Monday, March 25, 2013

Calming the Product Junkie Part 1: How to Find the Best Hair Products for Your Curly Hair and Save Money!

I think that we all have a tendency to succomb to the "next best thing" in hair care.  Sometimes, you just have to try that new shampoo/conditioner/leave-in/gel/mousse/pomade/goo because you just never know when that product you try is going to be something that is your holy grail hair product, the one thing that transforms your hair to the exact result you want every time.  On, this condition is known as "product junkie" syndrome.

Well, curlies, I'm here to be your loving reality check.  I want to give you some clear, concise tips that will help you resist the urge to buy every new product you read a positive review for.  My hope is that once you read this guide, you will have a way to target your search for hair products so that you're finding what will actually work for you, not just what worked for a stranger on the internet.  My plan is to have a multi-part series so that the info is manageable.

Step 1: Get to know your curls at more than a superficial level
The hair typing system that ranks curls by tightness is of really limited use, but "What is my hair type?!" is one of the most often asked questions on the CurlTalk forums.  This is endlessly frustrating because knowing what your curl tightness is tells you next to nothing about what products will work for your hair.  So, my first piece of advice is to ignore the hair typing system and look deeper.

I will explain to you below how to figure out your hair properties.  However, a curly hair stylist who frequents has actually created an online "hair analysis" for those who want a professional to tell them their hair properties.  For a small fee, you will send in a hair sample, and Tiffany will email you in 3-4 weeks and tell you lots of things about your hair type, including brand-neutral advice on what to look for in hair products.  I don't have any association with this analysis offering other than having read a lot of really positive things about it on, but I felt I would be remiss not to mention it here.

Hair Properties That Matter
1) Porosity.  This property of your hair will tell you so much more about what products will work for you then curl tightness typing will.  Porosity, to put it simply, is how many holes are there in each strand of hair?  Sounds silly, I know.  Hair can be low porosity, normal porosity, or high porosity.  But your hair is made up keratin shingles (called the cuticle) that lay over a cortex.  If the "shingles" of the cuticle lie very flat against the cortex and prevent ingredients from reaching the cortex, that hair strand has low porosity. If the shingles are blown out far from the cortex and ingredients pass through like a sports car on the Autobahn, that hair strand is of high porosity.  Normal porosity is in between.  The pictures below show what I've just described.

Low porosity.  Notice how nothing is getting through
to the core of that hair strand without a fight!
Very high porosity. This cuticle is damaged.
Normal porosity.  Notice how there is definitely some room for
ingredients to reach the center cortex, but the shingles
lie flat on each other.
Hair has its own natural porosity, but we can alter it by doing things to our hair.  For instance, bleaching creates holes in the cuticle, making bleached or frequently color processed hair very likely to be high porosity.

Check your porosity by taking a strand of hair and sliding your thumb and forefinger up the length of the strand (from tip to scalp).  Do your fingers glide along super quickly and easily, maybe even making a squeaking sound? That hair strand is of low porosity. Low porosity hair is resistant to chemical services like coloring, so if you've noticed that your hair doesn't "take" color well, that might be another clue for you.  If your fingers "catch" on their journey, you've got high porosity hair.  Normal porosity lies in between these two extremes.  Most will hair normal porosity hair.

2) Texture.  You probably already have a working familiarity with this property.  We divide hair into three categories of texture: fine, medium, and coarse.  Texture is the diameter of each individual strand of hair on your head.  I find the descriptions at to be particularly helpful.  They are quoted below:
    "Does the hair strand look delicate, a bit insubstantial, somewhat translucent, and seem almost as if it's "barely there"? If any of these characteristics fit, the hair texture is most likely fine.
     Does the hair strand look thick, wiry, and sturdy? Does it seem substantial and strong, with a very definitive presence and a distinctive lack of suppleness? If so, the hair texture is most likely coarse.
     Does the hair strand seem somewhat solid, but not overly thick? Does it have some substance to it, but is still fairly supple? If so, the hair texture is most likely medium.
     Please remember it is quite possible to have hair of varying textures all over your head―texture isn't always a "one size fits all" kind of hair property!"

