You know why pyrite is called Fool’s Gold?
Classism, honestly. If you were a desperate prospector, half blind from sweat and cave dirt, and down to the pickaxe you had to give up your last 14 rations of gruel to buy, you’d jump on a nugget of this comparatively worthless stuff in a heartbeat while the upper-crust laughed their waxed mustaches off.
Even though a raw gold nugget looks...fairly dissimilar, you have to admit the struggle can make you see what you want to see.
And when it comes to properly caring for our curls and coils, it’s easy to fall into the same role as that overworked miner. If you’re growing out transitioning afro-textured hair, sometimes the combination of breakage, shrinkage, slow growth, and cultural baggage will get you frantic to grab at anything that looks like it’ll help you out. That’s a great mindset...for any less-than-scrupulous manufacturers.
Of all the types of ingredients that pop up as THE next thing for your hair, oils take the lion’s share of mentions. There’s always going to be a rotation of old and new carriers, essential oils, and infusions, and it’s a good thing!
As avocado seed oil rotates to the bottom and almond oil comes back up, more newbies that need the lighter oil will get the message, and the old guard that the heavier avocado works for can enjoy a season of finding their favorites on the shelves and stocking up before the hype rebuilds and a new crop of fresh big-choppees gets their feet wet in caring for their natural texture.
And when newcomers like baobab or broccoli seed oil pop up, we all get to check out what might be an undiscovered holy grail!
But it’s that naïveté and excitement that brings the fakers running with their sub-par weasel wares.
At least real weasels have the decency to be cute.
For all the fresh TWAs out there, and even some of us who aren’t new to the game, but could always use a refresher, here are a few things to be aware of when you’re buying oils to help figure out what’s actually best for you.
Specialty stuff? Triple check labels!
Sometimes even reading the labels isn't enough, you also have to do research on what labels to look for! The FDA official logos for organic cosmetics products..don't actually exist for instance. And country-specific origin of appellations for products that are explicitly only from one region of the world with certain standards to meet will all vary. This is the mark that will distinguish your legitimate imported champagne France from your sparkling white wine (still good though). You can make out the Monoi Institute's official stamp on products in ORS's Monoi oil line for example, and that mark is going to be how you know what you're getting into.
Beware the Blends...sort of.
Oil and water don't mix, but oils and oils do! However, while DIYers like myself go out looking for essential oils to work with, there's a wall that we can hit. Rose Absolute, for instance, is something like two dollars per tenth of an ounce. That's about one pulse point tap if you're not a liquid measurements whiz. It makes sense—flowers are mostly water after all, so you need literal truckloads to extract oils from of them.
But that steep price is what makes blends a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, some companies choose to bury the fact that you're not getting 100% essential oil down in the fine print. You get what seems like a bargain, only to get an overly diluted end result once you're done over the double boiler.
On the other hand, essential oils are only meant to be used with no filters in humidifiers. Anything that goes directly on your hair or skin in large quantities needs to be suspended in a carrier oil, or mixed in with some butters, or you WILL get burned—it's why you're meant to spot treat acne with tea tree oil rather than slather it on like a night cream. Take it from someone that added pure lemon and clove to a bath to a VERY un-relaxing effect.
Blends are a great thing, but when they're not disclosed up front, and the price looks too good to be true, that's when you know to take your money elsewhere.
The sun, as much as it may do a decent job of sustaining life on this planet, is no friend to unprotected skin OR unprotected oils.
It's a complicated relationship.
While it won't happen in an instant, heat and UV rays break down the useful components of oils, and lead to decreased efficacy at best, spoilage at worst. Looking for bottles that are dark in color or are labeled as having UV protection despite being clear is going to save you that pain, especially if you're anything like me and need to see everything you have at all times.
As always, look for packaging with a prominent ingredient list—even on single-ingredient items like almond oil. Not only will you see the exact species of plant used, you'll also be able to avoid anything you're allergic to, and know that the brand you're buying holds themselves accountable for quality and accuracy.
Has there ever been an oil you've had to pull back on? What happened, and what did you move on to?
Let us know in the comments, and keep tuned for more purchasing tips!
Curlfriends don't let curlfriends use anything less than the best.