Expert Q&A: African-American Hair Care

From the WebMD Archives

Whether you wear your hair straight, braided, loose, or curly, you deserve a great hair day, every day. That can mean cutting through myths about how to care for your hair.

How is African-American hair different from other textures?

One common myth is that there is just one type of African-American hair, New York stylist Ellin LaVar says. "African-American hair isn't just very kinky, coarse texture," says LaVar, who has worked with celebrities including Angela Bassett, Naomi Campbell, Whitney Houston, Iman, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Oprah.

Though the texture may vary, says Philadelphia dermatologist Susan Taylor, MD, there are some similarities that make African-American hair different from other types. Generally, the hair contains less water, grows more slowly, and breaks more easily than Caucasian or Asian hair.

Why is it so difficult to style my hair?

Product labeling can often be confusing and you don't want to buy something that's too heavy or wrong for you.

"Look for products that describe the texture of your hair, not the color of your skin," LaVar says.

How often do I really need to shampoo?

Most experts say you should shampoo at least every 14 days. But every seven to 10 days is actually what's recommended.

"I often have to explain to clients that African-American hair needs to be washed regularly," says West Hollywood stylist Kim Kimble. She's worked with Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Kerry Washington, and Vanessa Williams and has a line of hair care products.

"Bacteria can grow on the scalp without regular cleansing and that's unhealthy," Kimble says.

If you're worried about stripping moisture out of your hair when you wash it, LaVar suggests lathering with a moisturizing shampoo designed for normal or dry hair and following with a moisturizing conditioner.

Why does my hair keep breaking?

When you sap moisture from your hair, it loses suppleness and is more susceptible to breakage, LaVar says. African-American hair needs supplemental moisture to stand up to styling because it is naturally dry.

Curly textures tend to be the most vulnerable to drying out and breaking because the bends in kinky hair make it difficult for natural oils to work their way down the hair shaft.

Continued

Chemical and heat styling suck the internal moisture from hair, making it brittle and fragile. To avoid breakage, look for heat-shielding and hydrating products that contain silicone, Taylor says. They coat the hair and help seal in moisture.

LaVar tells her clients to avoid products designed for limp hair. Ingredients that add body can actually strip oils and remove moisture, she says.

Experts also suggest wrapping your hair in a satin scarf or bonnet before bed to help your hair retain moisture. Cotton fibers in your pillowcase will wick away hydration.

Are there any moisturizers that don't feel greasy?

"If the product feels greasy, it's probably not adding moisture inside the hair," LaVar says. "You need a penetrating conditioner with lightweight oils that are absorbed rather than sit on top of the hair."

Kimble agrees. She says that lanolin or other greasy products moisturize, but they clog the pores on your scalp and weigh hair down. She prefers conditioners with essential oils -- like grape seed oil, for example -- that moisturize without leaving an oily residue.

LaVar says that body lotion can be a good stand-in for a leave-in conditioner because it is designed to be absorbed into the skin. Rub a dime-sized drop between your palms and smooth it over the length of your hair.

Why is the hair around my temples thinning?

Experts say that braids are often the culprit of a thinning hairline. Tight or aggressive handling of the hair causes traction alopecia, a form of hair loss, Taylor says.

Plus, Kimble says, the weight of braids can stress the hair follicles and cause hair to fall out.

Thinning can also result from hormonal changes, genetics, or a health condition, so you should see a doctor as soon as you notice a change in your hair growth or texture.

Are at-home relaxers safer than salon versions?

The short answer is no. "One of the most common mistakes I see is over-processing," LaVar says. Women have the misconception that no-lye relaxers are safer or that leaving a relaxer on longer helps it work better.

"You just need to relax the curl enough to break up the wave," she says. Leaving it on longer leads to more damage.

"I don't advocate people doing relaxers at home," LaVar says. Experts agree: Strong chemicals need to be applied properly -- without overlapping the last chemical treatment -- and rinsed completely.

Do-it-yourself application can be risky (and costly), LaVar says. Without a professional application, you risk hair damage that needs to be repaired.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 08, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

Kim Kimble, celebrity stylist and owner, Kimble Hair Studio in West Hollywood, creator, Kim Kimble Hair Care Systems.

Susan Taylor, MD, dermatologist, Society Hill Dermatology in Philadelphia; director, Skin of Color Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

Ellin LaVar, celebrity stylist and owner, LaVar Hair Designs in New York; creator of Ellin LeVar Textures hair care line.

© 2010 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination