It will sometime look rough because its fluffy, but feel almost like a smooth silky cotton if that makes sense. Its sheeny, not shiny. Even when I put silicone (they work great in my hair), my hair does not shine. It is healthy though.

My hair seems to love water, but not neccessarily water based products. It reacts well with small amounts of natural oils, but mineral oil makes it hard and nasty feeling. I hate oily hair and I break out if there is too much product or heavy scents.

Panthenol seems to work well, but again some of the scents used in those products are too heavy. Not to mention, some companies use sodium to thicken the product and salts are corrosive to hair (right?). Another reason I won't use vinegar and baking soda in my hair.

Hope this information helps you, and again (can't say this too much, I don't want you to go away :-)) I really love this blog.

Anonymous said...

fabienne p.

i happened to stumble on your blog which i'm glad. i'm black and i'm now learning about my hair because i've been braiding for the past 12 years. braiding my hair was an easy because my hair is thin, brittle and fine; therefore i didn't want to bother with it, so i finally decided to stop braiding it and started dealing with my hair about a week ago. now the dilemma began because i'm trying so many different products and don't know which ones exactly are right for my type of hair. oh and i also leave in miami florida which is not exactly the best climate for my hair either. all i want is for my hair to get stronger, longer and not too thin so i wanted to see what you would recommend.

Friskette said...

Susan, this is really interesting and informative. I followed a link from a comment on Natural Haven's blog. Would you say that chemically straightened hair has different needs from virgin african hair? For instance when I had a curly perm, I had to spray it with a conditioner on a daily basis. My hair was the longest it'd ever been, until a stylist used a different brand of perm and it all broke off. My hair's currently straight apart from the roots. My "length retention strategy" is to use low-manipulation styling and to stay away from heated appliances (e.g. curling tongs, straighteners, blow-dryers).

I'm an avid reader of the information on popular hair forums and will definitely post a link to this post on kiss. The amount of information is often overwhelming and caring for afro-textured hair seems to fall somewhere between alchemy and an artform! Some people swear by natural oils (castor, avocado, olive), black soap and ayurvedic products, apple cider vinegar and baking soda. Silicones, SLS shampoos, products containing alcohol, mineral oil and petroleum jelly are deemed to be as detrimental as neat sodium hydroxide. It's really difficult to decipher what is safe and what isn't.

Needless to say I'm really pleased to have been led to your blog. It will take some of the guess work out of caring for my hair.

Scientific rigour and knowledge is a breath of fresh air.

cr said...

I was doing a search for something and found your blog. You have fantastic information. Thank you for such detailed information.
Concerning african american hair, my hair is dry and thining. I am not sure what is best. Have you come up with anything new concerning African American hair, or any recipes?

Caiso said...

Thanks for this post. It's given me a lot to think about. My hair is very dry and I'm trying to make an intense conditioner that I was going to load with humectants. This posts has reminded me to take it easy and start with a very basic recipe and add things one at a time so I can really see how they effect my hair.

I have some questions as I'm having trouble wrapping my head around some concepts. African hair tends to be dry, but breaks when wet/humid. When our hair is dry it can be hard/stiff and more difficult to comb, style, or detangle. On your site you offer that oils are moisturizing (other hair care sites geared to African hair say that ONLY water moisturizes and oils are used to 'seal' in the moisture. For a while I've been wondering if this is in fact true.)

Should trying to increase the amount of water in your hair even be a goal?

What is the method to increase manageability and reduce breakage? (choosing oils that penetrate and add 'moisture' within the hair strand, then oils that do not penetrate but add slip for combing and styling, cetrimonium chloride for detangling, and BTMS-50 for conditioning?)

so much for me to think about...
I'll keep you updated on how your recipes and tweaks are working for my hair!

Caiso said...

The issue with silicon is that many of us do not wash with shampoo regularly. A lot of ladies only shampoo once a week to once a month. Although they may 'conditioner wash' frequently within this time. So with applying conditioners, leave-ins, sprays... product buildup becomes a big concern. Many ladies find that silicons (or certain types of silicons) cause buildup that leads to tangles and detangling sessions that can go on for hours.

For me personally, when I cut out silicons, detangling was no longer such a chore. I have to admit that I haven't been using cetrimonium chloride and I don't see it in any commercial products that I use to detangle.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

When you say that alcohols are not good for African American (AA) hair, do you mean all alcohols or just the type found in hair sprays i.e. Aquanet?

I have heard that are "good" alcohols for AA hair, like cetyl, and "bad" ones like the ones found in Aquanet and the like.


Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Yes, I'm referring to alcohols like ethanol, not fatty alcohols like cetyl or cetearyl alcohol. Those fatty alcohols are great emollients and increase the conditioning levels of our conditioning products, and I would encourage you to use those in any hair care products for any type of hair (except perhaps fine hair and really oily hair).

Related posts:
Chemistry Sunday: Introduction to organic chemistry - alcohols
Chemistry of your hair: Adsorbing and substantivity
Cetyl alcohol
Cetearyl alcohol

Anonymous said...

As somene with a full head of unaltered afro-textured hair, I would have to say that silicones are not a good idea for anyone with naturally curly hair - regardless of race.

There has been a groundswell of natural, afro-textured women (curly haired women of all races in fact,) over the past 10 years who are returning to their natural hair texture as opposed to using chemical relaxers or heat tools to achieve straight hair.

Any one of them will tell you that silicones and sulfates are a big no-no for afro-textured or curly hair.

Have you heard of the "Curly Girl Metho," and the "Curly Girl Handbook?"

I encourage you, Susan,or anyone readingthis, to do some research on the topic and you'll get some hard facts about the nightmare silicones and sulfats cause for afro-textured and curly hair.

I would also encourage you to check out blogs like, and

Like I said, there is a very large naural, afro-textured and curly hair community online - everything from blogs, forums, and hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos.

Through trial and error we have found what works and what does not work for our hair type, and I can assure you silicones do much more harm than good.

Silicones will feel silky today and for a short while, but they will inevitably dry out your hair. Tried, tested, and true. No just by myself, but by many a curly haired girl.

Silicones actually end up locking moisture out of the hair instead of keeping it in.

Silicones typically need a little extra to wash out, hence the sulfate factor.

Afro-textured hair should not be washed every day because that will dry it out, especially if you're using a shampoo with sulfates.

The key to healty afro-textured hair is to moisturize and seal.

Moisturize every day with a water-based product, then seal with an oil or butter.

The method is tried, tested and true by millions (not exagerating here,) of afro-textured women around the world.

Susan, I really encourage you to check out the blogs and dig up a little information about the current afro-textured hair commuity. You'll find that, unfortunately, the nformation contradicts much of what your post says.

With tht said, I do appreciate the fact that you even ventured to provide infomation! Not too long ago it was easier to find Where's Waldo than it was to find any arfo-textured hair care information on the internet :)

Anonymous said...

One last point I neglected to make in my post....water is very good for afro-textured hair!!!!

I'm not too sure where you got the "nasty water" idea from.

If something is dry, then the easiest and most natural way to moisturize it is with water.

We're trying to use engineerd products to do something nature has already figured out. Silicone will not moisturize your hair or help keep misture in your hair. It will, in fact, do the oposite.

Afro-textured hair is naturally dry. It needs water!! Not an excessive amount, that's true, but the notion that water is bad is not right in the least. The key is to seal in the moisture from the water with an oil or butter...not silicones.

Furthermore, humid or warm air is only not your friend when it's extremely humid out! Humectants should be used in warmer air, but never cold air.

Humectans balance moisture, so it will draw moisture to whereever has the least amount of it.

The air is dry in the winter, so humectants in cold air will draw the misture out of your hair and into the air.

In warm air a humectant will take moisture out of the air and put it in your hair. Honey and Aloe Vera will do the same.

Again, you'll find all of this information on any updated natural curly hair care website or forum online. YouTube as well!

I encourage anyone reading this to please, please read blogs for naturally curly or afro-textured hair. The information there is up to date.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous. You can find out more about humectants and osmosis in this post. A humectant doesn't balance moisture - it draws moisture out of the air to it. It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, it's about the humidity in the environment. I have never found anything indicating that humectants can't be used at lower temperatures. If you have a barrier ingredient - for instance, some oil or a cationic polymer or compound - it will not draw the water out of your hair.

And water isn't our friend some times. Think about soaking in the tub - your skin isn't more moisturized when you come out, but it's been soaking in water. Try soaking your feet in wet socks overnight - I can assure you that your skin won't be more moisturized in the morning. If this were the case, why bother making lotions? We'd just soak a cloth in water and put it against our skin and find ourselves well hydrated.

