Black hair is different from all other hair types. It is naturally dry and prone to breakage. When black hair is chemically relaxed, it becomes even harder to keep healthy. Many black women suffer from breakage and hair loss which keeps their hair from growing very long. This article discusses the fundamentals of black hair and how to keep it healthy.
BLACK HAIR STRUCTURE
Black hair care must take into account the unique structure of black hair. Like other hair types, it is made up of several parts.
The cuticle is the outer layer which protects the hair shaft. It is coated with sebum, which gives the hair its shine. The cuticle is made of scale like cells that resemble the shingles on a roof.
The cortex gives hair its strength, elasticity, and texture.
The hair follicle is the part of the skin that grows the hair.
Sebaceous glands produce the sebum that coats the cuticle.
Melanin is the pigment in the cortex which gives hair its color.
However, black hair is elliptical in shape, giving it a unique structure that is more prone to breakage. Products must be used to cater to the uniqueness of black hair for it to grow very long.
MOISTURE, POROSITY, AND ELASTICITY OF BLACK HAIR
Black hair care must address the main components that make up condition of black hair. These are moisture, porosity, and elasticity.
Moisture is the amount of moisture water contained in the hair’s cortex. It is greater in humid areas, and less in drier areas.
Porosity is the hair’s ability to absorb water and chemicals. If porosity is normal, it keeps the hair from absorbing or releasing too much moisture. Overly porous hair cannot hold its moisture; it is much like a sponge. It easily sucks up moisture, but cannot hold it.
Elasticity is the hair’s ability to stretch and return to its normal length. Wet hair should be able to stretch about half of its length without breaking. If your hair’s elasticity is low, it will break when stretched.
Black hair that is relaxed will often be over porous, have low elasticity, and have low moisture content. For this reason, it is necessary to take special steps to keep black hair healthy so that it can grow its longest.
BLACK HAIR GROWTH
Most people have about 100,000 hairs on their head. Normal growth is about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch per month (3inches-6inches per year) on average. Actually hair that grows half an inch per month is considered fast growing. Black hair normally grows slower than this. However genetics also accounts for the rate at which your hair grows your hair will grow.Every hair on your head will go through three phases: growing, resting, and shedding.
The growing phase can last from 3 to 7 years.
The resting phase lasts about 2 to 4 weeks.
The shedding phase can last from 3 to 4 months. This shedding is the natural process that replaces old hairs with new hairs. It is normal to lose about 50 to 80 hairs per day.
If you have ever wondered why your hair will grow to a certain length then stop, it is because of your growing phase. Your growing phase (or anagen) is a certain length of time. This is something that we are born with, so there isn’t much that changes it. A person with a very long growing phase will grow longer hair than a person with a shorter growing phase. Therefore, the anagen phase actually determines the maximum length your hair will grow.
BLACK HAIR AND SCALP PROBLEMS
Black hair care must also cater to hair or scalp problems that most will experience at some point. Hair problems such as breakage, dryness, shedding, thinning, and slow growth can be caused by different things.
Breakage is caused by damage to the hair’s cortex. This type of damage causes the hair to become fragile and break easily. Heat styling, over processing, and using harsh products can cause damage to the cortex. Heat styling reduces the moisture content in the hair and weakens the natural protein in the hair. Over processing hair with chemicals can lead to major damage and air loss. Chemically processed hair is already damaged to some extent simply because it has been chemically processed. So it is at greater risk of damage from styling. Chemical processing can cause high porosity and low elasticity, both of which can lead to breakage. In addition to this, using harsh shampoos which strip the hair can lead to further breakage. It is important that gentle shampoos be used on chemically treated hair.
Dryness is caused by sebum being stripped from the hair shaft. Black hair is dry naturally and must be moisturized regularly. Most oils and moisture products do not effectively moisturize black hair, because it cannot penetrate the hair shaft. Only water based moisturizers and coconut oil can penetrate the hair shaft. Other oil products simply coat the hair giving it a look of moisture. However, the hair is still dry and susceptible to breakage.
Shedding is a normal process. When more than 80 hairs per day are shed, it may be excessive. This type of shedding can be caused by stress, hormonal changes, diet, or scalp conditions. Many women experience this type of shedding after giving birth. This is because pregnancy hormones can lock all of the hair into the growing phase. After the delivery, many hairs will go into the resting phase to be shed two to three months later. Birth control pills and menopause can have the same effect. High androgen birth control pills can cause major shedding and hair loss. Other causes of severe shedding are fever, blood loss, low iron, drastic dieting, and thyroid disorders. Excessive shedding can also cause thinning. To minimize thinning, you first need to find out what is causing your shedding. To stop shedding immediately, garlic can be used on the scalp to tighten the pores and prevent the hair from shedding. To use garlic for shedding, simply blend garlic with your favourite conditioner until it is a paste. Apply the mixture to your scalp and hair and cover with a plastic cap. Leave in for an hour before washing.
Slow growth is a common complaint associated with black hair. This can be caused by the natural growth rate, breakage, or nutrition. Each person will have a different growth rate. Some people will just have hair that grows faster or slower than normal. However, breakage can also make hair seem to grow slowly. If your breakage is keeping up with your growth, it can make your hair seem like it is not growing at all. This is a common problem for black hair due to the damage and breakage caused by relaxers. To speed up hair growth, use a hair vitamin formulated to increase hair growth.
Scalp problems can be caused by bacteria, fungus, and other reasons. Dandruff, for example is caused more cells being shed from the scalp. It is associated with a yeast present at all times. The yeast will grow more quickly when dandruff occurs. Scalp itch can be caused by various problems such as fungal infections like ringworm. Fungal and bacterial infections of the skin need to be treated by a doctor with oral medication. Most topical shampoos, creams, and oils will not cure scalp conditions.
