They say that the sense of smell is powerful because of its ability to evoke past memories. Open up a jar of the infamous Blue Magic, Sulfur 8, or Softee hair grease, and instantly relive the days of sitting in between your mother’s legs as she braided your hair and made sure your scalp and strands were well covered with grease.
Whether you loved the relaxing scalp massages or hated the inevitable shiny forehead, the practice of using hair grease has been a staple among Black women for centuries. However, with the second wave of the Natural Hair Movement taking off in the past decade and the not-so-accurate spread of information, the love for hair grease took an unexpected turn.
With the role that grease has played within Black hair care throughout history, along with the sudden disdain from many naturalistas in recent years, is hair grease here to stay, or has it run its course?
The Origins of Hair Grease in the Black Community
After African slaves were forcibly moved from their homeland and into the Americas, they were stripped of their freedoms in performing their daily routine. One of which included maintaining proper hair care. Slaves were left with limited options after once having access to luxurious herbs and oils to nourish their hair.
To keep their hair and scalp as moisturized and protected as possible, slaves used various agents, including bacon grease, butter, and petroleum jelly. Over time, grease gradually evolved into its own haircare category, with Annie Turnbo Malone’s widely acclaimed modern-day version of hair grease, “Wonderful Hair Grower,” catalyzing the production of hair grease products by countless Black haircare brands.
The Natural Hair Movement
From Jheri curls to box braids and finger waves, Black women have slayed many stylish hair trends throughout the decades. Unfortunately, due to the racist and unrealistic ideals of European beauty standards projected onto Black women, straight hair was often seen as beautiful and superior.
So much so, that Black women often straightened their hair or used chemical relaxers to assimilate to this standard. That is until many Black women decided to reject these harsh standards and embrace their natural hair in the late 2000s.
Worldwide, Black women began to ditch their hot combs and relaxers and started to embrace their curls and coils. For some, this decision came about to improve the health of their hair, while others made it a mission to love the hair that society routinely degraded and reduce the stigma surrounding natural hair. The internet became the hub for Black women to find support from other curly girls and receive information on how to care for their hair.
As the Natural Hair Movement progressed, many naturalistas desired to use hair products that contained only natural ingredients. Shea butter, Jamaican black castor oil, coconut oil, and other natural products were increasingly sought after.
Soon after, hair grease surprisingly made its way into the negative spotlight. Common hair grease ingredients such as petroleum and mineral oil soon garnered criticism because of its presumed tendencies to block moisture from penetrating the strands and clogging pores on the scalp, which many soon attributed to causing product buildup and ultimately stunting hair growth. This influx of info made its rounds throughout the natural hair community, and many quickly eliminated it out of their hair product stash.
In recent years, however, many Black women have gotten tired of paying for expensive natural hair products or have not seen any improvements with the acclaimed natural ingredients. As a result, many have gone back to including grease in their hair regimen, remembering how healthy and long their hair was as a child, and seeing improved results ever since using it again.
So, is hair grease bad then?
Contrary to recent popular belief, hair grease is not bad. Using hair grease is very beneficial, but in order to reap such benefits depends on understanding the hair product’s purpose and utilizing the correct technique.
For starters, hair grease is NOT a moisturizer. The molecules that form hair grease are too big to penetrate the hair shaft. Instead, it is a sealant. A sealant is a product that keeps in a substance while blocking and preventing outside substances from entering. With this being said, applying grease to freshly moisturized hair will seal in the moisture for days on end, which will gradually improve your hair’s health and allow your strands to retain length since they won’t become dry and break off.
This prolonged added moisture will also save you time from having to moisturize your hair often and money on products that leave your hair moisturized for only a short period of time. Blue Magic’s Indian Hemp and Sunny Isle’s Lavender Jamaican Black Castor Oil Pure Butter are a few great hair greases to opt for.
But wait! How do I wash this out?
Since hair grease molecules are large and virtually sit atop the strand’s surface, neither moisturizing shampoos nor co-washes are strong enough to break down the grease. Instead, clarifying or sulfate-based shampoos are essential when using grease products.
The chemical makeup of these specific shampoos thoroughly cleanse the scalp and hair and prevent product buildup. Shea Moisture’s Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Shampoo and ORS’ Olive Oil Creamy Aloe Shampoo are some effective clarifying shampoos.
With this info on hair grease, remember that everybody’s hair is different. Some curly girls may miraculously be able to get away with using grease alone to moisturize their hair, while others may dislike the feeling that it gives to their hair. Both of these outcomes are perfectly fine.
It is important to proceed with practices that are best for you and not to change something at the accord of others.