Nappy hair is full of loops, twists, and bends. Some people's strands swirl in "s" and "o" shapes while others angle in "z's". The important thing to remember when considering a shampoo is the degree to which the strands you are trying to cleanse curve and rotate from scalp to ends. The more dense the coilage , the more difficult it is for the natural sebum secreted from the scalp to wind its way down to the ends before wash time. This translates into dry hair. When you wash nappy hair, the goal is to remove dirt, dried sweat and product build up. It's important not to strip the hair completely of the precious natural sebum which promotes elasticity.
Consider straight, wavy and loosely curled hair. When sebum is secreted from the scalp of someone with hair these textures, it meets little obstruction and travels down quickly and easily. This translates into greasy hair. A strong detergent is needed to regularly lift excess sebum which possibly dulls and weighs the hair down.
When shopping for a shampoo, read the label to understand its purpose. I have found most shampoo formulations to be geared for cleansing straight, wavy and loosely curled hair. The main cleansing agent in these shampoos is sodium laurate sulfate (SLS), a strong detergent. I have found SLS to be drying to my daughters' nappy hair. When caring for their hair in the past, I'd choose a strong SLS shampoo and lather several times in pursuit of squeaky clean hair. If your child's nappy hair squeaks after a wash, beware of the snap that's sure to follow because of dryness. There are numerous SLS free shampoos on the market today. I've found them in the natural or whole food sections of supermarkets, drug and healthy food stores.
Sometimes, I reach for a bar of soap instead of shampoo. Some soaps are much less drying to the hair than SLS shampoos. Many companies have emerged marketing "poo bars", and a quick search on the internet will yield ample results. I was quick to purchase a bar of African Black Soap when I first started reading about this, and was pleased to discover it left my girls' hair clean, soft and supple. As an added benefit it lasted longer than traditional shampoos, because a little went a long way. Another example is Liquid Castile Soap, which is sold in numerous beauty supply stores and works just as well. An unexpected benefit of using soap is being able to cleanse the entire body with one product. Access to the health food store Trader Joe's has been invaluable to my product experimentation. I've been able to try various good quality natural oils, shampoos and conditioners at low prices.
Try different soaps and shampoos. Look for key words like "moisturizing" and "non-stripping" on the packaging. Avoid shampoos containing sodium laurate sulfate. The only exception I have to this rule is when I am trying to remove heavy product build up from my daughters' hair. Most of their products rinse away easily with a mild shampoo, but if I'm having a problem I may reach for a stronger detergent. My purpose is to strip something stubborn from the hair shaft. In cases like this, I always follow the wash with an intense conditioning treatment to restore the hair's moisture balance.
I use the following SLS free shampoos and soaps:
Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat
Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle
Trader Joe's Pure Castile Soap
African Black Soap
I've learned that one sudsing is generally enough to remove dirt, dried sweat and build up. I follow it with a conditioner, and rinse profusely. I find lots of rinsing to be more important with nappy hair than anything else. In fact, if I'm using liquid soap or shampoo I water it down and use a spray bottle to apply it to my daughters' hair. It only takes a little to coax oil away from nappy hair. As a result, my cleansing agents last a long time.