Curly Hair – Why You Should Care – How To Choose Safe Products – Updated!
I love Isabella’s curls so much that I could eat them. Those little corkscrew twirls bring me more joy than I can say. As someone who has relatively straight hair, they have definite novelty. It wasn’t until the last day of our trip to England recently when my mother-in-law made a comment that I obviously liked straight hair because of the way I brushed out Isabella’s curls that I made the huge discovery that you treat curly hair differently from straight hair! I was dumbfounded that what I’d been doing was actually sabotaging my favourite curls!
A quick google taught me some ‘caring for curls- 101’ details. Firstly you shouldn’t brush curls, especially when dry! Secondly, you shouldn’t rub them dry, but rather pat the head and scrunch. Thirdly, you should only shampoo once every week and otherwise wash with conditioner instead!
Conditioner for babies? Having just written my baby shampoo article about appropriate products for babies and children, I didn’t find I came across any conditioner or products made for curls at all. I promptly signed up to a facebook group for people with curls and sent out a message asking for advice. I was lucky enough to have masses of lovely mothers write back letting me know what products they use for their children. Some products were especially made for children, however a lot were made for adults.
I’ve sadly learnt that even products which are made for children can still contain potentially harmful ingredients. Still in search of what products would be safe for Isabella’s curls, I decided to turn my magnifying glass onto the ones that were recommended to me.
Why does choosing a non-toxic baby/child hair product matter?
The skin is our biggest organ. Chemicals from products placed on the skin can be absorbed and even make it all the way into the bloodstream. A baby/child’s skin is particularly soft and sensitive making it not only absorbent but prone to irritation and allergies. Shampoo/conditioner ends up covering a huge surface area of the body and so we have to be really careful to make sure the ingredients that they contain are safe.
Which are the ingredients to avoid and why?
When looking at a product’s ingredients, the database I use has been made by a group called the EWG (Environmental Working Group) in the U.S and is called the ‘Skin Deep’ database. It contains information on over 150,000 chemicals and includes toxicity ratings, risks, research and references to studies.
Ingredients you must avoid:
- Parabens: These actually have a weak hormone activity and have been detected in breast cancer tissues and have links to male infertility. They can also cause skin irritation. The EU have actually banned many types of parabens.
- Fragrance/Parfum: This can be made up of hundreds of undeclared chemicals. Often including parabens and phthalates. It can, however, be made from natural organic essential oils which are totally safe, though sometimes may carry a bit of an increased risk of skin irritation. If it’s not marked as fragrance coming from a natural essential oil, then don’t use it.
- Methylisothiazolinone (MI): This has been the cause of some horrific allergic reactions and is a leading cause of dermatitis. It’s banned in the EU from being used in baby wipes.
- Phenoxyethanol: Studies suggest that this ingredient has the potential to be an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors are bad news because they have an additive effect… we’re also talking about a product which makes contact with a large surface area of skin as it washes over their bodies each wash. You want it as safe as possible. That’s why this ingredient is in my ‘Must Avoid’ list. It is also a skin, eye and lung irritant. (Read more about phenoxyethanol here.
Would be nice to avoid:
- Propylene glycol: This is a skin and respiratory irritant. Propylene glycol also enhances skin absorption and so allows other chemicals to absorb into the skin more easily.
- Synthetic colours: These are purely used to make a product look more appealing and are often derived from petroleum. Some products are coloured naturally too and these are much safer.
- PEG compounds: These are used as thickeners. They strip the natural oils from the skin leaving it vulnerable. They can cause allergies and are easily contaminated with potential carcinogens.
- Cocamidopropyl betaine: This is a foaming agent which has been associated with skin irritation and allergic contact dermatitis.
- Quaternium-15: This is a preservative which is a formaldehyde releaser as well as a skin irritant.
- Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate: This is a preservative which is a formaldehyde releaser as well as a skin irritant.
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate: There is strong evidence this is a skin and eye irritant. It is also easily contaminated with potential carcinogens.
