Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Is Lanolin a natural moisturiser for natural hair? A castor oil alternative?

Lanolin is essentially sheep sebum. Traditionally, sheared wool is simply boiled in water for a few hours and the lanolin rises to the top ready for scooping up.

Lanolin is actually not really a fat despite looking like one. It is technically considered a wax. It is quite different from the vegetable and fruit derived oils and butters such as coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil or shea butter. These oils and butters are true fats consisting mainly of fatty acids. Lanolin however is made mainly of esters of fatty acids and even has some alcohols and cholesterol.

Q:  Ah so much jargon! Why should I care if lanolin is a wax and coconut oil is not? What really is the difference between a fatty acid and an ester of a fatty acid?

The difference is that the ester version found in lanolin can actually hold water very well. Let me be clear, this does not mean that lanolin can dissolve in water well - it does not! It does mean that when you mix it with water, the water is attracted to it and can be trapped within it.

Q: Aha, so is the trapping of water by lanolin what makes it moisturising?

Yes, this is part of what makes it moisturising. A second part is that at least with skin, it is known to be able to penetrate into skin cells and combine with water within those cells, once more preventing water loss. It is indeed possible that it may do the same with hair since both hair and skin (and wool!) have keratin as a key protein.


1. Melting Lanolin: Pure lanolin is a thick wax and it really does not melt as easily as a fat e.g coconut oil or shea butter. Pure lanolin does melt and become spreadable but you need to use a very small amount and really rub it between your fingers for a good solid ACTUAL minute. Slathering it on while it is still sticky and not spreading easily is NOT the business. If you are struggling, you can purchase liquid lanolin too but be aware that in order to stay liquid, some parts of the pure lanolin are extracted.

2. Apply to either freshly washed or freshly misted hair: If you are looking for a moisturising effect, make sure that there is water on your hair for the lanolin to use.

3. Lanolin generally plays well with other oils or butters: You can use lanolin in addition to another oil e.g if you normally use coconut oil to 'seal' your moisturiser, you can still apply this first and then top up with lanolin.

4.  Lanolin is an alternative to castor oil: I have found that castor oil can be difficult to use for some naturals as it is too thick and sticky. If you are looking for something like castor oil but a little easier, then a thin layer of lanolin may just be what you need.

J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 181-195, 1993
J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 11-22, 1954
J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 219-227, 1992
J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 279-288, 1993

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

QFQ: How to stop hair gel from flaking

This article is a quick fire question from blog reader Bella who asks, 'Can you tell me why my hair gel flakes, sometimes I get actual gloopy balls and other times I get small flakes but somehow I cannot figure what I am doing wrong. Can you tell me how I can stop it from doing this?'

Q1: Why does gel flake?

There is one main reason that hair gel will flake and this is that  the hair gel does not combine well with a previous product applied to your hair (e.g a hair conditioner or water based leave in).

Q2: Isn't it a good thing to apply a hair conditioner or leave in before applying gel?

It absolutely is a good step to apply a hair conditioner or leave in before applying a gel. The purpose of a gel is to get hair strands to 'gel' together and this process can be drying which is why a water based product applied previously is useful. The general process for using a hair gel is

1. Wet hair
2. Apply a small amount of a water based conditioner or leave in to the wet hair.
3. Apply hair gel

Q3: So why does the hair gel not react well with the hair conditioner previously applied?

Let me be clear, most hair gels will have a certain range of conditioners that they will work well with. However, the ingredients in some conditioners do react with ingredients in some hair gels to form these gloopy balls or flakes. It is not the fault of the hair conditioner or the hair gel solely, it is more a case that the particular combination of the gel and conditioner does not work

Q4: How can I get the gel to work with the hair conditioner?

This is the wrong question. If the gel flakes up then it is likely that it always will with that conditioner. In some instances minimising the amount of product used can work but in general, once you start to see those balls, the combination does not work. You can solve the problem by changing the hair conditioner or the gel.

Q5: But I really like my conditioner and my gel?

Well, you are going to have to like them separately.

Q6: Can I test whether the conditioner and gel combination works before putting the products in my hair?

Yes, just wash and rinse your hands, then place a small dollop of the conditioner in your hand followed by a small dollop of the gel and rub your hands together to mix. I even found a video where the vlogger has done exactly that!

Image Credit

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Hair Science: How well do mild cleansers really clean hair?

This is a bit of a compilation piece. I have done some of these before and some for BGLH but finally I am putting all of them together right here!

