Don’t Believe Everything You Hear: Popular Misconceptions About Afro-Textured Hair And Haircare

December 14, 2012  |  
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Looking back over the past few years, we can confidently move into 2013 knowing that there is a wealth of information readily available at our digital fingertips on the world of kinky/curly haircare. Products have evolved and changed to suit our needs. New niche lines have been developed to address areas of concern that had previously gone neglected. Black haircare, as an industry and as a movement, has made a lot of progress.

But some habits, and thinking, don’t go down so easily. There are still a number of beliefs, some old and some relatively new, that are misleading, false, divisive or simply will destroy our hair if we don’t pay attention.

Here are ten of those popular misconceptions.

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Our Hair is “Coarse”

In the majority of cases, this is simply untrue. When most people think about the word “coarse” they immediately think of hair texture. Hence, hair that is kinky or tightly coiled is deemed coarse, particularly if it’s dry at the moment (when the cuticle feels it’s roughest). However, the term “coarse” refers to the actual diameter of the individual strands, not the texture. In actuality, the majority of us have fine hair.  (Believe it or not, Asian hair tends to be coarse. The strands are thick and it used to be notoriously difficult for them to change their hair color.) Your mane can be thick in volume (dense), but made up of fine strands. (It can also have a blend of fine and coarse strands, as well as different textures.)

Because the diameter of “coarse” hair is larger than fine hair, it also tends to be less porous. Every gap in porous hair is a point along the hair shaft that is vulnerable to damage. When hair is less porous and the cuticle layers tightly overlap each other (which is the way a healthy shaft of hair should be), the hair is more resistant to chemicals (relaxers, color). Fine afro-textured hair also tends to be porous, so please do your hair a favor and stop buying relaxers for coarse hair if you relax your hair. The likelihood that you will overprocess and harm your hair is much greater with heavier chemicals.

Also, when you think of your hair as “coarse,” psychologically and emotionally, it affects how you physically respond to your hair. Many women react by treating their hair like something that has to be tamed and subdued. Treat your hair with TLC like the fine, delicate lady that she is and she will reward you for it.

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Our Hair Doesn’t Grow

Thank God for YouTube and all the hair sites and posted pictures that shoot this theory down over and over again. Our hair might grow more slowly than other types, but even the jury is out on this one. Perhaps it is more difficult for a coily strand to get pushed forth from the hair follicle than a straight strand of hair. But the biggest culprit for this misconception is that in many cases, “lack of growth” is really a misnomer for lack of length retention. If your hair is breaking off at the ends at the same rate that it is being pushed out from your scalp, you will definitely look like you’ve hit a plateau or reached your terminal length, when all you need to do is change your haircare routine (and possibly tweak or overhaul your diet).

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All the Women in My Family Have Short Hair So It’s In My Genes

She get it from her momma! Well, turns out that may be true. But it could also be the case that since patterns of grooming are often learned, perhaps the females in your family were all laboring under the same false stereotypes about hair and passed that on to you. What if they, too, didn’t learn what they needed to learn about taking care of their hair type. It might just be that no one in your family really knows how long their hair is capable of growing. So don’t rush so quickly to chalk it up to heredity. You could be robbing yourself of untold inches by not taking the time to explore your own hairs full potential.

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Relaxed Hair is Damaged Hair

While relaxers do break down the structural integrity of the hair shaft by permanently rearranging the hydrogen bonds to make hair straight, this doesn’t automatically mean that relaxers are a death sentence for your hair. Your hair may be compromised more so than healthy virgin hair, but by taking proper care of chemically processed hair, ladies with relaxed hair can have radiant, lively tresses. There are some people whose hair cannot take relaxers at all, but for most of those who have struggled with relaxed hair, more often than not, the real culprits are from overlap damage, not waiting enough time in between relaxers (or stretching) and/or using a relaxer that is too strong for our hair.

