by Joyful Mom of Happy Girl Hair


A reader (Hi Sarah!) emailed me with a terrific question. She asked me how to tell the difference between hair products and how to figure out what each one does. Shampoos and rinse out conditioners are obvious, and detangler is usually right on the bottle, but when it comes to other types of products you can buy for curly hair, it can quickly become confusing.

Of course, every company uses individual product names, but there are many commonalities between natural hair care companies. How many butters, creams, milks and hair puddings have you tried? So many seem to favor names of dairy products, and that can actually be helpful once you decode it. Sometimes, both the name and the bottle shape give great clues about how the product is intended to be used.

Here is a rough guide to product names and uses. The words in bold are those commonly found in the product name.

Detangler - These are meant to provide “slip” and moisturize lightly, so the strands of hair can glide past each other as the hair is combed. They can be sprays, have a lotion-like consistency, or they can come in tub.

Spray/Spritz/Juice/Mist/product that comes in a spray bottle - These products usually provide light conditioning and unless they have very specific instructions for use, they can used as a daily light leave-in for looser curls and/or fine hair, braids, twists, or locs, or as a curl revitalizer on non wash days. Sometimes they can also be used as detanglers. They can also be layered under heavier leave-ins or styling aids.
Pictured Jane Carter Solution Revitalizing Leave-In-Conditioner

Hair Milk/Milkshake/Shake/Hair Lotion/Leave-in -These products are meant to be used to provide daily moisture or refresh hair after sleeping. They can also be used after washing. While they are sometimes all that’s needed for loose hair, they are not styling aids. Some companies make both hair milks and leave-ins. It can be hard to know which is lighter and which richer. If you can’t tell from the ingredient listing, contact the company for clarification. Sometimes, you’ll find a milk leave-in, or a leave-in milk - just to make it interesting.

Butter/Cream/Creme/Pudding/Custard - These usually come in a tub and have a creamy consistency, sometimes they are whipped. These are generally heavier moisturizers. The word butter often refers to cocoa butter, shea butter, tucuma butter, cupuaçu butter, mango butter, or other natural butters. These products can be used every day for those with dry, tightly coiled hair, or as an occasional treat for others. They can also be used under styling aids. Pictured: Curly Q Custard (this does have light hold

This where it gets trickier. The words Butter, Cream, Creme, Custard, and Pudding often appear in the names of highly moisturizing styling products. If you are unsure of whether or not the product is purely a moisturizer or a styling aid, look for the word “hold” or look for a list of product uses. If it’s described as having hold and/or it’s recommended for use in twisting, braiding, locing, or setting- it’s also a styling aid. Read product descriptions carefully!
Pictured: Carol’s Daughter Loc Butter

Products with the word “Styling”/Pomade/ Jelly/Gel/Definer
- These are always styling products. They are useful in helping braids and twists stay together, or for defining curls. Most have some conditioning properties as well. You will find these products in all types of bottles, tubes, tubs and tins.
Pictured: Original Little Sprout Whipped Styling Balm

Words like balm, nectar, and serum can apply to apply to many types of products so I’ll say it again, read descriptions carefully! If you are still unsure about what a product does or how to use products together, never hesitate to call or email the company that makes it.

I want to be clear that it isn’t necessary to have products from every category. Everyone is different and so much depends on individual needs and styling preferences. I hope I’ve made it just a little easier to choose the product you really want the next time you are looking to try something new. Happy curls!

© 2010 Happy Girl Hair

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