How Can You Use This Information To Target Hair Product Buying?
First of all, it will help you read reviews more intelligently.  If you read a review from me (low porosity,  fine texture), but you have high porosity and coarse hair, that's a red flag that this product isn't going to work the same on you as it did on me.

Second of all READ INGREDIENT LABELS!  I know they look like mumbo jumbo to you right now, but it gets easier.  Here are some guidelines for what kinds of ingredients to look for your hair types.

Low porosity hair needs help getting products to truly penetrate the hair.  Avoid oils that seal the hair cuticle, since your whole issue is that ingredients can't reach the core of your hair strands.  These oils include almond, grapeseed, avocado, flaxseed, and sunflower oils.  Oils that moisturize are OK though, especially coconut oil, which can get inside the hair cuticle. Your hair is probably dry because moisture has a hard time getting inside the cuticle.  When you do a moisturizing deep treatment, use heat, because that will lift up your "shingles" and allow more penetration.  Avoid products with low pH  as they will further seal the cuticle.  Your hair can handle things like baking soda washes.  Some will say that you should avoid protein treatments, as the whole point of the protein treatment is to fill holes in the cuticle.  I personally disagree, because I have fine hair, and my fine (but low porosity) hair loves every protein I can throw at it.  Try to achieve a balance of moisture and protein, erring on the side of moisture.

High porosity needs help filling the holes in the cuticles, which will ultimately help the hair retain moisture and beneficial ingredients.  Sealing oils (see paragraph above) are your friend, as are protein treatments (unless your hair is also coarse; see below).  Your hair can also handle very rich emollients like shea butter.  Use an apple cider vinegar rinse to help close your cuticle once every week or every couple of weeks.  Products that have low pH are your friend.

Normal porosity hair needs balance.  You need to try to balance moisture and protein.  Look for conditioners that contain ingredients like keratin or collagen (or anything called an "amino acid").  Rotate that conditioner with one that has moisturizing ingredients like oils or emollients.

Fine hair needs help not being weighed down, and it needs protein.  Fine hair loves protein.  Use frequent (1x week) protein treatments.  Be careful with using oils in conditioners and styling products because they may weigh you down.  Look for products that are more like milks than creams.  You want products that are water-based (look for water high on the ingredients list).

Coarse hair needs moisture.  Coarse hair loves humectants and emollients.  Look for ingredients like fatty alcohols (cetearyl alcohol, for instance), glycerin, and shea butter.  Avoid protein (appears in ingredients lists as keratin, silk amino acids, collagen, wheat and soy based ingredients, hydrolyzed ingredients).  Protein often makes coarse hair feel like straw.

Medium hair needs balance.  You have pretty much free reign over ingredients.  You'll have to do a bit more guesswork when it comes to figuring out what your hair likes and doesn't like.

Once you know your hair on more than a superficial level, you can start to read ingredient labels intelligently and scrutinize product reviews so that you can know if a product is likely to work for you!

Check out Calming the Product Junkie Part 2!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How To Apply Products to Curly Hair

Sometimes how you're applying products can make just as big of a difference in how your hair ultimately looks as what you're applying.  I'm going to give you a rundown of the most tried and true rules for applying product to your hair.

1) Apply to soaking wet hair
This is probably the most often repeated advice for curly hair.  I can virtually guarantee you've heard it before.  I would say that for about 90% of curlies, this advice works very well.

Frizz: obviously, the main reason we do anything to our hair as curlies is to cut down on frizz!  Most find that applying products to soaking wet hair greatly decreases the amount of frizz they see when their hair is dry.

Product distribution: water helps move product throughout your hair.  If you've ever tried applying a gel or mousse to damp hair, I am willing to bet that you've found that your finished result looked or felt like you "missed a spot."  Applying to soaking wet hair virtually eliminates this issue.

Clumping: bad for your mascara, good for your hair!  Clumping is the word used to described larger, fuller curls as opposed to skinnier curls.  Applying product to soaking wet hair generally encourages the formation of curl "clumps," which gives you a fuller curl look.

I apply my hair products in the shower, as I have a running source of water to make sure my hair is always sopping wet.  But, you can also do this at your sink if that doesn't appeal to you for whatever reason!

