I went relaxer-free in 2009 and I haven’t looked back. Since then, I have been discovering products for my 4A/4B type hair, looking for products that strengthen, moisturise and promote growth, as well as give that sleek shine.
So, I know what you’re thinking: what do I mean when I refer to my 4A/4B hair type? There are three main groups for “hair typing” afro hair. To start, we have 2A, 2B and 2C, which are really just varying degrees of waves from looser to more pronounced deeper waves. We then graduate from waves to curls, which brings us to the 3A and 3B hair types. This ranges from loose curls to corkscrew spirals. And then, we move up another curl-intensity rating to the more tightly bound curl, which is the 4A to 4C group, which ranges from tightly bound curls to an intense coil. In recent years, there has been a boom in black women, mixed-race women and other ethnicities ditching relaxers, straighteners or other damaging methods of achieving and maintaining straight hair.
Everyone’s haircare regime will differ depending on lifestyle, preference and hair type. Some may wash their hair once a week or every two weeks, while others may alternate between washing with a sulphate-free shampoo once a week and then co-washing the following week. (What’s a “co-wash”? A cleansing method that involves using conditioner instead of shampoo to wash the hair, the idea being that it’s a gentler way to clean the scalp and maintain the hair’s natural oils rather than repeatedly stripping it of the oils the hair shaft needs to maintain moisture and balance).
A typical regime may consist of:
- A “pre-poo”, which is basic prepping of the hair with an oil or conditioner before proceeding to shampoo
- Shampooing, or using an alternative method of cleansing such as bentonite clay, apple cider vinegar or baking soda
- A moisture or protein-based conditioner followed by a deep treatment
The penultimate step is moisturising the hair. I prefer the LOC (liquid oil cream) method: hydrating the hair with water or a water-based product (the “liquid”), sealing in the moisture with oil and then applying a cream product to close the hair cuticle, which prevents moisture loss. You could also try the liquid cream oil (LCO) method or maximum hydration. It’s different strokes work for different folks, of course; the emphasis is on ensuring that moisture reaches all parts of the hair shaft.
The last step is styling. Low manipulation styling is recommended: keep it in for several days and redo as needed between wash days – the less physical you are with your hair, the less it breaks.
On this journey I have discovered ingredients that benefit my hair greatly and others that don’t. I have ditched ingredients such as sulphates and parabens. Sulphates have the ability to get rid of oil and dirt, but are thought to be key culprits of hair loss and thinning hair, destroying hair follicles and inhibiting hair growth. Parabens have been linked to the irritation of skin in conditions such as dermatitis and rosacea and can cause allergic reactions in small children.
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Creme of Nature Argan Oil Moisture and Shine Sulphate Free Hair Shampoo: £4.49 for 354ml, Amazon
Ever since I started using this nearly two years ago, I have not looked back. A firm favourite of many UK-based curlies, Creme of Nature is a US brand that likes to place a focus on natural ingredients such as argan oil, coconut oil, avocado and olive oil in their products. A luxurious, creamy combination infused with argan oil, this is not only a fantastic sulphate-free alternative but a brilliant bargain too. It is super moisturising with a sweet, nutty smell and it detangles well, while giving added strength to one’s hair and scalp. I personally feel this after I comb my hair and part it into sections because my hair feels more able to withstand any styling afterwards. Another product with no mineral oil, sulphates, parabens, silicones, phthalates, gluten, parafin or propylene, your hair is guaranteed to be in safe hands.
Bouclème Curl Cleanser: £15 for 300ml, LookFantastic
British curl specialist Bouclème’s cleanser is a gentle cream with a zesty citrus fragrance. Its lack of harsh foaming detergents, which for some may strip moisture or potentially cause more frizz in the long run, is a bonus (some of the products on here do have foaming ingredients but are all still very gentle on the hair). With a mix of natural ingredients such as magnolia leaf, spearmint, aloe vera, linseed and pomegranate, plus old favourites like virgin coconut oil and argan oil, it has a great combination of ingredients to be a curly natural’s fave. It detangles well and is gentle enough for more frequent use, making it suitable for co-washing or a gentle everyday clean, if that’s your thing. For those in the type 2 or 3 hair range, this could very well be your best friend.
Mixed Chicks Deep Conditioner: £10.17 for 235ml, Amazon
This conditioner is designed to detangle, restore and nourish curly hair. It also seeks to penetrate and reconstruct damaged tresses. Initially I was hesitant to give it a go, as I was fearful of it not being suitable or up to task for my 4A/4B hair, but I was proven wrong. It is a creamy, dense conditioner in a good size tub. It saturated my hair with a good amount of moisture and has a mild and subtle honey-like smell. Containing safflower seed oil, this product is a sure treat.
Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner: £10.99 for 384ml, Boots
This formula features a mix of sea kelp and argan oil, alongside its trademark ingredient of shea butter, resulting in a mixture that smoothes the cuticles while penetrating dry scalp and hair. It has a lotion-type consistency and comes in an easy-to-use pump dispenser, so that product is not wasted. This is a sulphate-free, paraben-free and colour-safe (all products on this list are sulphate-free, nearly all are paraben-free and a couple are colour-safe) alternative to some conditioners out there. It doesn’t feature mineral oil, phthalates, paraffin, petroleum, formaldehyde or propylene either. This doubles up as a leave-in or rinse-out conditioner. To reap the best benefits from this conditioner, using once or twice a week should be sufficient, plus this size bottle should last at least a month.
