Black hair is different from all other hair types. It’s naturally dry and prone to breakage; and when black hair is chemically relaxed, it’s even harder to keep healthy. Many black women suffer from breakage and hair loss, which keeps their hair from growing 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, black hair 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 from which the hair grows.
- Sebaceous glands produce the sebum that coats the cuticle.
- Melanin is the pigment in the cortex which gives hair its color.
However, as opposed to other hair types, black hair is elliptical in shape, giving it a unique structure that is more prone to breakage. To help it grow longer, hair care products that cater to the uniqueness of black hair must be used.
Moisture, Porosity and Elasticity of Black Hair
Moisture is the amount of 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 the hair’s porosity is normal, it doesn’t absorb or release too much moisture. Overly porous hair cannot hold its moisture; it’s like a sponge. It easily sucks up moisture, but cannot hold it in.
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 chemically relaxed will often be too porous, exhibit low elasticity, and have low moisture content. For this reason, it’s 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 one quarter inch per month, while one half inch per month is considered faster growing. But black hair grows even slower.
Every hair on your head goes 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 and then stop growing, it’s because of your genetically determined growing phase. Your growing phase (or anagen phase) will last a certain length of time – and there isn’t much that will change it. A person with a very long growing phase will grow longer hair than a person with a shorter growing phase. That’s why the anagen phase determines the maximum length your hair will grow.
Black Hair and Scalp Problems
Hair care should cater to common black hair and scalp problems. Breakage, dryness, shedding, thinning, and slow growth are just a few of the issues.
Breakage is caused by damage to the hair’s cortex. This type of damage makes the hair fragile, so that it breaks easily. Heat styling, over-processing, and using harsh hair products can cause damage to the cortex. Heat styling reduces the moisture content in the hair and weakens its natural protein. Over-processing hair with chemicals can lead to major damage and hair loss. Chemically processed hair is damaged by the chemical process itself, so it’s at greater risk for damage from styling. Chemical processing can cause high porosity and low elasticity, both of which can lead to breakage. In addition, using harsh shampoos which strip the hair can lead to further breakage. It’s important to use gentle shampoos on chemically treated hair.
Dryness is caused when sebum is stripped from the hair shaft. Black hair is naturally dry and must be moisturized regularly. But most oils and moisture products don’t effectively moisturize black hair, because they can’t penetrate the hair shaft. Hair creams such as Multisheen’s Ebony Hair Cream can penetrate the hair shaft. Oil products should be used to seal moisture and add shine.
Shedding is a normal process, but when more than 80 hairs are shed per day, it’s considered 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. That’s because pregnancy hormones can “lock” hair into the growing phase. After 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 can be fever, blood loss, low iron, drastic dieting, and thyroid disorders. Excessive shedding can 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. Simply blend garlic with your favorite conditioner until it’s 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. Some people will just have hair that grows faster or slower than normal. However, breakage can make hair seem like it’s not growing at all. This is a common problem for black hair due to damage and breakage caused by chemical relaxers.
Scalp problems can be caused by bacteria, fungus and other issues. Dandruff, for example is caused by more cells being shed from the scalp and is associated with a yeast present at all times. The yeast grows 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 medications. Most topical shampoos, creams, and oils will not cure these types of scalp conditions.
Black hair can be chemically processed with relaxers. Relaxers help straighten the hair by breaking down protein bonds in naturally curly hair and loosening the curl pattern. However, protein bonds are what give hair its strength. When hair is relaxed, the basic structure of the hair shaft is changed. The chemicals penetrate the hair’s cortex, enter the inner layer, break down the bonds and strip the hair of its strength and elasticity.
You can minimize damage and breakage from relaxers. Relaxers should never be applied to already damaged hair or used on anyone who has had scalp damage. Hair should be in its best shape – with normal porosity and normal moisture content – before attempting to chemically relax it. If hair isn’t healthy, protein and moisture treatments should be used to restore the hair to a healthy condition.
Relaxer should not be applied until any issues with porosity and moisture content have been completely resolved. Here are the main reasons breakage occurs from relaxer use:
- Over-processing the hair. Excessive use of relaxers or applying chemicals to previously relaxed hair is the most typical problem.
- Not performing a strand test. A “strand test” should be performed prior to applying a 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 damage and burns.
- 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. A neutralizing formula is then used to lower the pH of the hair. If the pH is not lowered, the hair will break 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 chemically straightened hair is not properly moisturized, it can become brittle, dry, damaged and will break. Relaxed hair tends to be drier and breaks more easily than natural hair.
- Using excessive heat. Excessive use of heat tools will only further damage chemically relaxed hair and dry out the hair even more. If heat tools are used, they should be used sparingly and with thermal protectants.