Did you know that approximately 80% of African-descent women have used chemicals to relax their hair? Additionally, one study showed that around 90% of women who experience hair breakage and damage reported using chemical treatments. It’s no secret that heat and chemical styling treatments do untold damage to afro hair, but do you understand the full import of these facts?

We’re spotlighting the continuing use (and promotion) of chemical and damaging heat treatments. It’s important to understand exactly what happens to the hair and scalp when these treatments are applied. Let’s uncover this together.

(Dis)Believing Beauty Norms

Societal expectations, media representation, and workplace standards influence the need to adhere to Western beauty norms. Black women may feel the need to have straight hair in order to be seen as professional or attractive, impacting their self-esteem and overall well-being. Those models on the boxes of chemical straighteners look sleek and gorgeous and certainly what many aspire to.

However, the reality lies elsewhere. Money is being made by keeping this standard of beauty popular; in fact, the industry is booming.

    • According to multiple sources, the UK black hair industry is estimated to be worth £88 million.

    • Black women in the UK spend, on average, three times more than white women on hair care, making up 80% of the total UK hair product sales.

The afro hair care industry is a massive cash cow that too many are eager to milk. It wouldn’t matter if it consisted of a few harmless gimmicks or some pretty colours. But it doesn’t – and it matters!

Understanding Afro Hair

Afro hair, as individual as a fingerprint, has a unique structure and composition that demands bespoke care. Known for its gorgeous curl pattern, afro hair can be likened to a fragile antique piece, beautiful yet susceptible to damage. The challenges are numerous – from retaining moisture to preventing breakage.

Additionally, many women are exposed to chemicals and damaging styling treatments from an early age, adding to the ongoing battle for healthy hair.

The Impact of Heat Tools on Afro Hair

Heat tools lure us with the promise of silky, straight hair or defined curls. However, their frequent usage can wreak havoc on afro hair. The higher the heat, the greater the damage, with hair essentially “cooked” from the inside out.

Heat styling can damage afro hair in several ways:

Loss of Moisture

Exposure to high heat can cause a loss of moisture in the hair. The heat strips away the natural oils and causes the water molecules in the hair to evaporate, leading to dry and brittle hair.

Changes in Protein Structure

Heat styling can change the structure of the proteins in the hair, specifically the keratin strands. High temperatures can convert the ⍺-keratin to β-keratin, which weakens the hair and reduces its elasticity, leaving it limp in appearance, even after washing. This makes the hair more prone to damage and breakage.

Damage to Cuticles

The high temperatures from heat styling can cause the cuticles, the hair’s protective outer layer, to crack. This can make the hair more susceptible to breakage and moisture loss.

Permanent Damage

Heat damage to afro hair is often permanent. The heat can break the S-S or disulfide bonds within the hair strands, which give the hair strength. Once these bonds are broken, they cannot be repaired, and the hair remains damaged.

The Fragility of Afro-textured Hair

Afro-textured hair is naturally more fragile due to its texture. The tight/kinky curls are fine in diameter but dense and thick, making them more susceptible to damage from heat-styling tools.

At our clinic, we have a strict policy when it comes to heat… Don’t use it!

Whilst we can’t force everyone to stick to this method, you should consider that if you are going to use heat, there will be an impact on your hair. This may be limited by using heat styling tools at lower temperatures, using heat protectant products, and limiting the frequency of heat styling, but the damage has still been done.

Incorporating moisturising and conditioning treatments into your hair care routine can help mitigate some heat damage sustained and improve hair manageability until the damage is ready to be trimmed off.

The Impact of Chemical Treatments on Afro Hair

Relaxers, perms, colour treatments – the chemical parade is long and varied. These treatments are often sought for their transformative capabilities but are a double-edged sword.

