Natural Products Are Desirable But Not Necessarily Better Than Synthetic Ones

Natural vs synthetic hair products

Raw foodism has gained in popularity in the last decade or so with restaurants and online stores popping up everywhere. The concept behind this lifestyle is that only “living” food which has not been heated above 116 degrees can be consumed.

Heating food above 116 degrees destroys the enzymes and essentially the “life force” in the food so basically while following this lifestyle, all food is consumed raw.

While this diet may come across as extreme to the average Jane, one could argue that cooking food actually is unnatural because no other species does it.

But on the flip side of the raw food debate, it has been shown that cooking food breaks down plant and animal flesh fibers making nutrients more available. This means that when we consume cooked food, it reduces our energy requirements while at the same time increasing the amount of calories that our brains can consume.

This very “unnatural” thing has boosted cognitive function, increasing our brain size and turning us into the modern humans who created the world around us. In layman’s terms, cooking made us smarter.

I bet you are wondering how this relates to hair care. Allow me to explain….

Natural Vs Synthetic Ingredients In Hair Care

If your hair is weak or damaged and you want to strengthen it then you have a few choices on the protein you use to solve the problem. When considering the fact that hydrolyzed protein works better at strengthening hair than natural sources of protein like eggs or yogurt it becomes clear that natural products are perhaps not always better.

For instance the molecular weight of egg protein is 33000-40000 as compared to hydrolyzed proteins which range from < 1000-10000. This means that hydrolyzed proteins will be able to penetrate the strand correcting damage in all areas of the hair while egg protein will only be able to correct damage on the surface of the hair.

As a result it is likely that we will require the need of synthetic ingredients to correct any damage and preserve our length.

Oils Are Not Natural

This may come as a surprise to most of us healthy hair enthusiasts but free oils are not “natural” in the strictest sense of the word because they don’t generally exist in nature.

Many come from seeds, nuts or vegetables (coconut oil or olive oil) and have to be extracted by mechanical means which is very much a human intervention rather than a natural state of being. Mechanical extraction has however been practiced for thousands of years especially in the case of olive oil.

Many oils these days however are extracted by chemical means (canola oil, grape seed oil, soybean oil or corn oil) from seeds that we wouldn’t think of as especially oily, I mean seriously, corn oil?

Mechanical extraction often produces oils that are rancid because they are so easily oxidized and have even been shown to be health compromising when consumed regularly, particularly in the case of soybean oil.

Yet most of us healthy hair journeyers would consider oils as staples in our hair regimens and it would simply be unthinkable not to use them.

So What Are Natural Products Really?

In the truest sense, not much is truly natural! Most of what we consume as food, drink or in fact most things we come across on a day to day basis has had some level of human intervention.

But in regards to products used in hair care like some oils, home made flaxseed gels, aloe vera juice and other such ingredients, they can be termed as ‘of natural origin’ as they have had very little human intervention.

Ingredients like hydrolyzed keratin, cetearyl alcohol, glycerin, proylene glycol or silicones are further down the chain. They may have originated from natural ingredients but have had a lot more human intervention to reach their current state.

Attractive African American woman looking at herself in mirror pulling her curly hair The End Goal

So can you make an true argument that natural only hair products are superior in hair care. Perhaps, but it depends on what you are trying to achieve as your end goal.

Healthy hair can be easily achieved with a very simple regimen involving limited manipulation and using simple home made natural ingredients.

On the other hand, many of us are trying to achieve long hair, an end goal that perhaps our hair was never designed for which makes things a bit tricky. According to Molnar’s “Human Variation”:

The adaptive significance of hair form is not understood, but it is likely that certain forms, woolly or spiral, allow for an air space between the scalp and the outer edges that insulates the head from the intensity of the sun’s heat in the tropics

But some suggest that afro hair could also have become dominant in black people through sexual selection. In either case by attempting to grow our hair long (depending on your definition of long), we are essentially doing something that our hair doesn’t necessarily do by default.

Thinking Outside The Box

When considering methods of growing afro hair long, it definitely involves thinking outside the box. Techniques like providing moisture to our hair often to preserve elasticity which prevents our hair from breaking off or drastically reducing manipulation through protective styling.

Truth be told however, it also involves spending an inordinate amount of time on grooming (weekly washes etc) in order to preserve length. Just to clarify, I say inordinate because on average, a woman with long natural afro hair will spend more time during her washing and basic styling session than will other races with similar hair length.

Final Thoughts On Natural Vs Synthetic Hair Products

The truth of the matter is that we all have more free time these days than perhaps many black people had in the past and that coupled with the fact that due to popular culture influences showing us multiple hairstyling choices we are all manipulating our hair a great deal more too.

This increased manipulation leads to accelerated damage of the hair strand which natural ingredients may not be able to correct sufficiently.

I am not trying to belittle the importance of natural hair products and ingredients in hair care with this article. Of course the more natural a product is, the less likely it will cause health problems in the long term and I commend the companies who attempt to replicate the effectiveness of synthetic ingredients using all natural or organic ingredients.

But bottom line is that synthetic hair ingredients and products fulfill a real need in our hair regimens at the moment that natural ingredients may not be up to. They are simply a modern solution to a modern problem.

