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Should You Use Shampoo on your Naturally Curly Hair?

When I started going natural, I did a mediocre amount of research and then dived in. I learned a lot of invaluable lessons doing many things “the wrong way.”

Case in point, detangling!

I would avoid detangling my hair just because I was frustrated with the entire process. Unfortunately, a couple of days would go by and I would be forced to tackle the beast. Detangling my knots would get even more painstaking and take obnoxiously longer to complete.

Lesson learned: avoiding the detangling process, will come back to haunt you.

Looking back, I wish I would have taken some more time to learn from other women who had gone before me. In any case, I’ve made it my mission to partner with Sassina Hair and share all of the lessons I’ve learned while on my curly hair journey.

The Great Shampoo Debate

If you’re like me, then you’ve spent a lot of time perusing the naturally curly hair forums. Recently, I saw a thread pop up about shampooing. It seems the more naturalists learn about their hair chemistry they are questioning some of the most common myths about hair care.

It used to go without saying:

Your hair gets dirty.

You need to clean dirty hair.

Shampoo cleans dirty hair.

Shampoo your dirty hair.

However, maybe it’s not that simple. How does shampoo even work? Is it even a necessity?

Well, hang on tight, because Sassina Hair is going to answer all of these questions and more today.

The Science behind Shampoo

Aside from all of the pretty colours and yummy smells, shampoo is a detergent. That’s right, remember those chemicals you use to wash tomato sauce out of your favourite white jeans? That’s the same sort of chemical you are putting into your hair.

Crazy, right? Well, it gets even more interesting!

In order to understand how shampoos work you need to understand how detergents work.

Detergents vs Stains

I don’t want to get too detailed about the chemistry concerning stain removal. L

Let’s say you have four elements involved; water, stain, soap, shirt. Water particles are sticky. The stickiness of water is called “surface tension.”

They absolutely love binding to anything, including other water particles.

Detergents actually lower the surface tension of water, which makes it a little less sticky. Therefore, water particles will be less likely to stick to themselves and will bind to the elements within the stain instead.

The water then lifts the dirt particles off the shirt and carries it away.

Detergents vs Your Hair

Your scalp produces a natural oil called sebum. It coats your hair strands while also protecting them and keeping your hair moisturized. Over time, sebum, dirt and hair products cause build up on your strands. That’s why you’ll get that greasy look or feel when it’s time for a wash.

Detergents have a similar cleansing effect to your strands.

The soap will bind to the dirt, oil and chemicals in your hair, strip the strands clean, and wash it all away.

Now that we know how shampoos work, why exactly are some naturalist concerned about using them on their curls?

The con’s of using shampoo on your curls

If you haven’t noticed by now, curls and kinks are more prone to dryness. Our excessive dryness actually has a lot to do with the very structure of our hair strands. The more kinks you have within each strand, the more difficult it is for the sebum to travel down the length of your hair and moisturize your curls.

It’s the difference between when you drive down a straight road or a road with tons of twists and turns.


The issue that most curlies are facing when they use shampoo is the sensation of feeling like their hair becomes too dry. It’s almost as if the shampoo is doing TOO good of a job cleaning.

Hair that is excessively dry is actually harder to manage. The strands are much more coarse and prone to tangles and breakage and we all know how important it is to maintain a full head of healthy hair.

Chemical cocktails

It’s safe to say that many naturals start off their journey swearing off of harsh chemicals. At this point, we’ve all either heard of or experienced the toxic nature of chemical straighteners. Not only do they cause the hair to become dry and damaged, but recent studies have also shown that many of the elements within chemical straighteners are known carcinogens.

Some girls start experimenting with “kiddie perms” as young as four years old and only wean off of chemical relaxers in their early teens. That’s over a decade of chemical dependency!

It’s only natural that as black women begin to ditch the toxic cocktails and opt for a more health-conscious hair care methods we want to flush as many synthetic products from our lives as humanly possible.

There are tons of controversial research out there about the sulfates and parabens within shampoos. At it’s mildest these elements can irritate the skin but at its most dangerous level, they have even been linked to breast cancer.

What are the alternatives?

More and more naturals are opting for washing their curls with conditioner only. The reasoning is actually quite simple. Most conditioners do still contain elements that will pull dirt and grime off of your hair; that is a major plus!

However, they have lower concentrations of detergent-like chemicals, and also have the added benefit of including moisturizing agents like coconut or jojoba oil. That way your hair still gets clean but it’s a much gentler method and you are introducing quality ingredients back into your hair.

Hair care companies are quickly jumping on the bandwagon. They have gone as far has to create “co-washing” products which are specifically formulated to clean the hair without over-drying.

Companies are also reformulating their shampoos! Take a look at the shelves of your closest beauty supply store. There is now a wide selection of low-sulfate or sulfate free shampoos. To be clear, sulfates are one of the harsh cleaning elements within traditional shampoos.

So what should you do?

The beauty of natural hair care is the freedom of choice and experimentation. Are you curious if you should ditch your shampoo? A little scared to jump fully in? Start off slowly and try using a low sulfate or sulfate free alternative on your next wash day.

And as always, listen to your curls.


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