It’s no secret that afro and curly hair can be very complex to navigate around. Methods to manage it have evolved so much, from the box braids to dreadlocks and afro shape-ups, found in drawings, engravings and hieroglyphs from Ancient Egypt. They’ve built a very rich ‘hair-ritage’. For diaspora children, a lot of our parents didn’t always have the resources for Black Hair as easily accessible, which resulted in finding alternatives to navigate around our textured hair. After centuries of trial, error and research, we are starting to realise that those alternatives and traditional methods which we’ve been conditioned to believe in, may not always be good, useful or progressive for the health of our hair and scalp and we are here to debunk it. Opinions do differ in this overly-scrutinised-but-under-researched hair texture. We have rounded-up some of the biggest Black hair myths directly from the experts below….
1. All braids are protective hairstyles
False. The things about braids is that depending on the styling or the person braiding them, they can cause more harm than the general environmental damage, or traction via brushing you would get, from simply leaving your coils out and free.
Eleanor Richardson, who is a consultant trichologist at the Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic, tells GLAMOUR: “The most common damage that we end up seeing in the clinic is traction. So that’s a pulling force that’s been applied, because of a very tight style. Maybe due to very chunky braids, or extensions, or weave-in and styles that’s been there for a while as well.” This happens because some styles of braids put a lot of pressure on hair follicles that have been designed by your body to only cope with the weight of the hair you grow. Adding extensions to your braids or sewing-in a weave can cause a lot of pressure on your scalp. Not to mention the traction you can get from the tightness of said braid style. It’s important to make sure that the braiding styles you choose are not causing too much tension on your scalp and edges/baby hairs.
2. You should focus on the mid shaft of your hair and below, as that’s where you get the most breakage
False. If you have long hair, Renee Kadar, global artistic director of texture for Aveda, tells GLAMOUR: “The way that I see it is, healthy scalp, healthy hair. If your scalp is doing well and thriving, it’ll show up in the rest of your hair.” In fact, according to Kadar, the secret is to treat them as different entities: “I’d separate them by the hair that’s closest to the scalp that has all your nutrients and the things that you need, and the mid shaft to ends.”
Caring for your scalp and roots is imperative for length retention. Eleanore Richardson says: “As with any skin, if there is any inflammation, it will be visible. Unhealthy scalp, will not get you the best growing hair as a result. So we always want to deal with that and limit the damage as much as possible.”
3. If your hair looks dry, add oils and grease your scalp
False. If your hair is dry, it will need to be hydrated, with water-based products, not oils. Oils are way more beneficial to lock in moisture, so after you have applied an hydrating water based product like a good leave-in conditioner, then you can apply the oil on top. However, be careful of the grease baths on your scalp. Winnie Awa, founder of online marketplace Antidote Street, tells GLAMOUR: “Greasing your scalp can clogs up the pores at the follicles, which will lead to poor quality hair growth”. To tackle dryness, steam treatments work a treat. Richardson tells us: “Steam treatments work really well and makes your products work really hard. So when it comes to the winter months and you notice your hair drying out, seek out hydrating products/high water content products or steam treatments.”
4. Coconut Oil is amazing for your hair
Correction: Coconut oil is only useful to lock in moisture, as mentioned above. If the hair is already dry and brittle, adding it as an alternative to a water based product will draw out hydration. It will make hair even more prone to breakage and less elastic, as it can cause protein build up, blocking the hair from its much needed moisture.
5. Leave-In Conditioners are not made for Black hair
False. In fact, they will make a huge difference by adding them to your routine. Jamelia Donaldson, founder of natural hair product discovery box Treasure Tress, says: “When I was on my hair journey, I actually didn’t realise that leave-in conditioners were made for us, as black women. It took me a moment to understand just how valuable they are.” In fact, Richardson adds: “Water based leave-in conditioners are fantastic because you can apply it and build up that hydration as and when you need.”
6. I must use shampoo to keep my hair clean
False. Cleansing your hair doesn’t mean you have to use shampoo. Kadar advises us to consider more co-washing methods. Alternatively you can opt for sulphate free shampoos or alternate product between the hair lengths. “I feel like shampoo can just be too stripping for the mid shaft to end so interchanging like putting them in between your conditioners might be a kinder alternative.”
7. The longer I leave my deep conditioner, the smoother my hair will be
False. Deep conditioners are designed to be on the hair for 20 to 30 minutes at best. They will also work best if put under a little heat or shower/bath steam, but they’re intended to be washed out. Kadar says: “You’re not supposed to be sleeping with them because they harden over the hair and make the hair brittle over time. So even the best deep conditioner should be washed out. And then you should put on a leave-in conditioner.”
