Reflections on One Year

One year and one month ago I made the decision to cut off my locs of 7 years. After a month of reflection, tears, frustration and a lot of hair products, I was ready to leave my natural hair pit stop and get back on my locs journey. Cutting (and unraveling) my locs was a purging process and an outward sign of my commitment to change myself. At the time I had hoped that the seriousness of the sacrifice would be appreciated by others, but now a year later, I have accepted that it is only important that one person appreciates the true depth and meaning of the whole process: Me.

India Arie may say that she is not her hair, but I have no problem with admitting the contrary: I AM MY HAIR. If you follow me on Twitter, you would know that natural hair is not just a fad for me or something to make me look pretty. From the day I cut my perm off 12 years ago, natural hair has always been a philosophy and a statement for me. A statement of my refusal to accept European standards of beauty, a statement that there was nothing wrong with my hair the texture the Most High created it, a statement that I would not yield to the pressure of society and my peers telling me how I ought to look. I went natural before it was the “thing” to do. I did not have any support groups, or websites, or blogs, all I had was a little book by Lonnice Brittenum Bonner called “Good Hair: For Colored Girls Who Considered Weaves When the Chemicals Became Too Ruff” and a lot of youthful determination. My hair expresses who I am and what I represent, and the way I choose to express that is through locs. I may change up my clothing style, from business suits to hippie attire to sexy vixen, but the one thing that remains constant that conveys to the world who I am underneath all of that is my hair. I recently interviewed for a job and the interviewer expressed concerns to my friend who referred me that I was too reserved. The thing my friend pointed out to him to show him otherwise? My locs. Though I was in a suit, had my locs nicely done up in curls, my hair still conveyed that I am not your average woman, I do not follow the mainstream, I am my own person.

Bantu knot braid-out
I went back to locs because what was NOT me was the loose natural, which lasted only a month. I have absolutely nothing against loose natural hair and I love it and embrace it (on others) just as I do locs. I just feel that I looked better with locs, that they are more “me.” I did not immediately go back to locs after I cut the first set, even though I had plenty enough hair to do so at any time. But all that was part of my sacrifice and penance. I needed to wait until I was ready to loc again, until I felt that I had purged the residual negative energy from my hair and from my life. I did not want to start over with a new set of locs and harness any of the negativity that I was trying to escape from. When I started my locs over, I wanted it to be a truly fresh start. I even went to a new loctician, a woman who was full of life and joy, and who unfortunately shortly thereafter had her life cut too short by a drunk driver. I took that as a sign that this loc journey was one that I had to do on my own, just as the change within myself could ultimately only be done by me. I had to choose not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Curled braid-out
This past year has been an entire process of penance and a lesson in patience. Change does not come overnight. It is a step-by-step, day-by-day process, making gradual progress over time. Going through the locking process was an outward manifestation of my inner change. Cutting my locs and going to have my single strand twists put in to start the locking processing were only the first steps, my commitment to journey along a path of growth and development that did not conclude on that November day in 2009. With my life, as well as my locs, I was committed not to make the same mistakes of the past and I made sure I took actions so those mistakes would not occur. I avoided harmful people; I avoided harmful products. I avoided situations I would later regret; I avoided over-manipulation. I took care to nurture relationships; I took care to nurture my locs. Over time, in both my life and my locs, I started to see positive progress, but all the while I was forced to focus on the day-to-day, not the end result. Yes, I looked forward to the day where I could shampoo without unraveling, the day when I did not feel constant guilt, the day where I had enough hair to do an updo, the day when my word was once again good. The outside reflected the inside, the process was one in the same.

Flat twists & bun
I am now at the one year mark, looking back over my journey thus far. My locs have gone from 2” hollow coils to 6” solid locs that are well into their maturation phase. I can curl them, bantu knot them, do braid outs, and flat twist them to the back into a bun. Retwists are now optional and I can wash my locs as often as I please, AND use conditioner from time to time if I so desire. In my personal life, I have become more responsible with my money, more proactive in handling my personal business, have forgiven myself for my past sins, have a more positive outlook, I am less self-centered and more transparent in my dealings with people. However, the journey is by no means over.

I really hope that people around me, and especially people I love, can see and believe these things as well. I have had some recognition and acknowledgment of the change from those who know me; even my ex-husband said he could see a definite change in me over the past year; he does not even know any of the background or events leading to or away from last fall’s purging and new beginnings, and we do not even speak or interact regularly. People say I look happier, I smile more, laugh more, that my joy radiates. Much of this comes from being more content in my relationship, but even that stems from my commitment and efforts to change and his help along the way. And though not everyone in my life may appreciate the true significance of my journey, looking back I have to be content with the fact that I did this for myself and everything else will take care of itself. Not everyone has chosen, or has been chosen, to come along this journey with me; I have definitely lost some friendships, abandoned some friendships, and scaled back other friendships. I can only go forward knowing in my heart and knowing that the Most High knows that I am a better person than I was in October 2009, and, like my locs, I will continue to grow, change and be better. There is no going back.


Avoid Shopping Cart Shock (A Marketing Lesson)

I love handmade items. And I love natural products. I also love entrepreneurs. So being able to have all three things by supporting small businesses that sell natural hair and beauty products just makes my day. However, I have a pet peeve when it comes to shopping online, and that is Shopping Cart Shock.

We have all had a dose of Shopping Cart Shock. You peruse an online retailer’s site and pick out a goodie (or 5) that you want to try out. You add them to your cart, click “check out” and then you are shocked to find that your total is way higher than the cost of the items in the cart due to shipping and handling. A few weeks ago I was shopping online on a natural products site for some new products for my hair. The cost of the product I wanted was $11.00. I added it to my cart, went to go check out, and saw that my total cost was $17.25! Shipping charges were $6.25, adding another 57% to the cost of the item I wanted. I had expected to pay some shipping, but not over 50% of the price of the item. So I closed my browser window, got in my car and went to the department store to buy some Carol’s Daughter products where I knew exactly how much I was paying when I walked in the door (though I used to not buy Carol’s Daughter products for the exact same reason). Some may choose to go ahead and pay the cost, but at that point I typically abandon cart. It makes me feel deceived, like I would lead to believe that I would be paying one amount but now—GOTCHA!—there is a catch. Shopping Cart Shock is not a problem exclusive to natural products retailers, but one that is very prevalent amongst these entrepreneurs due to the high cost of shipping liquids.

First, let me disclaim that I do not think you have to have a business degree to run a successful business. But there are some principles of business taught in business courses—specifically marketing—that every business owner, big or small, must be mindful of. The first things you will learn in any marketing course are the 4 P's: Price, Place, Product, Promotion (also called the Marketing Mix). One of the trickiest of these four elements is Price. Not only is price made up of cost of goods, profit margin and supply and demand, but there is also a huge psychological component to pricing products. Price communicates not just how much it cost you to make the product, it also communicates quality (how good your product is) and value (getting a good deal) to the customer. It is the reason why people will buy brand names over generics for the exact same products (often made by the exact same manufacturer) and why luxury items are so much more expensive than average goods and people willingly pay that premium. When it comes down to it, marketing and pricing is a mind game that you play with consumers. And some small business owners out there are not playing that game very well.

I know this may sound bad, and may be an oversimplification bordering on hyperbole, but consumers like to be lied to. They like to believe that they are getting the best deal and the best value possible. I am not saying that you need to deceive customers, but you must be mindful of the psychological aspect of the shopping experience. I brought this topic up on Twitter and got several responses from natural products sellers saying that shipping is expensive and that they need to make money, too. And I wholeheartedly agree. I am not saying that retailers should eat costs. That is just not good business.  And I am all about good business and prosperity.  What I am saying is that natural products sellers need to take a different look at how they price their products.

It is not just about sellers covering costs, it is also making customers feel like they are getting a good value. The cost of goods includes everything it takes to get your product to your customer. So not only should you include the cost of the plastic jar, shea butter, essential oils, labels, ink to print your labels, etc., but also the cost of getting those goods to your customer. If you have a $10 jar of shea butter, but your shipping is $5, all the customer cares about is that they are coming out of their pocket $15, 1/3 of which has nothing to do with the product itself. Here is another option, though: Charge $12.50 for the shea butter and $2.50 for shipping. Build some of the shipping cost into the base price of the product so that the Shopping Cart Shock is not as great. The seller’s costs are covered, but the customer feels like they are paying for the product more so than the shipping and that they are getting a better value with their purchase.

And remember what I said about price conveying perceived quality? If you have a really good Product that you Promote and Place well, people will not mind paying a higher Price for it because they will perceive it to be of better quality. Another personal shopping example: I was on eBay looking for some nag champa body oil. There was one retailer selling nag champa dry oil spray for $5.99, and another selling it for $10.50. The obvious choice seems like the former, right? Wrong. The shipping on the first bottle was $3.99, while the other one had FREE SHIPPING plastered across the listing. The $10.50 bottle also had a better label and said it used “high quality jojoba oil and vitamin E”, while the other said nothing about ingredients. So I bought the $10.50 bottle, with this being my consumer thought process: 1) “FREE!! I like free!” 2) “Why is the first one so cheap? They must use inferior ingredients, especially since they didn’t list them.” 3) “Well, they’re about the same price total, so I’m going to go with the slightly more expensive one just to be on the safe side.” I know good and damn well that the price of the shipping was built into the second bottle and that they could have bought their jojoba oil from a hobo on the street and I would have no way of knowing. But when I allow myself to turn off my marketing major brain and go into regular consumer mode (yes, I can split my personality at will), what I saw was “FREE” and “higher price must mean better quality.” I may have paid more, but I felt like I was getting a better value by paying for the actual product and not for the shipping. I was not so much deceived as I was appeased, and that is the key to attracting and keeping customers. The goal of successful marketing is creating a win-win situation for everyone.


Peju's Big (Locs) Chop

I am pleased to present a guest post by my dear friend, Peju, who was kind enough to share her personal big chop story (locs edition) with Natural Afrodisiac.  Even for those of us who love our locs, sometimes you get to the point where it's time to let go.  Here is her story.  Enjoy.

Last Perm: April 2000 (in preparation for HS graduation)
Locversary 1.0: May 18, 2006
Chopversary 1.0: October 30, 2010

I’ve had a number of people ask me why I decided to cut my locs. My response has typically been synonymous to my current relationship status – It’s Complicated. The truth - it’s not very complicated at all.

I cut my hair because I wanted and needed a fresh start.

I’ve been going through a bit of a “transition phase” for the past year. I had essentially been living a Badu-esque bag-lady lifestyle since the folks at my BigLaw job asked me to “explore other opportunities” (translation: laid me off) in May 2009. I won’t go into the gory details of all the things that have happened in that year, but suffice it to say, life has been very interesting. Halloween weekend marked the end of the couch-surfing stage, because my tenants were moving out of my house just in time for me to move back in. The timing was perfect. I’m currently reinventing myself in a number of ways – personally, professionally, spiritually – and it was necessary for me reflect those transformations in my outward appearance as well.

So I did it. The BC (Big Chop). I moved back to Naptown Halloween weekend. I woke up that Saturday, knowing that I could not go back into my house carrying the same negative energy that had played such a large role in my departure. As you can see from my statistics listed above, I’ve been #TeamNaturalHair for many years now. I’ve never really had issues with self-confidence and recognized my own inner and outer beauty. But over the last couple years, that beauty felt stifled, as if it wasn’t being fully realized.

So I woke up on Saturday October 30, 2010, said a long prayer and drove to the barbershop. As soon as I sat down in the chair, there was a sense of calm that came over me. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t nervous. I know this is gonna sound uber-cheesy, but it was like my soul was crying out to me. My heart was saying, “If you are ever going to be able to put me back together again, you have to start by first forgiving yourself and then transforming yourself.” I agreed. Inwardly, I felt one way, but outwardly I was projecting something else. Something angry...bitter...broken. Contrary to popular belief, that is not me.

When it was done, I felt renewed!! I felt rejuvenated!! I looked in the mirror, and for the first time in a long time, I saw Peju! The real Peju.

I saw my eyes, and my cheeks, and my lips, and most importantly...

My smile.  I saw my smile in a way that I had not seen in a long time. It was a genuinely happy smile!! Deeply, completely, and thoroughly happy!

In fact, happiness isn’t the right word. The feeling that came over me when I stood and looked in the mirror...


I was finally rid of the burdens, baggage, regrets, mistakes, pains, betrayals, which I had perpetrated against MYSELF. Does that mean life is perfect? Of course not. But I feel a sense of hope and confidence that I have never felt before. And that’s a deliciously dangerous thing. Because those who knew the old Peju can tell you – confidence was never something I was lacking!!!


Sesame Street: "I Love My Hair!"

Self love and acceptance starts at a very, very young age. Children learn what is beautiful based on what they are told is beautiful and what society shows them to be beautiful. I saw this Sesame Street video and wanted to smile and cry with joy at the same time. These are exactly the things our young girls need to see. I love PBS for this one.  I want to show this to every little black girl in the world. And grown women, too.


Transitioning Methods: The results are in!

The results are in from our first poll!  The question asked was "What method did you use to transition to natural hair?"

Chrisette Michele's transition
Here are the results:

It appears that the most popular method of transitioning to natural hair is the big chop method (or, as I call it, the cold turkey method) with 43.8% of respondents.  The second most popular is the use of extensions (37.5%) and the least popular transition method was braids or twists without extensions (9.1%). 

Thank you to everyone who participated and voted!  Please look out for and weigh in on future polls.


Natural Cellulite Treatment from Your Morning Joe

 (Disclaimer: Yes, I know this has nothing to do with locs or natural hair.  However, I want to also provide you with information on natural remedies and treatments that I've tried from time to time so you can look and feel your best from head to toe.  Carry on....)

Young and old, slender and plump, women all face a common problem: cellulite.  That dimply, orange peel, cottage cheese appearance of the skin on women's buttocks and thighs. The textured look occurs when connective tissue between fat and skin stretches, breaks down or tightens, as explained by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). This allows cellulite to bulge out in pockets.  As we get older, cellulite tends to get worse due to a decrease in the elasticity of skin and connective tissue. 
See? You're just like Rihanna
Looking at magazines and tabloids you would think that cellulite is a horrible curse befallen on an unlucky few, but in actuality 80-95% of women have some amount of cellulite.  And this is not just for the plus-sized ladies; thin women have cellulite too, and even after weight loss cellulite does not necessarily go away.  Weight loss and muscle toning may certainly reduce the appearance of cellulite but there is no effective treatment that can eliminate it completely.

However, that doesn't stop companies from trying.  There are a myriad of creams, lasers, massage treatments, and diets that are all designed to help eliminate cellulite, many of them rather expensive. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on these treatments, there is a simple, inexpensive and "green" way to reduce the appearance of cellulite that is found in just about every kitchen and break room everywhere: used coffee grounds.  Caffeine is a common ingredient in many anti-cellulite creams and serums.  Caffeine, when applied topically, works to temporarily tighten and tone the skin, reducing the appearance of lumps and dimples.  Caffeine stimulates blood flow (while also constricting blood vessels) and has anti-inflammatory properties.  However, it must be noted that caffeine taken internally can actually make cellulite problems worse due to it's diuretic properties.  It is important for cellulite treatment, and for good health in general, to keep your body well hydrated and promote the elimination of toxins in the body.

Don't pitch those old grounds just yet

In order to do this simple and inexpensive treatment, take the coffee grounds from the coffee maker (don't use decaffeinated, of course), mix with approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil, warm in the microwave for a few seconds (10-20 seconds only; you want it warm, not hot!) massage into the skin for 2-5 minutes, then rinse.  You will want to do this in the bathtub or shower, as the grounds tend to get very messy.  For extra effectiveness, wrap the areas in plastic wrap and sit or lie down for about 20 minutes, then rinse. Your skin will be soft and supple and over time it will temporarily decrease the appearance of cellulite. You may not see miraculous improvements instantly, but at the very least it is an effective exfoliator that improves the texture and appearance of skin. You are also recycling and reusing material that would otherwise simply go into the trash.

My personal testimonial for this treatment: Last year I did a bike wash fundraiser for a friend of mine.  It was something fun to do and I made a little money off the tips.  For the most part I looked good (for a 31 year old with 2 children) but I kind of cringed when looking at photos from the rear.  Not that the other women there didn't have cellulite as well, but I personally wasn't happy about it.  So this year my friend calls me again and initially I told her no after looking at my cheesy thighs and poochy stomach from falling off my clean eating wagon.  Then I decided to go back to eating right for a week and see what happened, and also try the coffee grounds treatment.  The day before the bike wash I massaged the coffee grounds and olive oil mixture all over my thighs and butt and wrapped the whole area in plastic wrap for 20 minutes.  While my thighs weren't airbrush smooth, I was still very happy with the result and noticed a definite improvement: 

Nobody got un-friended or killed when this pic was posted on Facebook
I did the treatment a second time (as my parents supply me with limitless amounts of used coffee grounds), this time all over my body.  My boyfriend even commented on how smooth and soft my skin was, officially making this a regular addition to my beauty regimen.


Afrodisiac Formula #2: Dina

Natural Afrodisiac is pleased to present Dina, a Detroit native and long time loc lover, and her afrodisiac formula:

Tell us who you are, where you’re from, what you do.

My name is Dina Peace. I am a native Detroiter. I live in Ferndale Michigan which is a Detroit suburb. I have my background in journalism, and creative writing but I have discovered a love for vegan cooking and baking

When and why did you decide to go natural and/or start locs?

In 1999, I had a bad experience at this well known hair salon in Detroit so I decided then to wear my hair natural I had my first perm when I was 6 or 7 so I never had a good hair day. But I figured that it would be a good time for me to explore unchartered waters. Mind you people like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill were really helping to usher in the Neo-Soul style: denim, silver jewelry, African cloth and nappy hair. It was like the late 60s and early 70s revisited and I was down with it. I was 21 years old.

What method did you use to transition to natural hair and/or what method did you use to start your locs?

I actually chopped off my shoulder length permed hair in the early spring of 1999. I hate short hair on me so I grew it out. It was a little afro, then I wore the box braids, then I began to do my own two-strand twists. After awhile, I became tired of taking them down so I wondered what it would be like to keep them in long term? I had met this woman who would become my best friend and she had locs for three years. I thought about it and in September of 2000, I asked her to two-strand twist my hair so they would grow into locs. My life has changed remarkably since.

What is your favorite way to style your hair?

My favorite way? I don’t have one yet! LOL! I love styles that emphasize length but I also dig styles that are like updos and such. Perfect for nights out and on hot sweltering days in Detroit.

What are 3 products or tools you cannot live without?

I am not a product junkie and I latchhook my locs (similar to Sisterlocking) but I can’t live without a good moisturizing shampoo, my African Pride hair oil (it smells so GOOD!) and of course my rug latchhook tool.

What have been some of the challenges and rewards you’ve experienced with going natural and/or cultivating locs?

A challenge for me is my flaky scalp during cold weather. I have found though that when you make a strong tea of sage and rosemary tea bags and rinse your hair and scalp with it before you wash, then the flakes go away. The most rewarding thing about wearing locs is that I am celebrating my hair texture as God made it. I used to want so called “good hair” when I was a kid but my Kunta Kente supa dupa kinky hair is PERFECT for locs! LOL. So really, my hair has ALWAYS been good.

What advice do you have for anyone interested in going natural and/or growing locs?

Learn about yourself from the process and enjoy it. I know women who are scared stiff to start locs. Don’t be afraid. If it is not for you then so be it but how would you know if you don’t try? Natural hair is beautiful. It is sexy and it is far healthier than the creamy crack. Trust me on this…

Where can we find you on the interweb?

You can find me on Twitter @dinapeace. I have a music that I update daily at http://www.musickhead.com/ and I have a blog that chronicles me researching my family tree and how this inspires me to cook vegan adaptations of traditional meals from Africa and all over the Diaspora. The blog is at http://www.foodculturefamily.wordpress.com/.


The Good, Bad & Ugly of Locs

I have a confession to make: My hair is looking pretty darn crappy right now. Yes, we natural hair and loc'd folks always rave about how beautiful and wonderful our curls, kinks and knots are, and while they are that overall, I must recognize and acknowledge that we have our bad hair days (weeks/months) too. This is especially true for those of us with locs that are not yet mature (baby and teenage). I love my locs, don't get me wrong, but right now I wish I could wrap them up in headwraps til November (my 1 year mark). The term "teenage locs" is not a misnomer, and like real teenagers, sometimes they like to challenge you and disobey and must be put on punishment, or just sent away to their room so you can take a minute to think and breathe.

No, my locs are not cooperating right now. I twist them, they come untwisted. I part them one way, they flop the other. I plan elaborate styles that work one week and fail miserably the next. The ones in the back are doing some weird flip up thing at the ends. They're too long to be short, and too short to be long. A few stick out randomly in crazy directions. Most of them are solid locs, but a few of them are still like to hold onto their un-loc'd roots for a little longer than the others. And the ends show no sign that they ever plan to loc......ever.

So what am I doing to get through this phase? Nothing. Waiting it out. Carrying on like nothing is wrong, going with the flow of what my locs want to do on a particular day, and just not worrying about it. Part of having natural hair is letting go that desire and need to control, to tame, to train. I am working with my teenage locs, not against them, and in turn they are working with me. I may have a particular style all planned out in my mind, but if it doesn't turn out the way I thought it would, I just go with something else that does work. When people ask "How did you style your hair like that?" I have to honestly tell them "I'm not really sure." Things are just kind of haphazard and crazy right now.

Is this to discourage anyone from locking? Goodness....by all means, no. I still am having a very active love affair with my locs, and the vast majority of time my hair looks crazy and frustrating only to me. This is just a phase they--and I-- are going through. I embrace the challenges, but I am still recognizing that they are challenges. The reason why I'm bringing this to light in the first place, even though I'm natural hair and loc's biggest fan, is not to scare people away, but rather because I believe people need to know what they are getting into before they get into it. Before someone starts locking, they need to know "Yes, I will go through this rough phase, but yes, I will also come out on the other side with beautiful locs." It is better to know up front and mentally prepare for what to expect than have others gloss over this for you, leaving you surprised, bewildered and frustrated when it happens to you, and having you think that something has gone wrong with your head. I'd rather people decide up front that maybe locking isn't for them instead of getting months into it and giving up because they didn't know what they were going to have to (temporarily) deal with. I prefer to tell it like it is-- the good, bad, ugly and beautiful.

If you are someone going through this phase, hang in there; it will get better. If you know someone going through this phase, please don't give them a hard time because later you'll be eating your words when you're complimenting their mature locs. And if you are thinking about going through this stage (i.e. anyone thinking about locs), don't be afraid. We've all gone through it.


Afrodisiac Formula #1: Ashley

Natural Afrodisiac is proud to present our very first natural hair featured beauty, Ashley Steele, who shares with us her afrodisiac formula:

1. Tell us who you are, where you're from, what you do.

My name is Ashley Steele. I'm a web developer, graphic designer, custom shoe designer and I recently began modeling!

2. When and why did you decide to go natural?

I hated spending so much time and money in the salon. Perms are not exactly a riveting experience, lol.

3. What method did you use to transition to natural hair?

I wasn't brave enough for a big chop, I don't think I have a face for extremely short hair. I let my hair grow and little by little kept trimming my ends until it was all gone. During my transition I wore mostly kinky twists.

4. What is your favorite way to style your hair?

I love my twist out, it's even cuter when I pin it into a mohawk. (:

5. What are 3 products or tools you cannot live without?

A WIDE TOOTH COMB lol, my Carol's Daughter Hair Milk products, and olive oil.

6. What have been some of the challenges and rewards you've experienced with going natural?

It's a challenge every time I comb it out, I've definitely learned to be patient when dealing with my hair. Another challenge is that I don't have the same texture all over so it's hard to keep my curls uniform…It's overall rewards to embrace my natural beauty. I love that people tell me "You like like yourself, like you don't want to or try to be something your not." (:

7. What advice do you have for anyone interested in going natural and/or growing locs?

DO IT! (: But then again…it's not a look everyone call pull off. I plan to get locs one day…but not soon, too permanent for me...

8. Where can we find you on the interweb?

Twitter: @MsAshleyS

Web Design Portfolio: http://www.ashleysteele.com/

Personal - http://www.facebook.com/MsAshleyS
Model Page - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ms-Ashley-Model/130575790295788?ref=ts

ModelMayhem: http://www.modelmayhem.com/1684295


Locs: Myths, Truths and Realities

(Originally posted on May 6, 2006 to my MySpace.... yes I said MySpace.... blog)

There are a lot of myths out there about locs and people who have locs, so I just wanted to set the record straight once and for all on a few things:

1. Yes, I DO wash my locs!!! This is by far the biggest myth about folks with locs... that we don't wash our hair. I'm here to tell you... that's nasty. A friend of mine asked me what I thought to be one of the dumbest questions ever, which was "How do you wash your locs?" Well, I'll break it down for ya: I take the shampoo bottle, squeeze the shampoo into my hand, lather it into my locs, rinse and repeat. Then I take the conditioner bottle, squeeze some conditioner into my hand, and work it into my locs from the ends up. Then I shave my legs, contemplate life, or whatever else I can do in 2-5 minutes in the shower to allow the conditioner to sit. Then I rinse it out. After towel drying, I either sit under a dryer or use a blow dryer. I do this about once a week, which is just as often, if not MORE often, than other black women with straightened hair.

2. I go to a hairstylist, and yes he costs a grip. My loctician is Thierry Baptiste, the most bad-ass loc stylist in the country (he travels nationally and internationally to do seminars). I primarily go to him to have my locs dyed/highlighted. And yes, you CAN dye locs!! And yes, he uses regular hair dye.... same stuff used on your hair. Yesterday he got on me about letting my ends get to the state that they were in.... unraveling curly-qs. He said next time I came in looking like that, we would have to fight. So yes, locs also need to have their ends trimmed, and they also need to be cut into a style or shape. One of the shittiest comments I've ever received was from... well, I guess I'll go ahead and bust her ass out.... [Name Omitted to Protect the Ignorant], when she said something to the effect of calling me "Miss 'I-don't-have-to-do-my-hair'". This was a day after I'd just dropped $120 on getting my locs colored AND styled. Real ig'nant......

3. I style my locs. I set them on rollers, braid or twist them for a crinkle set, flat twist them, cornrow them..... you name it. If it can be done with un-loc'd hair, some variation of it can be done with loc'd hair. Thierry does the most fabulous styles and updos that would make you jealous and wish you had some locs. No joke.

4. I didn't have to "do" anything to my hair to make it loc. Locs are THE most natural hair style for black folks ever. This is how locs are formed: First you gotta start with natural hair (I'm talking black natural hair here... it's a whole 'nother process for caucasian hair). Thierry comb coiled/single strand twisted my hair into individual twists. Then you just don't comb the twists (but again, you DO wash them!).... you just palm roll them to keep them separated and somewhat neat while the locs are forming. Other than that, mother nature does the rest. The curls naturally coil around themselves to form locs. I didn't use beeswax, pommade, back-combing, or anything like that to get my locs to form.... my hair just literally did its thang. And less is more... the more you try to eff wit 'em, the more likely you are to eff 'em up.

5. My locs are permenant. I cannot "take them down" (thus the reason why I can wash them like any other hair and it doesn't unravel). If I'm done with locs, I have to cut them off. But no biggie, I've had 1" of hair before.

6. Ask permission before touching, please.... I hate when people come up and touch my hair without permission. You wouldn't do it to anyone else (try to go up to a sista and touch her weave!) so don't do it to a person with locs. First of all, I ain't a damn petting zoo, and more importantly you are violating my personal space. Because I'm so passive, I usually don't get too belligerent with the person, but you may catch a beat down and/or cursing out if you do that to someone else. I actually don't mind for those who are truly curious, because I'm on a personal crusade to educate and dispel myths about locs, but just act like you got some home training.

I think my loctician says it best when he said that locs are just larger strands of hair.... but they are still hair and are treated much like you'd treat hair in any other form. Locs can be accepted in "corporate america" because I've found that they really don't care as long as you keep your hair neat and professional.... and that goes for ANYONE. They are not going to accept your raggedy weave over my well groomed locs just 'cause it's straight.

Any other questions? Get at me.


A Pressing Dilemma for Natural Hair

Proceed with caution

I recently came across this question on a website regarding issues with pressing natural hair. The person posed this question:
For about 3 months I have used my new awesome straightener which made my hair very nice and straight. My natural hair is very curly but now I sometimes want to curl my hair (like just put mousse in it) and I was wondering what can I do to get my natural beautiful hair back after straightening it so much?? PLEASE HELP!  I put mousse in it yesterday and it looked horrible because most of it is not even curly!
The "best answer" chosen to her question was to put mayonnaise in it to get the curl back.  The reality is that this woman has literally fried her hair, and it may never go back to it's original texture no matter how much conditioner, mouse, gel or condiments she uses.

There are many reasons why people choose to go natural, and one of them is the avoidance of double processing (perm + heat and/or coloring). Although they do not have a perm, they still wear their hair straight and have just removed one of several steps that is damaging to hair. However, what many people don't realize is that chemical relaxers are not the only thing that permanently alters the texture of hair. The consistent application of high heat over time permanently changes the texture via damage to the hair shaft. This is sometimes referred to as "training" natural hair* by making it easier to straighten after it has been pressed out for long periods of time.

*I cannot stand the term "train" when it comes to natural hair. It is basically saying natural hair is bad and unruly and must be beaten into submission. My hair behaves just fine, and the only thing training does is train it to play dead. [End personal diatribe]

What is actually occurring is that the heat is breaking down the natural protein bonds of the hair and subtly changing its texture (i.e. damaging the hair). True, it is not to the same degree that a relaxer alters the texture, which chemically breaks the bonds in hair as opposed to thermally. But the heat, over time, alters these bonds as well.  This results in a change to the natural curl pattern making it less curly/kinky when it is worn natural. Some say that their hair texture is uneven in places and tends to be "lifeless" after this occurs.

For those individuals who want to keep their hair straight at all times, this issue really isn't a problem. Permanently changing the hair texture to less curly may be ideal. However, for those women who either want to go back and forth between curly and straight styles, or who are in the process of transitioning from a relaxer to natural hair, this can be a very problematic issue. If your goal is to embrace your natural hair texture and eventually wear your hair natural (i.e. curly) on a regular basis, consistently pressing your new growth throughout your transitioning period can leave you with hair that is already starting out heat damaged and is not your true hair texture.

This is the primary reason I am such a huge advocate of the "Big Chop" method of transitioning because pressing damages the new growth, but walking around with a perm on top of a mini-fro doesn't look good either (not to mention that the point where perm and virgin hair meet is a weak spot that is prone to breakage). I understand and appreciate that everyone is not comfortable sporting a TWA. There are other methods of transitioning (ex. twists, braids, extensions) that won't have the same adverse consequences as regular pressing. This is not to say that any amount of pressing is bad. Some people enjoy the ability to go back and forth between straight and curly styles and there's absolutely nothing wrong or harmful in that.  When pressing is done properly and in moderation, your hair will be just fine. It is the consistent, frequent application of high heat that is damaging to the hair and could leave you with not exactly the healthy, glorious crown of curls you hoped for.

For tips on avoiding damage when pressing natural hair, please check this out.  Check this out as well for more tips on avoiding damage when pressing natural hair.


The 8 Month Update

It has been about 8 months since I started on my second loc journey, so I wanted to provide an update.  My locs are now well into the "teenage" stage of locking.  In this stage, the locs have definitely started to form and there is no more unraveling.  However, my locs are still somewhat "spongy" and are not yet as firm as a fully matured set of locs.  Different areas of my head have different textures, so the locking progress is going at different rates.  The locs in the back are much firmer and defined than the locs on the top and in the front of my head, where the hair is softer.  The back locs have about 1" of unlocked root, while the ones on the top of my head have about 3" of unlocked root:

In true teenage loc form, my locs are quite fuzzy and fluffy at this point.  Because of my hair texture and the way my loctician sectioned my hair to follow the curl pattern, the ends of my locs still have curly-q's, which I rather like because they somewhat mask the fact that I have a wild mess of teenage locs underneath.  Most people recognize that I have locs, but I still have a few people question whether I have locs or twists.  I actually try to keep my hair as full looking as possible by not overtwisting or using too much product (which is a good idea at any stage).  Even though the full length of my locs are fuzzy, I only focus on twisting and clipping the locs close to the root to maintain maximum fullness.  I actually prefer how my locs look the one to two days after a fresh retwist after I've had the chance to sleep on them and muss them up a bit.

My current maintenance routine involves washing and retwisting about once a week.  I tried washing without retwisting last week and discovered that my locs are not quite ready for all that.  They tangled and crept together and were just a mess.  I do an apple cider vinegar pre-treatment that I leave on my scalp for about an 30 minutes, shampoo, then follow with a rosemary infused apple cider vinegar rinse.  I retwist using a palm rolling technique with a teeny dab of Organic Root Stimulator Lock & Twist Gel and/or Carol's Daughter Loc Butter.  The loc butter has less hold to it, so I use it by itself when I want immediately full locs.  I usually leave the double prong clips in overnight and take them out in the morning.  For moisturizing, I use a small amount of Carol's Daughter Lisa's Hair Elixir every morning or every other morning.

Mentally and emotionally in relation to my locs, I have my good and bad days, but on the balance things are good.  Going through this the second time around (and having the benefit of being a few years older) I don't worry about how they look as much.  Yes, I still like to look good, but I've accepted and embraced the organic beauty of teenage locs as opposed to a manicured, no hair out of place look.  I do have my days (or weeks) when they just do not act right, when one renegade loc will not lie down, or the whole lot of them are just lying flat.  I have my days when I wish I could just wrap them up for the next 4 months and not think about them at all.  I do find that my locs look better when I am in a better mood and worse when I'm feeling down, so I try my best to stay in good spirits (but I'm human so I don't always succeed).

Overall I'm very pleased with my progress and am thoroughly enjoying this round of teenage locs.  While I'm definitely looking forward to a head full of fully mature locs, for now I'm embracing this phase of my journey.


I've Been Featured on iRockLocs!

I've been featured on one of my favorite loc blogs, iRockLocs!  Kim is a natural hair and loc blogger sharing her journey from perm to locs (which I think is an amazing leap.... it took me 5 years to build up the courage to go from natural to locs) and features lots of inspirational info, stories and pictures to help anyone who is traveling the same journey.

Please check out my feature here: Cassandra: She Rocks Locs! as well as the rest of her site. Thanks Kim!!



Delectable Moisturizing

It is my pleasure to share with you a guest post from fellow natural hair aficionado, Christine Lowe-Woolard.  Christine is a mother of three and the owner of neosoul.essentials, llc. Founded on the principles of natural skin and hair care, neosoul.essentials, llc carries natural, paraben free products for hair and body. Visit http://www.neosoulessentials.com for product information.  Follow her on Twitter at @Christine_LW.  Enjoy!


I am privileged and pleased to have been given the opportunity to write a guest post for the Natural Afrodisiac. I love reading blogs about natural hair and reading about others’ ideas, conditioning recipes, products and hairstyles.

A little, teeny, tiny bit about me, then onto the good stuff. I became natural about seven years ago. I had worn a relaxer for almost EVER and was tired of the curling, the blow drying and whole the “don’t get my hair wet” syndrome I had to follow to keep my hairstyle flowing.

I was five months pregnant with my first child and trying to transition with four inches of relaxed hair and two inches of new growth. The two textures were fighting each other and I STILL had the “don’t get it wet” problem because I was styling it using curlers.

On Halloween, 2002, I looked in the mirror at my hair and said that’s it. I cut off that dry brittle four inches and had a beautiful crown of two inch long curly, cute Afro hair. And I haven’t looked back since.

Now, onto the good stuff.

One thing I’ve noticed about my hair in general – whether it is relaxed or not – is that it is dry. When I read blogs, there is always a question about how to get more moisture into the hair and to keep it moist. I wanted to take this time to share some of my natural recipes that I’ve created, used and gotten off the Internet that have worked for me.

I’m a huge proponent of natural remedies and the like, so most of the ingredients that I use, you can easily get from your neighborhood drug store or grocery store. Feel free to copy and paste, ladies!

Deep Conditioner and tasty condiment? Mayonnaise can be your BFF. And I’m talking about REAL mayonnaise, not salad dressing. 
Mmmmayo and Avocado deep conditioner:

½ ripe avocado
1 cup real mayonnaise (approximate)

Mash ½ very ripe avocado and mix it with a small jar (approx 1 cup) of real mayonnaise. Apply to the hair and pop on a plastic cap. Leave the mixture on for about 30 minutes (or longer), then rinse out. Should leave hair soft and moisturized.

Brown Sugar Scalp Scrub stimulates your scalp and gets rid of dry, scaly dandruff.  I prefer using oils only, so that the sugar does not dissolve.
Brown Sugar Scalp Scrub:

½ cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
Approx ¼ - ½ cup of your favorite liquid oil
Mix ½ cup of turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) with about ¼ - ½ cup of your favorite oil – olive, coconut, soybean…you choose. Make sure the mixture isn’t too runny, so that you don’t have the stuff running in your face. Rub gently into your scalp and enjoy the feeling of those sugary crystals giving making your scalp tingle. Rinse clean.
These are the two recipes I use to keep my scalp stimulated and my hair moisturized. I certainly hope that you will find them as helpful as I have.


The Growth Myth

This is why your hair doesn't "grow"

Growing up I was always led to believe that black hair does not grow, or at least, does not grow as fast as other hair textures. I was deathly afraid of cutting my past-the-shoulders hair for fear that it would never grow back. I had friends in middle and high school who jumped on the Salt-N-Pepa asymmetrical cut fad (which, as it turns out, was a complete accident when a bad perm burned the hair off one side of Pepa's head, so she shaved it) and ended up having to permanently wear short hair when it was time to even it out. Or you just had the girls whose hair just always stayed short no matter what they did. I was considered "lucky" for having hair that went past my shoulders.

However, when I went natural 12 years ago, I found out this is a flat out lie. Or, at least, an incomplete truth. I cut my hair down to about 2", and within 6 months I had a full head of hair again, at least 6" worth. What I discovered is that it's not that black hair doesn't grow. It comes out of the root just fine, some faster than others of course. The problem lies in how fast it is breaking off.

Let's do some simple math here. If your hair grows 1" per month, but breaks off at a rate of 3/4" per month, your net hair growth is only 1/4". It's not the growth that's the issue; it's all the things you're doing to your hair to make growth counterproductive. All of the growth serums and scalp treatments in the world won't do a bit of good if the ends of your hair are breaking off at a rapid rate.

So what causes breakage? Damage. And what causes damage? Heat, chemicals, and physical stress. The very processes designed to make our hair "long and pretty" are damaging and destroying, causing split ends and breakage, which gives the appearance that our hair does not grow. Many women that you see with long, thick straight hair do not have perms, but rather press their hair so that they don't have the combination of both chemical and heat damage. What saved my hair when I was younger was the fact that my mother always did my perms using a mild relaxer, and I got touch ups every 8-12 weeks, not every 6 like my friends.

I think this myth is the root of the problem (no pun intended) when it comes to deciding how to transition from a perm to natural hair and the fear of the Big Chop. This myth has been ingrained into our heads so deeply that we believe that if we cut off our long hair, it won't grow back quickly and we'll be "bald headed" for years. However, once you stop doing all the things that cause damage in the first place (and probably the reason you're going natural anyway) you will have greater "net hair growth" as you have less breakage to counteract the growth that has been occurring all along.

So stop believing the myth that black hair does not grow, because it does, just like any other type of hair. If you cut the perm off, it can and will grow back longer and stronger than before, and quicker than you think.


Loc Life Lessons

Today, July 1st, is Locs Day, a day to celebrate and appreciate those with locs and those who admire locs.  To me, locs are more than just a hairstyle, but rather a lifestyle.  The experience of growing, cutting, and growing locs again has influenced who I am as a person and how I look at myself and life.  Over the past 8 years I have learned many valuable lessons thanks to my locs, so I wanted to share 5 lessons that my locs have taught me:

1) Anything worth having is worth waiting for.

Cultivating locs is the ultimate exercise in patience.  We are an instant gratification society and are used to instant results.  If we want different hair, we go out and buy it or pay someone to change it.  Growing locs, however, forces you to abandon this need for instant gratification and instead wait for what you want. Even the most intricate microbraids don't even come close to comparing to how long it takes to grow locs.  It takes at least a year for locs to resemble their final form, and even beyond that they are still changing maturing.  Until that time they can be difficult to deal with, fuzzy, unruly, and some days just look downright bad.  Though I have my days where I say "Man I can't wait for these locs to mature!" I have learned to not worry about them and instead focus on other areas of my life that matter, and let nature take care of itself.  You cannot have locs without being willing and able to wait and endure these frustrations.  I've seen the end result of such patience in my first set of locs, so with this set I have learned to enjoy each stage and celebrate the progress in my journey.

2) Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

When growing locs, less is more.  There are a lot of products out there that claim to help grow locs, but most of them are unnecessary.  There are a few products that do work well with locs (and which product works best is an individual thing), but even with these products too much of them causes more problems.  I already confessed to my former product junkie status and how that almost ruined my locs, but that lesson really stressed to me the importance of moderation and temperance when dealing with good things, not just the bad.  It is important to be able to realized when enough is enough.

3) Time heals all wounds.

After I had my product junkie incident, I was devastated.  I thought I had completely ruined my locs and that I would have to cut them off.  They looked REALLY bad and I was just heartbroken whenever I would see other people's smooth, cylindrical locs.  But I didn't give up, and eventually the locs began to heal themselves.  There was nothing I could do in the meantime aside from trying to smooth out the lumps gradually each time I twisted, but ultimately it was just time that made them better.  No matter how bleak, difficult or hurtful a situation may seem, with patience and caring time heals everything.

4) The only person's opinion who matters is your own.

When you make the decision to grow locs, there will be no shortage of naysayers trying to tell you that you are making a mistake.  People will tell you that you're never going to be able to find a job, or that locs will make people look at you negatively, or you won't be able to find a man.  They will look at your unruly baby and teenage locs and think your hair looks bad.  Or (like my last stylist) will try to convince you that your loose natural is pretty and you shouldn't mess it up with locs.  My kids had it even worse with the outright teasing, name calling and ridicule from other children in school; most adults have enough sense not to do that, but the sentiments are still the same.  However, if you know that you have a goal and vision for yourself and know that one day it will all pay off, everyone else's opinions and criticisms don't matter.  I will never forget my son singing "Back then they didn't want me/Now I'm loc'd they all on me."  Your critics will later be the same people singing your praises and wishing they had the tenacity and patience to do it as well. 

5) Know when to let go.

It is said, and I believe, locs conduct and hold energy, both positive and negative, from outside and from within.  Without fail, when I am feeling bad, my locs are unruly and uncooperative.  When I'm feeling great, they look amazing.  Over time, negativity can accumulate in your locs. I know there are countless stories of people cutting their locs after going through a particularly difficult life experience, or when they are moving on to a different stage in life for this precise reason.  In the past 3 years I went through an extremely trying period in my life, including divorce, unemployment, and just losing myself and my way in general.  I knew, but didn't want to believe, the "loc folklore" that they hold negativity, and instead tried to hold onto them and work past it.  But no matter what I did, they just looked terrible.  I was using the same styling products and methods, but they just weren't responding.  Finally I came to the realization that it was just time for them to go.  Of course I was scared, because my locs were ME.  That's how everyone knew me, the tall yellow lawyer with locs.  But I knew that particular era of me was over, and in order to move on I had to let go. We can't hold on to the past and expect to be able to move forward.  Some things in life are to be enjoyed for awhile, but then we have to let go and make room for new experiences. 


Apple Cider Vinegar: Nature's Scalp Treatment

Apple cider vinegar has long been known as an effective natural remedy for a number of conditions.  One common problem that people of all hair types experience is dandruff /seborrheic dermatitis, resulting in dry, itchy flaky scalp.  Dandruff is not caused by dryness of the scalp as is commonly believed; rather it is caused by the overgrowth of a yeast commonly found on the skin and scalp (Malassezia) which results in an increase in the production and shedding of skin cells.  This increased cell turnover results in flakes which then become visible to the eye.  Oiling of the scalp only temporarily masks the problem, but does not treat the actual cause.  Apple cider vinegar is a natural and inexpensive way to treat these issues by balancing the pH of the scalp and killing bacteria and the yeast that causes dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

In addition to dandruff treatment, apple cider vinegar also works as a great natural clarifier.  Acetic acid, the main ingredient in apple cider vinegar, removes buildup from styling products and shampoos, and helps to strengthen the hair by closing the cuticles on the hair shaft.  Removal of buildup and smoothing of the hair cuticle promotes natural shine and leaves the hair lighter and softer.

I have been battling dandruff and dermatitis issues for years, and no matter how often I washed and how thoroughly I scrubbed, no less than a day later the itchy, flaky patches would return on my scalp.  I tried anti-dandruff shampoos such containing zinc pyrithione (ex. Head and Shoulders) and coal tar (ex. Neutrogena T-Gel) with only minimal success.  I was also not a huge fan of putting all these artificial chemicals on my scalp and hair and didn not like how it interfered with the scent of my herbal shampoo.  I decided to return to using apple cider vinegar rinses, this time with a two part pre- and post-shampoo treatment, and have been very pleased with the results.  I've noticed a drastic improvement in the flaking and the rinses soothed the intense itching on my scalp.

Step 1: Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying and Dandruff Pre-Treatment

1 cup filtered/distilled water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
5 drops tea tree oil
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lemon or 1 tblsp lemon juice (optional)

Mix all ingredients into a spray bottle and shake well.  Spray or pour mixture onto hair, focusing primarily on the scalp.  Wrap hair in a towel for 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Follow with normal shampooing.

Tea tree oil has natural antiseptic properties and also helps to kill the fungus that causes dandruff.  For additional clarifying, you can add lemon juice which also helps to remove excess oil and debris.  I would not recommend using the lemon juice too frequently on in excessive amounts, as you don't want to completely strip the hair and scalp of its natural oils.

Step 2: Rosemary Infused Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

2 cups filtered/distilled water
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 drops tea tree oil
2-3 drops essential oil (optional)

Pour water into a small saucepan and add rosemary.  Cover and simmer on medium-low for 15-20 minutes.  Strain rosemary out of water.  Add apple cider vinegar.  ALLOW TO COOL COMPLETELY. Transfer mixture to a bottle and add tea tree oil and essential oils.  After shampooing, pour rinse over scalp and hair.  Do NOT rinse.

