Thursday, February 2, 2012

Some interesting things I found relating to African hair types...

I don't know much about this topic, and I was asked a question that required more research, so I thought I'd share with you some research I found on African hair types.

Thanks to Isis/Diana for asking me about the research materials I used in the post on African hair! I've altered the post to reflect that I can't confirm the information about increased pH level in African hair (and couldn't find it on my notes in my hair chemistry notebook), and I've added a few things and some references. If you find something that doesn't make sense on the blog, write to me at (And here are some suggested ways to approach me if you think I'm wrong!) 

Analysis of structural changes in bleached keratin fibers (black and white human hair) using Raman spectroscopy - To investigate the influence of bleaching treatments on keratin fibers...From these experiments, we concluded that the melanin granules including metal ions act as a decomposition accelerator for the oxidizing agent, thereby leading to a higher level of disulfide (–SS–) group cleavage in the black human hair compared with that of the white human hair.

Apparent fragility of African hair is unrelated to the cystine-rich protein distribution: a cytochemical electron microscopic study - A feature of black African hair is an apparent increased fragility of the hair shaft compared to other ethnic groups (as measured by the tensile force needed to break the hair fibre). [T]here is no abnormality in their distribution in black African hair shafts compared to the other ethnic groups. Therefore, the excessive structural damage observed in the African hair shafts is consistent with physical trauma (resulting from grooming) rather than an inherent weakness due to any structural abnormality.

Hair breakage (a PDF). Lots of good information in here!

African Hair Morphology: Macrostructure to Ultrastructure (PDF): Great information about how African hair grows and breaks.

Fragility of African hair (PDF). The conclusions? That the "excessive structural damage observed in African hair is consistent with physical trauma (resulting from grooming) rather than an inherent weakness due to any structural abnormality."

Here are the proceedings of a L'Oreal conference in Africa about hair and skin, and it's really interesting reading!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Sue! (Can I call you Sue?)
It's funny cos I'm not African but Asian, but now I'm so interested in African hair!

Lola Zabeth said...

Thanks, Sue! This is an awesome post. I have natural (not chemically relaxed) African-textured hair and I am part of a rapidly growing Natural Hair online community (search "#naturalhair" on Twitter and you will see how very active the conversation is) so I particularly found this article to be very useful.

The only exception I take is with the post on African hair referenced at the beginning of this post: "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." The post goes on to say that products for African hair should rarely if at all contain humectants for this reason. On the contrary many of us (with highly textured African hair) have found that glycerin is indeed a friend because of its ability to draw water. We love water---but not to the point where the shaft expands to a dangerous point. When a proper proportion of glycerin is added to the mix, you can really create a fantastically moist environment for highly textured hair. I will say that we tend to ease up on glycerin during winter months or dryer climates as glycerin tends to suck moisture from the hair in the absence of moisture in the air.

Also, many of us tend to avoid silicone (unless water soluble) because of their tendency to prevent water penetration leading to dryness, leading to breakage.

This is all of course anecdotal, but thought I'd chime in about what has/hasn't personally worked for me, and a huge group of women who actively share information on caring for natural African-textured hair.

Thx, and I am a huge fan of POI, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue! This is a very interesting post. I am also African American and I wear my hair natural just like Lola. I agree with Lola in regards to water because water is our #1 moisturizer without it our hair tends to dry very quickly. I do not use products with silicones, sulfates, surfactants, etc. because products of that nature are very damaging to natural African American hair. That's one of the reasons I am learning how to create my own products and your site has been very helpful. Products by Qhemet Biologics, Oyin Handmade, Jessicurl... are some of the top products we tend to seek out.My favorite all natural cleanser is the mud wash by Terressentials. I am so happy to have found your site. If you get a chance could you post a recipe with all natural ingredients.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

I don't know what you mean by natural ingredients because you can't make a conditioner without using a cationic quaternary compound like BTMS-50, and there's no way anyone can argue effectively that a cationic quaternary compound like BTMS-50 or cetrimonium bromide is even remotely close to natural. So I don't think it's possible to make something we can call a conditioner - something that contains a positively charged compound that will adsorb to our hair - that would be considered natural.

Have you seen the hair care section of the blog? There are many different recipes there and one of them is bound to be close to something that interest you.

As for using surfactants, you must use them at some point if you want to use a conditioner, enjoy a lotion, or wash some part of your body without using soap. If you eat salad dressing, enjoy a Twinkie, or have some mayonnaise, you're using surfactants. I think what you're referring to are foamy, lathery surfactants? And why are you avoiding sulphates? There are many sulphates that aren't SLS that are mild for your hair!

Click here for my post on surfactants.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. I am learning a lot. Could you tell me whether or not this product has any surfactants and the best way to recognize them in a product.
The product is Natty Moist Conditioner and the ingredients are:
Water (Aqua) infused with Equisetum Maximum Lam (Horsetail), Mentha Piperita (Peppermint), Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), Laurus Nobilis (Bay Leaf), Ocimum Basilicum (Basil), Arctium Lappa (Burdock Root), Althaea Officinalis (Marshmallow Root), Origanum Vulgare (Oregano), Cymbopogon Flexuosus (Lemongrass), Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme), Salvia Officinalis (Sage) and Urtica Dioica (Nettle); Behentrimonium Methosulfate (and) Cetearyl Alcohol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Soy Lecithin, Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate

Also, could you tell me whether this USDA Certified product contains any sulphates -whether strong or mild- because this is what I use to cleanse my hair.
Terressentials Mud Wash - Ingredients:
Ingredients: Organic aloe vera juice°, clay minerals, organic extracts° of organic linden flower°, organic nettle°, organic chamomile°, organic shavegrass° and organic vanilla°, essential oils of organic sweet orange°, organic patchouli°, organic true lavender°, organic petitgrain°, organic atlas cedar°, organic cinnamon leaf° and organic pine needle°.

°USDA Certified Organic

Thanks again.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Anonymous. I've answered your questions in this post.