What Naturals Can Learn From African and East Indian Hair Practices

Shea-Butter

I am a foodie. I love trying out unfamiliar cuisines and frequenting different restaurants. One observation I have made in in my culinary excursions is the common approach to food in parts of the world that, on the surface, appear quite different. It’s not uncommon to find plated dishes in some parts of the Middle east, India, West Africa, Ethiopia and the Caribbean Islands that are meant to be eaten with the hands rather than utensils. These aren’t the only commonalities I’ve observed between the East and the Diaspora. The approach to hair care is a prime example of how beauty practices around the world may share more similarities than one might think.

African and Indian Hair Care Similarities

First, a bit of a clarification. We all know that Africa is a continent, which means that the hair care practices to which I am referring may vary from country to country and from region to region. My description, therefore, may not be representative of ALL of the countries in Africa. If I’ve missed something (which, no doubt I will) please chime in and share in the comments sections. Likewise, when I refer to Indian hair care, I’m referring to India in South Asia as opposed to Native American Indian hair care practices and limiting my review to Ayurvedic hair care, which may not be practiced by all Indians.

Oils

Over the last decade, the use of oils in products have become a huge focus in marketing mainstream hair care. Everything from argan oil to macadamia nut oil has been added to pricey hair products. Oils have long been central to hair care in much of Africa and South Asia long before they became the rage in the West. Many women in African countries have tightly coiled and curly hair making it difficult for the length of one’s hair to retain the moisture from the sebum oil the scalp naturally produces. Many of us are familiar with the application of olive oil and shea butter to hair, but unrefined red palm oil, commonly used in West Africa, isn’t frequently associated with hair care in the West. Red palm oil is an oil often used in the cooking of West African cuisine. Palm oil, which derives its name from the fruit of the palm tree, is rich in nutrients such as vitamin A and E.  It has even been said to possess healing properties both for the skin and hair. Much like shea butterred palm oil is dense enough to permeate course hair. The added advantage to red palm oil is that if you try it and find that it doesn’t work for your hair, you can use it to make a delicious pot of jollof rice!

Ayurvedic hair care has become synonymous with Indian hair care and for good reason. While hair textures most common across African countries might be distinct from those hair textures common in India, the simplified, nature-based regimen bears striking similarities. Many of the images of South Asian women featured on their beauty products appear to indicate that all women in that part of the world have bone straight, thick hair but there is quite a diversity among hair types. Some women have thick, curly hair, while other women have very fine hair. Therefore, the products and practices of Ayurvedic hair care isn’t guided by a one size fits all philosophy.

One beauty standard valued (at least from the standpoint of hair care marketing in India) is shiny, glossy hair. The practice similar to what many in the natural community call pre-shampooing (or pre-pooing) is one way that women in India prepare their hair for washing. I’ve discussed some of the benefits of the oils used in this article, but I’d like to reiterate the benefits of my favorite oils, amla oil and Nyle Herbal oil (coconut oil infused with herbs like amla, henna, hibiscus). These oils can limit the stripping of one’s hair that occurs during routine washing, while facilitating the process of detangling prior to washing.

An Afro-Indian Regimen

To be clear, the purpose of an Afro-Indian regimen is not to dismiss hair care products or practices not identified above. Rather, it provides a way of simplifying one’s regimen by narrowing the options from which one might choose. This can be particularly helpful for those of you who suffer from product junkyism or who want to explore the benefits of natural oils on your hair. Identifying a few oils and butters that work (or don’t work) can make your hair care routine easier because you’ll know which products to invest in and which to keep off your shopping list.

Do you have any experience with some of hair care practices in African countries or India? What are your experiences and what products did you find to be most effective?  

Gen

Gen

Island girl raised in the most royal of NYC's boroughs. Proud nerd, social scientist, educator and recovering awkward black girl. When not listening to NPR, trying to grow spiritually, or detangling my fro, I'm searching for the best shrimp and grits in the Queen City.

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