Rosemary is also a good ingredient for soothing itchy, flaky scalp and works well in conjunction with the apple cider vinegar and the tea tree oil to treat dandruff.  In additional, rosemary is believed to stimulate hair follicles to promote hair growth and slow hair loss.  Rosemary is good for people with dark hair and helps to bring out natural highlights and shine, and it also leaves your hair smelling wonderful.  I find that the rosemary alone makes for a great scent, but you can also experiment with adding different essential oils to find a scent combination that you like.

Additional tips:

1.  Do not worry about the apple cider vinegar smell.  It will dissipate as the hair dries.  The rosemary further helps to counter the apple cider vinegar smell.  If you are still bothered by the smell, reduce the amount of apple cider vinegar used.

2.  You should make the rosemary infused apple cider vinegar rinse several hours or days before you have to shampoo to allow it to completely cool.  It may be comfortable to the touch but still too hot on your scalp (I discovered this the hard way).  The rinse should be room temperature.  If you do make it right before you shampoo, add plenty of ice cubes to cool the rinse completely.

3.  Store extra rinse in the refrigerator to keep it fresh.  Making a double batch will save you time and you won't have to worry about the temperature issue.  You can microwave it for a few seconds if the rinse is uncomfortably cold (especially if you use it in the shower; ice cold rinse does NOT feel good running down your back).

4.  The rosemary can be used more than once.  After you strain the rosemary out of the rinse, lay it flat on a paper towel and allow to dry, then store it in a plastic bag or container.  You can use the dried rosemary of two batches to make an additional batch.


Shampooing Locs 101

There is a pervasive (and hopefully lessening) myth that people with locs don't/can't wash their hair.  This is completely and entirely false.  If anything, I think I started washing my hair MORE since I've had locs (and certainly way more than when I had a perm).  Locs should be shampooed regularly, at a minimum every two weeks; though if you work out, have dandruff/dermatitis issues, or live/work in dusty environments you should really shampoo more often.  I thoroughly shampoo at least once a week.  This keeps dirt from accumulating and permanently becoming part of your locs.  For fully mature locs, you should gently squeeze the locs while shampooing and rinsing to make sure the shampoo penetrates the locs as much as possible, and so the shampoo is thoroughly rinsed out.  Special care should be taken when washing new locs (see below).

It is important to wash locs with a good moisturizing shampoo.  Remember, the key to beautiful natural hair is moisture, moisture, moisture!  My current favorite shampoo is Carol's Daughter Black Vanilla Herbal Shampoo for dry to very dry hair.  I like the Black Vanilla shampoo because it moisturizes very well without the use of a conditioner. Look for shampoos containing natural oils (olive, coconut, safflower, sweet almond, etc.) and/or shea butter. If your locs are fully matured, the use of conditioner is fine every 2-3 washes; it is not necessary to use every time you shampoo.  Too much conditioning can lead to build up in locs. 

Special Note for Baby/Teenage Locs:

If you are new to locking, you need to take special care not to agitate your baby locs too much.  For the first few weeks you should clean your scalp with astringent (like Sea Breeze) or witch hazel (which is less drying).  Saturate a portion of a clean washcloth and gently rub your scalp along the parts and between each loc. When you do start to use shampoo, you should avoid vigorous scrubbing for a few months.  During the first 3 months of locking, I sectioned my baby locs into 4-5 sections and rubber banded the ends together to keep the locs from untwisting.  Instead of using the shower head, use a container of water and gently poured that over the hair to wet and rinse the shampoo out.  Take special care to just focus on washing the scalp for the first few months and not do too much vigorous washing of the baby locs themselves.

You also want to avoid any shampoo that espouses to help with "manageability" or "dangling". Locs NEED to tangle; that's what makes them locs. This seems very obvious, but I almost ruined my first set of locs using Organic Root Stimulator Uplifting Shampoo (an otherwise great shampoo) because I didn't think about the word "manageability", I just was focused on clarifying (see below).  For someone with baby/teenage locs (I'd say up to one year) conditioner is not your friend.  Conditioner will cause locs that are not fully matured to unravel.  

Clarifying (and Dandruff Treatment):

It is important to avoid build up in your locs as much as possible.  The best way to avoid buildup is to prevent build up.  Shampoos, conditioners, styling products, dirt and lint can all accumulate and contribute to build up, making your locs dull and stiff.  The best way to avoid build up is to avoid using too many products in the first place.  However, every few weeks you should use a clarifying shampoo to remove any products that have built up in your locs.  You don't want to use clarifying shampoo every time you shampoo, as they can be somewhat harsh and drying.  You can use a clarifying shampoo such as Neutrogena or Panteen, or seek out a shampoo with more natural ingredients such as Avalon Organics Lemon Clarifying Shampoo.

Another way to clarify your locs is with the use of an apple cider vinegar rinse.  There are many recipes for ACV rinses out there.  Personally I simmer 1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes, then add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, about 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, 3-5 drops of tea tree oil, and 2-3 drops of either peppermint or lavender essential oil (depending on my mood).  You can use this rinse either before shampooing by saturating your hair and scalp and allowing to sit for 15-20 minutes, or use it as a final rinse after you shampoo.  The apple cider vinegar smell will dissipate as your hair dries.  ACV is great for removing build up and helps treat itchy, flaky scalp by balancing the pH of the scalp.  Rosemary is good for people with dark hair (i.e. most of us) to help bring out the natural highlights, and also helps treat thinning hair.  For additional clarifying, you can add the juice of 1/2 lemon to the rinse.  Lemon juice also helps break down oil and product build up. 

Products to Avoid:

It is important to read the labels of hair products just like you would with food, and like food, products with natural ingredients are better for you than artificial.  My general rule of thumb is that if I can't pronounce, I don't want to put it on or in my body.  Not everything I use is "all natural" and I don't think you should feel pressured to use all natural products just because you have natural hair.  It's just a rule of thumb to stick with as much as you can.  However, here are a few products you should look out for and try to avoid when you look for a good shampoo, particularly if you have sensitive skin: 

Sodium lauryl/laurth sulfate.  This a very common detergent found in shampoos that causes soaps and shampoos to create lots of foam, but is also a skin irritant.  It dries out skin and hair because it is an effective degreaser; however our skin and hair needs some level of oil to be healthy.  We have been conditioned to believe that more foam means better cleaning, but this is not necessarily the case.  Natural products will have less foam than shampoos containing this chemical, but work just as well. 

Propylene Glycol.  This is another common ingredient in shampoos and conditioners.  It is a humectant, which are supposed to retain moisture in hair and skin by attracting water, however, they can also leave a suffocating film on skin and hair.  Propylene glycol is also used in industrial products, and can cause skin irritation. 

Silicone Oils (eg. Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, Copolyol).  These chemicals are classified as emollients, which are supposed to prevent dryness.  They are often included in hair care products to produce shine for the "appearance" of healthy hair.  However, these chemicals create a coating on the hair that blocks the absorption of substances that are actually moisturizing and nourishing to the hair and scalp.

You can find a more extensive list of common harmful chemicals in cosmetic products here