My natural hair journey in Zambia, and tips on sulfate free shampoos

Sara Drawwater
18 September 2013
This weekend I spent a little over two hours chatting with my cousin

This weekend I spent a little over two hours chatting with my cousin Sara Drawwater. We did some major catching up, covering topics like family, school, health, business, and of course, hair. I was excited to explain my new found freedom in my natural look.

The whole natural movement isn’t new to me. Back in 2005 whilst studying in America, I did my ‘Big Chop’ mainly because my hair was thinning out. It just wasn’t growing. I did scanty research in magazines, discovered Miss Jessie’s products, and quickly went online to purchase some. And then I fell in love with my natural curl pattern.

But to be honest, I didn’t do my research that well. I got back to relaxing my hair in 2006 because I just couldn’t handle maintaining it, or so I thought. Well, come 2010, I noticed the same problem I had previously. My hair was thinning out and just wouldn’t grow — again! This time I decided to transition more slowly, chopping off my relaxed ends, and finally becoming all natural once more. And once more, I I fell in love with my natural curl pattern — determined to keep it this time.

I’ve had to undergo major paradigm shifts in what I think constitutes beauty. I was queen of weaves, tiny Senegalese twists, and cornrows. Rarely would you see me sporting my natural hair. If I did, I would flat iron the kinks out until they were super smooth. Deep down I knew I was damaging my hair. Imagine flat ironing it during the few moments I let my hair breathe from the underworld of those weaves!

Researching the natural hair movement

Recently, I’ve had some time off from my busy schedule as a post-graduate law student. During this time I’ve done major research on natural hair. There is so much information out there. The movement has hit Zambia. You will have read the blog, ZedHair show review — a natural hair movement by Mwiza Nyasa. I recently attended a closed meeting that Masuka of ZedHair hosted with Mwanbibi. It was refreshing to see a group of women listening in on how to manage their natural hair, women who wanted to learn what products to use. Big ups to Masuka and Mwanabibi for championing the movement here in Zambia, and empowering women to love their natural God given hair.

Why all the hype about sulfate free shampoos?

So since I’m going to be writing regularly, I wanted to start with some valuable tips in addition to my personal journey! There’s a lot of valuable information on the Internet, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I’m going to be sharing on what spoke to me, as part of my personal natural hair journey.

So, why all the hype about sulfate free shampoos? Shampoo cleans your hair, but it also strips it of all the healthy oil your body naturally produces. The oils it strips out actually protect your hair, and keep it soft and strong.

There’s a whole bunch of chemicals in shampoos but we’ll concentrate on Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (Sls) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (Sles) this month. SLS and SLES are used as detergents and surfactants. These closely related compounds are found in car wash soaps, garage floor cleaners and engine degreasers. Yet both SLS and SLES are used more widely as one of the major ingredients in cosmetics, hair conditioner and about 90% of all shampoos, and products that foam. As well as stripping our hair from its naturally healthy oils, having these types of harmful chemicals in our bodies can lead to the development of cancer and other serious illnesses.

The next time you go shopping for your shampoo, look for organic shampoos and conditioners. Here are the ingredients you should try to avoid, as they dry out your scalp, irritate oil glands, and/or corrode your hair follicles:

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfates
  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Derivatives of Lauryl Alcohol
  • Mureth Sulfate
  • Propylene Glycol (Antifreeze!)
  • Olefin Sulfonate (Deodorized Kerosene!)

Going forward I am going to be contributing regularly on the Best of Zambia blog. Please comment below, to share your personal journeys, ask me questions or suggest topics for me to write on. For now, natural hair products are still quite hard to come by in Zambia, but Essential Skincare are an awesome natural skin care supplier. They are produced in a small lab in Mazabuka!

You can follow me on Twitter where I’ll happily spend hours talking hair!