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

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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36 Comments on "What Naturals Can Learn From African and East Indian Hair Practices"

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chloe

Qhemet prod­ucts con­tain Indi­an and African oils and extracts.

Lakitha Goss

I love Vatika oils.

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