Someone asked the other day what the basic ingredients were to make a good leave-in. I had to think about this because I’m so used to experimenting with great humectants, extracts, teas, emollients, etc.
But even without all those things, there are some very basic ingredients which will make a fairly good leave-in for naturally curly hair.
You HAVE to have water, boo boo! It is the basis of all moisturizing leave-in conditioners. Water (or water-based teas/aloe/hydrosol/etc) IS what adds moisture to your hair.
Either your hair strands will hold on to that water or not based on its porosity. But you can’t get ‘moisture’ without water or some water-based tea/aloe/hydrosol/etc
Water penetrates the hair strand and takes with it either good or bad ingredients, so long as those ingredients are also small enough to penetrate the hair.
BTMS: #2 Emulsifier / #3 Conditioner
I chose BTMS to be part of this list simply to illustrate that most great leave-in conditioners have an ingredient which is meant to condition the hair. Duh. 🙂
Natural coils need a conditioning product which will cling to the hair strands in order to create a great leave-in. And BTMS is one of the best performing and least problematic emulsifiers I have ever worked with.
But BTMS is special because it pulls double duty. Not only is it a conditioning ingredient, it is also a stand-alone emulsifier. The emulsifier is the thing which forces water and oil to stay together long enough for you to use the product.
Technically you can create a leave-in conditioner that’s oil-free. However, for those with a kinky, coily hair texture, “oil-free” is like a cuss word.
Oils are used for their emollient properties along with helping to improve the sheen/shine and feel of natural hair. Oils can also help with keeping the strands detangled and soft.
Many oils are rich in vitamins, minerals and other properties like oleic, linoleic, palmatic and lauric fatty acids which help improve the quality and strength of hair. For example, Coconut oil (great for dry hair) is high in lauric acid
ANYTHING USING WATER which you won’t be refrigerating or using up THAT DAY will need to have a preservative. Little nasties can start to grow almost immediately. If you’ve created a product with water that you won’t be refrigerating or freezing, use a real preservative.
You can take your pick of preservatives! I only recommend a BROAD SPECTRUM preservative if you will be giving/selling your mixes to friends, family, strangers, etc.
And NO, grapefruit seed extract is not a preservative. Neither is Vitamin E (not even its grown and sexy brother Vitamin E MT-50).
So, you have your water, emulsifier/conditioner, oil(s) and preservative. When using BTMS, you can get away with a 1-bowl-method by placing all the ingredients in the same bowl and heating for 20 minutes.
After it cools, add your preservative and bam! You got a leave-in conditioner that YOU made with your own hands. You know what’s in, you choose the ingredients and the percentages, and you can adjust it next time any way you want to!