Sources: Discover Magazine, Live Science, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Britannica, The Natural Haven

Originally posted 2013-12-15 15:00:08.

About Alma Ruddock


I’m Alma Ruddock, the founder and editor-in-chief of Blackhairinformation.com. I stumbled on a hair care forum back in 2008 frustrated with my breaking relaxed hair and the information that I found there changed the fate of my hair, and quite possibly my life, forever! I immediately started to transition to natural hair and started BlackHairInformation.com as a way to help both myself and other women of color achieve their dreams of long healthy hair. I have now achieved my goal length and I continue to help others achieve their dreams too. My three passions are hair, art and entrepreneurship and I love to be able to bring my unique view on hair growth and successful hair journeys to our readers. I am an eternal optimist and workaholic. In addition to BHI I have founded quite a few other websites and businesses including Elongtress Hair Vitamins and Urban Gyal which all fall under the umbrella of my company Coils Media Ltd.

About Alma Ruddock


I’m Alma Ruddock, the founder and editor-in-chief of Blackhairinformation.com. I stumbled on a hair care forum back in 2008 frustrated with my breaking relaxed hair and the information that I found there changed the fate of my hair, and quite possibly my life, forever! I immediately started to transition to natural hair and started BlackHairInformation.com as a way to help both myself and other women of color achieve their dreams of long healthy hair. I have now achieved my goal length and I continue to help others achieve their dreams too. My three passions are hair, art and entrepreneurship and I love to be able to bring my unique view on hair growth and successful hair journeys to our readers. I am an eternal optimist and workaholic. In addition to BHI I have founded quite a few other websites and businesses including Elongtress Hair Vitamins and Urban Gyal which all fall under the umbrella of my company Coils Media Ltd.

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Comments

  1. Mz Kappy

    I absolutely loved this article. So many truths here. We have been blinded by our quest for all-natural and organic. It doesn’t have to be one or the other exclusively. You can use a combination of natural and synthetic products, and like you said, natural is not necessarily what it seems. And you touched on an issue about hair length that I have been wondering myself–why is there such an obsession with “stretching” natural hair? Sure, you can straighten (blow dry and flat iron) the tight curls, and it looks beautiful, but it’s like it’s the new bandwagon everyone is jumping on–See, our hair can do that too!!! I let my relaxer grow out over 2 years ago and wore weaves and wigs in the transition, and I never did the “big chop”. I also straighten my hair now and then for a change of pace, but to me to do it on a regular basis defeats the purpose of going natural. I don’t know why hair textures are the way they are, but “black” hair just is not meant to be straight, just like some Asian hair will not curl no matter what you do to it. Anyway, keep up the good work.

    1. Alma Ruddock Post author

      Thanks! Yes I guess the stretching thing goes against what natural hair naturally wants to do. But personally I also think that some degree of stretching is required to keep the hair healthy.

      Allowing long 90% shrinkage 4c hair to shrink to maximum potential is only workable if you have hours to detangle your hair every few days or if your hair is kept short. Not to mention that the breakage and frayed ends you would get as a result of all the tangling would really go against the goal of healthy hair because of all the split ends that would be caused.

      But again maybe it depends on your definition of healthy hair, some ladies don’t mind trimming often to keep their hair at a workable length so that they can rock their natural texture while not worrying too much about shrinkage.

      When the goal is long hair however….

  2. Matilda

    I use both natural and synthetic products. And I love them both very much as they come in when I need them most.

  3. Emily

    I absolutely enjoyed this article! Very informative, I myself even knowing about the oil extraction process have never thought about them in any way other than natural- they are our clame to fame when we identify what is natural vs what isn’t in our regimen. I’ve also heard the phenom before about our woolly hair being a means to protect us from the sun. Wonderful read Alma!!

    1. Alma Ruddock Post author

      Why thank you Em! It’s true, the oil thing is a sticking point in the natural product argument.

  4. Arelvys Mateo

    I use both too, natural and synthetic. The first one for nutrients and the second one when I go to the pool twice a week.

  5. PaulMecca DavisDelgado

    Ok.. now i had relaxed hair at one point and had long hair.. now im natural and i use to use synthetic products.. and my hair was soft and growing very well.. im still natural and decided to use na(tural stuff…. and to be honest… its really not doing much.. my hair is actually growing slower.. soooo with that being said im going back to the pantene (of its spelled right ) and herbal blue magic grease! .. and half wigs for protective styles.. Why!? Because that’s what helped my hair the first time.. but i don’t do heat on my hair at all.. everybody is different and don’t need to be doing what others are doing.. and don’t frustrate yourself for long hair.. just want healthy hair and it will grow out of no where

  6. melissa

    I love when I see a new article on this site.I glanced at the comments. Now I have a question : ) I wonder if anyone has a DIY protein treatment that doesnt include eggs? Thanks

  7. Anika BeautifullyBlessed Townsend

    I love my natural oils, but realistically, who has TIME to MAKE everything? my natural hair is time consuming WITH synthetic products! sorry, but i will keep my bottled stuff! LOL

    1. Majorly_Mojo

      exactly what i was saying. Aphogee is far from natural but it works for me so I don’t think it should matter if we use synthetic vs. natural or vice versa. I honestly don’t think I use anything that is entirely natural except my shea butter and I rarely use that on my hair bc it is too thick.