- Benzyl Alcohol: This is a preservative which is associated with contact allergies and skin irritation.
My Recommended List (alphabetical order):
- Moisturising rinse: The ingredients in this are good.
- Conditioning oil: This ingredients list is fine.
- Protect & Revive Conditioner: The ingredients in this are good. It does have benzyl alcohol in it, but it is so much better than most. A really thick and moisturising conditioner with a lot of slip for easy detangling.
- Organic Hair Detangler With Nit Protection: This has an excellent 100% organic ingredients list. It won Gold in the Australian Non-Toxic Awards Haircare category in 2019. Such a lifesaver for detangling and reviving curls.
- Oat Replenishing Conditioner: This has a great ingredients list. No nasties here at all! My top pick for very young children and those with short hair.
How do the other brands rate? (alphabetical order)
This company has a great philosophy. While they do list a Fragrance/ Parfum ingredient, they have assured me that it is paraben and phthalate free.
- Clarifying Cleanser: This has Benzyl Alcohol and Sorbic Acid which are skin irritants which I’d prefer weren’t there. A much better ingredients list than some!
- Conditioning cleanser: This has Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Benzyl Alcohol and Sorbic Acid which I’d prefer weren’t there. A better ingredients list than some!
- Hydrating mousse: This has quite a few ingredients that are known skin irritants; Benzyl Alcohol, Cetrimonium Chloride and Sorbic Acid which I’d prefer weren’t there. Not my favourite.
Deva curl says that their products are free from Sulfates, Parabens, Silicones, Paraffin, Mineral Oil and Phthalates. There are unfortunately some ingredients that I wish weren’t in there still!
- One condition original: This has formaldehyde releasing Diazolidinyl Urea in it and also Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate which is acutely toxic when inhaled and is banned in aerosols in some countries. It also has Propylene Glycol. I wouldn’t use it on Isabella.
- Low poo original: This has formaldehyde releasing Diazolidinyl Urea in it and also Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate which is acutely toxic when inhaled and is banned in aerosols in some countries. It also contains Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Propylene Glycol which I’d prefer weren’t there as well as PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate which enhances skin absorption. I wouldn’t use it.
- Dry, damaged hair conditioner: This has phenoxyethanol which I don’t want there, but apart from that it has a great ingredients list. It is scented with essential oils which is totally safe but can carry a slightly increased risk of irritation. I’ve used this on Isabella a few times.
- Normal conditioner: This would be a great ingredients list if it wasn’t for the phenoxyethanol.
- Aloeba daily conditioner fragrance free: This has a good ingredients list apart from the phenoxyethanol which unfortunately rules it out for me.
- Natural Baby Conditioning Detangler: This contains the formaldehyde releaser sodium hydroxymethylglycinate and phenoxyethanol which I don’t want in there. It also contains cetrimonium chloride as a preservative which is another skin irritant. Not my favourite.
- Gentle lather shampoo: This has the formaldehyde releasing Diazolidinyl Urea in it and also Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate which is acutely toxic when inhaled and is banned in aerosols in some countries. It also has Cocamidopropyl Betaine in it which I’d prefer wasn’t there. You can definitely find better options.
Moogoo did use essential oils for fragrance in their products but they removed them as they do give occasional allergies. Since then, they use a ‘fragrant oil’ in their products instead. I’m not sure what that is made from – it sounds synthetic, but it is phthalate and paraben free so it’s definitely better than some!
- Moogoo Cream Conditioner: A good ingredients list. Unsure of the ‘fragrant oil’ ingredient, but at least it is phthalate and paraben free!
- Moogoo Protein Shot: A great ingredients list again, apart from the fragrant oil.
This company makes products with what looks to be great ingredients lists. However they have some wildcard ingredients which are completely unidentifiable. I’ve written to them and am waiting for a reply before I give them the tick of approval.
