October 18, 2017

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM | A Guide to 7 Black Beauty Products and Where to Find Them

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For international students, moving to a new country with a different language and culture takes a big adjustment and relearning of social cues. One of the biggest worries as a black international student is whether or not you will find beauty products that cater to your hair texture and that understand your skin. In my home country I had centered my skin and hair care routine around products that I couldn’t find in any USA store. This meant I needed to start the daunting search for new products that would be compatible with my skin and hair type. I didn’t really know what would work on me or have any reference point. As a result, I tried a lot of products over the course of three years in America. Based on these experiences, I have compiled a list for other black international students who may be struggling to find new products and brands that work as effectively as the ones from back home:

I. Wononi Shea Gold Body Butter  ($15)

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I started using this moisturizer freshman year. From smelling really, really good to softening my skin, this product has all the key ingredients—such as Shea butter and coconut oil—that make melanin pop. I found that using this moisturizer helped heal the scarring and sunburns I had received from spending most of my life in the sun without sunscreen on. Although I only use this for my skin, others have used this product in their hair as well and said it works just as well as a conditioner. What I also like about this product is that it is a black-owned business. Wononi Cosmetics is a skincare company founded by Cornell alum Nicole Naa Mensa ‘17 while she was a student at Cornell. Wononi means, “It is for us,” or, “Things that are indigenously ours,” in Ga, a Ghanaian language, and encourages young women to embrace their skin and heritage. Shea Gold Body Butter  can be found at GreenStar in Collegetown or ordered online via Wononi’s website.

II. Jamaican Black Castor Oil ($5- $12)

castor oil

Jamaican Black Castor Oil is magic in a bottle. I started using this product over the summer and it strengthened my roots and rejuvenated my edges. My hair had undergone damage from hair dye and tight braiding styles. This product was perfect for repairing that damage. The only downside to this product is its strong scent, which can be unpleasant for many people. If you are sensitive to smell, a great way to combat Castor Oil’s unpleasant scent is to use it with a hair fragrance. You can find Castor Oil at most stores around Ithaca such as Wegmans and Target.

III. Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Hair Fragrance ($8)

Hair Fragrance

With regards to the previous item: if you are using a strongly scented product, a great way to counter the odors of Castor Oil and similar products is by using hair fragrance. Shea Moisture’s Coconut & Hibiscus Hair Fragrance will have your hair smelling like a tropical island. It is also handy to have if you don’t have time to wash your hair before that 8:40am class. Ever since I started using this, people have always comment on how good my hair smells when I give them hugs. Hair Fragrance is carried by most Ithaca grocery stores.

IV. African Black Soap ($5)

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Although I’ve used this product in the past, African Black Soap is not really one of my favorites. It’s rather rough on my skin and I don’t like its scent (it reminds me of this detergent bar soap called green bar from my home country). But many of my friends have held it up as a great way to reduce body acne and skin irritation. African Black Soap contains Shea Butter, which always does wonders for the skin. You can get it at Wegmans or Target.  

V. Alikay Naturals Essential 17 Hair Growth Oil ($17)



I use this product twice a week to strengthen my hair and promote healthy growth. It has 17 of the best natural ingredients such as Rosemary leaf extracts, tea tree, peppermint oil, and sweet almond oil. The only downside about this product is that it’s very greasy. I recommend using it at night only, and wrapping a silk scarf on your head to let all the nutrients soak in and to avoid making your pillow greasy.

VI. As I Am Coconut Cowash ($8)


I recently got my hair braided into box braids. A few hours before that, I washed my hair with some Coconut Cowash. My hairdresser wouldn’t stop gushing over how soft, easy to detangle and braid my hair was. Cowash can be used to both condition and shampoo your hair since it was developed as an alternative to shampoo, which contains some harsh chemicals that are terrible for natural hair. The only downside about this product, which I have yet to experience myself, is that some people have complained that it doesn’t do as thorough a job of cleaning the hair as shampoo does. Because I have yet to experience this problem, I would recommend this product especially for someone with heat damaged hair. You can purchase this product at Target, Walmart or Wegmans.

VII. Creme of Nature Moroccan Argan Oil Strength & Shine Leave-In conditioner ($5- $7)

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Leave-In conditioner is a must have. It is great for detangling your curls, and for those with natural hair, it makes combing your hair an easier process. Not only does it smell wonderful, but it comes in an easy-to-use spray bottle that is handy to use when your hair is in cornrows or braids. I have yet to come across any downsides to this product. You can find it Target, Walmart, and Wegmans.