With an empty grip around my ponytail, I could feel that my hair was falling out. I had just finished my first semester at Cornell University, and this was not what I expected as a freshman who’d just moved across the country. Why was this happening? Up until then, my routine had been to apply a lot of product and a lot of water, but by the end of each day, my hair was dry. I didn’t feel confident enough to wear it out because it was so unhealthy and damaged, so I hid it by putting it up in a bun.
As a full-time undergraduate working two part-time jobs at minimum wage, I could barely afford flights back home to California, much less buy and experiment with all of the latest hair care products. The natural, organic options were out of my budget. It seemed like I could never buy enough products to find something that kept my curls happy.
Still, I had to do something about my hair falling out—and I knew I wasn’t the only person dealing with the issue. Everyone I talked to about their hair or even their skin complained about it being dry. Living in upstate New York, where temperatures were below freezing for months, definitely contributed to the problem. Not only that, but the water smelled like chlorine pretty much anywhere you went on campus, so I’d started buying big plastic jugs of water just to rinse my hair.
What were my options?
I hesitated to buy the conventional hair care brands that I was used to using. In a 2016 study, the Environmental Working Group found that over 75% of the cosmetic products marketed to Black women showed increased levels of toxicity, compared to 60% for the general public. Many of our everyday hair and beauty brands—from dyes and relaxers to lipsticks and makeup—pose serious risks to our health and the environment. But these dangers are not widely publicized. And, like me, many consumers struggle to find quality, non-toxic products that work.
As I searched for solutions, a family that I occasionally babysat for suggested that I try using olive oil on my skin, because it was the only thing they used on their 10-month old, and her skin was so soft! None of my usual lotions could keep my skin moisturized, but when I tried the olive oil, it actually worked. It inspired me to look further. What were the benefits of olive oil for your skin? What about for your hair?
I came across DIY recipes for hair masks using olive oil, I compiled a list of other natural ingredients I’d learned from other Black women who had taken their hair care into their own hands and had shared their tutorials and recipes online. I learned about the benefits of different foods for my hair, like avocado, banana, olive oil, honey, and apple cider vinegar. With the modern natural hair movement, a generation of consumers has begun questioning the ingredients in our everyday products.
I discovered that avocados are great for keeping hair moisturized and protected. They’re nature’s super-fruit, rich in mono-unsaturated fats and in vitamins B and E, which are essential for keeping your scalp healthy. Avocados have been used for generations to improve hair, skin, and overall health—and they quickly became an essential ingredient in every deep treatment I made.
My homemade recipes worked so well for me that I wanted to see if I could help others who were dealing with the same issue. Around that time, I joined a student group on campus called Ivy Naturals and began giving my products to my team members, cautioning that they would need to head home quickly to refrigerate the product.
My first batch was manufactured and packaged in my dorm room, using standard plastic tupperware. I quickly learned my first lesson about packaging: make sure there’s no way for the product to leak! A few times, my handmade concoctions spilled inside my bookbag, but it was still worth it because they actually worked on our hair. The more my friends testified to their experience using my deep treatments, the more excited I became about possibly turning this endeavor into a business.
I also started to question the ingredients in my other everyday products. I had thought the ones I bought from the store were the highest quality. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although it seems like “natural” hair products are safer, many of them still contain potentially harmful ingredients that can lead to toxins building up in our bodies.
More than 1,300 chemicals have been banned from use in the European Union, whereas the United States has banned only 11. Not only that, but U.S. federal regulations don’t require the cosmetics industry to list many of their ingredients on product labels. That means that the conditioner or body lotion you use every day could contain toxins and you don’t even know it, because it’s disguised under the term “fragrance.”
One of my professors challenged the class to change one thing about our lifestyle to make a positive impact on the environment. I threw out all of my store-bought hair products.
I knew that so many people, like myself, had no idea that the products they use every day could potentially have long-lasting damage on their health. This inspired me to create my “Feed Your Curls” workshops. It became my mission to not only create natural products that were non-toxic and actually worked, but to share the information that I had learned with my community.
In these workshops, I share what I know about properly caring for hair with love and appreciation for its natural texture, and how to make hair products using only edible ingredients. As a biology major, making concoctions in my dorm room wasn’t too far-fetched. Since my ingredients were fresh, I consulted with food science and chemistry professors for ways to preserve my products naturally.
That’s how AVOCURL was born. It's an avocado-based product line that provides hydration and shine for a wide range of hair textures. My goal in developing it was to help people, especially Black women and girls, avoid exposure to chemicals through hair products that have been linked to serious health concerns like cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive and developmental damage.
As people become more aware of the toxic ingredients in cosmetics, even the major brands are starting to respond to the demand for cleaner, healthier beauty products. But even though “natural” and “organic” are trendy, consumers often have no real way to tell exactly what those words mean, and they fall for marketing schemes that disguise the fact that many of those products still contain harmful ingredients.
I will continue to use my platform to provide non-toxic alternatives to natural hair products, to educate my clients, and to maintain the integrity of my ingredients.
Jasmine Curtis founded her company AVOCURL, a line of natural avocado hair care products, after inventing her own hair concoctions in her dorm room. Jasmine shares her knowledge of how to care for natural hair and how to use edible ingredients to create homemade treatments through her "Feed Your Curls" workshops. She's provided these workshops to her community in partnership with organizations like Boys & Girls Club, West Oakland Youth Center, The Well For Healing at UC Berkeley, and the Black Student Union at Cal State East Bay. Jasmine makes each AVOCURL product by hand and sells them online at www.AVOCURL.com and in local retailers including Mandela Grocery Coop, Berkeley Bowl, Rainbow Grocery, and the Ecology Center Store. You can follow @AVOCURL on Instagram, Facebook and Youtube. Order online using the promo code “NewDream.” Photos by MeccaXMedia.