I'm a frizzy haired girl - my goal is to keep water from entering my hair shaft and making it swell because swollen hair is ripe for damage. We want to use things that will keep water from entering our hair shaft and making it swell that will also keep the water found in our hair shaft in the hair shaft.

Why not silicones? I get really tired of the idea that natural oils are good but things like mineral oil and silicones are bad. They all coat your hair shaft and behave as a barrier. Yes, natural oils can bring some really great benefits to the party, especially coconut oil, but if our goal is to protect the hair shaft from the outside world, study after study has shown that silicones do this very very well without weighing our hair down so much. If your goal is to moisturize and seal, then silicones do that job very very well. There is no evidence that silicones dry your hair out over time, there is no evidence that locking moisture out of your hair is a good thing (in fact, the evidence indicates otherwise), and there is a great deal of evidence that silicones will help keep moisture in your hair.

There is no science showing that African or curly haired types shouldn't use silicones - in fact, the evidence shows quite the opposite - or sulfates. These ideas are based on someone's opinions that sulfates are harsh for our hair. In fact, only one sulfate isn't great for our hair - others are just fantastic gentle to mild surfactants. I find the idea that we can't use sulfates in our hair comes out of a fear based reaction instead of solid knowledge of sulfates as surfactants. Yes, SLS is a harsh surfactant, but what about SLSa and SLeS or even ALS?

To be continued...

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

What you've provided here are anecdotes. They might be the opinions of quite a number of people, but they remain anecdotes, I'm considered a curly haired girl, and I love sulfates and I love silicones. I have found nothing you've said about silicones to be true. But I can't provide this as evidence because it's not. (The plural of anecdotes isn't data.) All you've said here is the equivalent of my opinion.

Based on your comments on the concept of natural and here, I don't think you've been visiting my blog for long. Some of your comments are not based on fact, and I always ask that if you think I'm wrong, please provide me with research to back up your statements. (Click here for more information on this idea...) I like hearing opinions and experiences, but to really learn more about African hair types, I need factual information, not anecdotes. If you had written your statements as "I think..." or "My experience is..." then we'd have a different situation on my hand. But you've come to my blog and told me I'm wrong wrong wrong in so many ways, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. It's up to you to provide me with something more than people's opinions to change my perspective (and the curly girl websites don't count as scientific unless you can provide me with the studies they used to form their content...)

My research includes the Handbook of Cosmetic Science & Technology, Poucher's Perfumes, Cosmetics & Soaps, Surfactants in Decorative Cosmetics, and studies I've found on EBSCOhost through my library. I don't tend to follow curly haired websites because I find a great deal of the information isn't based on science but based on someone's opinion of what we should do with our curly hair. If you know of an evidence based website, I'd love to see it. Please post those links in the comments here or e-mail me about them!

Anonymous said...

Susan, did you actually take the time to search the websites I suggested? Those are not fly-by-night sources created by uninterested individuals.

I had a lot of respect for your posts before hand, but now you're being somewhat haughty it seems.

You are saying that millions of women living with this hair type don't know how to manage their own hair, and you do?

I find that hard to believe.

At the end of the day we have to use what works well for us. Many women find that silicones are detrimental to their hair...again I will say that is tried, tested and true.

Science and common sense don't always go hand in hand. Instead of looking for facts based on scientific studies, why not try checking with the people closest to whatever it is you're trying to research. How are you ever going to truly find a solution if you're sitting in a lab referencing books from the past instead of seeking counsel with the subjects you're studying?

It's mentality like that that has created a wide range of products for afro-textured hair that ends up not working when it's all said and done. More and more women are waking up to the reality that these products don't work. But why take our word for it I suppose? We only use them and have been struggling with them for the past few decades.

It's easy to tell when a product doesn't work. You don't need science to figure that out.

You are in fact giving people with this hair type inaccurate information and it will be detrimental to their hair. That should mean something to you.

At the basic level of science, I believe, is trial and error. Many women have tried, and failed, and have eventually found what works through trial and error.

Just because it's not published by a well known author or studied by whatever university you'd like, it doesn't mean it's not true or accurate.

Instead of clinging to your formulations and your ideas of what works (especially seeing as how you do not have that hair type,) you should take the word of women who actually have the hair type.

I do hope you consider all of this.

Thanks for the conversation.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I've been to those sites in the past. I think they are good websites and I think they offer good information. I believe some of them link to me, which I appreciate!

