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Finding the Right Leave In for Thick or Fine Natural Hair

Avatar • Jun 15, 2012

grapeseed_oil
By Nicole Harmon of HairLiberty.Org

It takes just the right blend of water (for moisture) and emollients (for smoothing) to tame curls and coils. The emollients are the tricky part. Too heavy and they’ll weigh your hair down, too light and you’ll end up with frizz. To find the right leave-ins for your hair, it’s important that you understand your “strand thickness”, which can be categorized as “fine to medium” or “medium to thick”. When you see those words on a product label, they’re not referring to how much hair you have; they’re describing the thickness of each individual strand on your head. The words “coarse” and “thick” are used interchangeably, but they both refer to the size of individual strands of hair.

Your “strand thickness” isn’t determined by your ethnic background. Two women may have similar looking coils, but one woman’s strands might be twice the size of the others. The only way to know exactly where your hair falls would be to visit a trichologist or dermatologist who has a special microscope that measures strand size. Fine hairs are around 60 micrometers in diameter; thick hairs are around 100 micrometers. However, you don’t need to be that exact. The tell-tale sign of fine hair is thick-looking roots with a thin-looking ponytail. If you have fine hair, you’re likely to have a lot of strands. Those strands look nice and dense near the roots, but as the hair grows longer, the relative thinness of the strands becomes more noticeable toward the ends.

The strand thickness slightly varies on different parts of your head, so it can still be difficult to decide how to categorize your hair. Don’t worry about getting too specific, you just need a general idea, so you can find products that make your hair look and feel the way you want.

Choose your leave-in conditioners and stylers based on the emollients that you see in the top 5. If you think your strands are fine to medium, choose products that contain lightweight emollients. If you think your strands are on the thicker side, look for products that contain heavier emollients. Whether you’re using a leave-in conditioner or styler, you need to be able to distribute the product evenly, from root to tip, without worrying that it will leave your hair looking greasy.

Lighter Emollients for Fine to Medium Thickness

Argan Oil
C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate
Dimethicone
Grape Seed Oil
Mango Butter
Phenyl Trimethicone
Soybean Oil
Sunflower Oil
Sweet Almond Oil

Heavier Emollients for Medium to Coarse Thickness

Avocado Oil
Castor Oil
Cetyl Esters
Cocoa Butter
Coconut Oil
Jojoba Esters
Jojoba Oil
Olive Oil
Mineral Oil
Shea Butter

* Dimethicone and phenyl trimethicone leave the hair shinier than other ingredients so keep an eye out for those if you want glossy coils and curls.

It will take some trial and error to find leave-ins that you love. Many products contain a combination of light and heavy emollients. This is a good time to read the rest of the product label, not just the ingredients list. The descriptions on leave-in products usually mention “fine” or “thick/coarse” hair.

Ladies, what is your strand thickness and which leave-in works best for you??

Nicole Harmon is a Cosmetic Chemist and the Founder of HairLiberty.org. She has received rave reviews for her seminars on ethnic hair education and science. She’s on a mission to help the Product Junkies of the world save MONEY, sort through marketing HYPE and buy SMARTER! Her new e‑book, Coils & Curls: The Hair Product Handbook is available for purchase now! 

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honeybrown1976
honeybrown1976
8 years ago

Medium thickness

I use Oyin Handmade’s Hair Dew or Shea Moisture’s Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Milk. Then, I seal with an olive and coconut oil mix.

Jasminicole
Jasminicole
8 years ago

my hair is thick & it turns out the thicker the emollient the better. shea butter & castor oil… love em!

Monisola
Monisola
8 years ago

I have thin strands, but 4c hair with a coarse feel. So honestly, I like the heavier emollients castor oil and shea butter. I just make sure I am not heavy handed, but those are much better for my hair than thinner oils.

Annie L.
Annie L.
8 years ago

I prefer thicker emollients on loose hair. I don’t use leave-ins, only sealants and DB’s Cupuacu pomade is working well. For coils or twists it’s overkill so any oil (NOT coconut) is fine.

My strands are probably medium thickness (I wish someone would post a reliable picture differentiating the sizes) but I have super thick density.

Leslie
Leslie
8 years ago

I read this article a couple of weeks ago and I changed all my oils and butters to the ones recommended for fine/thin hair. Best thing i have ever done. The difference I feel and see since i have started using mango butter rather than shea for example, is nothing short of a miracle. The oils also seem to be absorbed right in and my hair does not feel or look heavy. It has been about a month since i changed over all my products and I’m happy.

Durelene
Durelene
8 years ago

I swear by my good ole SheaMoister hibiscus hair milk

robbi
8 years ago

I love shea butter, castor oil and jojoba oil.

robbi
peacelovenhair.blogspot.com

K Murray
K Murray
8 years ago

I LOVE my shea butter, olive oil, castor oil, and coconut oil mix with a splash of iodine. I’m so into HEAVY oils!

Ilovemytresses
Ilovemytresses
8 years ago

For my medium to thick my hair loves Olive Oil,Castor Oil, and Cococnut Oil. As a butter i use Anita Grant Creamy Cafe Latte as that seals my hair very well.

AnonyChick
AnonyChick
8 years ago

I have a question. What do you ‘grease’ your scalp with? I grew up using regular ol’ grease with mineral oil in it, but I hear it’s bad for natural hair and I’m not sure if it’s true. My scalp is very dry and flaky, but I’m not sure what to apply. Help! Thanks in advance, y’all!

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  AnonyChick

I have read of people using coconut oil, Jamaican Black Castor Oil/castor oil, and jojoba oil (this one is most similar to the sebum our scalp naturally produces).

hhjourney
8 years ago
Reply to  AnonyChick

Olive oil. This is what my daughter’s doctor recommended.

My hair loves heavy pomades and greases. 🙂 Hates Shea butter, and lighter oil like jojoba and grape seed oils are too light. I don’t use a lot and that works well for me. Funny thing is, my strands are thin and my hair is fine to medium, but my hair looks thick because it’s super coily and so springy. So I dunno, I have to disagree somewhat. My pomade of choice is Oyin Handmade Sugar Berries Pomade. Oh and I love cocoa butter!

annette_b
annette_b
8 years ago
Reply to  AnonyChick

@AnonyChick: I use Sulfur 8 once a week, on wash day. I may skip it occasionally, but the ‘hair grease’ seems to provide a good moisture base for me to work with for the rest of the week and I’ve heard that sulfur promotes growth. I’ve been doing this for about four months now, and I like the results I’m getting. During the week I rotate oils using coconut, Vatika, Bronner Bros. Growth Oil, olive/castor combo, then shea butter to seal. These do what they do well enough, but my hair seems to do better when I grease my scalp.… Read more »

mobella33
mobella33
8 years ago
Reply to  AnonyChick

@AnonyChick I am a fine-haired natural with very dry scalp and I’ve tried EVERYTHING including pure oil on my scalp,organic root stimulator olive oil,which is more like a pudding, petroleum grease, which is pretty heavy and leaves lots of residue. The best thing that has worked for me is Better Braids spray, which says it softens, conditions and controls itching. A woman who did my kinky twists who specializes in natural hair recommeded it to me. You can buy it from local beauty supply store. I wear my natural hair, no extensions, in twists 90% of the time,and wear it… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

My strands are medium to thick, but low porosity so I do better with lighter oils.

Bruna
Bruna
8 years ago

My hair is medium to course so the heavier products work best for me. My hair loves coconut oil. Some leave ins are too light especially the liquid ones. Lately I’ve been using Curl Junky Honey Butta Leave In Conditioner which works really great for my hair. Don’t need to use a lot but it provides hold without weighing my hair down and without crunch.

luminous
luminous
8 years ago

I think i have coarse hair. I love jojoba oil, argan oil, castor oil, and shea butter. I use jojoba oil (mixed with a little castor and argan oil) the most. I made a shea butter whip with those oils added to it for when i twist my hair.

My leave-in is a modified kimmay tube recipe of KKNT, aloe juice, jojoba oil, castor oil, and argan oil.

krmlwd
krmlwd
8 years ago

This article has me thinking because I believed I had both fine and thick strands, but now I’m thinking maybe I have medium to fine? I cant really tell. All I know is in the back my strands are finer/thinner than the rest and I can clearly see a strand from the rest when placed against any background. Giovanni used to be my miracle leave in and Number 1 go to! It was good by itself, with a layered regimen (cowash, leave-in, seal), and mixed with oils and aloe vera juice (doing this just made it even better!). Then it… Read more »

cygnet
8 years ago
Reply to  krmlwd

“water evaporates at a fast rate and I’m left with the oil, dry non-moisturized (no water) hair. If I try to refresh its almost no point based on which sealant I used because its like the water is just sitting on top or something. Don’t get me wrong sealing works but it doesn’t last as long as it used to and I’m thinking my leave-in has something to do with it.This is for when I wear my hair out btw, twists I have no problem with. I guess my hair is very porous huh? I guess I need to go… Read more »

Pat
Pat
8 years ago

I have no idea how thick my individual strands are but my hair HATES coconut oil, shea butter and any products that contain either or both of those. My hair really loves castor oil, argan and jojoba oil

BlackOnyx03
BlackOnyx03
8 years ago

Hmmm.…I think I have thick hair made of fine strands. I’ve been saying that oils don’t work for me (as castor oil, olive oil, etc.) have left my hair looking a hot mess when used as a sealent, but maybe I just need to use some of the oils listed under the “lighter” list…

Shauna
Shauna
8 years ago

I have all types on my head. Fine and thin (ish) in the middle of the back and top. Medium all over and thick/course strands in the middle. Right now I’m using a mixture of aloe vera juice, rose water and glycerin as a leave in, then I seal with Brazil nut butter or avocado butter, my hair has never been softer. Also in my experience these two butters are just as good as shea butter for sealing, but my hair has less of a residue that shea butter often left on my hair.

