For many black women, maintaining natural hair is not easy. Sometimes, hair texture is too fizzy or stiff. Often, it can be painful while combing or styling and when it comes to washing and detangling, the process can take hours. This, occasionally, has forced many to resort to hair relaxers.
It is said that women with relaxed hair find it easier to handle, and that it offers more styling versatility.
From ponytails to buns to wrap-and-go, relaxed hair offers the convenience and style some women desire, unfortunately, many ignore the long-term consequences associated with it.
However, hair specialists argue that no matter how ‘unkempt’ natural hair seems, keeping it natural is easier - and cheaper - than relaxing and that it offers long-term protection. Important to note is that one must take care of it properly until the desired length and texture is achieved.
Alexandria Haidara, the owner of Marina Bella Natural Hair Salon, says that the key to healthy, beautiful hair is moisture and gentle treatment. Without these, black hair can become dry and brittle. Caring for black hair takes a little bit of extra effort, but the soft, silky, and healthy results are worth it.
“Unlike relaxed hair, natural hair needs lots of moisture so when you wash you need to use really good shampoo and hair oils to keep the hair and scalp healthy and clean. Wash your hair once every one to two weeks. This will help prevent dryness and product buildup. The more often you wash your hair, the more you strip it of its moisture. This results in dry and brittle hair,” she says.
Wash your hair properly
Haidara explains that while washing hair, one has to start by detangling the oil-soaked hair with fingers. Gently pull apart tangles and knots so that your hair will be easier to wash. Once in the shower, rinse your hair with lukewarm water for three to five minutes.
This long rinse will loosen up and rinse away product build-up from the week. Gently and quickly work shampoo through the length of your hair - don’t separate the hair into sections or try to detangle it and then rinse thoroughly, Haidara advises.
“After applying the shampoo, you have to apply a rich hair conditioner throughout your hair. The amount you will use depends on your hair length and thickness. Make sure every strand of hair is saturated. Leave the conditioner in your hair for the amount of time specified in the instructions on the container. Before you rinse out the conditioner, detangle your hair with a wide tooth comb.
“Remember to start combing at the ends and work your way to the root and rinse thoroughly. Once out of the shower, apply a creamy leave-in conditioner to your hair. Leave-in conditioners make African hair easier to comb, which helps prevent breakage,” she says.
Choose the right hair oil
Hamini Mpungi, a professional hair stylist at New Face Salon, says that there are so many kinds of oils to choose from, like mustard, hibiscus, and avocado, and that finding the right one is a difficult task.
“I suggest that you try out oils such as sunflower, olive, grape seed, avocado, coconut and macadamia, which you can easily buy in department stores.
“Consider using products with “organic” ingredients over products with “natural” ingredients. Organic products are strictly regulated from farming to harvesting. This means that ingredients such as avocado, coconut, and shea were grown without the use of toxic chemicals, antibiotics, and pesticides that are harmful to humans and animals,” he says.
However, Mpungi notes that one’s choice of oil should depend on their hair type and oil application. If the hair is damaged, go for penetrating oil like coconut or babassu, which will protect your hair during washes and strengthen it. If you are looking for sealing oil choose non-penetrating oil, like jojoba oil, which will create a film around your hair and lock in the moisture.
Styling black hair
Mpungi says that one should comb carefully using a wide tooth comb starting from the ends of your hair first; never comb straight down from the roots. Avoid combing your hair everyday; detangle it when necessary with your fingers. Excessive combing will break your hair.
“Make sure your hair is slightly damp before you detangle. Hair is very vulnerable when wet, so if you just washed it, let it dry a little first. Consider using a comb attachment when blow-drying your hair. Let your hair air-dry a little first, then gently blow dry your hair using a comb attachment. This will reduce the amount of pulling and tugging, which can lead to breakage,” Mpungi says.
At all costs, he advises women to avoid heat styling when possible, and use lower temperature and a heat protectant spray when they do.
“Add the spray to your hair while it is still wet; this will help make it more effective. When styling your hair, hold the curling iron or flat iron slightly open while passing it over your hair. This way, you will avoid tugging and pulling your hair, which can lead to breakage. Try to limit heat styling to two times a month maximum,” he says.
Try protein treatment
Meddy Tugume, a hair dresser at Galaxy Hotel Salon, advises people who want thick hair to regularly apply protein deep conditioning.
“It will make hair less prone to breakage. Your hair will be a lot shinier too. However, be careful not to overuse protein in your hair otherwise it will start to snap off.
“You can apply hot oil treatment twice a month to add moisture and elasticity to your hair. You can use any of the following oils: argan, avocado, castor, coconut, jojoba, olive, sesame, and sweet almond. Massage the oil into your hair and scalp, and then cover your hair with a shower cap for 30 minutes. Once the time is up, wash your hair as usual with shampoo,” he says.
Hair dressing specialists warn people not to use products that contain silicones and sulfates. Silicones are great for making hair nice and smooth, but they can only be removed with sulfates, a harsh cleaning agent that leads to dry hair.
Buy shea butter, coconut oil and castor oil or even olive oil from food stores, these ingredients are especially good for your hair. If you can eat it, it is good enough for your hair.
Why you need to avoid hair relaxers
While consequences may vary depending on individuals, the types of products used and the knowledge of the persons applying it, Haidara warns that during the relaxing process, the chemical bonds of the hair are broken and then reformed into a straight, relaxed pattern.
“When the chemicals are misused by an untrained person or an uncaring professional, it can lead to severe consequences, including chemical burns, hair damage, breakage and hair loss. Once hair becomes overly damaged, it breaks and falls out,” Haidara says.
Recent studies also suggest that hair dye and chemical relaxers can elevate the risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, found there was an alarming increase in risk of developing the disease when certain women used dark hair dye and chemical relaxers.
Black women who dyed their hair had a 51 per cent increase in risk and white women who used relaxers had a 74 per cent increase in risk.
Previous research has suggested there was a link between harsh hair treatments and breast cancer, but most studies don’t include black women.
Now experts are using these findings to further investigate the danger of using chemical products on the body.