Quite clearly I listen to my readers - there are comments above that demonstrate that and there are many other posts in which I seek information - and I think personal experiences are vital when we're making our own products. What I take issue with are a few of your statements stating that silicones aren't good for this hair type - there are many people who would argue against this statement - and that water is good for African hair - again, many people have commented to me that this is true for them.

For every anecdote you offer, I can offer one, but it proves nothing. I can find you someone who thinks the world was created by a flying spaghetti monster - is he right? No. He's an idiot. But if we put opinion on the same level as evidence, we'll end up drinking and watering plants with Brondo and that'll be the end of the human race.

Here's the problem when we value common sense and opinion over science. We don't really know what is true.

I don't know as much about African hair as i would like, and I really want to hear from readers so I can learn more, hence these types of posts. I don't think I can tell women with African hair how to work with their hair any more than I can tell women with Asian hair, Indian hair, Caucasian hair, and every other type of hair how to work with their hair. That's not what I do and it's not what I've done in this post or the other ones. If you spend some time on this blog, you'll see that I don't seek to tell anyone what to do with their hair.

If I am offering detrimental information, provide me with proof of what you say so I can amend the post. I can't say this often enough. Prove me wrong! I'm happy to be wrong because it means I learned something. I will not consider your opinion as fact - provide me with evidence showing me that sulfates are bad, that water is good, and that silicones will dry out our hair. I am open to whatever studies you can send me.

I really don't think you get who I am and what this blog is about - the fact that you think me a haughty scientist sitting in a sterile lab telling people what to do demonstrates that. I encourage you to read more before you post again to challenge the assumptions you have about me and what I do. O feel you've been quite aggressive in your writing - telling me how wrong I am quite a number of times - while being defensive when I challenge your position. I don't even know your name.

I understand the enthusiasm of the newbie - it seems like you have a very strong philosophical stance - and I appreciate that you want to share that with the world, but behaving as if your opinion is all that matters is a sure way to remain a newbie. We have to be open to discussions conducted in a civil manner and be open to new information that will help us grow. I would love to continue this discussion in a civil manner based on facts. I look forward to what you can send along.

Anonymous said...


Been lurking for months, and will have to get a user name. This blog rules! I read the comments about African hair with amusement. I started wearing my dry, kinky hair in its unprocessed state 25 years ago. Before the internet, and when NO ONE my age (I was in college at the time) was doing it. I find the online forums helpful, but there is a great deal of anti-scientific, dogmatic thinking -- similar to that professed by anonymous in the previous posts. (That anon wasn't me - you can call me Niki). If we treat hair like a fiber (which it is), we know that water is not the friend of brittle, fragile types. I don't understand the aversion to silicones among my sisters -- silicones are great in moderation, on moisterised hair. You may want to check out "The Science of Black Hair" by Audrey Davis. BTW, I recently made one of your conditioners and was very pleased -- but your "intense" conditioners can be used on my hair as leave in products for a week without build-up! Yes, my hair is THAT dry. What I'd like to know is what is the maximum amount of oil that can go into a conditoner before it wont emulsify? The highest i've seen in your 7% BTMS formulas is 10%. Can i go to 15% 20% 25%???

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous! Thanks for the book suggestion. I'm going back to school next week, but I'll put it on the list for the Christmas break!

If you use 7% BTMS-50, you could probably go as high as 35% to 40% oil. The BTMS-50 is the emulsifier, so the more you use, the more oil you can emulsify. I wouldn't go over 40% because then you're looking at being really close to having more oil than water, and that's a whole different type of emulsification!

Let me know how it turns out!

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan! (This is Niki - still too lazy to login) I made a version of your Intense /damaged hair Conditioner with coconut Oil & centromium bromide - Lu-uu-uu-ve it! Also made a fantastic leave-in based on your guidelines. My hair hasn't been this soft EVER.I whimped out on making the other high % oil product because i hadn't ordered cetyl alcohol at the time. I am planning on making up a batch next week so I will let you know how it goes.

You may want to try this for all-day crafting sessions: I use a slow cooker for heat and hold. It takes about an hour to warm up and reach temp, but STAYS there for as long as you like--mine maintains about 75C at low. i just fill the crock with 2 inches of water, add my beakers, and set a timer for 35-40 minutes. No futzing with stovetop double boilers. I do cover the top with a terry towel before I put the lid on to keep condensation from dropping into my formulas.

If I have just plain old BTMS, what is the % of active ingredient? I got mine from Lotioncrafter, but neither the website or the package lists this info.

