UPDATED Feb 6, 2020. If you have been a part of the natural movement as long as I have, you would have seen hundreds of “natural” hair products come and go. I am now going to attempt to decipher for you, the most popular hair product types and their purpose.
USE: Gels are used to hold - to tame the hair flat –or slick it back. Also used to maintain a curl which is set when wet. Gels can defy humidity and gravity, and are valuable for the times your hair must stay in position. Also for edge control.
PROs: Gels impart shine and control. Used as a last step your hair can be set in position by using a simple satin scarf or warm heat of a bonnet dryer. Light, natural gels such as aloe and flax seed gels can be used to start locs.
CONs: Gels often contain alcohol which is incredibly drying. Cetearyl Alcohol is an exception to this rule. If you use a gel that is too strong or drying, it can make your hair very stiff and brittle. You will damage your hairline if you use gels containing alcohol.
POMADES / BUTTERS
USE: Pomades are an old school term we used to use when talking about “grease”. These days, pomades take on many names. You may see them as butters, whips, puddings and creams. Pomades are used to add lasting moisture and control, sometimes shine to dry hair. Pomades may also contain oils and therapeutics to treat hair and scalp conditions.
PROs: Pomades are very valuable additions to the natural hair care routine. They nourish, moisturize and protect your hair. Used correctly they can assist in length retention and heal dandruff and other scalp conditions. Pomades are usually used on dry hair on a daily basis.
CONs: Be very careful what type of pomade you use. They can and do often contain ingredients which coat the hair shaft and can be very difficult to wash out. The wrong pomade can attract dust, dirt and lint to your hair. If a pomade contains glycerin as a main ingredient, use with caution and if petrolatum is listed, be extra careful as this will coat your hair and can aggravate scalp conditions. Never, ever use pomades on locs.
USE: Whips are normally lighter versions of pomades, used for defining and hold - rarely containing heavy ingredients such as petrolatum and heavy oils.
PROs: A true whip can be used more generously than a pomade and does not cause the buildup that pomades can. Think of a whip like a heavier version of a mousse.
CONs: Whips can be expensive as they are more processed than ordinary pomades and do not last as long since you tend to use more, and more often.
USE: Spritzes are mixtures of water, carrier oils, essential oils, glycerine and other refreshing ingredients. Spritzes are sometimes promoted as leave-in-conditioners and can be used on wet or dry hair. Used on dry hair, the water fluffs the hair out and eventually evaporates, leaving whatever other conditioning mixtures on the hair.
PROs: Spritzes have a cooling effect on the scalp and can be valuable to prevent itching when wearing styles that require a tight base, such as with box braids and locs.
CONs: Spritzes containing glycerine will have the effect of drying your hair out if you use too much of it. Otherwise, not many cons about spritzes!
USE: Mousses are like a hair cream similar to shaving cream in a bottle. Under pressure you press the button on the can and into your palm where it expands like shaving cream. You then apply it throughout your damp hair.
PROs: A mousse can give your hair an incredible shine, which is what it is intended to do. It can also have an effect similar to gel, where it provides a light hold to your hairstyle.
CONs: Mousses normally contain some amount of alcohol which is drying. Mousses can be costly and if used to often (eg daily) will dry your hair out.
USE: Carrier oils such as Jojoba, Olive, Argan, Black Castor are used to condition the hair and scalp. They can be used as is on wet, damp or dry hair, or as an ingredient in shampoos, conditioners and pomades.
PROs: Oils can create a healthy environment for the scalp, encouraging growth relieving some scalp conditions. Oils can protect the hair from drying elements. You do not need much of any oil and they are generally inexpensive and easily found in supermarkets and health food stores.
CONs: Oils coat the hair shaft. If you use to much of any oil you will end up with an oily, dripping mess. Some hair types do not respond to oils at all. Some people are sensitive to certain oils and you should always test inside your elbow or on a sensitive part of your scalp before using an oil all over your head.
MASQUES / MUDS
USE: Hair masques or muds are deep treatments. Used after shampooing, a masque is applied to damp hair and usually left to dry to a hard helmet on the hair, then rinsed off. Masques are often used to repair broken and damaged hair.
PROs: Using the correct masque for your hair can have an instant restorative effect. Masques repair and smooth the cuticle and are left on long enough to allow its nutrients to penetrate the hair shaft.
CONs: Masques are often protein-based so if you have natural afro hair, you need to ensure it is not over the top in protein. Protein is valuable to damaged straight hair, but can cause brittleness in natural hair. Ensure your masque is specifically made for natural afro hair before using it.
USE: Hair puddings are called puddings because of their texture. They are like pudding or jello and are strongly water-based. Puddings are often deep conditioners and designed to be rinsed out, though many are left in and used prior to heat styling as a protectant or as a simple leave in. Puddings impart shine and hold. Best for use on styles that don't require dry styling.
PROs: It generally depends on what the pudding is used for that determines its pros and cons. Conditioning puddings can be very effective leave in conditioners and styling aids. Most puddings contain water as a main ingredient, so can impart long lasting moisture to your hair.
CONs: Puddings are for specific use and don’t last long as you generally use much more of a pudding in a single application. Again, the cons depend on the purpose of the pudding. As with any product, make sure it does not contain ingredients that will dry your hair out, or is too high in protein.