Ethnic hair care

May 4, 2011 at 2:50 p.m. ET

Ethnic hair care products can be some of the most toxic out there...and we often use them on our kids! While traditional products can be effective, they can also be extremely irritating and definitely not healthy. But as the industry evolves, safer options are beginning to surface.

woman with natural hair
Monique Reavis
is a green beauty expert and the creative powerhouse behind the popular blog, GoddessHuntress. She talks about the dangers of traditional ethnic hair care products and suggests some healthy options.

The traditional pitfalls

The main culprit in traditional ethnic hair care products is lye (sodium hydroxide), and most contain a cocktail of toxic chemicals. These nasty substances can cause chemical burns, receding hair lines, irritation and even lung damage. "Lye relaxer was accidentally invented in 1910 for use on sewing machine needles to prevent fabric scorching," says Reavis. "It's also used to unclog drains!"

As consumers became aware of the dangers of lye, "no lye" options, which contain potassium hydroxide, were introduced, but they are only marginally healthier. Other frightening ingredients include animal placenta, estrogen and phthalates.

A new mindset

Perhaps the increased accessibility of green products or the alarming cancer statistics among African-American women have sparked a mindset shift amongst consumers of ethnic hair care products. Whatever the reason, women are beginning to embrace healthier options and the industry is responding. "There is always resistance to moving to a healthier alternative because no one wants to risk performance," says Reavis. "Luckily, performance is finally coming through in these healthy ethnic hair products."

Healthy options

Toxic, chemical-filled products are definitely still available, and people are still using them. But for those of us looking for safer alternatives, Reavis recommends two highly effective, but gentle lines: Dena Cali and Belegenza Extraordinary Hair Care.

"Dena Cali is a comprehensive line of ethnic hair care. Shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, scalp oil and shine serums are luxuriously infused with fair trade organic green tea, shea butter and marula oil," says Reavis. "Belegenza has a progressive food-grade straightener that makes hair smoother with each treatment and is safe for children."

Natural alternatives

You can also go straight to nature for a boost of rich moisture. "Daily, apply natural oils as a restorative drink to hair and scalp," suggests Reavis. "Jojoba, coconut, and pomegranate oil are great conditioners." Be sure to steer clear of products that contain petroleum and mineral oil, which can really dry out your hair. These natural hair products can be used on curly and dry hair as well.

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