Hairstory: What to Know About Black Hair

Hairstory: What to Know About Black Hair

Natural Hair

Imagine using a comb that would automatically straighten your hair. The catch: the temperature of the tool measures between 300 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Welcome to the world of black hair care.

 Alissa sometimes has her mother straighten, or “press,” her hair. “It’s an uphill battle, you never know who’s going to win: my mom or the hot comb,” she said referring to the notion that the experience gives new meaning to the phrase, “Pain is beauty.” 
History of black hair care
Madame C.J. Walker
The pressing comb is used close to the scalp, so the intense heat may cause burns if not used with care. Often its invention is attributed to the hands of Madame C.J. Walker. Although she did not dream up the tool that is a staple in black hair care, Walker has made many contributions.
In the early 1900s Walker, formerly Sarah Breedlove, went on the road selling door-to-door to promote her new hair products. In 1910, Walker built a factory, The Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, in Indianapolis as well as a salon and a beauty training school.
Her ambition and daring vision for herself made Walker the first self-made female millionaire— setting the tone of entrepreneurship for women and blacks everywhere. Because of the advancements in hair care, courtesy of Walker and those who followed, blacks now have more options in terms of how to style and take care of their hair.
Science: Why is black hair different?  
Actually, at the root of it all there isn’t any structural difference in hair based on ethnicity. Each strand of human hair has the same chemical make-up. “All hair is composed of nitrogen, sulfur, water, iron traces and amino acids,” said Author Naomi Sims in her book, “All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman.”

 Differences in hair texture start in the layer under the skin where hair grows, according to Dr. Susan Taylor, the founder of Society Hill Dermatology in Philadelphia.In terms of texture, black hair varies from the hair of other ethnicities because of the fact that the it typically comes from curved follicles, the tiny pores from which the hair grows. These follicles produce tightly coiled hairs that makes it more susceptible to form microscopic knots. These knots create the texture that makes it harder to detangle and causes the hair to break if not properly handled.

Styling options: Natural, Press, Braids and Weaves
Because of the care it takes to maintain hair, some leave maintenance to professionals who specialize in black hair care. Others take hair care upon themselves in the comfort of their own rooms, “I do my own hair. When I do go get it done it’s usually for fun,” Jayde said.
“Sometimes I’ll just wash it and wear it natural, my hair is really curly.” Besides the simple press-and-curl—typically sported by females (Snoop Dogg tries it from time to time)— African Americans choose from a variety of options to style their hair. “For me it varies with the seasons, like in the summer I wear it very natural. In the winter I’ll do it differently. Honestly, it’s just whatever is easiest at the time,” Jayde said.

Another alternative is wearing braids. “Someone asked me if I take out my braids every night and put them back in, in the morning,” Alissa said. (The answer: No, she doesn’t). A benefit of getting hair braided is its convenience and low maintenance. “I’ve had braids since eighth grade because it’s easier and I like it better,” Britt said.

Though the style lasts a long time, it also takes a while to style. Estimated time of completion: within seven to eight hours. “During that time I usually read a book, watch TV or sleep,” she said. When it is time to get her hair done again, Britt has to unbraid each of the hundreds of individual braids. Britt described how some are surprised to see her hair in the transition before and after getting braids. Her words of wisdom: “When a black girl gets her hair braided it does not grow overnight.” Additional hair is braided with the natural hair for the sake of style and to the braids hold longer.

Weaves or hair extensions are also options for hairstyles. However, it is not an act exclusively used by blacks. Celebrities like Diana Agron, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato use them as well. Be careful not to assume: Not all black girls with long hair have weaves. Jayde said she feels frustrated when faced with the all-too-common question that many blacks face when it comes to whether or not she’s wearing her natural hair. “I do get offended, people should be educated enough not to make assumptions because of race. That’s why when someone asks, ‘Is that your real hair?’ I ask, ‘Is yours?’”
Though Britt doesn’t get offended, she said she does it annoyed simply because of how often the question comes up, “But I get that some people just don’t know for sure.”

The world of black hair care is vast and ever changing. With innovations in technology and advancements of style, hair continues to be an avenue of expression and experimentation.
Ashlyee Hickman

Photo credit: DioBurto