BTW: you can get centrimonium bromide on ebay. I paid $20 for 4oz, including shipping.

Love your blog!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

As a note, I deleted the above comment as it was spam! If you want cetrimonium bromide, check the Personal Formulator. You are paying too much for it. And reconsider buying things from eBay. You can't guarantee the purity if it has been in someone else's hands.

Niki said...

The Cetromonium bromide I bought was 99% pure, in the original packaging, from a scientific supply warehouse. My understanding is that the product from personal formulator is 20% cetab plus other stuff, just like the btms I buy from Lotioncrafter is 25% btms, and 75% other stuff. I think $20 for 4oz of 100% beats $30 for 8oz of 20% cetab. "Ebay" is not a supplier, it is a marketplace, so as long as the seller is reliable, it is an excellent resource.

Anonymous said...

Hey, its Chelle. Read your blog and found it to be the COMPLETE opposite of what I have grown up with through the years for natural hair. THATS CRAZY! I hear what you are saying and I am not completely disagreeing , but...
My suggestion is to do several little black girls hair over a period of time and get experience. As an African American with Black Folk hair, the oldest sister of Five girls, the mother of Two girls, and just the "go to " person for doing little girls hair, I can tell you with certainty that using oil alone will not help detangle anything. It does not add shine At all.
No,this is not textbook. Its purely experience. I use hair moisturising lotions that contain glycerol such as shea butter moisturizing creme and I use blue magic hair grease or royal crown on freshly wet and washed hair. That's it. Hair lotion and grease on wet to damp hair. From my experience trying to style Black hair in its natural state dry is a nightmare for children. Its also the technique. When its wet, you must comb from the bottom GENTLY then work your way up in SMALL sections. Adding lotion and hair grease allows fir the comb to glide through. And no tears.
So water a bad idea? Not for naturals WHEN DETANGLING PROPERLY. I don't put it on there everyday. And I only DO their hair once a week and keep it in several twisted pony tails (maybe 10-12 braids/twists)...

I will say when I was getting my hair relaxed I AVOIDED water like it was a virus. I had hair down my back and it was very healthy. HoW did I do IT? I washed my hair Aonly when getting relaxed which was every other month (I know it sounds nasty) but I oiled it and wrapped it up at

So long story short, I hear what research says but it shoukd be noted that if you have African hairthat you are trying to wear straight avoid water. And if you are natural water IS NOT harmful when detangling. But it should also be noted that it depends on the hair style you are going fir how often you plan on wetting your hair etc.

Anonymous said...

Oh sorry for the typos I am using my phone _chelle

none said...

Hi Susan,

I am an Caribbean Canadian with Afro unprocessed afro textured hair, and I want to say that I LOVE your site. I say this after spending quiet a few years visiting all those other forums and blogs that your anonymous commenter suggested, and finding (surprise surprise) that what worked for some of these girls did not work for me.
My hair HATES glycerine and almost every other humectant, which many black girls love. My hair doesn't mind silicone. My hair doesn't like coconut oil. I could go on.

As someone with a love for science, I was happy to find the first site I could find that provided facts and documentation on why something was good or bad for MY BLACK hair, and not just 'well it worked for me'. And thanks to your site I now make my own hair and skin products which my body doesn't reject out right. Your site is my goto site for, before I have to hit up a paper or book for research on something.

LOVE YOUR SITE don't stop!!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous about the silicones, not from hearsay, but from my own personal experience. I do know what works for my natural African American hair and that is natural oils, not silicones and nature's moisturizer- water!

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
my name is Malory sorry I didn't registered myself before posting.
I'm writing from Paris, I just wanted to say thank you for your research on African hair. I studied cosmetic chemistry formulation in a master's degree and I have to say that your web site is better than all my university lessons!!
Would you mind posting some topics about hair care products for African hair type? it would be nice

Shannon B. said...

So thrilled to find this! I am a newbie who lives making anhydrous butters and balms and would like to make conditioners using high quality ingredients. So many anecdotes about African American hair care and not a lot if science. But I found you!

Kay said...


