It's gonna get sappy up in here.
Seventeen years ago, I discovered that I have naturally curly hair. Looking at me now, some of you might wonder: How could you have missed that? But if you're black and American, you can probably guess why. (The answer: My culture's obsession with taming "nappy" hair with chemical relaxers, starting at the youngest age possible.)
Lucky for me, I discovered my hair's natural beauty in college, and since then I've been figuring out how to keep my curls looking awesome. After much trial and error, I have finally settled on a routine and products that not only make my hair really happy but are also really inexpensive. Even better, I only have to go to one store to get them all: Trader Joe's.
Technically, there's only one product I absolutely need to go to Trader Joe's to get. The others are available at a variety of places, but why go hither and yon when you can one-stop shop? Especially if that shop is nice and inexpensive.
The one product is Trader Joe's Nourish conditioner ($2 to $3). I co-wash with it and I use it as a leave-in along with other ingredients. I will wash with Trader Joe's Tea Tree shampoo about every two weeks if I feel the need. Otherwise, it's Nourish all the way.
The reason this is my top pick for co-washing is that, with some doctoring, this stuff will foam up very similarly to a shampoo but still retains the creaminess necessary for detangling. I grab an empty bottle, squirt one-quarter to one-third of it full of Nourish, then I fill the rest with water, a couple of drops of tea tree oil ($6 to $7 for 2 oz.), and shake vigorously. Apply as you would a shampoo and get your co-wash on.
I've also mixed water and Apple Cider Vinegar (also found at TJ's for $3) with the conditioner when I wanted to let the ACV sit on my hair for a while.
Side note: You might wonder why I don't just get TJ's Tea Tree conditioner instead of adding it to Nourish. For some reason, the Tea Tree stuff isn't as good. Doesn't foam up, doesn't leave my hair feeling great. Go figure.
I've washed and conditioned with Nourish for years but only recently started using it in my post-shower curl routine. That's all due to a suggestion from my friend and fellow curly girl Alaya Dawn Johnson (author of many amazing books). She first told me that she used a mix of Nourish and water to define her curls. She also suggested adding jojoba oil to the mix.
I started experimenting and mixing different ingredients trying to come up with a good consistency and maximize benefits. Here's my basic formula:
Oils: 1/4 bottle
I use equal amounts jojoba ($6 to $7 for 4 oz.), coconut ($6 for 16 oz.), and olive oils ($4 and up) with a few drops of tea tree oil. This mix is based on my own preferences. If you already have an oil you like, use it! If you can't deal with the price of the jojoba, the coconut and olive oil alone have worked for me, too.
Nourish Conditioner: 1/4 – 1/2 bottle
This is depending on how heavy you want it. Thicker hair/tighter curls/drier hair often needs heavier cream.
Water: Fill the rest of the bottle with water, but leave room so you can shake it up properly.
It may take a few times mixing it to find the balance that works well for you. Less oil, more water, etc. Once you get it just right, you have a definer that seals in moisture and makes curls feel good without crunchiness.
You can put this on when your hair is still wet or damp or wait until it's mostly dry to lock in that last bit of moisture. I personally use the Curl-ease towel for my hair — gets it just dry enough in 15 to 20 minutes but keeps the shape of my curls so all I need to do is apply a little of my defining mix and be done.
I wash my hair about twice a week, so I need about three to four bottles of Nourish a month (some go into my defining mix), the coconut oil lasts about two months, the jojoba lasts a month, the tea tree lasts three, and the apple cider vinegar a month. That puts my cost for curly hair care at about $30 per month. Take out the jojoba and that's $23.
You can whittle that cost down even more if you find the ACV and oils for less at other stores.
Having a beauty routine that is both simple (once I got the mixing settled) and inexpensive and has made me a much happier curly girl.