Clearing up the Misconceptions About Care and Maintenance of Natural Afro Hair

Unlike what most people believe, dealing with natural Afro centric hair is not a difficult task. The most difficult task is dealing with misconceptions that we have regarded as facts for so long that they become an accepted reality for many of us.


Norm vs. Normal

Who is not familiar with the phrase, “Your hair is nappy; it needs fixing”? This means that it’s time for a touchup and implies that pure Afro centric hair is undesirable. The worst aspect is that Afro hair care routines and in many cases even Afro life is based upon and revolved around these kinds of notions. The beliefs are so profound that, of course, it will take some time before people will be able to let these misconceptions go.

These routines and beliefs about Afro hair did not just appear out of the blue one day. A closer look will tell you that Afro routines—the way they comb, wash and style their hair are merely based on a straight hair care model. This is hardly a surprise. Straight hair has been a dominating beauty standard in our society for such a long time that it became the norm and we unconsciously adopted it as a model for all hair types. However, the standards for straight hair are not necessarily correct or healthy for kinky hair. By using these standards as a norm for all other different hair types, we confused the norm with what is not normal.

This pattern has occurred for centuries throughout history. Another example that we all can relate to is the “size six norm.” Even though being a size six is the prevalent beauty standard and the majority of us strive to fit this norm, we cannot confuse the “size six norm” with “normal.” Beautiful women come in all sizes.

We must clear up these contradictions. You don’t need to be a size six to be beautiful. Likewise, your hair does not need to be straight to be beautiful. Beautiful hair comes in all textures and in all lengths. Additionally, Afro centric hair responds differently to routines designed for straight hair, but that does not imply that Afro hair is unmanageable, bad or abnormal. Normal Afro centric hair is naturally singular so it responds differently; it has other needs and that’s why it needs other norms and routines. However, before we get into Afro routines, let’s first try to clear up some stubborn misconceptions.


Misconception: Afro Centric Hair Can Not Grow Long

It is still a pervasive belief that Afro centric hair can’t grow long. When you offer a cursory look around, you hardly see women of color with natural long hair. This is deceiving because naturally straight hair is compared to chemically straightened hair. Hair that is chemically treated to look straight has been through numerous processes to keep it straight. Apart from the chemical process, which is already damaging, it is very likely that blow drying, press and/or curling, and flat ironing are done on a regular basis to keep the hair straight. These treatments can cause split ends that sooner or later break off, resulting in the misconception of little or no hair growth from the scalp when in reality, the problem is hair loss on the ends. This makes the comparison unfair because naturally straight hair does not need all the unhealthy treatments to keep the strands straight.

A closer look will show that Black women with very long hair usually wear natural hairstyles like dreadlocks. To make a fair comparison, compare long, natural, straight hair to naturally cultivated dreadlocks. Try to imagine all women who are now wearing perms wearing luscious locks instead and then make the comparison again. Compare the long locks with long straight hair. It may appear to be shorter due to the natural curl pattern. Do you still believe that Afro hair cannot grow long?

There is nothing like natural hair, but if the hair needs a break or time to recover, extensions or weaves are good choices. These methods will allow for natural undisturbed hair growth if the job is done right. They do not have to wear their hair in a style that they are not comfortable with after a hair disaster. A good weave will add length and fullness to one’s hair while protecting it. The same goes for extensions that are correctly braided in one’s hair. Most hair grows best if left alone. It is important to understand that if the hair is braided too tight, this can cause permanent hair loss from the scalp (Tension Alopecia). If the hair is well protected by extensions or a weave, the hair has a chance to grow undisturbed, free from pulling and environmental threats like the sun. The advantage of weaves and extensions is really that they can wear any hairstyle while growing their own hair.


Misconception: Natural Afro Centric Hair is Hard to Manage

This misconception is based on the customs of daily combing and styling of one’s hair. Natural Afro centric hair does not need combing or styling everyday because hairstyles stay unimpaired for at least one week on average. In addition, most combs are unsuitable for natural Afro centric hair. That means being able to quickly comb through the hair on a daily basis cannot be used as a standard to define Afro hair as “hard to manage.” Defining nappy hair as unmanageable based on the above standards would be like defining straight hair as unmanageable because it is difficult to braid and it can hardly keep a braid, cornrow or curl. It doesn’t make sense, does it?


Misconception: Straightening Afro Centric Hair Makes Hair Care Easier

It may seem easy to comb through and style straightened hair on a daily basis, but it certainly is not easier to care for relaxed hair. If this were true, where do you suppose the majority of Afro hair problems come from? Why do so many women of color wear weaves and braids these days? Contrary to popular belief, relaxed hair is very high maintenance. In fact, chemically altered hair is more difficult to care for than natural hair because of the chemical damage to hair. Relaxers first deteriorate the outer layer (Cuticle) of a hair strand and subsequently break the hair inner structure so that the hair can become straight. That is why Afro centric hair needs extra care after it has been permed. It is more vulnerable.

Relaxers not only make it harder to maintain healthy hair, they also limit lifestyles of wearers. To maintain a straight and healthy looking hairstyle, they condition, roller set, blow dry, wrap or flat iron the hair, which can cause hair loss as described in the first part of this article. After all the efforts put into creating a hairstyle, they do everything to keep that hairstyle and limit activities that will not hinder the style. They may not exercise because perspiration causes premature reversion of the hair, as does swimming, and a lot of other outdoor activities. The truth is, chemicals really do not make life easier; they make it harder to maintain healthy hair.


Misconception: Afro Centric Hair Offers Limited Hairstyling

This is far from the truth. Afro centric hair is probably the most versatile hair type there is. Styles range from casual and classic up-do to hip and extravagant. In fact, Afro centric hair is so unique that many styles designed for this hair type are impossible to recreate with other hair types. They should embrace this uniqueness.


To be continued in the June 2017 issue…

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