The best ingredients for afro-textured hair, according to the experts

Written by Hanna Ibraheem

We’re often told about the perils of using specific ingredients on afro-textured hair, but less informed about the ones that keep coils healthy. Here, we speak to the experts about their recommended ingredients.

When shopping for haircare products for your afro-textured hair, it can often feel like you’re being shouted at about all of the things that you should be avoiding. No sulphates! No silicones! No phthalates! No nasties! The problematic nature of these ingredients is so drilled into us that sometimes you might find yourself actively shopping to avoid specific ingredients rather than looking for the ones that’ll actually nourish your coils.

Not looking for texture-loving formulas but instead trying to dodge the minefield of harsh ingredients that can be drying and stripping to the delicate nature of afro hair: it’s a pretty negative way of approaching your haircare and styling routine, isn’t it?

The truth is, haircare brands have gotten a lot wiser in the years since the natural hair movement, especially as Black women began sharing the gospel regarding SLS-laden shampoos and dangers of phthalates. As afro-friendly brands become more widely created, most formulas nowadays are packed with ingredients that are key to helping with growth and repairing damage that afro hair is most susceptible to.

While chemicals are often an important factor in creating products that’ll work over a sustained period, it’s not surprising that it’s the natural ingredients that are key to maintaining healthy afro hair. These are the elements that Monica Rodriguez, founder of Mielle Organics,turns to when formulating her bestselling products.

“When I look for ingredients, I look for healing properties and also ingredients that we can consume – what we put in our bodies can have great benefits when used on our bodies as well,” explains Rodriguez.

It’s something that’s echoed by hairstylist Heather Dapaah when working with clients that are looking to grow their hair. “Natural ingredients are perfect for afro hair types because many mimic the sebum and fatty acids already produced in our hair and skin, helping to keep them healthy and assist good growth rate,” says Dapaah.

The best ingredients for afro hair

Shea butter

With vitamins A and E, shea butter contains essential fatty acids that help to boost moisture. This is particularly necessary in afro hair as the structure of strands don’t tend to allow sebum from the scalp to travel well down to the tip. “The soothing properties work very well for adding moisture and shine to textured hair,” says hairstylist Dionne Smith. 

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There’s a reason that the base of many DIY hair masks is avocado: it’s packed with antioxidants and biotin that work to strengthen hair. Smith also advises that as an ingredient, the minerals within help to seal down hair cuticles too. 

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Honey is a humectant so as an ingredient it’s going to encourage moisture to stick around. “Honey has so many healing properties for hair, skin, and body,” says Rodriguez.

The other essential benefit is that honey is an emollient, which will smooth down roughened cuticles. If cuticles are lifted, any nutrients you put onto your hair won’t be absorbed well and moisture can’t be retained, a problem often experienced with afro-textured hair.

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Another ingredient that Rodrigueze swears by for afro hair is ginger. “I use a lot of antioxidants that purify and cleanse such as yuzu and ginger,” she says. Afro hair typically grows at a slower rate to European and Asian hair types so, if growth is a goal, ginger is definitely something to look out for. It stimulates the hair follicle at the root, which promotes growth. Plus, ginger’s antiseptic properties help to fight dandruff too.

  • Try: Mielle Organics Honey and Ginger Styling Gel

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Jojoba Oil

“Jojoba oil is an all-rounder that makes hair stronger as well as helping to prevent a dry scalp and dandruff,” says Smith. So you’ll understand now why you see this oil in so many afro hair products. It not only works for keeping a healthy, dandruff-free scalp, the vitamin B, C and E keep coils nourished. Plus, because it isn’t a deeply penetrative oil, it will protect from the outside from environmental damage.  

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Essentials Oils

Look out for essential oils like rosemary and peppermint for their antioxidant and antimicrobial properties as these keep the scalp moisturised and healthy. If you wear a lot of braided protective styles, include them in your product line-up to stop your scalp flaking and avoiding build-up. “Their anti-inflammatory properties mean they’re great for dealing with the effects of dry hair, itchy scalp and inflammation,” advises Dapaah.

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Castor Oil

“Natural oils like castor oil act as excellent barriers to moisture loss and therefore keep hair hydrated for longer,” says Dapaah. Due to its heavy composition, thicker afro hair types are the best for applying this oil in its natural form, but there are lots of great products that heavily feature this wonder oil too. 

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Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is like a tall glass of water for your hair and scalp. “It’s made of 99.5% water, so it’s extremely hydrating for natural hair,” explains Dapaah. “I use it on my clients regularly as it’s one of the best moisturisers that mother nature provides.” It contains vitamins A, C and E, all of which contribute to cell turnover on the scalp. 

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Main image: Getty

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