  8. Abbi

    This is a lovely article Alma. I was thinking about this recently too, that natural isn’t always better. Recently I decided to forego the natural sources of protein like eggs because I think they make my hair ‘heavy’ and stiff, while the store -bought protein-containing products seem much lighter. I hadn’t thought about the oils being unnatural, though I don’t mind.

  9. Querida Joy

    I can’t say that I agree with the premise of this article. We tend to lose sight of the forest for the trees.. The synthetic products seem to have the desired result in the here and now. Ten years from now when the chemicals have accumulated in our bodies and are having negative effects and we are wondering why our hair is falling out and why we are constantly ill, will we think of the unknown chemical compounds in the synthetic hair products?

    1. kendria

      My sentiments exactly! The oil from the coconut, olive to name a few are indeed natural was created by nature. I do not believe that because they existed in nature in a different form (not liquid) and have to be extracted by man made devices they become unnatural. What matters is the method of extraction and it is best to use the oils that are extracted via the cold press method as no chemicals are used. I think people are trying to find an excuse for using synthetic products. Corn oil and Soy oil is not natural because they are hybrid plants that was made by man (that’s a big difference) and does not exist in nature. Meaning, you would never find these plants growing in the wild. They cannot grow without the aid of man. I don’t condemn nor try to convert so to each his own. I use some synthetic products (few and very far in between) but I do not support the argument that these oils are not natural because they existed in a different form in nature. They become unnatural when synthetic products are added which changes the molecular structure or the composition of the oils.

      1. Alma Ruddock Post author

        I’m sorry Kendria but I don’t buy your argument, saying that they “exist in a different form” is the same thing as saying that their form HAD to be changed by man aka not natural.

        With your argument we could say that sugar or even flake opium is natural just in a different form because you don’t have to add chemicals to produce either, just water and evaporation. But obviously we know that sugar is a big player in modern day diseases (obesity, many cancers & diabetes) and of course I don’t need to explain what the problems with opium are.

        Cold pressed oils probably ARE healthier to consume because the oils are not oxidized but it doesn’t change the fact that they have to be mechanically pressed. Long lived populations like the Kitavans have long used whole raw coconuts as a large part of their diet. They certainly didn’t extract coconut oil (in the past).

        While I totally agree with your argument about corn and soy oils which are totally man made both the plants and after they are processed, it still doesn’t change the fact that oils are not entirely natural either. This is why there exists the whole food movement which strives to teach people to eat foods in their whole unaltered state for better health.

        Look I’m not saying that oils are not good to use on our hair, on the contrary, I have stated quite clearly that they are vital for our hair because there isn’t a great deal of human intervention required to produce them so they can loosely be described as “natural”. Still doesn’t change the fact that they are not entirely natural.

        1. multiculturegirl

          Your argument is a bit disingenuous Alma as a rational for why synthetics are better than natural products. Granted no not all “natural” products are raw or whole but who ever claimed they were? I believe the point of using natural products over MOST synthetic products is to avoid unnatural man made chemicals. I know very well there are some people who take it to extremes. I personally have a hierarchy of ingredients that our family uses. One because several of us have a sensitivity to many synthetic products especially those using chemical fragrances and also because it matters to me how the oils we use were processed. That said anyone who knows anything about natural products knows many use things that are made with natural ingredients but heavily processed as preservatives ect. just non toxic ones.

          To each their own if synthetics work better for you PLEASE use them . However, just having human interaction doesn’t make something not natural. Many spices are natural yet they go through human intervention. The type of intervention matters in whether something is still considered natural or not. You say oils aren’t entirely “natural” that is false they aren’t in their whole raw state that isn’t the same.

          As a fellow writer I just want to state words have meaning and within the natural and whole food world these terms already have meaning that you are choosing to ignore.

  10. Ruth

    Like so many others, I too enjoyed this article. I was unaware that the hair was/is mainly a covering from the sun and outdoors elements.
    One lady said she will go back to using Pantene and the hair grease and a lot of people said they use both. I’m in the category of using both. The part of spending more time detangling when you’re natural was very true when I was natural. Now that I am relaxed, I find like one reader said that “synthetics” help detangle hair faster and it does. I enjoy having relaxed hair because it proves that “we” can have long hair which is relaxed and still have it be healthy. Therefore, I opt to continue using the store bought products because it’s worked wonders for my hair; besides, not everyone has time to make their own natural products. To top it off, one has to learn how to store and keep the homemade products or else that will be a waste.

  11. Majorly_Mojo

    As long as my hair loves it then I am okay with whatever. I actually find it more beneficial using synthetic vs. natural because it is made for a specific purpose. For example, I use aphogee to help strengthen my hair and lemme tell you it works wayyyy better than a mayo and egg on my head for protein treatments. I’ve honestly seen better results using “synthetic” products but again not everyone’s hair will react the same so to each its own…

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