Ethnic Hair and Options for Care

I am a black woman with naturally curly hair. It’s soft, wispy and spirals like miniature slinkies. Should I chose to change my style I can use basic heating tools and it will straighten out with no problem. I do not have a perm. Nor would I dare revert back to the torture from my misguided youth.

In my neighborhood my type of hair is referred to as “good hair”. I find this terminology offensive and frustrating at the least. It implies the rest of me is not good enough or that women with thicker, coarser hair are inferior. My sister Sean inherited the thicker and coarser version. Her hair is also stronger and longer than I could ever imagine mine being; which constantly led to us envying each others crowns of glory as children.

Having, what is now called “ethnic hair” on any level is a constant topic in the black community. This includes my bi and multi-racial friends who have even more difficult times finding competent hairdressers. If your mama didn’t grow up in a household using terminology such as “hot comb”, “grease”, “glover’s” or “perm” and you have ethnic hair; either she wasn’t black, didn’t grow up in a black community, her belief system wouldn’t allow her to do that to her babies head or you had money to have someone else do your hair.

Today, there are many options for getting ethnic hair done. Sadly, most of these are not in ANY of the beauty schools I’ve visited. Most beauty school will only teach how to care for European and Asian type hair. Any hair with the vaguest resemblance of African roots is feared. Unless the teacher is African (meaning; new to this country) odds are your hair stylist will be confused by your curly hair.

Here are some things to ask when seeking a hair stylist if you have “ethnic hair”

Do you do natural hair?
Is there an extra charge?
How long have you done natural hair?

Before going to the salon, gather pictures of hairstyles that will compliment your natural tresses. Be realistic. Unless you’re going to perm your hair, YOU KNOW you can’t pick a straight style and expect it to last for three weeks. Pick something you can maintain on your own. If you’re on a budget, pick something that will be easily maintained for six weeks and will not look weird in between washings.

Understand that natural ethnic hair needs special care. I cannot go days or weeks without washing my hair. I know some women who will only allow their hairdresser to wash their hair. They have a standing appointment every two weeks. I will scratch my scalp raw if I wait two weeks between washings. Especially if I wear it in its natural state. If I’m wearing a natural curl, I condition daily and wash every 2-3 days. Washing my hair daily would strip it of its natural oils and I would be running around town looking like I have a large bale of black hay on my head.

My hair dresser informed me that naturally curly “ethnic” hair gets drier than the average head of hair. I use olive oil daily. Yep, plain old over the counter Bertolli or a generic brand. Extra virgin.

Natural hair needs to breathe. This is where braids come in. I personally will not sit for hours at a hair dresser. Although, I will go to a spa and get a 1 hour massage which includes a scalp massage. This generates good blood flow and distributes natural oils and promotes a peace. If you are braver than me, try braids. Most braiders will want to put synthetic hair in your head. I am starting to see some scary effects of having this done and will not allow hair to be braided into my head. Instead I will normally opt for the front part being braided with the back natural or straight.

I keep straight days to winter months. I live in Texas and 110 degree weather will not allow me to keep a straight style for longer than 30 minutes. In the winter I am more apt to straighten my hair. I will normally wash, condition, and moisturize, then air dry. After that I heat up the curling iron and straighten it out. My curly hair is also slightly thin, so I do not need a lot of heat to get the results I like. If I want it straighter still, I will blow dry and then use the curling iron or flat iron. Should I lose my mind and want to venture into the land of “bone straight”, I’ll go to the salon and let the professionals deal with it.

Since I love the way my curls feel I never allow them to straighten it too straight. Some hair dressers have taken out the perm products as soon as they see me walk in the door and were flabbergasted when I said “no”. How dare anyone not appreciate me wanting to be natural.

Test different products. Mane and Tail and olive oil are a mainstay in my hair routine. I wash with Neutrogena Triple Moisture and use their daily and intensive conditioners. Once I step out of the shower I use about a tablespoon of olive oil; distributing it throughout my hair. Then I run Mane and Tail Conditioner throughout my hair; grabbing handfuls of hair and watching the curls spring into shape. I’ll either let it dry like that or add a headband to get it in the position I want it to fall for the rest of the day.

If you like straight styles but refuse to perm, BRAVO!!! Also, you should talk with your hair stylist about thermal techniques such as “hot combing”.

The hot comb which was made popular by Madame CJ Walker was a fixture in my house. My mother could not comb through my sisters natural hair unless it had been straightened. My sister got the hot comb treatment weekly as a little girl. When that became too much of a chore, mom started perming. I think my sister is the only female in history who could withstand the strength of the French Perm. Oprah said she was damn near bald using a French Perm.

My friend Minerva who has a Pilipino mama, a black daddy and a gorgeous crop of raven black hair introduced me to a Japanese thermal process which allows the hair to stay straight for weeks. It costs about $700 but is a healthier solution to a perm. You can find salons in your area that do these processes simply by doing a yahoo or google search.

Another method of getting a great stylist if you have natural hair, stop any woman you see who has a great style and ask “Who does your hair?”. Networking and word of mouth has its benefits. Most women are walking billboards for their stylist. Read the celebrity magazines and find a celeb who has a style you like. Take it to your stylist and ask if she can duplicate it. Most black stylist can, and will.

Now, I know you may be asking . . . if I’m technically a white woman with hair like a black woman, will someone be able to help me. Darlin, yes! You may have to step out of your comfort zone and walk into a salon filled with black woman and say, “HELP!!!” I have talked with white stylist who had no qualms telling me they “hated” doing black (“ethnic”) hair because it was too “wiry”, “hard”, “coarse”, “nappy” and hard to deal with. I can’t get mad at them because those are the same things young black stylists are saying. But, they are not taught to care for “ethnic” hair. Many young black women couldn’t identify their natural hair texture in a line-up! But, our society bombards us with images of long, flowing, blond hair. That is supposed to be the standard to aspire to and many women want. Therefore, many schools will teach what is popular as oppose to what is reality.

So, here are some tips to get you on your natural way:

1.Natural hair first of all is hair. Our care system (like any) is based on trial and error. Find products that work for you.
2. If your products work in San Francisco, don’t be shocked it they don’t work in Texas!
3. If you’re on medication of any kind, ask your doctor about the side effects before perming your natural hair. I have known women to lose lots of hair when the chemicals and the drugs didn’t react well together.
4. Talk to family, friends and strangers about the products they use, ESPECIALLY if you like their style.
5. If you are not a white woman and have never ventured into a predominately black salon, don’t be scared. We are all about peace, joy and are entirely too cute for the drama ignited by a lack of diversity in our society.

Now get out there and get coiffed, correctly.

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