This post start­ed out as a list of rea­sons why I’m not a pro­duct junkie any­more. But it changed when I real­ized I was writ­ing more about the joy of being a pro­duct junkie than the rea­sons I left it behind. I have a lot of love for those years of ‘PJism’, because the rep­re­sent some of the best of my 11-year nat­u­ral hair jour­ney.

Like many black girls, my mom washed my and my sister’s hair about once a week with what­ev­er she found in the beau­ty aisle. We’d sit in the tub, play­ing qui­et­ly and brac­ing for what came next. She would sit us between her legs and tug at our naked, wet coils with a fine-tooth comb, noth­ing used to ease our scalps, melt our tan­gles or soft­en our strands. 

My moth­er kept her hair pressed but my father had hair like mine — soft, short and tight. He kept it in a small afro and when he combed it, small c-shaped bro­ken pieces would fly away, flut­ter­ing in beams of light before set­tling on the bed­room tile. Every day he sprayed it with StaySof­Fro. It smelled sweet and med­i­c­i­nal, and left a slight film on my fin­gers when I ran my hands through his hair.

I know now that my father was using a water-based spritz to soft­en his strands and, had the same been done for me, I would have expe­ri­enced much less pain dur­ing comb­ing. But this was back in the ear­ly 90s, before nat­u­ral hair blog­ging and vlog­ging would edu­cate a gen­er­a­tion of kinky-haired wom­en.

In col­lege the black girls hud­dled around their hair rit­u­als. We would go to each other’s dorms to watch Love and Bas­ket­ball and Brown Sug­ar while doing at-home relax­ers, press and curls or wet sets with perm rods. We used Pink Lotion, Blue Mag­ic Grease, box perms and edge gels. Mean­while our white class­mates used sham­poos and con­di­tion­ers that smelled like pas­sion fruit and laven­der, the scent cling­ing to them for hours.

The rule, though unspo­ken, was deeply felt — black girls with hair like mine didn’t get the beau­ti­ful prod­ucts that smelled good. The stuff we used was joy­less and unfor­giv­ing, meant to sti­fle and tame the strands we’d been repeat­ed­ly told were unac­cept­able.

When I did the big chop after col­lege I had no clue what to use on the soft fuzzy patch of hair that now cov­ered my scalp. The next day at work a slen­der black co-work­er, who wore her straight­ened nat­u­ral hair down her back took pity on me. “Go to the beau­ty sup­ply store and get this,” she said, scrib­bling on a piece of paper. I emerged from my local BSS with Can­tu Shea But­ter Leave-in Con­di­tion­er Repair Cream and African Royale Hot 6 Oil. 

The Can­tu was sticky, almost like a pud­ding, with an over­bear­ing­ly fruity scent. The Hot 6 oil was syrupy and sac­cha­rine. No mat­ter, I was over the moon. Nau­se­at­ing as they were, they were the best-smelling and most absorbent prod­ucts I’d ever used on my hair up to that point.

As I dis­cov­ered the ‘shea but­ter inter­net’ my pro­duct junky­ism took off. Nat­u­rals were shar­ing infor­ma­tion at a fren­zied pace about what prod­ucts made your hair stronger, more mois­tur­ized and prop­er­ly PH bal­anced, what enriched it with pro­tein and gave coils and curls def­i­n­i­tion, what increased bounce and improved ten­sile strength. Every mon­th I head­ed to Sal­ly Beau­ty or the gild­ed Tar­get hair aisle, fill­ing my arms with bot­tles designed in cool pas­tels, bright yel­lows and hot pinks.

I spent hours in the bath­room try­ing sham­poos, con­di­tion­ers and hair creams, rub­bing the translu­cent pro­duct between my fin­gers, then rak­ing it through my coils and watch­ing as it melt­ed in. I could bare­ly sup­press my ela­tion the first time a guy told me, “You smell real­ly good,” after I’d used a flo­ral-scent­ed sham­poo. It was the most beau­ti­ful I’d felt in months. 

My dis­cov­ery of nat­u­ral hair prod­ucts coin­cid­ed with my ear­ly years as a nat­u­ral hair blog­ger. I attend­ed events for Dark and Love­ly in New York, shot an ad for Cre­me of Nature and put on mas­sive Chicago events for Miss Jessie’s and Tal­i­ah Waa­jid. I was young, and nat­u­ral hair felt like an unex­plored con­ti­nent. The promise of what a new pro­duct could do filled me with eupho­ria.

As time went by I fig­ured out the prod­ucts that worked best for my hair, and the stash of par­tial­ly used test prod­ucts under my bath­room sink start­ed to dwindle. Today I find myself on the oth­er side of the fence, as a cre­ator of nat­u­ral hair prod­ucts.

My years of being a pro­duct junkie are behind me, but I will nev­er for­get the way they made me feel. That, for the first time in my life, I had a true seat at the table when it came to my hair care, that my hair was beau­ti­ful, that it was fem­i­nine and wor­thy of care.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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7 Comments on "Being a Product Junkie Meant Something to Me"

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Miss Mo
This was such a fun read. I smiled at the title because it remind­ed me of the first 2 years of my jour­ney. I was a per­pet­u­al pro­duct junkie. Noth­ing could stop me :s Even worse it was my first time deal­ing with my nat­u­ral hair as it was always braid­ed as a kid and I start­ed relax­ing it in high school. The mys­tery of not know what to expect or what it might be like had me run­ning from tar­get, sallys, wal­mart to the beau­ty sup­ply store at every rec­om­men­da­tion. I was anx­ious for it to grow and couldn’t… Read more »
TWA4now

I love this arti­cle! I didn’t have a clue what to do. I am still learn­ing !

LBell
Girl…the smell of most com­mer­cial black hair prod­ucts used to get on my last nerve. Not every­body wants to go around smelling like Star­bursts! I remem­ber the first time I tried Aveda prod­ucts (when I was relaxed). I was ready to sign over my cred­it card to them, lol. Today, SM’s low-po leave-in is about to replace KCKT as my newest HG pro­duct, not least because of its scent (spearmint/herbal). I like grown folks’ scents; what can I say? One of the things I’m proud­est of as some­one who was an ear­ly par­tic­i­pant in the “move­ment” is being able to wit­ness… Read more »
Angel1881

Yes! I remem­ber you in those “ear­ly days” of the move­ment. I remem­ber your posts from Napp­tural­i­ty and Long­hair­care­fo­rum. Those were some good times.

ilikefood427
I con­nect with this on a soul lev­el lol. I’ve had nat­u­ral hair my whole life, and even though I’m pret­ty young (15), I still see myself being a bor­der­line pro­duct junkie and part of the rea­son is exact­ly what you hit on, the­se prod­ucts were nev­er real­ly cre­at­ed for me until a few years ago. There was no shea mois­ture at Tar­get, or carol’s daugh­ter at my local hair store when I was grow­ing up, and I real­ly had no one to look to when it came to my hair because relax­ers were real­ly big at the time, but… Read more »
liza

prod­ucts that worked best for my hair, and the stash of par­tial­ly used test prod­ucts un

Alison

Beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten :-) One thing that real­ly struck me was how you describe the smell: on white wom­en (for me it was most­ly on my friends with looser curls), on your relaxed hair, on your nat­u­ral hair… Almost like you, I was a pro­duct junkie and now I’m mak­ing my own prod­ucts (but just for me though lol). The smell…it’s real­ly what I miss from store-bought products…that heady smell…sigh

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