The following are some ways in which chemical treatments can damage Afro hair:

  1. Breaking down disulfide bonds: Chemical relaxers break down the disulfide bonds found within the hair’s cortex layer, which can reduce hair elasticity and weaken the hair.
  2. Compromising the hair structure: Chemicals used in treatments like bleaching, relaxing, perming, or straightening can compromise the hair structure by penetrating the cuticle to bleach the pigments in the hair or alter the hair’s shape.
  3. Harsh formulas: Damage can occur when the formula used in chemical treatments is too harsh or when processing takes too long, leading to permanent damage, breakage, and literal hair disintegration.
  4. Rough outer hair shaft: Bleaching/dyeing and excessive heat can damage the hair’s protective outer cuticle layer, making hair more prone to tangling, matting, and snapping.

It is important to note that damaged hair may be beyond repair, and no amount of conditioning, protein treatments, or miracle products can help. The only way to stop hair loss from chemicals is to reduce their use and focus on strengthening the hair, making the scalp healthy and committing to regular trims.

Let’s Talk About Lye

Sodium hydroxide, or lye, is a potent alkali often found in conventional hair relaxers. It works to dismantle the natural curl pattern of the hair. Although lye relaxers can swiftly alter hair’s bonds, they can have potent actions on the integrity of the hair shaft if not used correctly, breaking more disulphide bonds than is appropriate and leading to hair disintegration, hair breakage, and in severe cases, chemical burns.

Remarkably, this powerful chemical, lye, has some pretty extreme uses, such as unclogging drains and dissolving animal remains. It even finds its place in some mortuaries for chemical cremations.

When utilised on afro hair, lye relaxers infiltrate the outer protective cuticle and break bonds in the cortex layer of the hair shaft to loosen the natural curl pattern. This procedure leaves the hair fragile and prone to breakage and may even cause scalp burns and lasting damage. Persistent and heavy use of lye-based hair straightening products or relaxers can heighten the risk of breast cancer, compared to more moderate usage.

Layer of hair structure. The hair shaft consists of cortex, cuticle, and medulla.

It’s worth mentioning that not all hair relaxers incorporate lye. Some rely on other chemicals, like calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate, to break the hair shaft’s chemical bonds efficiently. However, these relaxers can also damage the hair and scalp if not used properly.

Hair loss and Relaxers

Over the last 13 years in our clinic, we have seen patients presenting with increasingly thin hair to the top of their scalps, scalp inflammation, and scarring already present. 95% of these patients had a history of using hair relaxers and at least one occurrence of chemical burning from the relaxers during that time.

This type of hair loss is diagnosed as CCCA. Whilst not every person who has relaxed their hair experiences CCCA, almost all patients with CCCA have a history of strong chemical processing of their hair. It is a link that still requires more research, and undoubtedly, there are genetic components that have to be considered, but we can no longer say that chemical styling has no long-term impacts associated.

Find Out About Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde, also recognised as formalin and methylene glycol, is a colourless chemical with a pungent odour, commonly used in hair straightening treatments. Should its concentration in the air surpass 0.1 parts per million (ppm), it may cause eye-watering, burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat, nausea, coughing, wheezing, and skin discomfort. The substance poses health risks when inhaled or when it comes into contact with the skin or eyes.

In the context of afro hair treatments, formaldehyde can have various effects. Some potential implications of formaldehyde use include:

    • Hair Straightening: Treatments containing formaldehyde can break down protein and water bonds within the hair, enabling it to be manipulated and straightened.
    • Frizz Control: Formaldehyde-based treatments create a barrier around the hair when straightened with heat, removing “frizz”.
    • Extended Effect: The impact of formaldehyde treatments can last for a considerable amount of time, keeping hair smoother and straight.

However, it is crucial to remember that formaldehyde is categorised as a carcinogen, and its usage carries associated health risks. Exposure to formaldehyde in hair treatments can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation and respiratory issues. Several authorities, including the FDA, have cautioned against using formaldehyde-releasing hair treatments and advocate for safer alternatives. The use of this product in salons affects not only the recipient of the hair treatment but the salon staff too.

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in Hair Care Products

Several chemical hair products encompass endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that can hinder the normal function of the body’s endocrine system. Such EDCs can be sourced from various means, including personal grooming items like hair colourants, bleach, relaxers, and styling mousse.