The Experiment

I used my own shed hair (natural, African , 4c if you are into hair typing) and imaged it:
-on its own without any washing
- washed with shampoo only (2 minute water rinse, 2 minute shampoo wash, 2 minute water rinse and air dried for 4 hours)
-washed with cleanser only ( 2 minute water rinse, 2 minute cleanser), 2 minute water rinse and air dried for 4 hours)
-cleansers with extra time 10 minutes instead of 2 minutes - ACV, baking soda shikakai

Quick Cleansing Results

Ability of Hair Cleansers to Remove Oil  from Hair

Best Cleansers (Complete visible oil removal) Good Cleansers (vast majority of oil removed) Worst Cleansers (little to no oil removal)
Shampoo Hair Conditioner Baking soda
Oat water Castile soap (diluted) Shikakai
Natural soap/shampoo bar Bentonite Clay Apple Cider Vinegar

Rhassoul Clay

The Results

1. The Controls - Oily Hair (Dirty/Oily Reference) and Shampooed Hair (Clean Reference)

The controls let you have a baseline of what the hair looks like prior to washing and what it looks like with a proper wash. You can therefore judge the clay washes in context of dirty and clean hair.

Oily natural hair

Clean shampooed natural hair

2. Hair conditioner only - Result: Mostly Clean Hair

Co washing or washing hair with hair conditioner only does remove the vast majority of surface oil. Some small oil deposits are visible after a 2 minute cleanse as circled in white.

3. Oat water- Result: Clean Hair

I recently theorised that oat water may be able to cleanse hair due to saponins released when they are boiled. This experiment showed that indeed the cleansing with oat water does work (Process - 1 tablespoon of oats to half cup of hot water. Oats boiled for approximately 2 minutes in water, allowed to cool and then oats sifted from water. Water is then used to cleanse hair.)

4. Castile soap - Result Mostly Clean Hair

In this experiment castile soap was diluted 1:5 with water. It resulted in mostly clean hair with some oil deposits left (circled in red). Using undiluted or less diluted castile soap may result in complete oil layer removal.

5. Natural soap - shampoo bar - Result: Clean Hair

I used traditional soap (olive oil mixed with sodium hydroxide to make soap) and the result was clean hair comparable to shampoo. I would, however, just mention that soap may not be a mild cleanser as some people are more sensitive to its alkaline (high) pH. The same applies for castile soap above.

6. Baking soda - Result: Hair still oily

Many naturals tout baking soda as a natural cleanser but in my experiment, it really did not cleanse at all. The hair was extremely oily even after a 10 minute soak and rub.

7. Bentonite clay - Result: Mostly Clean Hair

Bentonite clay produced a similar result to conditioner washed hair. Hair was mostly clean with a few oil deposits (circled in white) left behind. The clay was applied to hair as a mask (water and bentonite clay mixed to a paste).

8. Rhassoul clay - Result: Mostly Clean Hair

 Rhassoul clay equally produced a similar result to bentonite clay. Hair was mostly clean with some few deposits of oil

9. Shikakai- Result: Hair still oily

Shikakai is promoted as an ayurvedic cleanser. It is made from crushed acacia pods which contain saponins which are natural cleansers. In this experiment though, the shikakai paste did not cleanse hair well. Large deposits of oil were still present on hair.

10. Apple cider vinegar- Result: Hair still oily

Some naturals do promote apple cider vinegar as a natural cleanser. It did however produce the worst result of all the cleansers. The hair actually looked oilier than when it started despite prolonging the cleansing time. It did not cleanse the hair at all in this experiment.

Additional Notes
Hair conditioner - L'oreal Eversleek Smoothing Conditioner, Shampoo - Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo, Oats - Quaker Oats, Baking Soda - Sainsbury's, Shikakai - Hesh, Apple Cider Vinegar - Sainsbury's, Bentonite and Rhassoul Clay - Sheabutter Cottage, Castile soap - Dr. Bronners, Natural Soap - Mother in Law made it.

Please do note that under the microscope we can see oil layers but we do not see small deposits on hair e.g hair conditioner deposits (well you actually could see them with specialised instruments but not with my microscope!). Strictly speaking this experiment will answer the question, how well will washing method X remove oil from hair.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

CWK Update - I got my Refund!

Do you recall this article -  Were the CWK Girls Straight Plates a Scam?

Here is an update - I received a refund just before Christmas! There was general email from the CWK kickstarter sent on 13th Dec saying that 30 refunds were left to do. It appears I was one of these 30 people.

Have you received your refund if you contributed to the kickstarter? Are we ready to officially say that it was not a scam?

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Can your hair recover from heat damage?

I get these questions quite often, so I am featuring this one today from blog reader D. She writes

'So I feel like I have a unique situation. I have heat damage but it's not the kind you just trim off. The stylist actually weakened and compromised the integrity of my hair. Now that it's cooler it's even harder to keep my hair moisturized. I've added more protein in my regimen and I deep condition after every wash. Other than a wash n go, every other style stretches my curls and before my next wash day I'm left with straight pieces and waves all over, at least until I can get it into a long term protective style and re-transition back to my original curly coiled kinks. I feel like there's no hope for my pattern to return. Doc is there anyway to come back from heat,weakened damaged hair? why or why not?'

