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African American hair can be delicate and fragile, barely able to survive simple brushing without damage. It's often simply a struggle against nature to keep your curls under control. If chemicals make you cringe, try adding a natural alternative, such as coconut milk, to your hair care bag of tricks.
Coconut Milk 101
Native to the western Pacific, the coconut spread to other areas of the tropics by ocean currents and human activity. Coconut milk, a liquid expressed from the meat of the coconut, used to be something found in a can at your local grocery store that was handy to have available for making pina coladas, Indian soup or Thai curries. Today, coconut milk is not only a staple in your supermarket but also an ingredient in any number of commercial African American hair care products.
Coconut milk is a natural protein conditioner. According to a 2003 study published in the "Journal of Cosmetic Science," coconut oil, a derivative of coconut milk, was found to reduce protein loss in both damaged and undamaged hair when used before or after shampooing. This is especially helpful for hair that tends to be weak and prone to breakage. To add strength to your tender tresses, use coconut milk as a pre-wash by parting your hair into four sections and applying a generous amount to each section. Leave it in for 30 minutes, and then wash it out. For a post-wash conditioning treatment, rub a quarter-size dollop in your palms. Massage it into your hair after styling your 'do.
Hair Growth Helper
Although the evidence is strictly anecdotal, Vasant Lad, author of "The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies,” claims that coconut milk can make slow-growing African-American hair grow faster. If you want to try it for yourself, apply a mixture of 3 tablespoons of coconut milk and 1 tablespoon of mashed pigeon peas to your scalp and roots of your hair. Let it sit for 20 minutes, rinse with cool water and wash with your favorite shampoo and conditioner.
Paula Begoun, beauty expert and author of the book "Don't Go Shopping for Hair Care Products Without Me," puts it to you straight when she cautions that no chemical relaxers can make curly hair straight and smooth without doing damage. In fact, high pH chemical relaxers commonly burn your hair and fry your scalp. While coconut milk won't make your locks look Beyonce-straight, if you use it daily, it can help gently keep them under control. Combine 1 cup of coconut milk with the juice of one lime and allow it to chill in the fridge. When the concoction reaches the consistency of a creamy paste, apply it to your tresses. Wrap your hair in a hot, moist towel, wait for 20 minutes, rinse with warm water and shampoo.