BLACK HAIR CARE PRODUCTS
Black hair care consists of washing with gentle shampoo, deep treatments to strengthen and moisturize hair, keeping hair moisturized daily, and styling hair without breakage.
Using a gentle shampoo is necessary to keep black hair healthy. Most shampoos use harsh sulfates to get the hair clean. They use the same chemicals that are used in concrete cleaners and engine degreasers. This is especially harsh on hair that is already chemically relaxed. These types of shampoos actually strip the hair of its natural moisture and strength and can lead to more breakage.
Conditioning treatments are used to build hair strength and moisture.
Protein treatments are used to replace protein lost during chemical treatments. The protein in hair keeps hair strong and helps to prevent breakage. If protein that is lost is not replaced, the hair will become weak and eventually break. This will limit the length the hair can grow. For an effective protein treatment, add a raw egg to your favorite conditioner and apply to wet hair after shampooing. Cover with a plastic cap and allow to sit for 30 to 60 minutes.
Moisture treatments are used to keep hair soft and supple. They must be used when protein treatments are used to combat the dryness that can be caused by too much protein. For an effective moisture treatment, apply virgin coconut oil to wet hair and cover with a plastic cap. Cover with a plastic cap and sit under a hooded dryer for 10 to 15 minutes.
If protein treatments are done without balancing it with moisture, the hair can become dry and break.
Keeping hair moisturized is key to growing black hair long. If black hair is not moisturized properly, it will become dry and eventually break. Black hair care products often contain ingredients which are considered moisturizing. However, many of these ingredients do not moisturize effectively. Petroleum and lanolin are often used in black hair care products, but they are not good for moisture. They only coat the hair with a gloss instead of actually penetrating the hair and moisturizing the hair. To effectively moisturize black hair, you must use a moisture product that can penetrate the hair. Water based moisturizers are capable of penetrating the hair. Coconut oil is the only oil product that can penetrate the hair and moisturize it from the inside. Coconut oil also helps prevent protein losses and keep black hair strong.
PRODUCTS AND INGREDIENTS TO AVOID FOR HEALTHY BLACK HAIR
Black hair care products must be formulated to build hair strength and keep hair moisturized. Many products on the market contain ingredients that do not do this. To keep black hair healthy, choose gentle shampoos, use protein and moisture treatments, and moisturize your hair daily with water based moisturizers or coconut oil. Avoid products with sodium laureth sulfate, petroleum, and lanolin. These products are made with cheap ingredients and will not help your hair grow its longest.
RELAXERS AND BLACK HAIR CARE
Black hair is often chemically processed with relaxers. Relaxers straighten the hair by breaking down protein bonds in naturally curly hair and loosening the curl pattern. However, the protein bonds are also what gives the hair its strength. When the hair is relaxed, the basic structure of the hair shaft is changed. The chemicals penetrate the hair’s cortex and enter the inner layer of the hair. They continue breaking down the bonds and stripping the hair of its strength and elasticity. This is why breakage is commonly experienced by women who use relaxers.
You can minimize damage and breakage from relaxers. Relaxers should never be applied to already damaged hair, or on someone who has had scalp damage. Hair should be in its best shape before attempting to chemically relax it. This means that the porosity and moisture content should be normal. If hair is not at its best, then protein and moisture treatments should be used to restore the hair to a healthy condition.
The relaxer should not be applied until these issues have been completely resolved. These are the main reasons breakage occur from relaxers:
Over processing the hair. Excessive use of relaxers or applying the chemical to previously relaxed hair, is the most typical misuse of these chemicals.
Not performing a strand test. A “strand test” should be performed prior to applying a chemical relaxer to gauge the result of applying the chemical.
Not using a protective cream on the scalp. A protective cream should always be applied to help protect the scalp from being damaged or burned.
Not properly neutralizing the hair. After the hair has been processed for the appropriate amount of time, the relaxer must be completely removed with warm water. Then a neutralizing formula is used to lower the pH of the hair. If the pH is not lowered, the hair will break. This is because the chemical will continue to work on the hair strand weakening it further.
Pulling or Combing Hair While Relaxing. From the time the relaxer is applied to the time it is neutralized, the hair is in an extremely fragile condition and must be handled carefully. Avoid all pulling, tugging, and excessive combing of the hair during this time.
Not using protein and moisture treatments. Protein and Moisture treatments should be used to restore some of the natural moisture and proteins that have been stripped from the hair by the relaxer.
Not moisturizing daily. Daily moisture is needed to keep the hair soft and supple. If newly chemically straightened hair is not properly moisturized, it can become brittle, dry, damaged and break. Relaxed hair will tend to be drier and break easier than natural hair.
Using excessive heat. Excessive use of heat tools will only further damage chemically relaxed hair. This is due to the fact that they work by drying the hair our ever further. If heat tools are used, then they should be used along with thermal protectants. Use of heat tools should be limited as much as possible.
HOW DO I STOP MY HAIR FROM BREAKING AND GROW LONGER HAIR?
Using protein and moisture treatments will rebuild hair strength and keep it from breaking. The reason it is so important to use protein treatments is because the hair is made mostly of protein, acutally about 88%. When your hair is relaxed, for example, many of the protein bonds in the hair are broken. This allows the curly pattern to become looser, and eventually straight. If you do not rebuild the protein lost after this type of service, your hair will definitely break. However, protein and moisture must be balanced, or it will also cause breakage.