How Hair Grease (Yes, Grease!) Can Help Retain Length in Natural Hair

I’m sure many of you remember the days of being a young girl sitting between your mother’s or aunt’s legs to get your hair done. Dax, Blue Magic, Doo Gro, or another hair grease was on the scene to replace that dry look and feel with smoothness and shine. It was a necessity. When there was no more grease left, it felt like the world was coming to an end. Well, it felt that way for me, at least.
Then came the wave of hair care forums and blogs that seemed unanimous in their decision that “hair grease was bad” for our scalp and hair. If you want to grow your hair long, don’t use grease because it clogs your follicles. If you want moisturized hair, don’t use grease because it works against moisture. Petrolatum and lanolin (both major components in hair grease) became enemies to black women wanting healthy, growing hair. Butters like shea and mango as well as oils like jojoba, olive, and coconut became our new friends.
But is hair grease really our enemy? Or can it be used to our benefit. While many naturals continue to refrain from grease, some have found ways to re-incorporate it into their hair care regimen for retention of moisture and length. Let’s see how:

1. Seal the ends for increased moisture retention
Both lanolin and petrolatum (again, major components in hair grease) are able to lock in moisture very well. As a matter of fact, petrolatum is more occlusive than certain oils, including almond and avocado[1]. Meanwhile, lanolin is a natural, waxy substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of sheep in order to protect the skin and wool from the harsh environment – including dryness.
HOW TO: To get the benefits of hair grease for moisture retention, apply moisture (water) or a water-based moisturizer first, then your oils and/or creams, and then hair grease.
Africanexport has used hair grease in her hair care regimen for sealing:

2. Apply to edges and nape to stave off dryness
For some of us, water followed by an oil and/or a butter is a very, very temporary moisturizing solution for our edges and/or nape. After a few hours, those same edges/nape feel dry and crunchy as if they haven’t seen moisture for days. That is when hair grease – good at preventing moisture loss – makes another appearance in the hair care regimen. There is also the added benefit of hold and smoothing of the edges and nape.

HOW TO: To get the benefits of hair grease for staving off dryness, apply moisture (water) or a water-based moisturizer to your edges/nape first, then your oils and/or creams, and then hair grease.

3. Use as an anti-humidity agent to decrease shrinkage, and thus tangles/knots
Petrolatum creates a barrier upon application that prevents internal moisture from escaping while preventing external moisture from penetrating[1]. Because of this barrier, petrolatum-based hair grease can also act as an anti-humidity agent. Why is this important? Well, decreasing shrinkage (especially in coily or kinky high-shrinkage hair) can translate into fewer tangles and knots.

HOW TO: After washing and moisturizing your hair, apply hair grease prior to exposure to humidity. There is no need to repeat this process frequently. Doing so once (or twice) between washes should be sufficient.
4. Removal of long-term twists/braids and to detangle
Hair grease can provide much needed lubrication to ease the undoing of twists/braids as well as the detangling process. It can especially come in handy if you have meshing or a stubborn tangle. With the application of hair grease, a protective film is formed around the hair shaft and allows for a reduction in friction between strands.

HOW TO: Apply to ends prior to undoing long-term twists/braids and prior to detangling. Ideally, do both prior to washing.

5. Caveat: Use a good shampoo when washing
Use a good shampoo when washing to really remove the lanolin and petrolatum (i.e., product buildup). A shampoo that is too gentle may not be sufficient.

[1] Patzelt A, Lademann J, Richter H, Darvin ME, Schanzer S, Thiede G, Sterry W, Vergou T, Hauser M. “In vivo investigations on the penetration of various oils and their influence on the skin barrier.“ Skin Res Technol. 2012 Aug;18(3):364-9.

Do you incorporate hair grease into your regimen?
Do you incorporate hair grease into your regimen?

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