K Murray
K Murray
8 years ago
Reply to  Shauna

Where do you buy the Brazil nut butter and avocado butter from?

nelle
nelle
8 years ago

my hair is THICK and coconut oil and castor oil (hate the smell) are bff w/my hair. When they don’t see each other, my hair catches an attitude.

K Murray
K Murray
8 years ago
Reply to  nelle

Tooooo FUNNY!

Nicki
Nicki
8 years ago

I BC’d about 2 months ago and my TWA rarely feels soft and moisturized. I have VERY thick, coarse strands. I spritz with Carols Daughter leave-in, then use CD’s curl milk and Coconut oil to seal. I’ve also experimented with using Shea butter and Jojoba oils. My hair only feels soft until the product dries. Then it’s just hard and Oily. I hate having oily hair. Any suggestions for moisturizing hair without having to rely so much on oils?

K Murray
K Murray
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicki

Try spritzing with water, sta-sof-fro, or a jheri curl type product (moisture max, carefree curl, or lustrasilk sprays). They helped with I first BC’d. It kept my hair soft and I actually had little waves too.

Monisola
Monisola
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicki

Actually, you might try making an all natural spritz containing vegetable glycerin. 1 tablespoon veggie gylcerin to 3 tablespoons of water and one tablespoon of conditioner.
Stay so Fro and S curl have a good amount of glycerin which will help your strands stay soft, but they also have a lot of added chemicals which can irritate the scalp and cause excessive build up.

I did this and my hair never felt better. It was my first AHA! moment during my hair journey!Coarse strands will typically love humectants like gylcerin or castor oil.

Annie L.
Annie L.
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicki

I used to have a similar problem. Now I seal in a LOT of water (no leave-ins, milks, oils, etc.) with pomade. It keeps the moisture going. Oyin, Darcy’s, Original Moxie, Hairveda and Qhemet are a few natural companies that manufacture them. Low porosity, alcohols, protein and your hair not liking certain oils could be culprits as well. In the past protein didn’t allow my hair to absorb moisture, and coconut oil left me with greasy, dry hair though I can tolerate EVCO if part of a mixture. Not everyone loves shea and jojoba either. Also test your shampoo/condish, maybe… Read more »

luminous
luminous
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicki

you can try the kimmay tube leave in recipe: kinky curly knot today, aloe vera juice, jojoba oil, and castor oil.

you can also try the curly girl method: conditioner wash your hair and use a thick wash out conditioner as a leave in.

Nicki
Nicki
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicki

*Group Hug* Thanks for the helpful responses, Ladies!

Sieta
8 years ago

I have a combination of medium and fine strands. This post is really helpful.

Asea
Asea
8 years ago

My hair is very fine 4 type coils but it’s pretty porous and prone to dryness, yet my hair loves thick oils and butters — the thicker the better. The exceptions are mineral oil and heavy cones which my hair hates. Also straight shea butter is not my fave on my hair but my hair loves it for DC’ing or as an ingredient in styling creams. The lightest oil I use is coconut oil — I prepoo overnight with coconut and avocado oil, or camellia or argan oil on blow dried hair. Other than that my staple oils are Shea… Read more »

Kyna
Kyna
8 years ago

I have been natural 8 months now. I still have not found the staple products for my hair. I am having a problem with dryness. I haven’t found a good moisturizing shampoo, deep conditioner, and leave-in. Please help! I currently use the Cream of Nature non-sulfate shapoo with argan oil. seal with cocnut oil and olive oil mix. I every other day I spirts with glycerin mix with water. MY hair still feels squeaky clean and feels like it has been stripped after I shampoo. I plan on switching to the Shae moisture shampoo. And try the Giovanni leave-in direct.… Read more »

Kishia
Kishia
8 years ago

I have fine hair.…anything oily is too heavy for my hair…but after reading Leslie’s response…I want to try Mango butter…where do I find it? Thanks ladies!

Danette
Danette
8 years ago

i saw this back in June and am still sharing it to some new naturalistas. i want to go and purchase all of the thick-hair emollients and then play in my hair. thanks for the great tips!

Zeondra
Zeondra
7 years ago

My hair is very fine but I find that castor oil,cocoa butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil, olive oil and shea butter works wonders for my hair. It weighs my very light hair down during wash and goes. Plus it’s good for length retention. I’ll try some of the lighter emollients.

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[…] is not all inclusive…copied and pasted from this blog: Finding the Right Leave In for Thick or Fine Natural Hair | Black Girl with Long Hair Lighter… Argan Oil C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate Grape Seed Oil Mango Butter Soybean Oil Sunflower Oil […]

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