By Hadassah Agbaps - September 15, 2015

Hi people, what's been on?

In my last post, I explained why natural hair care is not expensive.

In the bid to make natural hair care as affordable as possible especially for those on a really low budget, there has been a lot of DIY and alternative solutions for different products used in caring for natural hair.

The first one I'd like to discuss is the sulfate free shampoo. We all agree that shampoos ccontaining sulfates such as sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium myreth sulfates, ammonium lauryl sulfates, and ammonium laureth sulfate tend to dry out hair especially Afro textured hair. These ingredients are foaming detergents that do a very good job in getting rid of oil/grease. This is why they are very useful in dishwashing liquids and household cleaning liquids but are way too cleansing for your hair considering your hair actually needs oils to stay supple.

Afro textured hair or type 4 hair is very fragile.
It has fewer cuticle layers and is more porous than other types of hair which makes it difficult to retain moisture and thus gets dry easily.
It's also tightly coiled and prone to breakage especially when handled roughly.

Please note that relaxing your hair to look straight doesn't changed the fact that it's Afro textured hair.It's the same as natural hair just that it has been chemically treated. This makes it even more fragile. To put it in pictures, the fact that you chemically lighten your skin doesn't make you a different race and by chemically lightening your skin, you make it more fragile. So this information is not only for naturalistas.

Using sulfate shampoos on your hair is not recommended because it removes the natural protective lipids that surround your hair and dries it out which worsens an already dry situation.

To prevent this, milder cleansing agents are used in what are called sulfate free shampoos. These alternatives includes
- Coco glucosides
- Lauryl glucosides
- Cocamidopropyl betaine
- Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate
- Sodium Cocoamphoacetate

Another alternative is the use of Saponified oil bars also known as soaps/shampoo bars. The most popular being black soap or dudu osun.

While these are gentler and cheaper sulfate free alternatives to the more stripping sulfate shampoos available in the market, I'd like to point out a few cons in using soaps for cleansing so you can make an informed choice.

1. It is not pH balanced.
Remember,  the pH of healthy hair is acidic (pH 4.5-5.5) and for soap to be a soap, it has to be alkaline (pH 8 and above). There's no such thing as acidic soap. Soap is made by reacting a fat/oil with an alkali.If the pH of soap becomes acidic, you'll be left with a gunky oily mess. Unlike soap, it is easier to adjust the pH of shampoos so it's more acidic than alkaline.
Deviations in the natural acidic level of the hair causes it to expand and the cuticles to raise. This can lead to protein loss, moisture loss and damage over time.
This is one of the cons of the long term use of soaps as hair cleansing agents. It can also cause the hair to dry out even more than pH balanced sulfate shampoos would.

To get around this, some soap makers use a process called superfatting. In simple terms it means that even though the soap is alkaline and can dry out the hair, it has more oil so the hair doesn't feel stripped. This is probably why the practice of adding oils into your black soap mixture reduces the drying effect. Another way to counteract the alkalinity of soap is doing a final rinse of dilute apple cider vinegar.

2. It is not safe for colored treated or damaged hair.
If your hair has been permanently colored,  the last thing you'll need to use is an alkaline cleanser. Using an alkaline cleanser i.e. soap  makes your color fade faster.

3. It leaves a dull film especially if you're using hard water
Soap forms scum in hard water. Hard water contains carbonates such as calcium carbonates.When using soap in hard water, it combines with the carbonate to form a precipitate known as soap scum. This ends up in your hair and it begins to look dull and greyish and leave it prone to tangling. Shampoos are formulated not to leave residue.

The advantages of using black soap to shampoo your hair are:

1. It's very affordable.
Dudu Osun costs less than N200 and you can get several washes out of it without breaking the bank.

2. It's widely available
Black soap is not difficult to find. You can get it in northern Nigeria as Sabulun salo, in  the west as Ose Dudu and in the east as Ncha nkota unlike sulfate free shampoos that are only available in select stores around Nigeria

3. It nourishes the scalp as it cleanses
Depending on the formulation, black soap made with plantain bark and shea butter offers protection against UV rays and contains retinyl palmitate (Vit A) and tocopherol acetate (Vitamin E).

As usual, what may work for one person may not work for another. Some people's hair do just fine using soap in lieu of shampoo but if soap doesn't work for you, try out a sulfate free shampoo.

I personally use soap in emergency situations when I run out of shampoo. Long term use of soap wasn't the best for my hair which is actually what made me look deeper into the use of black soap for hair care.

If black soap doesn't work out for you, please do try and get a sulfate free shampoo. If you shampoo once a month and cowash once a week/two weeks like me, a 10oz bottle of shampoo can actually last you as long as 8-9 months without needing to replace especially if your regimen is silicone and mineral oil free.
I actually run through more conditioners than I do shampoos in a year.

Weigh in guys! Black soap or sulfate free shampoos? Which do you prefer?

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