2) Rake in leave-ins or curl creams, but scrunch in products that have hold.

The goal with applying a leave in is to get it all over your hair (or, if you avoid applying products to your scalp, to get it all over your length).  Raking in the product with your fingers is a good way to accomplish that mission.  In order to stay consistent with my apply to soaking wet hair rule, I actually keep my leave in conditioners in my shower.  I also keep my trusty Denman brush in the shower with me.  That way, I can apply my leave in my raking it through my hair, then I comb it through and part my hair.  After I part my hair, I very very quickly stick the length of my hair under the shower again to get it completely soaking wet for the next step.

Scrunching in products with hold encourages even curl formation.  What's a product with hold? Think gels, mousses, and jellies.  They are the products that leave you with more defined hair, and often they leave you with a bit of a crunch to your hair when dry.  They create a cast over your hair shape, holding it in place while it dries.

I always scrunch in a product with hold.  So, while still in the shower (mostly to avoid making a mess on my bathroom floor with my sopping wet hair), I take my Suave Professionals Captivating Curls Mousse and scrunch it in to my hair.  I spread the product over both of my hands, leave to one side, and using a cupping motion, I squeeze the product into my hair.  You'll be able to hear a "squish" sound when you're doing this.  I then get a little more product on my hands, lean to the other side, and repeat.  If I feel like I need it, I lean back a bit, and hit just the back of my hair with a final small dose of product.

For my hair type, the mousse alone often provides enough hold.  If it's particularly dry or humid outside that day (low dew point or high dew point), I will add a gel on top.  I simply repeat this same scrunching  technique using the gel.

3) It's tempting. But don't touch while drying!
Your product with hold needs to just sit and hold your hair in place!  Aside from squeezing out water with my Curls Like Us towel, I don't touch my hair while it dries.  I wait until 100% dry, then if I have any crunch from my products, I use that same cupping/scrunching motion on my hair with dry hands to scrunch out the crunch.  This leaves me with nice, soft hair.  If you can't scrunch out the crunch this way, you used too much of your holding product.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Water Quality and Your Hair

The quality of the water coming into your home or apartment can make a huge difference in your skin and hair. I recently was reminded of this fact when I came home from school for spring break. The area where I go to school has very hard water, but the water at home is soft. My hair is like night and day even using the same products and the same techniques in terms of how it looks and feels.

What is the different between hard water and soft water?
Hard water contains more minerals than soft water. To be more technical, hard water has more cations in it, generally Mg2+ and Ca2+. The minerals get into the water by leaching in from the ground, so they aren't "unnatural" or anything. Hard water poses no health risks, but it can be hard on industrial components and pipes.

How can I tell what kind of water I have?
The general wisdom is that if you have hard water, when you use soap or shampoo, you don't get as much sudsing action. You will also get soap scum buildup.  Generally, people who have lived with hard water for most of their lives find the feel of soft water to be "slimy" or "slippery" in comparison.

I think the easiest and most reliable way to test whether you have hard or soft water is to actually test it! Get your science on!

Here's one cheap tester available online. It's digital, so you just stick it in to your water and let it do its thing.

If you don't want to test the water, you can guesstimate by using a water hardness map. Your local water supply might provide this info (usually upon request) but the USGS provides a national map as well.

How does hard water affect my hair?
Hard water residue feels a lot like silicone build up, if you're familiar with that.  Your hair feels limp and lank.  Your curls don't bounce up and they look dull.  You feel like there is also something on your hair, even when you go product free, that makes it feel gunky.

I've got hard water and I'm never happy with my hair.  What are my options?
First, I would recommend trying a clarifying shampoo once a month that is made for hard water.  The two best options for that are Malibu C Hard Water Shampoo, which is pricey but extremely well reviewed, and Ion Hard Water Shampoo, from Sally Beauty Supply, which is cheap and has good reviews.  I have used the Ion Shampoo with success, but have not tried the Malibu C before.

Second, if you've tried those and had the aha! moment that hard water might be causing your issues, I would look into a more permanent solution, like a shower water filter.  Most shower filters take out chlorine, which has nothing to do with water hardness, so you need to find one that specifically will soften water.  Here's one that looks like it would do the trick but I have not personally tried it.    

