With celebrity clients from Michaela Coel and Zadie Smith, a buzzing Portobello Road salon which feels more like home than a hairdresser's and a much-loved product range in the form of Manketti Oil , it's no wonder Charlotte Mensah is known as the queen of black hairdressing.
Charlotte was the first black woman to be inducted into the British Hairdressing Hall of Fame in 2017 and has won the British Afro Hairdresser of the Year three times. This week sees her release her first book, Good Hair: The Essential Guide to Afro, Textured and Curly Hair , a guide for those with textured hair which also explores the history and politics of afro hair. In this extract she explains the best oils for afro hair and what to use them for.
Most afro hair soaks up moisture like a sponge, so seal in moisture using natural oils. My advice when it comes to hair oils is to experiment. Concoct your own mixtures and see how your hair responds ‒ all heads of hair are different, and what works for one person will not work for all. Whatever you decide, here are some general facts about oils and home ingredients, what they contain and what they may be used for.
• Argan oil is very popular now and is great for combating frizziness and adding a lustrous shine. Derived from the kernels of the argan plant, which is often used for drizzling on pasta, couscous or to dip in bread, it is a native product from Morocco. As such, one hundred per cent Moroccan varieties are best.
• Coconut oil is one of the few oils that help to penetrate the hair shaft instead of simply sealing in moisture. It’s rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and full of vitamin E. Monounsaturated fatty acids are important because they penetrate deeper into the hair shaft and don’t sit on top of the hair like other fatty acids. It’s possible to buy coconut oil in most supermarkets, but make sure you use oil that is made for hair use.
• Avocado oil is excellent for protecting the hair against damage, making the hair feel soft and smooth due to its thick consistency. It also contains more monounsaturated acids than coconut oil. This oil is rich in many vitamins and minerals.
• Black Jamaican castor oil is a popular type of castor oil, derived from castor beans, which grow on the ricinus plant in tropical countries. It is thick and syrupy and can potentially regrow the hair, especially thin or damaged edges. It contains unsaturated fatty acids and other wonderful nutrients and minerals. It’s also known for its antifungal and antibacterial properties. Less is more with this oil as it can quickly clog up the scalp.
• Extra virgin olive oil is less processed than the rest of the olive oil family, therefore retaining much of its essential nutrients. It’s an excellent oil to use for a dry and itchy scalp and for conditioning the hair as it works wonders for penetrating the hair shaft. It is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. Look out for any products that use extra virgin olive oil. If you find a high-quality olive oil, it is worth purchasing and using it for home-made preparations.
• Jojoba oil stimulates the scalp to create more sebum and is similar to olive oil in its molecular structure, making it an excellent oil for dry scalps.
• Almond oil is lightweight and smells particularly sweet and delicious. It works as an excellent sealant, making it perfect to use as a finisher after styling hair (for example, a mist or sheen spray).
Extract taken from Good Hair: The Essential Guide to Afro, Textured and Curly Hair by Charlotte Mensah. Published by Penguin Life, priced £11.55, available now.