1. You have to get to know YOUR hair.
Black hair is widely various. When we are young, our mothers get to know our unique hair type. Even within the same family or the same curl pattern, a different hair care regimen can be required. But so many other women I know don’t really KNOW their hair. Yes, you know if your hair is mostly dry or often oily. But do you know where it breaks off and why? And are you paying attention to the different hair types that you may have on your head (many of us have more than one!) and treating them differently? Black women know their hair very very well. Even if they are annoyed by it.
2. Hair needs to rest.
This is the mantra of every black women and every black stylist. You have to give your hair a break. Chemical processes like relaxers and coloring weaken and damage hair. So, many black women have to chose only one chemical process. According to my Aunt Nettie, “We often have to decide between relaxer and color due to the potential of damage. For me, I first chose relaxed, but I was exercising and it wasn’t conducive to relaxed hair. That’s why I chose to go natural. And I LOVE it!”
Not only does hair need to rest from chemical processes, it needs a break from heat and styling. So many black women will have rest days, choosing not to style their hair when they may be home on weekends. It’s another way we keep our hair at its healthiest.3. Don’t over brush.
Every single girls trip I’ve been on since time immemorial has featured a white friend brushing the ever-loving sh*t out of their hair. Not only do they approach it with such gusto that it makes my head ache to watch, they brush and brush and brush the same strands over and over. Over brushing your hair stimulates your scalp and causes it to produce more oil, terrible if you already have oily looking hair. Plus, because any amount of brushing causes friction, over brushing can cause cuticle damage which increases the risk of breakage and makes hair frizzier.
4. Don’t brush hair from the root.
While we’re on the topic of over brushing, we should also address HOW many women brush. Black women with dense, tightly coiled hair learn early and on their mothers lap that you DO NOT START BRUSHING HAIR AT THE ROOT. If you do, snags are pulled further down the hair shaft, they become tighter and it ends in breakage and tears. And this isn’t just true for black women. This is true for all tangles. Start brushing at the ENDS of the hair working your way up to the root. And once you reach the root, you’re done. There’s no need to keep brushing the same strands over and over. Seriously, your hair wants me to tell you to stop.
5. Toweling and sleeping can break hair.
Hair doesn’t like friction. And other than brushing, sleeping and toweling hair dry are two other times your hair is subjected to friction. Choosing a satin pillow case and a microfiber towel can really help. The towel’s fibers are gentle on hair at a time when it’s wet and at its most fragile. Plus, because it absorbs more water than your regular towel, it won’t need as much blow-drying time. A satin pillow case keeps friction to a minimum as you toss and turn, also minimizing damage.
While we are talking about wet hair…. hair stretches when it’s wet. According to Hairfinder, it can stretch up to three times it’s natural length which makes it more fragile and prone to damage. Black women use a wide tooth comb to work gently through tangles.
If you don’t have a wide tooth comb, click yourself one right here girlfriend. Wide tooth combs are every black woman’s starting point for detangling and sectioning during styling. Gentle on your hair, they are what I use in the shower to comb conditioner through my tangled, curly hair. Not only does it gently help loosen any knots, it also helps distribute the conditioner through my hair.
And if you have a little one with tangly hair, try combing conditioner through when it’s wet. It will be a kinder, gentler way to get those knots out.
6. Roots and ends should be treated differently.
The hair at your scalp is new growth. And the hair nearest the scalp is the likeliest to receive oil from your scalp. The hair closest to the ends is the oldest, driest and often the most delicate hair. Though I don’t shampoo my hair very often (most black women only wash their hair once a week or so), I do condition my ends frequently. I condition wet or dry. But that gives those dry and brittle ends a little more loving tenderness that would make your scalp way to oily.
7. Good hair takes work.
In my cousin’s house it’s Sundays. That’s when she has her little girls sit down to have their hair washed and braided. Every family has a different routine, but black women know fairly early that if they want their hair to look it’s best, it’s going to take some effort. We don’t expect wash and wear. (Admittedly, when I found a process that let me hair be wash and wear for a while, I paid a pretty penny for it. Well, until it started falling out in clumps.)
