There are a couple of ways people cope with kinky, curly or wavy hair.
First, we tend to fuss with it, reaching for heat instruments, chemical relaxers, chemical treatments or torturous hairstyles that “tame it down." You know, keep it in control.
Then there are those who are happy to let their hair do its thing, finding pleasure in its many twists and turns.
Like most of you reading this article, I’ve been in both places. Most of my youth was spent having my hair cared for by others: greased-up, pulled back, poofed up, smoothed down, pressed hard and, alas, relaxed until it was lifeless and the scalp of my very sensitive head was blistered, scarred and scorched.
For nearly the last decade, I’ve been in the second camp. To start the journey, I found pleasure wearing a very short, close-cropped ‘fro. I’ve worn my hair in phat plaits, minute micro-braids, sculptural corn-rows, Goddess braids, double-strand twists with and without extensions and Nubian knots. The beauty shops found a good client in me. It was from the double-strand twist that my hair decided to lock up on its own, and now they trail well past the middle of my back.
What has been the common thread while in both camps? A plant known as aloe vera.
Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel is a boon for us kinky, curly gals. It helps fix damage from heat appliances. For natural sistahs in the other camp, aloe vera should be one of your staples.
Aloe vera is the styling aid nonpareil, smoothing as it is soothing, controlling without stiffness. If you wear your hair straightened, heat set, flat-ironed, pressed, corn-rowed, French braided, micro-braided, Sengalese twist, Nubian knotted, straw set, afro-puffed or in a straight up afro, this is the natural ingredient for all of you. That is why it's showing up as the main ingredient in a growing number of hair products for curly hair.
Just as there are two camps, there are different ways to use aloe:
- Use aloe vera after procedures that cause burns and for the treatment for blisters and scars
- Use for setting of any type of wet hair (braided ‘wave set’, ‘rod set’, ‘straw set’, hard curler set and so forth)
- Use as an astringent (reduces oily build up)
- Use as a styling aid to emphasize wave pattern, curly texture for men, women and children and certain pets
- Use as an African setting aid: for French braids, corn rows, lock maintenance, micro-braids, etc
There's much more to know about aloe vera, this widely available, inexpensive, animal and earth friendly herb.
Aloe is a succulent plant with clusters of long, bayonet-like leaves that is prickly at the edges and tips. It can produce a woody stem up to 15 meters tall. It has spikes of flowers in various colors, including yellow, orange and red.
The aloe plant has a lengthy history in Africa and the Middle East. Prospero Alpino reported Egyptian women perfumed their genitals with aloe. Aloe was used in remedies to treat fever and plague. The plants grew in Somalia in the times of Alexander’s conquests. In the Bible, aloe is referred to as "ahaloth," and is recorded as a perfumery herb. The Copts used aloe with other ingredients to treat eye disease, swelling and other disorders.
In recent history, people felt they could gain health benefits from orally consuming aloe juice and the gel. Aloe does contain volatile oils and aloins that are very purgative. Because of its purgative quality, it shouldn't be used if you are pregnant or have hemorrhoids. Consumption of aloe in large quantities could prove very painful. As it stands, there is no thorough scientific test to show consuming aloe has health benefits.
The Jamaican people have a great adoration for aloe, which they call "Sinkle Bible." In Jamaica, it is used to cut the sweetness in the blood. It is also used to purify the blood, cleanse the system and calm the nerves.
Aloe Vera Gel Recipe
Today, aloe is mostly used in skin- and hair-care products. Here's an easy way you can make aloe vera gel right at home.
- Purchase a long aloe stalk at the green grocer, botanica or fruitera, or an entire plant from a florist if desired.
- Thank the aloe for sharing her medicine with you.
- Cut off just enough of the leaf as is needed.
- Slit it open using a penknife or sharp kitchen knife.
- Scrape gel into a plastic bag, plate or container.
- Apply to the area to be treated or styled.
Aloe is widely available in health food stores and even in regular drugstores and supermarkets. I recommend purchasing the product pure and organic for your hair, skin and scalp.
Aloe Hair Products
Butters, Puddings & Custards
ConditionersFairy Tales Rosemary Repel Conditioner
Refreshers & Sprays
Stylers & Lotions
Stephanie Rose Bird is author of "Four Seasons of Mojo: An Herbal Guide to Natural Living" and group for eclectic practitioners of earth-based spirituality using her books as study guides: