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Expert Q&A: African-American Hair Care

WebMD Feature

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.

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.

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