I read one of your comments above where you gave the analogy of soaking in a tub and bot being moisturised afterwards. I would like to add my two scents. Water is the ultimate source of moisture for afro hair. Water helps with elestacity (which is why when our hair is dripping wet, it is more elastic than ever). Water penetrates all the way to the medulla however, water dries which is where sealing comes in. You seal in the moisture from water/ water based products with an oil. Oils do not moisturise. Oils nourish. I have afro hair all the way down to my mid back. Water/ water based products has been my ultimate source of moistue. I agree that water can be an enemy but only when you try to comb/manipulate afro hair when it is dripping wet because at this stage the hair is suffering from moisture overload (over-elasticity).

Lorraine said...

Hi Susan! Thanks for all of the great info in your posts. I'm getting a bunch of ingredients for my bday so I can make my own products and this blog will help tons.
My question is, are Cetyl alcohol and Olivem-1000 good products for fine, kinky hair? I'm definitely getting btsm-50 and some preservative, but is everything I'm getting going to work well together? Or work at all?! Thanks for your help!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lorraine. Cetyl alcohol is great in combination with BTMS-50 because it'll boost the conditioning power by up to 50%. Plus it's a great moisturizer. Olivem 1000 isn't going to do much in a conditioner, except offer some emolliency. It's a non-ionic or neutrally charged ingredient, so it doesn't adsorb to the hair strand the way BTMS-50 will do. If you want to make a lotion, it's a decent enough - but very picky - emulsifier, but I'm not sure if it's going to do anything in a conditioner that a cheaper oil or butter won't do.

ProudKinky said...

Great post about Africa hair types! Very informative and better because it is backed by scientific data.

I am thrilled to learn that you would like to have a place where we can put personal experiences and suggestions for hair care products for African hair types.

I am a mother of 5 and all 5 of us have completely different textures of the 'African hair' for lack of better terminology.
It becomes challenging for me when making home products for us all.

I have been using recipes from your site and a few (especially the conditioners) have worked so far on some of us.

Anonymous said...

I think both views from the previous comments have their merits. Susan you have to consider that not until recent times a lot of hair care products targeted at this particular hair type weren't the best options (petroleum jelly based products) so I doubt you will find empirical scientific evidence for African hair formulations.
It's great to see since the "natural hair movement "sorry for lack of better words, a lot of the cosmetic companies are making products for natural hair that doesn't contain petroleum jelly and focuses on olils.

We have various hair textures within this hair type. And chemically treated (relaxed) hair behaves differently from natural hair. Atimes it all boils down to trial and error.

Lulue said...

Thanks for this post and all the helpful information. I have natural african hair which is a mixture of 3c/4a/4b and very fine.

I have struggled with many products that were aimed at African hair in the past. My hair hates certain oils, epecially coconut and SLS in shampoos was always a problem for me until I found SLS free.

I read Science of Black Hair and found using the LOC method (liquid, oil,creme)finally helped with my dry hair. Just using the oils alone just left my hair greasy but nourished.

I'm really pleased to find this site so I can now learn to make some of my own deep conditioners and shampoos with mild surfactants while truly understanding the how and why everything works.

taaliba said...

I've learned a lot from your blog about making lotion and such. I was wondering if I could use powdered eggs as my protein. I want to make my own hair mask. Would optiphen work to preserve my mixture. I am not a fan of parabens. Thanks for all you do.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi taaliba! Please don't use powdered eggs in your product. They will be brutally hard to preserve. As for Optiphen being suitable, I don't know the answer to that as I don't know what you are making. Take a look at the post to which I've linked and see if it fits with what you're making!

Robin said...

I love this blog. I found it three days ago and can not stop reading. Thanks for all the information. I am trying to make hair care products that are suitable for my African-American hair and your site is great!

Dubaidee4c Denise B said...

Hi Susan, thank you for creating this blog, I haven't stopped reading all day! Quick question, have you heard of the Max Hydration Method and if yes what are your thoughts on it it recommends regular washing of the hair. I have been doing it for 1 year and have seen great results - some of which you can find on my blog. It uses baking soda and ACV in the protein treatment - Cherry lola caramel treatment. Would love to hear your opinion.

Shirley Zullo said...

Thank you for the post...

Camirra Williamson said...

thanks for this post. i have african hair and it is so difficult for me to find a good leave in conditioner. i agree with need alot of oils. without oils my hair would be lost lol.... BTMS 50 has changed my life though. i mean my hair has NEVER been so soft after using a deep conditioner. I however love wheat protein. never makes my hair crunchy and leaves a silky feel. combined with wheat amino acids its great.

Camirra Williamson said...

So i have been crafting for african hair for a couple months now and i want to say that ppl with african hair types should look into some of the stuff susan is saying. i decided to try some of her tips, like using more conditioing agents (btms 50, polyquats, etc..) and it has really been more benefical than simply using more oils, which is what i was doing for years.
i thought i needed alot of oils in my conditioners to get the best result, but i tried a conditioner with a 20% oil phase (7% btms 50) to see if i would have a better result than my usual 10-12% for a deep conditoner. nope didnt get a better result. i think it actually made my hair a tad bit heavy ( but not oily, my hair is so dry it soaked it up). i think for african types we can benefit from oils, but try to see if less is more.

i am also going to experiment with silicones. with this natural hair movement i think i was programed to be afraid of them, but you blog has given me different perspective. i often hear the argument that they are difficult to remove, only offer temporary improvement then leave you hair worse off, or that they make an unpermable coating on your hair. BUT lets think about this logically...

silicones can easily be removed with 2% centrimonum chloride or a gentle shampoo, you dont need a harsh shampoo to do this. so they only offer temporary benefit, BUT DOESNT EVERYTHING ELSE! oils, butters, btms 50, everything you add to your hair offers only a temporay benefit. if this wasnt true you could condition your hair once and it would stay conditioned for life. oils only offer a temporay benefit. if i use coconut today the effect of it on my hair will even wear off. and if they made a unpermable barrier how does your hair ever get dry? seriosly how would water escape from you hair shaft when you have wet hair? think about this

i encourage everyone (especially my ladies with natural hair) to challenge what they think they know about hair care. i think there is alot of psuedo science information on the web. for years i just kept adding more oils to conditioner to try to make my hair softer with minimal results, but now i realize that needed more conditioning. if i wasnt open i would never have figured that out, and i would still be wasting my time lol

theDine inDiva said...

Hi Susan! Thank you for this post!!! After being relaxer free aka natural for 10+ years I am still trying to figure my hair out and what products/ingredients work. I enjoy scientific information to help balance out the anecdotal advice I find on most websites geared towards natural living. I have been toying with a liquid leave-in using baobob protein, honey quat, polyquat-10, silk peps, banana extract, liposome efa, & ceramides with a corresponding hair butter composed of oils, butters, silicones, alkyl ester, & btms. Trying to trim ingredients back as I easily get excited to add everything :) Your site is amazing and this post will be my inspiration as I suffer from breakage and midshaft splits along with dryness. A lot of the mainstream advice doesn't work for me (hello Dr. Bronners!) and a lot of info is regurgitated - often a complete copy and paste. I hate seeing exaggerated and false claims (ie oils that hydrate). After reading this I will rethink adding honeyquat or just add a tiny amount. I am slightly frustrated I can't find cetrimonium bromide or some of the other ingredients you've covered. So many great things to play with! Anywhoo thanks again for all that you do!!

Simply_Me said...

I hate afro hair, it is the bane of my existence. I just can't understand the purpose of it, we are the only race with this kind of hair. I have relaxed it, braided it, put a weave in, shaved it off, suffered chemical burns, traction alopecia - all sorts, I have no patience for it and just find it a complete chore. I am so fed up of buying endless black hair products that claim to soften or detangle or whatever, but never works. I keep it natural now and every 2 weeks go through a long winded 3 hour session of wash, blow dry and oil. I have scalp psoriasis so it's worse because I can't put anything on my scalp - or at least I have not found anything yet. That's why I wanted to learn about formulation to see if I could make something. I don't think I have seen a black hair product without glycerin so at least I can make those changes. Great article and nice that you covered the topic. I am hoping to make a mild shampoo, a leave in conditioner and a scalp spray / oil to help with the scabs / flakes. Work in progress. I just got some powdered surfactant, sodium lauroyl sulfoacetate I think, I have no idea how to use it.

Essentially Red said...

