Demi.torowus from our Curly Q&A section wants to know “Is there a difference between ‘regular’ hair products and products specifically for curly hair?” The quick answer is yes but her follow-up questions had me intrigued.

Question

So I've been wondering recently, what's the difference between products specified for curly/wavy hair and "regular" hair products? Besides salt, are there ingredients to look for that help define and hold curls in these curly hair products? Also, are there any ingredients that define Caucasian/European hair than African/kinky coily hair and vice versa?

Answer

Look past the noise and get to the message

First, it is important to acknowledge that regardless of how a product is marketed with buzzwords or models of a certain complexion or hair texture, the consumer can and should bypass the noise (i.e. marketing) and go directly to the messaging (i.e. ingredients). All brands want their consumers to have a positive attitude about their products because it builds brand loyalty, and within the curly community there seems to be a correlation between community attitude and ingredients. When products are chock-full with cheap ingredients like mineral oil, water insoluble silicones, and sulfates, the curly community seems to look down upon on that brand because they feel undervalued. Some even view the brand as opportunistic, especially when there is little to no formulation distinctions between the products marketed for straight hair versus product marketed for curly hair. Here are is a short list of common ingredients that are increasing being omitted from curly hair care products to make them more effective and more appealing:

As you can see, marketing is almost irrelevant when selecting products, especially when it appears that more effort and resources were invested in the marketing than new and improved formulations.

Product distinction within textured hair matters, sometimes

Aside from the stark differences between straight hair and curly hair, the main reason brands will develop different products for specific curl patterns (i.e. Type 2, Type 3, and Type 4) is because of styling needs and expectations, and this is not as easy to determine by reading the ingredients list. Any ingredients can be used on all curl patterns, so without brands distinguishing which consumer each specific styling product was formulated for, it can be downright confusing. Product formulators are the only people who can identify how an ingredient and its predominance affects the product's performance, especially with the 1% labeling rule, so it is helpful to either take heed of distinction cues (e.g. strong, medium, light) or online product reviews. For example, the Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea Curl Defining Crème has a medium hold, which is probably better for tighter textures, and the Eden BodyWorks Coconut Shea All Natural Pudding Soufflé has a soft hold, which is probably better for looser textures. Without those distinctions I cannot determine which ingredients or which combination of ingredients affect their hold.

Read more: This is Actually More Important than Your Curl Pattern

Reading ingredients is the best practice

Even with the assistance of helpful packaging, nothing is better than first reading the ingredients list and then trial and error. Relying on marketing limits your fabulous hair possibilities. Community favorites Aussie Moist Conditioner and Herbal Essences Hello Hydration Conditioner are prime examples of how curly-haired women looked past the straight-haired models and read the ingredients lists. I have yet to witness women with naturally curly hair grace any of the Aussie or Herbal Essences print or commercial ads, but a quick product review search in YouTube will reveal who are the primary consumers of those collections. Do not let a brand limit you from exploring different products. Tammy didn’t. A stroll down the ethnic hair care aisle changed her hair and her mind from that day forward. Watch her story below.