I've got soft water and I'm never happy with my hair. What are my options?
I'm going to guess your issues are poofy hair that is always fuzzy and undefined.  Since soft water does not have as much of a stripping effect on hair as hard water, you are probably over conditioned or lacking protein.  I would recommend a protein treatment to bring some definition and life back to your hair.  There are tons of options for protein treatments.  Here's a great at home treatment that is loved by many.  As far as store bought treatments go, I have used and love Nexxus Emergencee (this is an intense protein treatment that is best if used monthly), Aphogee Two Minute (this is more of a weekly treatment), and the Spiral Solutions Repairing Protein Treatment (lies somewhere in between; I would use this biweekly).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Life as a Product Junkie: How to Save Money on Hair and Beauty Products

Life as a curly girl who loves her beauty products can get expensive.  About a year and a half ago, I signed up with because Mint allows you to see exactly what your money is going to every month.

Well, that was an eye opener! The first month, I would say about a third of my money was spent on random hair and makeup purchases.  So I determined to cut back.  I discovered that there are so many different ways to reduce your spending on cosmetics and hair products without having to quit cold turkey.

Shopping Smarter
I used to wander into a Walgreens or Target, pick something up, and buy it.  Those little here and there purchases seem innocent enough, but they add up so quickly!

The first thing I did was start to check prices for things I know I love online.  For instance, I've used Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Wash for years.  According to, the going price for a bottle is $4.97.  Well that's not that expensive, right?  But if I buy it on Amazon, I can get a two pack for $7.83, and I get free shipping if my order is over $25.  So that means I buy 4 two-packs at a time.  That comes out to $31.32 for 8 bottles.  At Walmart, to buy 8 bottles would cost me $39.76.  Plus I would have to actually go to Walmart and buy it, costing me gas money and time.  Eight bottles easily lasts me a year.  So I'm set on body wash and don't have to worry about it until next year.

The lesson here? Comparison shop online and buy in bulk when you can with items that you know you love.

If you haven't tried an item yet, don't buy a full size! Sample a product at places like Sephora and Ulta before committing.  Read reviews, but don't read them blindly.  It's important to find someone who has a similar hair type for hair products, or a similar skin type/tone for makeup products.  If I tell you a product is great for my dry skin, but you have really oily skin, don't just rely on my review! Find another reviewer with oily skin on a place like before you buy!

Get Paid to Shop Online

One word: Ebates! is a site that gives you a refund on your online purchases.  The refund percentage usually ranges from 3-6%, but they have double refund days and promotions like that frequently.

All you have to do to start saving online is sign up (it's free), and when you are ready to shop online, head to Ebates and see if the site you're using is listed.  They have all the reputable online stores that could ask for.  It's really rare that a site I want to buy from isn't on Ebates. Then just click on the Ebates link to go to the store.  Make your purchase, then Ebates will email you a few days after your items have shipped letting you know that they've verified that you made a purchase.  Ebates will send you a check for your refund amount each pay period (pay periods are a couple months in length).

I know it seems to good to be true, but it isn't! I have received refund checks and deposited them without issue. The hardest part about Ebates is remembering to go to the site before you purchase.  So I put a link in my browser memory bar so that hopefully I see it.  There's literally no reason not to use Ebates when you shop online.

Click here to sign up for Ebates

Take Advantage of Discount Stores
I am a proud TJMaxx and Marshall's and Ross addict.  Each of these stores has a hair and beauty section, and you are missing out if you aren't taking advantage.

For example, I love Joico hair products. They cost around $16-20 a bottle from places like Ulta.  Yikes!    But I can usually find a larger size at one of these stores for half the price.  My stores usually also carry brands like Giovanni (a curly girl friendly line), Tigi, and Alba.  In the makeup and beauty department, my TJMaxx almost always has some Essie nailpolishes (retail $8) for $3.99.  And I often see eyeshadow kits and makeup gift sets on sale too.  I make it a point to check these areas every time I go.

Never Pay Full Price
There are too many ways to avoid paying full price for hair and beauty items to ever allow yourself to pay.

