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Black Hair Basics

by: David Riewe
The typical hair and hair follicles of those of African descent are tightly curled, thus producing hair that spirals. Black hair also typically has a larger diameter than Caucasian hair and retains less water, thus its relative “kinkiness.” The many styling methods utilized on Black hair cause concern with hair loss. Black hair is very strong, fortunately so because Black hair styles cause a great deal of stress on the hair and scalp.

For example, using a hair pick to pick the hair up to a bushy style is a very damaging process due to the constant pulling causing stress on the hair shaft as well as the follicle. In fact, combing Black hair in general can create high stress on Black hair and cause breakage, which perpetuates dryness. Conrowing and braiding are methods of hairstyling that pull the hair tight, and this can cause a great deal of stress on the hair and scalp resulting in hair loss. Braiding that results in the hair being pulled very tight can cause traumatic alopecia, a hair loss that is caused by trauma to the hair and scalp. Traumatic alopecia is usually reversible with proper hair care.

Hot combs and relaxers used to straighten hair can cause a great deal of heat and chemical damage to hair and scalp, which can also cause traumatic alopecia, and over time can cause permanent hair loss. This becomes especially true when the heat or chemically processed hair is pulled tight by rollers or a hot curling iron.

Hot oil conditioners are excellent for Black hair, as hot oil treatments contain proteins and polymers vital to repairing the hair cuticles. Hot oil treatments involve heating the oil and putting it into the hair and scalp, then covering the hair with a plastic cap to allow the oil to soak in. Follow the recommendations on the treatment you are using for the amount of time you should leave the treatment on the hair. This process can heal breakages and shinier stronger hair will be the result.

Consider that hair relaxers commonly used on Black hair contain lye or similar chemicals that break down the hair shaft. Left on beyond the recommended time, these chemicals would eat right through the hair and cause it to fall out in clumps. This is why these same products are used in products like Drano� to clean clogged drains which often are clogged by hair. No-lye relaxers are very popular today, mainly because it leads people to believe that the product is not caustic. This is far from the truth. The combination of calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate are combined to form guanidine hydroxide, which could just as easily clean a sink. Repeated use of such products can cause some degree of hair loss, and if scarring occurs while using these chemicals, the hair loss can be permanent in that area of the scalp. One must ask themselves is it wise to place such caustic chemicals in the hair on a regular basis for the sake of desired appearance? The question must be answered by each individual, however the facts should be known.

There is little that can be done to alleviate this syndrome without changing the typical hairstyles of African Americans. There is a catch-22 concerning relaxing Black hair, since combing natural Black hair causes so much stress and breakage of hair, while chemicals cause so much harm to the hair and scalp as well. There are a few hair-relaxing products on the market that use chemicals and are somewhat less harsh than sodium hydroxide (lye) or its popular equivalent in “no-lye” relaxers: calcium hydroxide (quicklime) mixed with guanidine carbonate. One such product is called Natural-Laxer� and Sahara Clay� by Baka ProductsTM that has been on the market since 1990. This product is all natural and because it does not contain many of the harsh chemicals of commercial relaxers and actually contains only a finely ground plant called Daphne Gnidium and clay from Africa it is figured to be relatively safe. Of course this product does not straighten hair in most instances the same way as commercial relaxers, however it does tend to make Black hair more manageable. There is yet another product on the market that is reported to be 92-96% natural which is called Naturalaxer Kit In A Jar™ that does not require the applicant to comb through the hair during the application, which results in a lot less damage.

Of course the bottom line is once again, if you can leave your hair in its natural state then you will experience less stress and damage to the hair and thus prevent at least one cause of hair loss. There is a growing segment of the Black population that is becoming comfortable with wearing their hair in natural styles. One such style is dreadlocks. There are many rumors and myths concerning dreadlocks, as there is little proper information available concerning this style, and as with anything that is misunderstood many myths arise around it. Dreadlocks can and must be washed; otherwise they will smell badly like any other dirty hair. The best process to use to wash dreadlocks is to use a residue-free shampoo. Most commercially made shampoos leave residue and can cause hair not to lock, lending fuel to the rumor that hair had to be dirty to form dreadlocks. Clean hair actually locks much better than dirty hair, as dirt is a residue in itself that will inhibit hair from locking. For best results one should use a fragrance free, conditioner free shampoo. Dreadlocks do not react well to oily and greasy substances, yet there are many good substances that are on the market today that will assist you in forming dreadlocks.

Dreadlocks are formed through a process, not simply by not combing or brushing the hair. Generally, one should start with hair about two inches in length, and the hair should be separated into even squares of hair and twisted gently together using a bonding or gel substance. Many use natural beeswax containing no petroleum, while others use loc and twist gels specifically formulated for locks. Once the hair is separated and twisted into small locks, it is important that they are left alone and allowed to bond naturally. The length of time it will take to lock will depend on the coarseness of your hair, but one can normally expect to wait several months before locks begin to form. While the hair is locking, it will need to be washed. Here is where washing should be extended for a while if possible, so that the hair can be allowed to lock for two weeks to about a month without manipulation. When you do wash your hair, use a stocking cap or “do-rag”, and low-pressure water to make sure that the newly forming locks do not come loose. It will be necessary to rinse for a much longer time than you normally do, because of the lower pressure of the water and the lack of direct manipulation of your hair with your hands. The water is good for your hair and locking process, so this is not a problem. It is also imperative as indicated before that you use a shampoo that does not contain a conditioner and leaves as little residue as possible. A little research on your

part will be necessary here; your health food store should contain a variety of natural shampoos. Have a skilled professional or a friend re-twist the hair gently, reapplying the twist gel or beeswax that you used previously. Repeat this process every two weeks to a month, the longer you are able to wait the better, and within a few months your hair will begin to lock. Again, if you have a fine grade of hair rather than a kinky grade of hair, a beautician skilled at forming locks (“locktitian”) or a friend who is very familiar with the hairstyle should be consulted. Even though dreadlocks are mainly a hairstyle for Blacks, there are other races that have people that enjoy the hairstyle. In general, it tends to be a style of hair that in the long run will give the hair and scalp needed rest from the rigors of chemical and heat treatments and rigorous combing and brushing, and therefore can contribute to longer life for your hair.

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