Specifically, these can include:

EDCs can enter the body via numerous pathways, such as through consumption, inhalation, skin contact, and water; even minimal dosages may prove harmful. Given the body’s endocrine activity relies on minuscule hormonal alterations, even slight disruptions to these levels can have significant developmental and biological repercussions. Consequently, even minor exposure to EDCs can disrupt the body’s delicate systems and induce health issues.

The long-term consequences of EDC exposure in hair products remain somewhat nebulous. However, research indicates that several such products contain parabens, phthalates, and other chemicals identified as endocrine disruptors. The sad truth is that roughly 50% of products marketed to Black women incorporate these types of chemicals, in contrast to 7% targeting white women.

The Combination of Heat Tools and Chemical Treatments

Imagine a small fire, steadily growing. The use of heat tools on afro hair is akin to feeding that fire with small twigs, slowly but steadily. Now picture dousing it with petrol, the flames escalating rapidly – that’s like adding chemical treatments into the mix. The synergy of these two elements creates a scenario far more damaging than their individual effects.

    • Cuticle Damage: Chemical treatments, such as bleaching or straightening, can cause damage to the cuticle scales of Afro hair, making it more prone to breakage and dryness.
    • Increased Porosity: Chemical treatments can increase the porosity of Afro hair, making it more susceptible to moisture loss and damage from heat styling tools.
    • Weakening of Bonds: Chemical straighteners, like those containing formaldehyde or glyoxylic acid, can weaken the bonds in Afro hair, especially when heat is applied. This can lead to cuticle irregularity and decreased hair elasticity.
    • Loss of Natural Proteins: Chemical treatments can strip Afro hair of its natural proteins, leaving it weak and brittle.

When heat treatments are applied to chemically treated Afro hair, it can exacerbate the damage by further drying out the hair, causing moisture loss, and increasing the risk of breakage.

Are You Damaging Your Hair and Body?

We fully understand the pressure placed on women today. Not only to be able to fully express your identity and beauty but also to have convenience and enjoy stress-free styling. However, we encourage you to ask the question, “Is it worth it?”

We see more women coming into our clinic suffering from irreversible hair damage and compromised scalps from harsh chemical treatments. Many of our patients veer towards relaxers because they lack clear information on how to care for their hair in its natural state. They find that it takes up too much time, or they have less versatility when it comes to styling. Conversely, they feel that relaxed hair is simply easier to manage. Especially when most stylists accept and promote the idealised Western beauty standards of long and straight hair.

Sadly, these long-term medical issues are becoming more prevalent as the greedy world of commerce kicks up its advertising and influencer campaigns. Black women are constantly subjected to marketing campaigns that use claims and vocabulary which dilute the dangers of these products. In some cases, they are claiming that they are actually good for the hair! There are simply no viable alternatives being made available on a mass scale. This simply isn’t fair: you deserve to have all the facts.

You’re Worth More

Just like a book is much more than its cover, your hair is more than a style statement. It’s an integral part of your identity and well-being. But, overreliance on heat tools and chemical treatments can cause significant damage to afro hair and pose risks to your health.

Promoting the acceptance and celebration of natural hair textures is crucial. By avoiding damaging practices and adopting proper hair care routines, black women can promote hair health and reduce the risk of hair loss. Education about diverse hairstyles is important, along with challenging beauty standards to alleviate the pressure faced by black women.

We warmly encourage you to get in contact with us if you’re suffering from heat or chemical damage to afro hair or for advice and sensible options.

