It’s no secret that afro and curly hair can be complex to navigate around. Methods to manage it have of course evolved from simple box braids or cornrows to styles such as dreadlocks, faux locs and afro shape-ups, all found in drawings, engravings, and hieroglyphs from Ancient Egypt. I call it ‘prolific hair-ritage’.
For diaspora children, growing up with a lack of accessibility and resources specifically catering to Black hair, was just one of the many nuanced annoyances we had to endure. I know I’m not alone in remembering all those years watching my parents scramble over ways to deal with my textured hair. After centuries of trial, error, and research, the Afro hair community is starting to find that alternative and traditional methods which we’ve been conditioned to believe in, may not always be good, useful, or progressive to the health of our hair and scalps. So let’s get these debunked. Opinions do differ in this overly-scrutinised-but-under-researched hair texture, so we’ve rounded up some of the biggest Black hair myths directly from the experts below…
1. All braids are protective hairstyles
False. The thing about braids is that depending on the styling or the person braiding them, they can cause more harm than the general environmental damage, or traction via brushing you would get, from simply leaving your coils loose and free.
Eleanor Richardson, who is a consultant trichologist at the Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic, tells GLAMOUR: “The most common damage that we end up seeing in the clinic is traction. So that’s a pulling force that’s been applied, because of a very tight style. Maybe due to very chunky braids, or extensions, or weave-in and styles that’s been there for a while as well.” This happens because some braid styles put a lot of pressure on hair follicles that have been built to only cope with the weight of the hair you grow. Adding extensions to your braids or sewing in a weave can cause a lot of pressure on your scalp. Not to mention the traction you can get from the tightness of said braid style. It’s essential to make sure that the braiding styles you choose are not causing too much tension on your scalp and edges or baby hairs.
2. You should focus on the mid-shaft of your hair and below, as that’s where you get the most breakage
False. If you have long hair, Renee Kadar, global artistic director of texture for Aveda, tells GLAMOUR: “The way that I see it is, healthy scalp, healthy hair. If your scalp is doing well and thriving, it’ll show up in the rest of your hair.” In fact, according to Kadar, the secret is to treat them as different entities: “I’d separate them by the hair that’s closest to the scalp that has all your nutrients and the things that you need, and the mid-shaft to ends.”
Caring for your scalp and roots is imperative for length retention. Eleanore Richardson says: “As with any skin if there is any inflammation, it will be visible. An unhealthy scalp, will not get you the best growing hair as a result. So we always want to deal with that and limit the damage as much as possible.”
3. If your hair looks dry, add oils and grease your scalp
False. If your hair is dry, it will need to be hydrated, with water-based products, not oils. Oils are way more beneficial to lock in moisture, so after you have applied a hydrating water-based product like a good leave-in conditioner, then you can apply the oil on top. However, be careful of the grease baths on your scalp. Winnie Awa, founder of online marketplace Antidote Street, tells GLAMOUR: “Greasing your scalp can clog up the pores at the follicles, which will lead to poor quality hair growth”. To tackle dryness, steam treatments work a treat. Richardson tells us: “Steam treatments work really well and make your products work really hard. So when it comes to the winter months and you notice your hair drying out, seek out hydrating products/high water content products or steam treatments.”
4. Coconut Oil is amazing for your hair
Correction: Coconut oil is only useful to lock in moisture, as mentioned above. If the hair is already dry and brittle, adding it as an alternative to a water-based product will draw out hydration. It will make hair even more prone to breakage and less elastic, as it can cause protein build-up, blocking the hair from its much-needed moisture.
5. Leave-In Conditioners are not made for Black hair
False. In fact, they will make a huge difference by adding them to your routine. Jamelia Donaldson, founder of natural hair product discovery box Treasure Tress, says: “When I was on my hair journey, I actually didn’t realise that leave-in conditioners were made for us, as black women. It took me a moment to understand just how valuable they are.” In fact, Richardson adds: “Water-based leave-in conditioners are fantastic because you can apply it and build up that hydration as and when you need.”