Reading and Understanding the Ingredient List on your products.

When you embark on a hair journey (whether relaxed or natural) the one thing you must begin to pay attention to are the ingredients in the products that you currently use and the ones you intend to purchase. Being aware of what you are putting in your hair is key in enhancing the moisture, resilience, softness and strength of your hair which in turn leads to healthy hair that retains length. The only way you are aware is by reading the ingredient list of your product AND understanding not just the ingredients listed but the ORDER in which they are listed.

Ingredients are typically listed in descending order i.e. from highest to lowest concentration. So whatever you see listed first is the main ingredient and whatever is last is the least ingredient. You'd be amazed to know that the first 3 ingredients make up about 90% of the entire contents! Everything that comes after will take up between 1 - 3% each. Therefore, don't be fooled by the marketing gimmicks of some companies that have exotic stuff emblazoned on the cover of their product (Argan Oil! Shea Butter! Murumuru Butter!) only to have it as the 15th one in a list of 17 ingredients!

When picking a daily moisturizer, ensure that it is a water based moisturizer and the way you will know this is the first ingredient listed will be 'water' (or aqua) . Water hydrates hair and is the best thing for our thirsty locks. So if you're not using a spritz that you've mixed yourself, ensure that whatever you use has water as its first ingredient.

The next thing to be aware of are the silicones and sulfates contained  in your shampoos and deep conditioners/leave in conditioners/daily moisturizers - if you missed my post on the interaction between both ingredients, please click here. Sulfates if used regularly will strip your hair and ideally should be limited to once a month to clarify whatever product build up you may have. Silicones can generally only be removed by sulfates so if you must use products with silicones then you can't stick to sulfate free shampoos.

Moving on to synthetic oils a.k.a Mineral oil and Petrolatum - the way I always explain this is: if you smear petroleum jelly on your hand and you pour water on it, what you will notice is the water immediately gliding off as the petroleum jelly has created a barrier.

 Same thing with these ingredients - they coat your hair and eventually prevent moisture from penetrating the strands - everything you put in the hair subsequently literally just sits on the hair. The result is dry thirsty hair that begins to break.

Some people swear by their products that have these ingredients - just remember if petroleum and mineral oil are the first and second ingredient in your products, then you will need to use a sulfate based shampoo more regularly to remove them - and using a sulfate based shampoo regularly will dry out your hair.

Natural oils (coconut oil, almond oil, avocado oil etc) are preferable as they create a permeable barrier that moisture can still penetrate through and the oils in and of themselves are healthy and beneficial to the hair.

Then comes things like humectants which help moisturize and keep hair moisturized - ingredients like glycerine, propylene glycol, pro vitamin panthenol, aloe vera, honey These are generally great ingredients to have.

Next are things like emollients (butters and oils) which aid in moisturizing your hair.

Then come the Surfactants and Polymers - these are conditioning agents which help improve hair's sheen, pliability and shine. Surfactants (Quartenium 26, PPG - 9 diethylmonium choloride)  are typically combined with fatty acids (cetyl, stearic, oleic, linoleic)  while polymers are generally added to thicken the otherwise watery consistency of the product.

 Polymers also improve curl patterns in hair and common examples are: Celluloses, Polyquarternium 4,10,44 etc)

Then you have the protein variations - hydrolized protein, silk protein, keratin, wheat protein, silk amino acids etc. Protein adds structure to hair, reinforcing it and keeping it from being a weak, limp mess. Some people are very protein sensitive - they use it and their once soft and manageable hair begins to feel hard and becomes a tangled mess.

 Relaxer breaks the protein bonds in the hair (hair is predominantly made up of keratin which is a chain of proteins) and this is why when your hair is relaxed, you need to have a balance of moisture and protein in your hair products and regimen. Natural hair many not need protein as often as relaxed hair does, but it is still useful for strengthening and reinforcing the hair.

Whatever the case, it is up to you to 'listen' to your hair and determine what it likes and doesn't like - for instance as fantastic as Coconut Oil is  some heads of hair do not take to it because coconut oil binds to the keratin bonds in the hair, helping with protein retention.

For some, it may not be all protein their hair is sensitive to but certain kinds of protein - my hair for instance is not a great fan of some Taliah Waajid's products ( it loves the Protective Mist Bodifier though) as they seem to contain some form of silk protein. So you just need to figure it out really.

Finally you'll have the preservatives and fragrances -  examples of  perservatives are: potassium sorbate, sorbic acid, and the controversial parabens (which some studies have now linked to tumors). Fragrances will say just that - fragrance.

So there you go! Hope that helps when next you go product shopping so  you're better informed of what you're putting in your hair - nothing beats being informed and taking responsibility!

Have a great weekend



  1. Hi! You should have seen me at shoprite today armed with a my phone strategically looking at almost all of the conditioners,shampoos!leave in and moisturizer. I couldn't find any sulphate free. I also couldn't find any of the ones you used so I bought 2 sulphate shampoos,olive oil leave in,heat serum and organics mayonnaise. By the time I got home I don't know how I saw dimethycone,trime.... and the cyclo one too on almost all the products.Lol.I must have started seeing double at one point.
    I guess am stuck for now till I manage to get sulphate free shampoo. However ur post really helped me to know if it's water based.i saw one avocado oil with the avocado like second to the last on the least. Dropped it sharply.Ur post also helped me avoid paraffin and mineral I gots to say thanks.

    1. oooh! I'm so thrilled this was able to help in some way. You're most welcome! Regarding the products with silicones - you can use them sparingly for now till you find ones without. Your sulfate shampoos will also come in handy to clean your strands properly when you need to clarify. Goodluck!

  2. Great post! I had been using one of Doo Gro's oil mixes cos I didn't want to buy a bunch of different ones. One day something made me look at the ingredients - first one was Mineral Oil - I almost screamed. Stopped using it immediately, and found a different one with much better ingredients.

    1. Thanks Berry! Ah Doo Gro! Way back in the day when I was blindly searching for a magic product to grow hair down my back, I was lured by a number of their products loll.

    2. P.S. May I have your permission to repost this on African Naturalistas? You will, of course, be credited and a link to your blog will be posted :)

  3. This post really makes purchasing products simple! May I have the permission to repost because I try to explain to people the importance of reading product labels and what each ingredients do orally and it's like I'm being all scientific about! This will definitely help!

    1. Definitely Hadassah! Its really important we all understand the interaction of the ingredients in the products we're constantly buying.

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