Sandra
Sandra
2024-06-12
Dear Eleanor, Teresa and Ashley, I just wanted to thank you all first and foremost for the hospitality. The warmth from the moment one walks in to meet Ashley to then commencing the treatments with Eleanor and Teresa is unmatched. Eleanor and Teresa, I can't thank you enough for the confidence you instilled in me. I came to you when I was at my wit's end. But gently and slowly, you educated me about my hair and treated me back to a place where I started wearing my hair out for first time in over 10yrs, I can wear it out. Thank you for the treatments Thank you for the care Thank you for the education Thank you for the words of encouragement
Whitney Koranteng
Whitney Koranteng
2024-05-25
Hi came across Fulham and scalp through a talk they did. My hair was in desperate need as it was dry with patches. I had a consultation and I found out that along with my dry hair I had traction alopecia due to back to back braiding styles along with CCA due to PCOS. The consultation was amazing. I did not realised how inflamed my scalp was due to hair practices but my lifestyle. I was recommended treatment in the clinic and a treatment to take home. I have been coming back for the past 8 months to receive treatment and trims and I have seen such an improvement in my hair. They have helped me with having a consistent hair routine. I would highly recommend as I was losing hair foicles and had no reason why.
J M
J M
2024-05-16
Trichologist’s Teresa and Eleanore are absolutely lovely, friendly and approachable. Super lucky to have found this Clinic, especially one that specialises in my Afro hair. I’ve taken on all the advice that they’ve given me and my hair has been improving in under 2 months. Naturally, I am feeling 100% confident with my hair. I’m still going on the journey. Their products are absolutely stimulating, and my hair loves it! Ashley is a star. The GREATEST compliments cannot even define the magic these ladies have worked so hard to help me accomplish. Thank you!🌟 Looking forward to my next appointment.✨
Swiss Note
Swiss Note
2024-05-15
Unbelievable place, Magical, I’m so thankful for YOU “Hair & Scalp clinics” work‼️‼️ The treatments you can purchase have worked wonders daily, weekly or monthly use depending on preference, what you can offer, scheduling. It has been so beneficial for me, I can’t lie I came into this unassuming and sceptical as I had scalp issue all my life now it’s all CLEAR UP FROM ME. THANKs to this amazing family run Afro all sorts of hair treated establishments
Ifẹ A
Ifẹ A
2024-05-04
This place has genuinely changed my life! I went from relying on the daily use of wigs to finally being able to understand and appreciate my natural coils. I would never have been able to wear my natural hair out a year ago (mostly due to the fact that I had so many bald spots and basically no hairline!) so I am shocked daily at how far I’ve come in such a short space of time. If you decide to visit, please do listen to the advice of these wonderful experts, it really does work! I’ve also realised how much we over complicate black hair, healthy black hair is actually super simple to achieve. Thank you everyone at Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic! Each day I wear my hair out, I’m appreciative of the day I discovered this wonderful place!
Beth L
Beth L
2024-04-08
I’ve been getting desperate with my 4C hair situation, so I’m so glad I found this clinic. Eleanore and Ashley were so accommodating and nice! I learned a lot of new things. Now, my hair has improved a LOT after following Eleanore's advice. Highly recommend.
Judith Worrell
Judith Worrell
2024-04-03
I feel and look confident after my treatment and trim from Fulham Scalp and Hair Clinic and recommend anyone struggling with traction alopecia to confront the issue and contact the clinic as I did I have no regrets just new hair growth and a great look.
Courteney
Courteney
2024-01-12
Booked a consultation and the information I received was life changing. Didn't realise how badly I was maintaining my hair. Since getting my hair treated and trimmed, I have been given a healthy hair routine that has given me confidence and happiness. For anyone thinking about it definitely do it. Your not just paying for the treatment but also the knowledge. Customer service and attention to detail was 5*
Cabir TOPO
Cabir TOPO
2024-01-09
Sonia
Sonia
2024-01-02
My hair was damaged from keratin treatments. After doing some research I found this place online. I was nervous about contacting them for fear of judgement and blame. In May 2022 I got in touch. Even before I arrived the receptionist really reassured me and was very kind. Eleanor did my consultation. Her and Teresa are professional, empathetic, warm, supportive and knowledgeable. I didn't really know how to look after natural hair. However this has revolutionised things for me. My hairs unrecognisable to before. Its grown a lot and is the healthiest it's ever been. I'm so glad I found this place. I attend regularly for treatments. I can't recommend this place enough!!

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