Photo: Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images
Going for a perm can spice up otherwise dull tresses, but it also can wreak havoc on your strands. Subsequently, you need products that will keep your hair healthy. Shea butter is an all-natural option divas -- particularly African ladies -- often use. You can use shea butter on its own, but you also can find it in lots of hair care products and cosmetics.
What Is Shea Butter?
Shea butter is a cosmetic product that sometimes is used in cooking. It's made from the nuts of the African shea tree. Cosmetics manufacturers love this substance because it's so high in good fatty acids compared with other natural oils and butters. Traditionally, Africans boiled the nuts to get the fatty acids out of them and then scooped the fatty film out to cool and solidify. Modern manufacturers use methods that are more sophisticated, but the basic principle is the same.
The Permed Hair Problem
Every strand of your mane has an outer layer, called the cuticle. The cuticle is a complex system of little scales of a protein called keratin. Ideally, these overlap each other and lay fairly flat, although genetics and other factors such as disease can influence the scales. This helps keep the right amount of moisture in the inner part of your strands so your hair is less brittle and doesn't break as much. As great as your new perm can look, the chemicals in a perm and other hair treatments lift up the cuticle scales so they can mess with the internal structure of the hair. The scales usually have a hard time going back to their original position. The result is dry, brittle hair. To make matters worse, your curls make it pretty difficult for any oil to travel down your mane and protect your strands.
How Shea Butter Helps
A common misconception perpetuated by slightly inaccurate marketing is that shea butter moisturizes your hair. It doesn't. What does happen is that the fatty acids in shea butter work a lot like the natural oil, sebum, your own glands in your scalp make. They coat your permed tresses. This can be a lifesaver when it comes to making your keratin scales lay a little flatter and keeping moisture in the hair. That means that as long as you can moisturize your hair with other water-based products such as permed-hair conditioners, shea butter can keep your hair protected and soft. That's a must-have for treated hair. It also can help your tresses shine. As a plus, shea butter is rich in nutrients that are good for the skin, such as vitamins A and E. These nourish your scalp. With healthy skin, your follicles stay in good shape so that any new growth you have is strong.
Shea butter won't work for everybody. Gals with super fine hair might find it weighs down their strands too much. Although most people don't have any reaction to the butter and it usually doesn't clog pores, the fact ladies have different skin types means other products might be better suited for some women.