- Conditioner: Has a great ingredients list and uses essential oils only for fragrance. Essential oils slightly increase the chance for skin irritation but it does make a product smell lovely and is the only way of adding fragrance safely. They do have two ingredients that I can’t find any information about – TMS and geoguard that I’d like more information about. I have written to the company and am still waiting for a reply. Potentially a great product – though I want confirmation before I recommend this.
- Detangler: This has a great ingredients list and is again scented with essential oils. The only wildcard is 3 unidentifiable ingredients TMS, geoguard and cosmowax d.
I love this company’s philosophy. Disappointingly, I don’t love their ingredients, some of which are banned in the EU!
- Punk Angel Conditioner: This has two fragrance ingredients in it which are banned in the EU – Benzyl Benzoate and Butylphenyl Methylpropional. It also has Phenoxyethanol and Cetrimonium Chloride, both skin irritants. I’d definitely avoid.
- Punk Angel Detangler: This has Benzyl Alcohol and Phenoxyethanol listed as the second and third ingredients after water in the product, so it has proportionally a very large amount of these ingredients in it which is not great at all. It also has the preservative Benzyl Benzoate in it which is banned in the EU. I’d definitely avoid.
- Punk Angel Shampoo: This has two fragrance ingredients in it which are banned in the EU – Benzyl Benzoate and Butylphenyl Methylpropional. It also has Cocamidopropyl Betaine and Phenoxyethanol. I’d definitely avoid.
Sukin Kids :
- Wes Wind Farm Gentle Conditioner: This has Phenoxyethanol which is a no-go and Benzyl Alcohol which I’d prefer weren’t there, but it has no synthetic fragrances. Not one I’d use.
- Expert Selection Perfectly Undone Weightless Moisturizing Conditioner: This has a whole lot of things in my ‘Must Avoid’ list – from synthetic Fragrance to Methylisothiazolinone – as well as Methylchloroisothiazolinone which is also a leading cause of dermatitis. It also has Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Cocamidopropyl betaine which I’d prefer weren’t in it. I’d definitely avoid.
What we are using at home:
Until recently, I just used baby shampoo on Isabella as I was completely in the dark about how to care for her curls! (Read ‘Choosing A Safe, Non-Toxic Baby Shampoo – How Does Your Baby’s Shampoo Rate?’) Now that my eyes have been opened to how to care for curls, I wash her hair just once a week with shampoo only and twice a week with conditioner only.
I have however now swapped to the Weleda conditioner for Isabella – I had to try the one conditioner with no nasties at all in it! Weleda products are super mild and gentle for sensitive baby/children’s skin. The conditioner is creamy and moisturising with a delicious scent of coconut and mellow. It needs to be left on for a minute or so to properly detangle Isabella’s curls if I want to comb them, but it’s doing a great job at keeping her hair moisturised and in the gorgeous ringlets I love. Highly recommended.
*UPDATE: I am now writing this as a mother to a 4 year old with long corkscrew curls. As a baby, the Weleda conditioner worked wonders, but as my daughter’s hair grew longer, I found she needed something with much more slip factor so that I could truly get all the knots out.
We now use Natural Instinct – Protect & Revive Conditioner every wash (2 x a week). I apply lots and only half wash it out. I also spray her hair daily with SÀF Organics – Organic Hair Detangler With Nit Protection. This works wonders to maintain the curl and keep it defined, shiny and soft.
I’m still learning about how to best manage Isabella’s curls. I’d love to hear your tips, tricks and suggestions of products.
I hope you found this helpful. I have also written guides on what to look for when choosing safe baby wipes, safe bottom balms and also baby shampoo.
Every move we make towards decreasing ours and our baby’s cumulative exposure to chemicals is an important one. To kick start you on your journey, I’ve written a FREE GUIDE of ‘9 Easy Ways To Reduce Your Chemical Exposure At Home’ which you get as a bonus when you sign up to my newsletter.
These are purely my subjective opinions based on the ingredients lists from product websites and the ingredients lists on actual products in October 2016 and my research into the different ingredients using the EWG Skin Deep Database.