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What African-American Women Need to Know to Keep Their Hair Healthy

African-American Women Have Specific Hair Issues

3. African-American Hair Is Unique

Dermatologists have found that the hair shaft of African-American women is structurally different than the hair shaft of women of other races, McMichael says.

The hair shaft is flatter, she says, compared to that of Asian or white women.

In another study, McMichael surveyed 30 African-American women and 30 white women. While 60% of African-American women said their hair was too dry, 67% of Caucasian women said their hair had normal moisture.

That dryness can result in breakage, she says. African-American women are more than three times as likely as white women to have hair shaft breakage, she says.

When McMichael sees a patient with hair loss or breakage, she first rules out other potential problems, such as thyroid disorders. Hair loss is linked to problems with thyroid function.

Often, she says, no underlying medical reason is found. "This is very disturbing to patients, I find. They wish there was some underlying disease and they could take a pill."

4. How to Improve Hair Health

Women can take several steps to improve their hair, McMichael says.

If you have breakage of your hair, McMichael suggests this hair care regimen:

  • Shampoo with a gentle, cleansing shampoo.
  • Use a gentle hair conditioner, ideally a leave-in product.
  • Use a silicone-coating product. (Look for an ingredient such as dimethicone.)
  • Use also an everyday, leave-in conditioner.

This regimen can be good for everyone, even without breakage, she says.

When your hair is especially fragile, she suggests taking a holiday from relaxers, color, or both.

Relaxers aren't the enemy, she says. But a holiday might make all the difference. (For children, relaxers should not be started until after puberty, if possible, she says.)

If your hair is fragile, decrease the use of heat, she says. Take a break from flat irons if there is breakage, McMichael says.

Watch the tightness of braids, she says, as that can hurt hair. "If your hair is braided so tightly it hurts when you chew," she says, "it's probably too tight."

McMichael reports serving as an investigator for Allergan, Intendis, Procter & Gamble, and Abbott. She is a consultant for Procter & Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, Stiefel, Allergan, Galderma, and Guthy-Renker.

Brush Up on Beauty

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