Cantu Sulphate-Free Hydrating Cream Conditioner: £6.99 for 400ml, Superdrug
Coming from a brand whose mission is to create ultra-nourishing beauty products that promote shine, this hydrating product is a godsend for those who want a conditioner that really packs a punch with moisture. Made with shea butter, this creamy formula will nourish your locks. What I like about this is the consistency and feel of this conditioner, which is gentle it is on the hair. Softness is also given to the hair, making it feel fluffier, although I would have preferred more slip. For this reason, I have also experimented with it as a leave-in conditioner. For the best results I would recommend this be used once or twice a week.
Palmer’s Manuka Flower Honey Strengthening Shampoo: £12.75 for 350ml, Amazon
Containing natural manuka flower honey, this shampoo has a lovely blend of amla oil, cocoa and shea butter with enriched vitamins, essential fatty acids and nutrients. The key aim of this product is to provide softness, shine and really strengthen the hair follicles. This shampoo distributes very well, smoothes the hair cuticles and detangles effortlessly. It definitely smells like honey and fresh, though not as strongly as some of the other products on the list, which by all means is not a bad thing. Another plus is that the shampoo genuinely feels like silk in the hands in terms of its texture and consistency.
Afrocenchix Swish Sulphate-free Moisturising Shampoo: £13 for 250ml, Afrocenchix
Afrocenchix believes things in life should be simple, and therefore it blends natural and organic ingredients with expertise to make haircare as simple as possible. This gentle formula combines aloe vera with fruity essential oils to cleanse and soften dry, curly and afro hair. Its pH balanced, scientifically formulated cleanser is gentle enough to use once a week. In addition to being free from sulphates, parabens, mineral oil and artificial fragrances, it is also vegan-friendly. This product felt smooth in my hair when applied and has a fruity citrus smell that is delightful and stayed. Another plus is the light, creamy consistency, resulting in to lots of slip, which felt excellent for thicker hair.
Aveda Damage Remedy restructuring shampoo: £21.60 for 250ml, John Lewis
Aveda’s gentle daily shampoo with quinoa protein, coconut and babassu is designed to help repair damaged hair and breathe new life into it. Previously, I’ve used Aveda’s products and I think they are a decent, good-quality brand. However as my own haircare needs changed, so did what I used. I experimented with other products but decided to include this one on the list. For many years Aveda has been sulphate-free. It cleans my hair well without making it feel crispy, rather it is light and almost fluffy, giving a smoother feel to my hair cuticles. It also detangles well and it made my hair feel very refreshed. The smell of ylang ylang, mandarin, and bergamot oil along with pure flower essences was inviting. It’s the priciest shampoo on the list but it does a great job.
Trepadora Hibiscus Pink Cleansing Clay-Wash: £19 for 200ml, Trepadora
A moisture-boosting cleanser designed to remove product with the power of pure French pink clay, this formula is created to be ultra-moisturising while being effective in cleansing the scalp and your curls. This cleanser has slip but it feels more like a conditioner, not a bad thing as this could then be used a co-wash and for light detangling instead. Nevertheless, it does the job and the hair does not feel stripped. Clay washes are great in general and preferred by some as a replacement for shampoo. The pump nozzle doesn’t give enough product at once, in my opinion, and I found I had to pump multiple times as I have a lot of hair.
Sunu Ker Rosemary ’n’ Argan Oil hair mask: £6 for 100ml, Sunuker
Sunu Ker is a brand inspired by natural African essences and traditional ingredients. This is a pre-shampoo hair mask treatment made using rosemary and argan oil. It can be applied as a cream or melted down to be used as a hot oil treatment instead. This oil mask effectively moisturises, softens, detangles and preps the hair against any moisture-stripping effects of the shampoo process. Shampooing feels easier after using it. For a natural, 100 per cent vegan product with quality, sought-after ingredients like argan and rosemary oils, I don’t think £6 is a bad price at all.
Almocado Intense Moisture Masque: £10 for 200ml, Almocado
Derived from a combination of nourishing organic castor, protein-rich organic coconut oil, organic avocado oil and topped off with strengthening pro-vitamin B and good fatty alcohols in order to leave hair moisturised. This treatment is fluffy, light yet creamy, with denseness, and is suitable for all hair types. It feels great in the hair and instantly boosted the moisture levels. It also gives great definition and makes your curls pop. It also smells of a nice blend of coconut and avocado oils.
Shea Decadence Kinks London Deep Treatment Repairing Custard: £14.99 for 220g, Shea Decadence
This a rescue mission in a jar, created to aid dry, damaged, shedding and even colour-treated hair. This treatment was made to condition and restore moisture through penetration and strengthening. The consistency is creamy yet lightweight, with a fair amount of slip to enable detangling. It is absorbed quickly into the hair and provides great moisture overall. It had a sweet mango sorbet smell, strong but not overpowering. Your hair will be left feeling refreshed, stronger and, best of all, in our opinion, much softer.
All of these products tested are really great and worth the time to check out, but if you can only get up to two or three then your best bet would be Creme of Nature offering (Palmer’s came very close). It is an all-rounder for a great price, and is a really good product for those who want super-soft hair that is clean without dryness. As for conditioner, I would go with Mixed Chicks and Almocado, as they are both so hydrating for the hair, while helping to provide a smooth boost to the follicles.