Tuesday, September 22, 2009

...Everything Brown Isn't Necessarily Chocolate...

As I write this, in between spritzing my hair with water, I’m thinking about how I have enough hair products to open a small beauty supply store. Except half of this stuff is junk that I wouldn’t sell to my worst enemy even if she had really nice hair and I wanted to wreck it.

During one of my cleaning and organizing sprees, I set aside some space just for hair products. It’s now overflowing with “all natural” things I’ve tried and like, don’t like, kind of hate, really hate, am undecided, or still not sure if I want to try. I peeled the price tags off of most of them so it wouldn’t influence how I felt about a product. (I paid $19 for this hair cream, so it better work. Even if it doesn’t work, it had better work, dangit!)

As luck would have it, the $19 junk was, in fact, garbage. I tried to share it with other women of various hair textures hoping to get my money’s worth, but none of them liked it either. A little research would have told me that there’s a virtual anti-fan club for this particular product line. Black women (and a few white women, I hear) rushing to get on the natural hair care product bandwagon were duped into buying this multi-celebrity endorsed miracle snake, er uh, hair oil.

It’s not just the styling products but the so-called all natural shampoos and conditioners. The orders for healthy hair (and skin, and whatever else) are clear: No sulfates, no parabens, no “cones”, no mineral oil… what the hell is left people, besides juices and berries?

I borrowed a book from the library about all natural beauty products, where to find them, or how you can make your own. In her “do not use ever” section, the author happened to mention coal tar, a product that I have found extraordinarily effective for my eczema. (Yes I have eczema. Rashes, allergies and glasses: I never said I wasn’t a nerd.) But she applauds sesame oil which makes me itch so bad, I become at best, cranky, and at worst, violent. I should have known not to trust this lady after she spoke about dealing with pushy cosmetics salespeople (do they have pushy salespeople at Walgreen’s now?) and being kind to your “delicate, pink” skin. Clearly, I was not her target audience, and should have left her book, and her “advice,” right there in the library.

One of the first hair care forums I found to get tips on transitioning had me rushing out to try all kinds of crap based on real women sharing their opinions on real products. I’m slowly arriving at the conclusion that it they love it, I’ll hate it. One natural product that was supposed to soften my hair, did make my hair noticeably soft, but it also made it feel like I had slept with a bag of sand tied around my head all night.

One recommended natural conditioner had me feeling so gooey, I had only been out of the shower for about 5 minutes before I gave up and hopped back in to rinse it out and start over.

A natural soap left me looking and feeling like I fell down the side of a mountain and landed in a cactus patch. Since my skin is sensitive, I test everything on my inner arm first. After the prerequisite two day wait, I felt fine and there was no indication that a week later I would be covered in tiny, itcy, prickly purple-blue patches all over. But I was. Thank goodness for the evil and unhealthy coal tar soap!

My earliest experience into the natural care product realm came many (many, many) years ago in college when a good friend on her own natural kick, invited me to go with her to Whole Foods. At the time I was frustrated with my acne explosions, not to be confused with a bad break out, but explosions-as if I had caught an acne grenade with my face. I’d either have a skillion small pimples, or a few very large, roughly the size of another whole human head inflammations.

I found some sort of cream “specially formulated for sensitive skin.” After my two day test, I applied it to one volunteer on my face: a big one right on my cheek so I could closely monitor the results. I put it on late in the evening while I was doing homework. A few hours later by bedtime, the bump was clearly shrinking away. “Wow,” I thought. “I need to go get an extra tube of this stuff right here!” By morning the bump was gone. And in its place was a teeny-weeny, barely-could-see-it hole. I just assumed this was a large pore not yet closed, but left behind by the vanishing pimple. By lunch time, the hole was almost the size of a dime. By late afternoon, it was a quarter, and skin was peeling and falling off around the edges of the quarter. My sister brought by some foundation to help cover it, but it didn’t help to do anything except make it stand out more. I finally made it go away by slathering Vaseline all over. Thank goodness for the evil and unhealthy petroleum!

For years after that I left the natural stuff alone. And then while looking for transition tips, I find myself back on this stupid healthy kick and it’s killing me. Growing up, my mom used Ultra Sheen in our hair, first ingredient petroleum, second mineral oil both in the holy grail of bad hair care hell. Allegedly these products not only clog your hair follicles and stop or slow hair growth, but some of them have been known to have a connection to cancer. Nevermind the fact that these are the products that kept me with a clean, healthy, thick full head of curly hair half way down my back growing up (and so far, no cancer!)

The problem is the more I try to avoid these products now, the more I realize mother knows best, and any and every other woman is the last person I should trust for beauty advice. I’m not overly occupied with my appearance, so sometimes I forget that some chicks look at beauty like a competition and they’ll be darn if they’re going to give me any kind of help in a race they’re trying to win.

So now, I’m sitting here with a gooey itchy scalp trying to figure out the best way to relieve the discomfort and still have hair that’s dry by morning and cursing the day I was ever foolish enough to try to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place. I have to go back to picking products based on my own needs, and forget about following the masses. I stopped following trends when I was in elementary school and realized how much I enjoyed standing apart from the crowd. I’ve never lied to myself so I think I can trust my own opinion.

In the meantime, whatever will happen between now and tomorrow morning is still undecided for me, but come tomorrow evening, I’ll be somewhere picking up the oiliest, man-made, non-natural shampoos, conditioners, and finishing products I can find for sure.

If my hair products are going to kill me, then I want to look good when they bury me.

Song stuck in my head right now: The Temptations "That's Life"  (This is a great song to sing outloud on a bad day!)

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