It’s unique from any other hair on the planet. Versatile, misunderstood, and often even intimidating, black hair gets a lot of mixed press. For years, misinformation about African American hair has been floating around homes, salons, and even the net. And, unfortunately, too many of these untruths have been passed down from generation to generation, based upon misunderstandings or outright lies from decades, even centuries, ago. So it’s time to set the record straight! Here it is, the unvarnished truth concerning five commonly-held misconceptions about black hair:
Myth #5: “Natural African hair is so coarse, thick, and durable, it has to be the most resilient!”
Wrong. Actual hair analysis shows that the Type 4 texture—most common among African Americans, but surely not the only hair texture grown in this group—is really quite fine and fragile, on a strand-by-strand basis. It also has the thinnest cuticle layer, meaning it has less protection from heat, breakage, and damage. The apparent thickness and strength of black hair comes because so many of these delicate strands are packed into many black women’s hair follicles, with thousands of hairs growing in every square scalp inch. So while many African hair types may seem tough, they aren’t—they need loving TLC.
Myth #4: “Black hair just won’t grow, unless...(see Myth #3)”
First, there are individual differences. Maximum hair length, or the length people attain before their hair simply won’t grow any further, is mostly a genetic thing; our bodies are hardwired to give us X, Y, or Z inches on any given hair follicle, before the old strand falls out and gets replaced by a new one. Black people of all persuasions grow hair at different rates, and some grow very long hair, while others don’t.
Second, there is shrinkage. Curly and kinky hair types have been shown to shrink up to 75% of their full length when wet, in cold weather, and under other circumstances. So a woman with 16 inches of Type 4 kinky hair could get out of the pool and appear to have only 4 inches—it’s all perception!
And finally, there is poor hair treatment. Many women fail to realize the full potential of their locks because they overprocess, underwash, or otherwise mistreat their tresses, clogging their pores with products that actually prevent hair growth (see below), wearing too-tight black hairstyles that pull hair out at the root prematurely, or applying too much heat. Don't break it all off before it has a chance to finish growing! Fried, dyed, and laid to the side can = bald.
Myth #3: “Black hair won’t grow without this miracle product and these hair vitamins.”
Half-true. While eating a better diet and taking in more nutrients like vitamins can help aid hair growth and make you healthier, most of the products marketed as “Dr. Superman’s Ultra-Grow Hair Miracle” simply don’t work. In fact, many of them impede hair growth. For one thing, many of the scalp greases marketed for African American hair care are so heavy with mineral oil, petrolatum, and other pore-clogging and even dangerous beauty product ingredients, that they effectively suffocate hair follicles before they have a chance to see the light of day. Furthermore, the helpful ingredients they do contain are used in such tiny amounts that you scarcely get any benefits from them. The best thing to do is to read product labels carefully, and look for natural, lightweight moisturizing ingredients at the top of the list, and hard-to-pronounce synthetic ones at the bottom.
Myth #2: “African American hair needs grease to moisturize it.”
This point can’t be emphasized enough—it’s just not true! As pointed out above, many hair greases don’t necessarily build healthy hair, but instead just build up on your scalp. Besides working as a sort of greenhouse for your hair, trapping natural moisture and oils out, most greases are meant for scalp use only, when their potential benefits would best help the ends and middle parts of the hair. These older sections have endured the most wind, weather, and styling, and yet greases do little or nothing to help them stay healthy! Better solutions for healthy hair include using a deep conditioning hair treatment, applying leave-in conditioners, or washing with conditioning shampoos, to reach the complete hair shaft.
Myth #1: “Extremely coarse and thick black hair is ‘bad’.”
Wrong on so many levels. As Maya Angelou says, “Maybe if it grows between your toes, then it’s bad…but all hair is good hair.” Many African-American women experience high frustration with their hair as they learn to work with it, style it, and take care of it. Yet, as pointed out before, African hair types are unique in this world; almost no other race sports tresses as distinctive or recognizable. And in a world where one-size-fits-all is touted—in hairstyles, body sizes, fashion, and even music—it can seem like standing out is “bad”. But consider this: when did “average” ever get anyone anywhere? The most successful people stand out from the pack and find their own path, making their own distinct mark on the world in a way that works for them. So opening up to the true possibilities of your own unique African American hair—whether curlier, kinkier, shorter, longer, or straighter by nature—may be the best thing you ever do!
Take care of yourselves,