I hate to break it to you but the only permanent remedy to heat damaged hair is a trim. Here is why

1. Your hair is  Dead

Once your hair emerges out into the visible area of your scalp, you are dealing with a dead fibre. It is dead because there are no active growing cells in it. The implication here is that this fibre can only ever either stay in the condition it is as it emerges or wear down over time. There are no active cells within that part that has emerged to fix any damage.

2.  High heat makes physical and irreversible changes to your hair at a molecular level

High or prolonged heat can physically and irreversibly change the natural structure of protein . Hair is made up of a protein called keratin. Keratin in hair has a natural twist in it called an alpha helix. This twist is present in all hair straight or curly. If you heat keratin to around 215-235°C ( 419-455F) the alpha helix starts to melt. This is a a physical change and it is irreversible, your hair will retain the shape of the melted keratin at a molecular level. Your hair shows you this molecular damage by not getting back into its natural curl or wave and staying straighter.

3. All damage to your hair is cumulative. 

Remember you have no growing cells in the dead part of the hair so if the cuticle is broken, it will stay broken. If you heat treat and damage the cortex, it stays damaged. Your hair conditioner and gentle treatment can help prolong the life of the damaged hair but ultimately it is damaged and the damage will continue to progress.

4. Do you have to cut it off?

If you can deal with the multiple textures and your hair is not breaking off in pieces, you can keep heat damaged hair. If the multiple textures are driving you insane, trimming is the only proven way forward.

For more - read this vintage article

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Jimmy Fallon does science

I loved this segment lead by Kevin Delaney on Jimmy Fallon. It was such fun and went very well even with the health and safety hanging by a little thread. If you didn't catch it then, here it is now!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Caucasian Hair Cleansing: Shikakai, Shampoo, Conditioner, Bentonite and more!

I have been promising this post for a while! This is a repeat of the microscope cleansing experiments we did with my (African) hair but using my hubby's (Caucasian) hair. Here it is!

The Experiment
I used my own shed hair and imaged it:
-on its own without any washing
- washed with one type of test cleanser only (2 minute water rinse, 2 minute test cleanser, 2 minute water rinse and air dried for 4 hours)
- the test cleansers were plain water, shampoo, conditioner, bentonite clay, shikakai, apple cider vinegar (1:1 ratio with water) and baking soda. ACV and baking soda had an extended time of 10 minutes in the cleansing phase.

The Results

1. Oily hair

My hubby shampoos his hair every 2-3 days and does not use conditioner or oil so his hair is pretty oil free. I therefore applied shea butter to his hair to create the oily surface needed for the experiment.

'Unwashed' Caucasian hair which is relatively oil free due to frequent shampoo use

Oily Caucasian hair with shea butter used for this experiment
2. Water only wash

The water only spread the oil around the hair strand but did not really clean it off.

 Oil spread over the strands in the water only wash
3. Shampoo only wash

The shampoo wash as expected gave the cleanest most oil free strands.
Shampoo cleaned Caucasian hair
4. Conditioner only wash

The conditioner wash gave mostly clean oil free hair with just tiny spots of oil visible

Hair conditioner cleansed hair - mostly clean some oil circled in white
 5. Bentonite clay wash

The clay wash resulted in a very similar result to the conditioner wash. The hair was mostly clean with some oil visible. In this case subjectively there was more oil than with the hair conditioner. I have circled some of the more obvious bulges in white

Bentonite clay cleansed hair

6. Shikakai 

Shikakai gave a somewhat clean result. Quite a bit of oil was still visible after the two minutes of cleaning.

Shikakai cleansed hair - not all visible oil is marked, just the more obvious spots

7.  Apple Cider Vinegar

The result with ACV was similar to water only washing, the oil just seemed to spread

ACV wash - oil spread over the strand, no real cleansing observed

8. Baking soda

As with ACV, baking soda also seemed to spread the oil and not really clean the oil off the hair.

Baking soda wash - hair remained oily 
Additional notes:
Running warm water was used for all washes. In each wash or rinse,  hair was rubbed gently to simulate normal hair washing. Hair conditioner - Tresemme Naturals Conditioner, Shampoo - Herbal Essences Dazzling Shine Shampoo, Bentonite Clay - Detox people, Shikakai - Hesh, Sainsbury's, ACV - Sainsbury's, Baking Soda - Dr. Oetker.

Please do note that under the microscope we can see oil layers but we do not see small deposits on hair e.g hair conditioner deposits (well you actually could see them with specialised instruments but not with my microscope!). Strictly speaking this experiment will answer the question, how well will washing method X remove oil from hair.