1) If buying online, check for coupon codes. is my personal favorite
2) Check manufacturer Facebook pages and Twitters.  They often run giveaways and give out coupons to followers.  For instance, this week L'oreal's facebook page is giving away 10,000 boxes of hair color a day.  Your odds of winning are pretty darn good!  Also this
3) Contact the manufacturers! I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a free sample or a coupon for a free product by asking for one.  Companies want you to become loyal buyers.  If you contact their customer service about trying a product, they are usually more than happy to help you out.
4) Use online coupon sites.  Sites like and offer printable coupons for your drugstore trips.
5) Sign up for manufacturer emails. This one is self explanatory, but perhaps a little annoying. But if you use Gmail, you can set up a mail filter to have all your "junk mail" get marked as read and moved out of your inbox. That way you can easily go find a coupon when you need one, and it's super easy to delete the junk mail all at once since it's in its own folder.

For True Online Power Shoppers
If you aren't a member of Amazon Prime, I've got only one question: Why not?!?!

For $79 per year (or only $39/year if you have a .edu address), you get free two day shipping and $3.99 one day shipping on any order.  I love Amazon because they are reliable, they have the best darn customer service out there, and they are usually cheaper than any other online place.  Prime also gives you access to streaming movies and TV shows, which is awesome.  Also, one secret that they aren't so open about is that you can share your membership with up to 4 people in the same household, or up to 4 coworkers.  I cannot recommend getting Prime enough if you are an avid online shopper.

What are your favorite ways to save money on hair and beauty products?  Leave a comment below!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Review: L'Oreal EverCurl Hydracharge Shampoo and Conditioner

Hair product companies have begun to ride the sulfate free wave in recent years, and L'Oreal has been one of the companies at the forefront.  It started with their EverPure line, and now this year they've released a similar line that is supposed to be for people with wavy and curly hair.

Here are the products in the EverCurl line along with their official descriptions taken from the L'Oreal website, with some added thoughts on each in brackets:
  • Hydracharge ShampooEverCurl Hydracharge Shampoo quenches and softens perfecting each curl’s shape. Infuses hydrating nourishment without weigh-down. Curls are softer, more manageable without frizz. Its rich lather and natural aromatic properties help invigorate the senses. 100% Sulfate-Free, No Harsh Salts, No Parabens, 100% Vegan [this product is not silicone free]
  • Hydracharge Cleansing Conditioner: EverCurl Hydracharge Cleansing Conditioner is an innovative, gentle way to cleanse and condition curls in one simple step.  Our formula helps preserve each curls’ natural moisture.  Low-lathering crème cleanses and helps reduce friction to keep curls smooth, soft and manageable.
  Ultra conditioning formula is infused with hydrating botanicals. 100% Sulfate-Free, No Harsh Salts, No Parabens, 100% Vegan, No Heavy Waxes [I will also add that this product is silicone free, making it a conditioner wash option for those following the Curly Girl method!]
  • Hydracharge Conditioner: EverCurl Hydracharge Conditioner quenches and nourishes perfecting each curl’s shape. Infuses hydrating nourishment without weigh-down. Curls are softer, more manageable without unwanted frizz. Natural aromatic properties help invigorate the senses. 100% Sulfate-Free, No Harsh Salts, No Parabens, 100% Vegan [this one is also silicone free]
  • Hydracharge Leave In Cream: EverCurl Hydracharge
 Leave-In Cream provides intense 
hydrating nourishment with no weigh down. This ultra-rich formula feeds curls with moisture, helps
block frizz and nurtures each curl’s elasticity and shape. 100% Sulfate-Free, Non-Drying, 100% Vegan [not silicone free]
  • Sculpt and Hold Gel: EverCurl Sculpt & Hold Cream-Gel combines the care of a rich hydrating cream that conditions + a styling gel that shapes without weigh down. Curls remain smooth and hydrated. 100% Sulfate-Free [not silicone free]
  • Silk and Gloss Dual Oil Care: EverCurl Silk and Gloss Dual Oil Care is a dual-phase formula that helps detangle and separate curls while adding shine. This weightless 2-in-1 oil infuses silky moisture without greasiness. Curls are soft, more manageable without stiffness or frizz.  100% Sulfate-Free, Botanical Oils [not silicone free. This product has the most silicone, which isn't surprising given that it wants to add shine.]
So as you can see, even if you're following the strict no sulfate, no silicone Curly Girl method, there are two products in this line that you can try out! And for those following a sulfate free routine while using silicones (like me!) this whole line is your playground.