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Natural Hair is Healthy Hair

Yes, natural sistas do have an advantage in that the hair is virgin and has more tensile strength in each strand than hair that has been chemically altered. Having said that, a woman who is struggling and frustrated with her natural hair and not taking the time that it needs to keep it up is not going to have hair that is healthier than the sista with relaxed hair who meticulously conditions and moisturizes her hair. All hair, natural and chemically treated, can be healthy hair with the right care and maintenance.

Source: Shutterstock

You Can Judge A Woman By Her Hair Type

I don’t have to tell you because you already know, but we get summed up a lot by how we wear our hair. And this isn’t just women of color, this is women in general (ask any blonde how she feels about the dumb blonde stereotype). But I’ll never forget when a former co-worker was surprised to learn that I not only wasn’t vegan, but also ate pork. Not all women who wear their hair natural want to live in an ashram, burning incense and making their own handcrafted sandals out of hemp. There are lots of Louboutin-loving naturals who are just as into fashion and trends as their weave-wearing or relaxed-haired counterparts. Just as having chemically altered hair does not make one a sellout, or mean that we’re buying into Eurocentric standards of beauty. As a woman, each one of us has earned the right to enjoy our hair (unless, of course, you insist on wearing those dreadful wigs with the artificial-looking hairline one inch above your eyebrows. That should earn you eternal damnation to the seventh level of hell in Dante’s Inferno. I’m only kind of just kidding.)

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Co-Washing Should Replace Shampooing

Now don’t get me wrong. I think co-washing is great and it really benefits those with drier hair types that is often quick to tangle. But under no circumstances should co-washing be a complete substitute for some type of actual shampoo for your hair. I think the majority of us have heard to stay away from sulfates and other ingredients that strip the hair. Shampooing should be concentrated on the scalp, so if you’re worried about drying your hair out, be sure to do a prepoo treatment and then try to stick to lathering the roots only. When too much moisture, dead skin, styling products and bacteria build up on the scalp, it can cause infections and irritations.

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You Can Never Have Too Much Moisture (or Conditioner for that matter)

Wrong again. Too much moisture and/or conditioner can leave hair mushy and weak. In a worst case scenario, it can even cause hair to rot. That’s why the Green House Effect (“GHE”) and “baggying” every night isn’t for everyone.

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Protein is a Girl’s Best Friend

Not so fast. Protein is great for hair. It strengthens hair and reinforces the structure of the hair shaft. But too much can make hair rigid and prone to breakage. Think of it this way, in a hurricane high winds can cause stalwart trees to snap because they are stiff, but plants like grass and reeds bend in strong wind. They are flexible so they don’t break. One of the biggest challenges that many of us have faced along our hair journeys is determining just the right balance between moisture and protein to keep our hair fortified, but supple. Some have reported that their hair doesn’t like protein at all.

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Calcium Hydroxide Relaxers are Better Than Sodium Hydroxide Relaxers

Lye has gotten such a bad name and understandably so. It is a heavy duty, caustic chemical that should be used with care… no, caution. You’ve probably heard it before, but the difference between a lye relaxer  and Draino (which eats through hair) on the pH scale is about 1 point (as in if Draino is a 13, than a relaxer is a 12). Somewhere along the way, people started touting calcium hydroxide relaxers as being less harsh than sodium hydroxide relaxers. Calcium is a good mineral though, right? Well the properties in calcium that makes it good for teeth and bones is precisely what makes it not so hot for hair. Calcium deposits can build up causing hair to be stiff, brittle and dry, almost like what happens when a hair gets too much protein. Sodium Hydroxide relaxers, if used properly, can usually be left on the hair for a shorter amount of time, which is better for your hair and scalp.

What are some misconceptions that you have run into along your hair journey?

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  • chanela

    i know one thing that’s not a myth. non black women don’t have to do diddly squat to their hair! how come everybody got easy to deal with hair except for black women? come on now god!! smh

    (btw yes i KNOW that non black women do things to their hair as well, but it’s nowhere near the amount of money and time spent though. they don’t do anything to it to make it grow,they can abuse the hell out of it and it would still be down to their ankles, and they can walk into any salon in the world with absolutely no problem or rejection.


    • coco

      it’s because somewhere along the line, blacks began thinking that their hair wasn’t appropriate and that something needed to be done to it…there is nothing wrong with it…leave it alone…it doesn’t always need to be styled…we are too conditioned to think that it should hang down like caucasians when in fact it “hangs out”…lol…and btw I have some white, jewish, and hispanic friends and they all have a lot to do to tame theirs as well in order to fit into the way the rest of society looks…I personally think that God made us all different because it’s more interesting that way..not all birds or flowers or animals look the same..learn to appreciate the differences..we are all humans, just different packaging..stay up sistah be proud of the cloud…no one else has it!!

  • lightbrownis

    So glad you put these myths too rest . . . black women always like to talk about the next woman’s hair, instead of us comparing notes and learning from each other. Natural or Relaxed!

  • Just saying!!

    I’m really frustrated. I can’t seem to figure out my hair. I keep losing hair and I don’t even know if I’m washing right honestly (spoiled by the hairdressers lol). I just scrub as much as possible. But I always seem to have breakage. There was a brief time I didn’t but I don’t know what I was doing. I’m just annoyed because my hair was longer when I was younger and I was natural! I for want to have to keep trimming my hair all the time and starting over! Beside you don’t have to trim right away anyway right? My ends haven’t gotten bad yet. I just want my hair to stop breaking and I know it will get long! Maybe I just need different hairstyles…

    • Miss Anonymous

      Lol I know what your talking about with being spoiled by hairdressers. What I did was wash my hair in sections to keep it from tangling, detangle before I wash and after I condition. I also just recently let my hair actually dry some before doing bantu knots. More dry for me equaled less hair coming out for me. You dont have to trim your hair all the time but you can do a search and destroy where you just snip off ssk’s and split ends. Yes I know doing a search and destroy takes a long time but trust me your hair will thank you for it.

    • CarlaKah

      Try all of this at the same time for ONE month and it will make a huge difference!:

      *co-washing (only washing with a soft conditioner) every 2 weeks in combination with a hot oil treatment (warm oil in your hair that you rinse out the next day. so NO shampoo)

      *oiling the scalp with natural oils (olive oil, castor oils etc)

      *rinsing with fruit juice once a week

      *3 liters of water intake per day

      *eating fish (max 3 ounces) 3 days a week/meat (max 3 ounces) 1 day a week/ 3 days vegetarian/vegan

      * cook with vegetable oils like olive oil

      * eat a pound of vegetables a day + 2 portions of fruit

      * stay away from sodas and other sugary goods

      * 5 nuts (for instance walnuts) a day

      *exercise at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week

      *vitamine supplements for hair&nails

      * Make sure you get you fibres from grains as well (high fiber cereals, whole weat bread etc)

      * wrap your hair a satin scarf every night and rub a little oil around your edges every morning (to get the blood flowing).

      * sleep at least 6 hours per night

      * Try to limit or completely avoid coffee, black tea and alcohol.

      * Do not comb your hair every day or even touch it. Try to do a style that your hair can hold for at least 3 days. Switch up a tight and strainting style with 5 days of rest .

      You might lose weight in the process but the high intake of fibres, vitamines, water, omega 3-6-9 and exercise will help you body get clean, your hair breath and your blood flowing. I guarantee you that your hair will look better and feel better after doing this for a month.

  • Ooh La La

    I remember when I first started to learn about my hair and started a “hair journey.” I cut my relaxed ends off and began doing the co-washes, using leave-in conditioners and the whole bit. Honestly, I just got frustrated, especially with detangling and two-strand knots. I thought back to when I was elementary school when my hair was long and healthy, and I just began to employ those methods again, and my hair has been better for it ever since. I realized that my hair just likes to be left alone. I wash and deep condition twice a month. I flat iron it after and use lightweight leave-ins on itOther than that I wrap every night and its working well for me, despite the face that method seemed to be what everyone is telling me not to do.