We all love the freedom of choosing a hairstyle that reflects our personality and our changing moods. With the exciting range of products and services available, we can enjoy almost any style or look that takes our interest.
This is especially true for men and women of African descent who choose to switch up their natural curls for something straight and sleek, or a head of beautiful braids.
However, many find to their dismay that these same products and practices can cause long term damage, not only to their hair and scalp but also to their health.
We’re exploring some common afro hair practices that need to be treated with caution.
Common Afro Hair Practices and Their Dangers
Moderation is the key to a healthy scalp, strong and beautiful hair, and overall wellness. We are certainly not saying that you should abstain from any styling or chemical products for your hair. Rather, we’d like to raise awareness of the potential issues that can cause irreversible hair loss and catch these before they become a problem.
Hair relaxers have become increasingly common as those with gravity-defying curls seek the long, straight tresses popular in fashion and media. What isn’t common knowledge is that the risks associated with the continued use of relaxers are two-fold.
Scalp and Hair Damage
When using relaxers, the cuticle and cortex of the hair shaft are penetrated and loosened to create straight, sleek hair. Hair that has been through this procedure can become weak, brittle and easily broken though.
Chemical burns to the skin can cause permanent damage to the scalp and result in hair loss. Inflammation of the follicles, lesions, thinning hair and unbalanced scalp pH are all possible side effects.
Relaxed hair would benefit from a break from harsh chemicals and a careful routine of nourishing hair care.
A study relating to the link between the chemicals found in hair relaxers and uterine fibroids in Black American women showed that there may be a link between the two.
The Mayo Clinic describes uterine fibroids as “noncancerous growths of the uterus that often appear during childbearing years.” While these of themselves seldom develop into cancerous tumours, they can pose other issues during pregnancy or childbirth. African ancestry is linked to higher rates of uterine fibroids, in some cases two to three times higher which further stacks the odds against Black women.
The issue is made more difficult to unpack as the ingredients listed in many products marketed to those with afro hair are vague or deliberately misleading.
For instance, lye has long been an ingredient in relaxers. Also known as caustic soda, this is a strong chemical that should be treated with caution. “Lye can burn the skin and damage the eyes in the dry or wet form. It also releases fumes, when mixed with water, that can harm the lungs. If swallowed, lye will burn the esophagus and can cause death. Children and pets should not be allowed around lye.” (Source)
When the dangers of lye were made public, many companies switched to no-lye relaxers to satisfy their consumers.
However, further studies tell us the following:
“No-lye relaxers are advertised to cause fewer scalp lesions and burns than lye relaxers, but there is little evidence to support this claim. Products may also contain hormonally active compounds, such as phthalates, which are not required to be listed separately as ingredients and are often reported under the terms “fragrances” or “perfume”. Cosmetic products are not subject to premarket approval by the Food and Drug Administration, and a complete list of ingredients is not mandatory, making it unclear what types of chemicals they contain. However, because the vast majority of hair relaxers list “fragrance” as an ingredient, and 100% of popular fragrances tested in a 2002 study were found to contain phthalates, most hair relaxers likely contain these chemicals. In addition, some hair relaxer products directly list phthalates as one of their chemical ingredients.”
We feel that respiratory issues, scalp lesions, an increased risk of cancer, fibroids, hormonal imbalances and damaged hair should not be acceptable as “side effects” of a chosen hairstyle.
This is a murky and largely unregulated chemical minefield that we can be reasonably certain does not serve the health interests of the consumer.
Weaving and Braiding
It’s common to see afro hair in various styles that include braids or weaves. It’s certainly a convenient and chic way to wear your hair. Nevertheless, those that have made use of these styles for a long period of time will attest to the fact that they come with their own set of problems.
Many experience headaches, breakage and hair loss around the hairline. The time and considerable cost invested in a high-quality weave or braids means that many choose to leave their hair in this style for extended periods of time which exacerbates the problem.
Even a tight ponytail can damage the delicate hair follicles around the face and neck, so it’s easy to see how the pulling and twisting involved in braids can do more harm. Traction alopecia is common in people with braids or other tightly woven styles, and if left unchecked can result in permanent hair loss.
Ask anyone who has experienced hair loss of any sort, and you can be sure that it’s well worth taking the time and effort to reassess your hair styling habits.
Rock Your Locks
More women than ever are embracing the natural texture and movement of their afro hair and moving away from societal expectations.
At the end of the day, however, how you wear your hair comes down to personal choice. We’d like to encourage you to educate yourself on the hidden dangers of common afro hair practices; ask questions, read labels, talk to professionals. Know that there are other options available to you that are healthier and better for your hair.
It’s never too late to start caring for your hair. Let us help you on your journey.