Beauty Made Easy!!
Myths and misunderstandings abound when it comes to caring for African-American hair textures. Top experts gave WebMD crucial info on caring for ethnic hair, whether you wear it straight, braided, loose, or curly. Here they answer common hair care questions.
How is African-American hair different from other textures?
One common myth is that there is just one type of African-American hair, says New York stylist Ellin LaVar, who has worked with celebrities including Angela Bassett, Naomi Campbell, Whitney Houston, Iman, Serena and Venus Williams, and Oprah.
"African-American hair isn't just the very kinky, coarse texture," says LaVar, who created the Ellin LeVar Textures hair care line.
Though the texture may vary, there are some similarities that make African-American hair different from other types, says Philadelphia dermatologist Susan Taylor, MD, who also directs the Skin of Color Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York. In general, the hair contains less water, grows more slowly, and breaks more easily than Caucasian or Asian hair.
Product labeling can often be confusing and may lead African-American women and others with similar hair texture to purchase something that's too heavy or just not appropriate.
"Look for products that describe the texture of your hair, not the color of your skin," LaVar says.
The experts interviewed for this story told WebMD that you should shampoo at least every 14 days, but every seven to 10 days is recommended.
"I often have to explain to clients that African-American hair needs to be washed regularly," says West Hollywood stylist Kim Kimble, who has worked with Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Kerry Washington, and Vanessa Williams.
"Bacteria can grow on the scalp without regular cleansing and that's unhealthy," says Kimble, who has a line of products called Kimble Hair Care Systems.
Many women are worried about stripping the hair of moisture when they wash (in addition to the time-consuming ordeal of styling). LaVar suggests lathering with a moisturizing shampoo designed for normal or dry hair and following with a moisturizing conditioner.
When you sap moisture from the hair, it loses suppleness and is more susceptible to breakage, LaVar says. Because African-American hair is naturally dry, it needs supplemental moisture to stand up to styling.
Curly textures tend to be the most vulnerable because the bends in kinky hair make it difficult for natural oils to work their way down the hair shaft. So the curlier your hair the more vulnerable it is to drying out and breaking.
Chemical and heat styling suck the internal moisture from hair, making it brittle and fragile. To fight 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.
The 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.
"If the product feels greasy, it's probably not adding moisture inside the hair," LaVar tells WebMD. "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.
Another tip: 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.
Braids are usually the culprit, experts tell WebMD. Tight or aggressive handling of the hair causes traction alopecia, a form of hair loss, Taylor says.
Plus, the weight of braids can stress the hair follicles and cause hair to fall out as well, Kimble notes.
Thinning can also be a result of hormone 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.
The short answer: No. "One of the most common mistakes I see is over-processing," LaVar says. And 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, LaVar notes.
"I don't advocate people doing relaxers at home," LaVar says. The other experts interviewed for this story agree, saying that the strong chemicals need to be applied properly -- without overlapping the last chemical treatment -- and rinsed completely.
Without a professional application, you may cost yourself more in the long run if you develop hair damage that needs repair.
By Liesa Goins WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD