Moving to India brought about a lot of changes to my daily routine. I commuted to work in a rickshaw. I bought my groceries in a bustling market where I haggled for my bananas and papaya. Cows regularly cut me off on the road. I ate some form of lentil pretty much every day. I knew these kinds of shifts would happen before the move, but I didn’t predict the changes to the one thing that probably impacts my day the most: my curls.
I can’t pin down exactly what made the greatest difference – the heat, the humidity, the dust in the air, the hard water – but my curls exploded in India. I spent the first 5 months looking like a poodle in the Amazon. And not only was it frizzy and massive, my hair was more knotted than it’s ever. Within a day or two of washing it, my curls seemed to fuse together and I would curse throughout my shower.
So in order to tame it, I went through my tried-and-tested curly products from home like wildfire. I arrived in India in November 2015 and by the end of the year, my tubs and tubes were empty. To be frank, even those didn’t help me much. And I couldn’t buy any more Deva Curl or Kinky Custard or Mixed Chicks Leave-In Conditioner anywhere there. So I searched beauty salons and pharmacies looking for an answer. Nothing worked.
When I moved to Bombay in February (I started out in Delhi for the first three months), my friend here recommended something I hadn’t yet tried: coconut oil. Indian women have sworn by hair oils for ages, especially coconut and olive oil. Almost all hair salons in India offer an oil treatment and judging by the shiny, thick locks I was surrounded by, I thought I’d give one a try.
I quickly learned that an oil treatment is more like a head and scalp massage with moisturizing oils. Not a bad start! I arrived at the salon and Surendra ushered me to my seat. He had brought with him a small bowl of coconut oil the size of my palm with one inch of depth. I looked at it and chuckled to myself. He has no idea what he’s dealing with.
My hair was tied up at that point. I decided I had better let him see what he’s in store for. Upon letting my curls loose, the poor Surendra squealed out a yelp. Oh dear, I thought. He looked at the little bowl of oil and then at my head again. We were speaking in one or two words of Hinglish (Hindi and English), so I didn’t know exactly what he was thinking. But he seemed to decide we’d start with the small bowl. Optimistic, I thought.
An oil massage begins with the application of oil to dry hair, starting at the scalp and roots. Surendra struggled (and then eventually ripped) my hair into parts and began to apply the coconut oil from the small bowl, bit by bit.
He hadn’t even finished the left corner of my head and the bowl was empty. Even funnier, the oil had disappeared on my head. You couldn’t tell that my curls had seen anything applied. It looked dry and normal. Now Surendra saw what I knew was coming. He stepped away for a second and came back with pretty much the whole tub of coconut oil. Ok, I thought, now we’re talking.
Surendra continued to apply the oil until my scalp was covered and began massaging my head and neck. Hair benefits aside, the treatment is worth it just for this. Sooo good. After an hour of the massage, he pulled my hair back into a slick ponytail and suggested I keep it in for a few more hours then wash thoroughly. Now totally relaxed and smelling tropical, I headed out the door. Even with a massive amount of oil in my hair, I still didn’t look like a had a massive amount of oil in my hair. I was surprised he didn’t apply it to the rest of my strands as well, but I figured this was the way they do it, so I’ll try it this way. He told me to come back in 3-4 weeks for my next treatment.
After washing and air drying, I noticed an immediate difference to the texture: my curls were softer and less frizzy. My hair still wasn’t as tamed as I hoped, but I was very pleased nonetheless.
However, after a day or two, my frizz returned and so did the knots. I only went back to see him a few weeks later, taking his advice a bit literally. The second time was just as relaxing and the results were still great, but the effect was still not quite enough.
So I decided to start applying oil on my own in the shower. Sometimes I’d use it as a leave-in and sometimes as a mask that I’d leave in for hours and then wash out. I would use it every day or every other day depending on my hair’s condition and where I would be travelling to. I also used it on my roots and my ends, which I needed desperately. Now with consistent use, I could see a remarkable difference. No frizz, soft and light, shiny, no knots. Finally!
I’ve been using coconut oil regularly for a few months now and I’m officially a convert. Many curlies have been recommending it and using coconut oil for ages all over the world, but I didn’t give it a go until India. I can fully appreciate why so many people swear by it, especially after five months of fighting with my hair without any tools.
I used the Nutriva Extra Virgin Coconut Oil – the same one you can use for cooking, teeth pulling, on your skin etc. Nothing special about it (some oils say they’re made especially for hair but I don’t think this really makes a difference). I also have a little spritz bottle of coconut oil that I use when travelling or to touch up in between washes to tame frizz and give a nice shine (I am tempted to bring this little bottle in my purse even because it is SO useful, but I don’t because I’m afraid of spills).
I’ve heard great things about avocado oil and olive oil but have yet to try them out. Personally, I love the smell and consistency of coconut oil and its multipurpose personality (body moisturizer, lip balm, etc.), so I think I’ve found my match. And I’m never letting go!
What other oils have you used? Any other natural curly hair products you recommend? Leave a comment and let us know!