Ethical Brands for Afro Hair
Words by Ruth Campbell
Ruth Campbell is a freelance makeup and hair artist with 9 years experience in all things beauty, working on a variety of skin tones and hair types and has just launched an all-natural brand called The Balm Company.
Having afro hair, I have grown up accepting the fact that if I needed to buy products it wasn’t as easy as popping into Superdrug or Tesco. I had to travel to a specialised store where the shelves were packed from floor to ceiling full of the latest brands mainly from the US. The shopping trip became much harder once I realised that the chemicals I was using to maintain my hair were toxic for my health and the environment.
I decided to use natural products when I decided to stop relaxing my hair. I wanted to wear my hair in its natural state and I had done some research and new that the relaxer was damaging to my hair. This made me start looking at all the products that I was using as I wanted to make sure I was using products that would enhance my health rather than hurt it. It has been at least 15 years since I decided to use products containing natural ingredients and I must say that the market for natural afro hair products has definitely come along way since 2004. However, from a general browse in the isle, I still feel a lot of brands that are aimed at black women still contain toxic ingredients. A recent study published last year by Science Direct confirmed my observation when they tested 18 US afro hair products across 6 categories and found that they contained 45 endocrine disrupting and asthma-associated chemicals. For those of you that are unaware endocrine glands affect your mood, development, the way that organs work, your metabolism amongst other things and asthma as we all know can seriously affect your life. To make things worse, the study also found that 84% of the detected chemicals were not listed on the product label.
A previous study conducted by Black Women for Wellness linked cancer, infertility, uterine fibroid and respiratory disorders and the onset of early puberty to the use of some of these products. Ingredients they have listed to avoid include: Ethanolamine, Sodium Hydroxide, Calcium Hydroxide, DMDM Hydantoin, Fragrance, Sulphate and Parabens.
So after much research, trials of my own and label reading I have put together a list of some ethical brands to encourage more people to ditch the toxic products that could damage their health. In their place, I have picked some brands that carefully select their ingredients and are ethical in their practices.
Shampoos and Conditioners
Aubrey Organics is a natural personal care manufacturer based in the US but is available in the UK. Their brand is not specific to any hair type but their nutrient-packed products definitely work well on afro hair types. In particular, the Honeysuckle Rose Shampoo (£10.49), Honeysuckle Rose Conditioner (£10.98), the GPB Balancing Protein shampoo (£10.49) and conditioner (£10.98) are amongst their best sellers and for good reason. The Honeysuckle Rose is great for adding moisture to the hair while the GPB works as a protein-based treatment. Both have aloe vera and shea butter as the first two ingredients. Your hair will absolutely love you.
Anita Grant, a UK brand, purchases directly from farming communities and partnerships she has built with fair trade and organic suppliers. Her range of products are highly sought after. The Rhassoul Deep Condish (£5.95) is an amazing deep conditioner made from Rhassoul clay and also comes with banana or marshmallow variant. It detoxifies the scalp and fortifies the hair leaving it soft and manageable. This deep conditioner is also adaptable as you can choose to mix in any hot liquid that you like depending on the desired benefits that you want. Options can include but are not limited to plain hot water, aloe vera juice, coconut/ almond milk, floral or herbal waters.
Dr Bronner's is a family-run brand that still continues to make socially and environmentally responsible products. Some of their initiatives include regenerative organic agriculture - helping farmers to regenerate their soil, packaging innovations that turn recycled bottles into new bottles and reducing waste throughout their business. Their 18-in-1 Peppermint Pure Castile Soap (£7.69) is a multi-purpose liquid soap that can be used to clean your face, hair, body, dishes, floors and pets. Only a small amount is needed to cleanse the scalp and hair. If you have locs a conditioner is not necessary.
Detanglers, Leave-ins and Stylers
Alikay Naturals advocates for fair trade and sources their ingredients responsibly. This brand was created by Youtuber BlackOnyx77 and carries products for straight, wavy, curly or kinky hair types. Stand out products for braid or twist outs include their Lemongrass leave-in conditioner (£11.99) paired with either Alikay Naturals Creme Brulee Curling Delight (£13.99), for those who prefer their moisturisers with Aloe Vera gel, or Alikay Naturals Shea Yogurt Hair Moisturiser (£12.99) which contains Shea Butter.
Afrocenchix is a British based brand who support British suppliers. All raw materials are ethically sourced and they use environmentally friendly preservatives.
Their Soothe Natural Scalp Oil £15.99 is great for itchy and dry scalps and has a nozzle that helps those applying directly to the scalp when their hair is in braids and other protective styles.
Their Moisture Surge Set £40 is three products designed to use the LOC or LCO method - Liquid, Oil and Cream / Liquid Cream and Oil - when layered in that order this system hydrates and seals in moisture.
Oyin Handmade is a family run business who make their products from natural, organic, and food-grade ingredients. They have a great line of products including Oyin Handmade Juices & Berries Herbal Tonic (£12.99) which are herbal sprays that refresh, condition and stimulate the scalp which promotes hair growth. They can be used as a refresher or as a leave-in. If using as a leave-in then it can be paired with a small amount of Oyin Handmade Burnt Sugar Pomade (£12.99) as a sealant.
Folacare is run by twin sisters Folake and Bola and is based in London. Their handmade products are plant-based, vegan-friendly and for all curl types. They use natural, organic and African botanical ingredients and support Bristish and fair trade suppliers. Their fantastic scalp oil - Replenishing Hair Oil with Watermelon and Black Seed (£11.89) is a great oil for treating the scalp for dandruff and other scalp issues whilst sealing in moisture to the hair shaft. The black seed is antifungal and antibacterial and reduces irritation and inflammation whilst the watermelon contains vitamin C and arginine which helps to promote a healthy scalp and hair growth.
I have discovered over the years that it's always good to keep on hand your own raw ingredients that you can add to your regimen.
G.Baldwins & Co is a London based herbalist and natural product retailer. They offer a wide range of herbs, oils, clays and butters in addition to branded products. You can also create your own shampoo and conditioner using their shampoo and conditioner bases. They are extremely environmentally conscious reusing and composting as much as they can and aim to reduce their waste to almost zero.
Some of my favourite basic ingredients to have include:
A great moisturising and conditioning hair and skin tonic that works wonders as a refresher for the hair. Add to a spray bottle with some jojoba oil and rosehip oil shake and spritz.
Aloe vera gel
A versatile product and when applied with other oils can give the hair much needed hydration and also holds styles well.
Flax seeds or linseeds
When boiled in water it creates a gel which when added to the hair adds an unbelievable amount of moisture to the hair.
Oils and butters
Other oils such as calendula, camellia, baobab, sweet almond, shea, mango and cocoa butters all contain emollient and conditioning properties which are fantastic for promoting moisture and keeping the hair soft and supple.