Hi Susan,

I noticed you haven't commented on this post in a few years, as an avid reader I do know that you read all your comments (no matter how old).
My question is; did you ever read the Science of Black Hair, by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy?
I have read it several times and am currently reading your ebook "Complete Guide to Creating Hair Care Products".
I do believe that if you had read the book you would see that some of the information you have given is outdated.
Silicones are not good nor bad for African Hair types. They do all the great things you said they do and they also create buildup for all types. The difference with African hair types is when you apply silicones you must use harsh sulfates to remove the buildup. Although there are some silicones that are more easily washed off with just water, there are several that require chelating shampoos to remove from the hair fiber. The problem with most silicone-rich products is there is usually more than one silicone ingredient included. A typical product will have dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, pg-amodimethicone, aminopropyl dimethicone, dimethiconol, plus many more. (I got this ingredient list from just 1 of my old favorite conditioners) All of these silicones will build up on all hair types and without proper removal will prevent moisture from entering the strands which will eventually cause breakage. This is why a lot of curly-haired forums recommend silicone-free products. This is the same reason why mineral-oil and petroleum products are not recommended, they also form a barrier that is difficult to remove with just water or less harsh surfactants.
So why not use surfactants? As you mentioned, African hair types are much drier than any other hair types. This is due to the natural kinks and bends of the hair preventing sebum from travelling from the scalp to the full length of the hair. Because the sebum doesn't easily make it to the ends of the hair, African hair doesn't get the natural protection to prevent moisture loss. Adding to the inherent dryness are external elements: the environment, friction from clothing, mechanical and heat styling tools, etc. This dry hair already has minimal moisture and using harsh surfactants not only clean the hair but remove the much needed sebum making African hair much more dry than when it began. The general idea with using sulfate free cleansers or co-wash practices is to use cleansers that remove topical debris and other products and leave more sebum on hair, hoping to leave hair that is not stripped of its natural oil.
Continued below...

Essentially Red said...

Another argument made above was why African hair needs moisture from water. Water is the ultimate moisturizer. Oil isn't a moisturizer. If it were, then we could all just drink a nice cool glass of olive oil when we're feeling dehydrated. I like to explain to people the oil vs water challenge in this way: Let's say that African hair is like spaghetti directly from the box. You wouldn't boil your spaghetti in oil, would you? No, the oil would fry the noodles and leave them hard, removing any moisture. No you cook the pasta in water, allow it to absorb the moisture and make it soft. After its fully moisturized you then apply oil (sauce or what have you) to it. Water must moisturize African hair first, then once fully moisturized it becomes pliable and able to be combed, styled, etc. Applying oil to dry hair blocks true moisture from entering the shaft and continues to exacerbate any dryness that the hair is already experiencing. If we stick with our spaghetti example: imagine soaking dry spaghetti in a bowl of oil for a week and then try eating it. Yes the spaghetti will be very soft, but it wouldn't be edible, it would be an oily mess. This is why oil doesn't work to truly moisturize hair. I know what you're thinking: But if you use this same example and let the spaghetti soak in a bowl of water you get mushy and fragile noodles! Yep, but we don't let our hair soak in water for a week or a day or even an hour. We wash our hair, allow the cuticles to lift and absorb the water and then rinse with cool water to allow the cuticles to contract and no more water will enter the shaft. (This is also the theory behind using apple cider vinegar as a final rinse- the acidity of the vinegar causes the cuticles to contract and keep all the necessary moisture in the hair fibers) Yes, the hair has swelled and water has entered into the shaft, creating opportunity for damage, but once we're done washing, we dry our hair, add oil as an additional sealant and style as necessary. The water is then sealed into the hair, making it pliable, no more water is entering the shaft. For hair that is already dry (from the environment or heat styling tools) this moisture is necessary to prevent breakage. As you know the oil molecules would be too large to enter the shaft and would not allow for any type of moisture - again leaving hair even more dry than when it started.
With all this said I know you value research over anecdotes and without references you will read my post and call it junk science. So I'll again ask you to read The Science of Black Hair, I have listed some of the references the author has given for your reading pleasure.
The Science of Hair Care - Claude Bouillon and John Wilkinson
Hair Structure and Chemistry Simplified - John Halal
Hair and Hair Care - Dale H. Johnson
Chemical Composition of Hair - Hilda Sustaita in Texas Collaborative: A Close Look at the Properties of hair and Scalp
Mechanical and Fractographic Behavior of Negroid Hair - Y.K. Kamath, Sidney B. Hornby, Sidney B. and H.D. Weigmann in Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemistry
Effect of Mineral Oil, Sunflower Oil, and Coconut Oil on Prevention of Hair Damage - Aarti S. Rele and R.B. Mohile in Journal of Cosmetic Science
If you choose not to post my comment, I understand, but I do hope that you would email me with any rebuttal or further comments. Gracias

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thank you for this post, Essentially Red. I'm sorry that you think so little of me that I wouldn't post something because you disagree with something I've written. I can't respond now - as I'm sure you know from reading my blog.