Alright, so let's get to it.  I picked up the shampoo and conditioner (not the cleansing conditioner, the "regular" conditioner) from my grocery store.

EverCurl Hydracharge Shampoo

I was really worried after picking up these products that they would be too strongly fragranced.  I have used stuff from the EverPure and EverCreme lines, and I hated the scents.  They were so strong and so fake, they made me sneeze!  So it was a huge relief when I jumped in the car outside of the store, popped open the top of the shampoo, and my nose was greeted with a pleasant marine scent.  It's definitely scented, but it's not as heavy as in the other lines.  I also think it's a much nicer smell in general.  I find that it does not linger strongly on my hair to the point that I smell it all day, but if I grab a handful of hair and smell it directly, I can detect it.

The product itself is creamy white.  It passes the "if I hold my hand upside down, does it fall out of my hand" test, so I would call it a thicker product, but it isn't a cream consistency.  To me, it looks and feels like a thickened up regular shampoo, as opposed to a cream.  

For being a sulfate free shampoo, this stuff lathers wonderfully.  I would say it's got the most lather of any sulfate free shampoo I've personally used.  You can really work up a very spa-like washing experience.  I know a common complaint of those switching from sulfates to sulfate-free shampoos is the lack of lather (though keep in mind the lather isn't really what cleans!), but you won't feel like you're missing out with this product.

After rinsing this out, my hair feels clean without feeling stripped, which is fantastic.  It leaves my hair feeling moisturized, but not so moisturized that I feel like I could skip conditioner.  It's just a nice, non-stripped feeling.

I do think that using this shampoo cut down on frizz.  I have now tried it many times with conditioners that I have been using for a long time, and I find that compared to my usual shampoos, this one leaves me with a smoother finished result.

Bottom Line
I love this shampoo!  I think it cleans without stripping, the scent is pleasant but not overpowering, and it gives a really nice lather when you work it into your hair.  I will absolutely keep using this and will repurchase.  Check it out here!

EverCurl Hydracharge Conditioner

Again, as with the shampoo, I was concerned that the smell would give me fits.  But, like the shampoo, the scent is there, but not overpowering.  It definitely seems like L'Oreal listened to complaints about the other lines when making the formulations for these products.

This conditioner is a thick white cream.  It comes out of the bottle in a really silly little stream.   If you have a lot of hair, I could see it taking a while to get enough product out for your use.

The first time I used this conditioner, I thought it was more or less a disaster.  When it dried, my hair was way too soft.  It had lost nearly all of it's curl holding ability, which is obviously not what you want in a curly hair care product. 

I tweeted about how confused I was by this result, and the L'Oreal twitter replied to me!  As a side note, I like that a lot of big companies are watching for references to their products on Twitter and reaching out to customers.  Really smart customer service. Whoever was tweeting to me recommended that I use less product.  Now, every curly girl knows that you need a lot of conditioner to make your curls happy.  So I won't lie, I laughed and thought, "Yeah right..."

But, for the purposes of a thorough review for you guys, I took the chance.  I used less than a quarter sized amount (my normal conditioner amount is probably two to three quarters depending on the product).  

Well dang. They were right.  You need to use way less of this conditioner than your instincts tell you too.  After using less, my hair got its hold and bounce factor back.  

The slip of this conditioner is not amazing.  It has a bit of resistance when you try to take it through your hair.  After having figured out the amount of product to use, this is my only lingering complaint.  

Bottom Line
I like this, but don't love it.  I wish it had better slip, and there is a bit of a learning curve with respect to how much of it you need to use.  I don't find that this weighs me down.  It will stay in my conditioner rotation, but the jury is still out for whether I would repurchase.  Probably if it's on sale.  I think someone with more coarse hair or thicker hair than mine might enjoy this more.  Check it out here!

Final Thoughts
I will definitely be trying more in this line.  I think it's pretty decent thus far.  What would you guys like to see reviews for?? Let me know in the comments!