8. I can only shop for products based on the hair typing system, all 4C hair should require the same products
False. The hair numerical system is supposed to be used as a guide. Just how for example, not all oily skin will react positively to the same products, hair is just as complex. In fact you might find that your own head may host different types of hair textures, so it might be unproductive to pigeonhole yourself. The danger of focusing on hair types is that it can be a gateway for hair segregation and texturism, and it might lead you to inadvertently restrict the products you use.
Essentially, the hair typing system is great for when you’re early on in your journey and you’re trying to find your tribe from people whose hair looks like yours. It’s only through trial and error of finding products, trying them and observing the results that you’re able to see what really works for you. Donaldson tells us: “Our response is always that we can’t tell you what products are appropriate, based on your hair tech alone, the tracking system just isn’t sufficient. Think about hair density, hair porosity, etc. There are actually so many other attributes that determine whether a product works well for you. The way that you use a product is also really important.”
9. Afro hair is super strong. Keep those braids tight
There is this idea that because Afro hair can take a lot of manipulation, that it is very resistant and resilient. However, due to the way that our hair wraps into a curl or coil makes it actually quite fragile and susceptible to more breakage than our straight haired counterparts. It’s also more prone to increased tangling, making combing harder and therefore needs to be handled with care. Richardson adds: “Make sure your hair is hydrated. With Afro hair, the tighter the curl pattern, the more porous, it’s going to be and therefore, the more likely it is that it might injure a bit of breakage.”
10. I don’t need to cut my hair because I’m trying to grow it
False. A lot of people may see hair trimming as counterproductive when trying to gain length, but Afro hair needs to be trimmed. Richardsons tells us: “When you don’t trim your hair. Your hair starts to wear and tear and literally at the end of it starts to fray open, like a little paintbrush and starts to split up the hair shaft. It actually starts trimming itself.” However, that is not good because it will eventually trim itself to the root and you will stop seeing length retention.
Kadar reiterates: “What happens is that the fraying will continue to go up the hair shaft and rapidly split and weaken each hair strand. If you’re not regularly trimming, these will just create more and more damage.” That is why you should try to seek out a professional cut. You want that tiny surface area to lose as little water as possible, so having someone that knows how to trim and even out the length as they go, making sure that the end of the hair shaft is as neat as possible, is important. Naturally, it may not always be easy to have access to professional cuts by afro/curly hair specialists, but if you aim to self trim every 6-8 weeks or so and get a professional cut twice a year, you will be doing your hair a favour.
11. I found my perfect hair routine, so I will never use anything else
Finding your perfect hair care routine can change your hair game and is absolutely amazing, until it isn’t. As with skincare, hair goes through phases. Be prepared to have a hair wardrobe that allows you to interchange between products as your hair needs will adapt to changing environments and climate, and it might also become resistant to product overuse. Donaldson tells us: “I find it really useful to just listen to my hair. Sometimes, I might want to deep wash it, but sometimes, I may want to cleanse it without it feeling stripped. As I change my hair style, whether I’m having it natural, or straight, then my product usage will need to adapt accordingly. I also think that understanding what the different roles of the different shampoos are is super important.” Awa adds: “Clarifying shampoos have a bad rep, but actually, once in a while, you want to use a really strong shampoo to get the all gunk out. Sort of like hitting the hair refresh button. And then, start again.”
12. There are good curls and bad curls.
There are no products out there that will change your curl pattern without destroying the natural coils on your hair, i.e damaging the health of your hair and scalp. So therefore it’s important to unlearn the idea of texturism and what the good curl looks like. Broadcaster Zezi Ifore shared some of her story with Glamour: “We’ve so used to going on the youtube page of our favs and hearing, if you use the four steps of X range or whatever and spend X amount of pounds, somehow your hair will go from this to perfect spirals. For me, it took me time to even unlearn the idea of what good Afro hair looks like. I had to go on a journey of using and spending quite a lot on different types of conditioners. This would escalate to the point that I would drench my head, so that my hair would be so weighed down to drop my coils into bouncy thick curls. This inevitability just messed up my hair due to the lack of education surrounding silicones etc.” Knight adds: “There was definitely a time that for hair to be considered noteworthy and beautiful, it would have to be down my back.” Now with the force that is the natural hair movement things are moving progressively in a positive direction. However, it’s important to remind ourselves and others that our hair was created the way it was for a purpose, and it is our duty to cherish it and be prideful of it.