8. What you see on TV and movies is a lot of weave.
Those long thick tresses sported by women on TV are often weaves and extensions. If you want some, go get you some. But don’t worry that your hair isn’t that thick or lustrous. Theirs isn’t either.
9. Ain’t nothing wrong with a weave or a wig.
And while we’re on that, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a weave or extensions. Not only can a weave or extensions give you a look you might like, a weave or braids can also be protective to hair, so long as it’s done well. (A too tight or poorly braided weave can break hair). And when hair really needs to rest many black women wear wigs.
Alright, I’m going to really help ya’ll with this. Because so many white women I know have bought ridiculously expensive wigs when undergoing cancer treatment. Ask your black friends to direct you to a large beauty supply or wig store. A good wig might cost you hundreds, but shouldn’t cost you thousands. And if you don’t have a black friend, you should definitely make one! :-))
10. Protect your hair from sun and chlorine.
Chlorine and the sun both break down the hair cuticle. You instinctively know this right? But you are out there playing beach volleyball and taking selfies with some unprotected hair ladies!!! First, you can do what black mommas tell you to do and rock a hat or a swimcap. But if you’re not going to do that, at least go easy on the post-swim shampoo. Just rinse your hair well as soon as you get out of the pool and apply a leave in conditioner or conditioning mask.
11. Don’t let people touch your hair.
It’s a meme and a joke because we DO NOT WANT PEOPLE TOUCHING OUR HAIR. It’s not just out of curiosity. Touching hair also gets it dirty, transfers oil from your fingers and can break strands. Weaves, extensions and braids can also break off at the attachment point if handled frequently. So, black men know not to touch our hair. (Again, it’s a learning experience in an inter-racial relationship. Just ask Kelly). And while we’re on the subject, you shouldn’t twirl, twist or play with your hair either. I see SO many young women doing this, and it is the road to a bad habit of breakage.
12. Everybody needs conditioner.
I’ve had SO many non-black women tell me that they don’t use or don’t need conditioner. If I like them, I pour them some tea and suggest why they might try it. If not, I let them keep on looking crazy. Just kidding. But really, everyone needs conditioner, just a different type depending on your hair. Most black women have dry hair, and we select a conditioner and/or oil that doesn’t weigh our natural coil or texture down while providing the moisture we need. But folks with oilier hair often think they don’t need conditioner. Wrong! If you don’t believe me, google it. Look for a clarifying conditioner and/or one with tea tree oil, which can help absorb oil. And if you want to try one you already have at home, try applying it just to the ends of your hair.
13. Wrap your hair at night.
If you’re a black woman, you know a sleep bonnet, silk scarf of head wrap can protect your hair while you sleep. (Interestingly, if you’re a black man, you’re very used to this. But it’s often a surprise in interracial relationships). But that’s something women of other ethnicities rarely do. Regardless of your hair type, it benefits from loving care are you thrash around the bed at night. Wrapping hair prevents tangles and breakage. Silk scarves are what most women use, but you can also use a sleep bonnet (my choice!) or turban.
14. Exfoliate scalp to loosen dandruff AND stimulate hair growth.
You know that viral instagram video from the stylist exfoliating her clients scalp with a soft brush to loosen dandruff before washing?
Yeah, we’ve all been doing that. In fact, one of my earliest memories is watching my mom exfoliate her scalp and wash her hair on the weekend. I know it’s kind of yucky to watch, but isn’t it much yuckier to think about how much old dead skin is up there if you don’t exfoliate. If you have dandruff and have only been using dandruff shampoos, you’ll thank me for this! And if you are a regular user of dry shampoos, you’ll find it particularly useful too.
15. Don’t over wash.
I am not sure how white folks get the message that they need to wash their hair every day, but almost no one needs to wash hair that often. Hair should be washed when it’s dirty. Most black women wash their hair once a week. We know that daily shampooing strips our hair AND scalp of its natural oils. And if your scalp tends to produce lots of oil (i.e. oily hair) stripping it too often of oils only makes the scalp produce more. So over washing your hair can actually make it oilier. For real.
Well there you have it! The things we weren’t telling you. Love to you all my antiracist friends. Let's keep learning and growing together.