With World Afro Hair Day arriving on Friday 15th September, this article is about the importance of continuing to address issues of diversity within the hair care industry for the sake of our health.

Afro hair remains a minority hair type catered for in the hair care industry, whether this be salons on the high street or products in retail stores. In fact, many high street salons have been known to refuse services for customers with afro hair, or claim it is not a hair type they service. Others have charged more for having to go through the “effort” of handling afro hair. Freddie Harrel teamed up with Stylist to shine a light on this very worrying issue that many women and men with textured hair have already experienced, time and again.

Black and mixed-race women and men are restricted to having to find Afro-specific salons to get their hair styled in, which are often pocketed away in specific areas of larger cities or almost non-existent in more rural areas. The more casual nature of some of these independent salons means risking their hair with an inexperienced hairdresser who can cause serious damage to their hair and scalp health as well as their self-esteem. This leads to many caring for their hair at home using DIY methods.

But why does this happen?

There are many reasons that contribute to this disappointing treatment of afro hair. Firstly, we must start with hairdressing education. For a young stylist learning the basics of hairdressing, afro hairdressing still remains an option module for them to take (at an extra cost) and not a standard requirement of the curriculum. This leaves young stylists leaving colleges, qualified, but only in handling straight or European-like hair textures unless they have gone out of their way to study it. By the time they meet a paying customer asking for a service on afro hair, a hair type that they have never had to study, practice on or be examined on, the prospect can be daunting and many refuse the service. Those ignorantly brave enough to give it a go, can end up causing serious damage to afro hair, particularly where chemical and heat processing is involved. However few stylists will actually say that they are unqualified to work with afro hair.

Another suggestion, and unfortunately the most disconcerting, is that refusing services for afro hair, maintains a certain image of what the patrons of a salon should look like. A homogeneous image of what that salon’s clientele and standard of beauty is considered. This is often echoed by the marketing imagery you will see around the salon and the models used to sell the products in the window.

With such uncomfortable experiences of visiting high street salons, many black and mixed customers eschew the mainstream hairdressing industry entirely and rely on the independent afro hair salons that claim more experience. However, as with all salons, finding a stylist who is experienced in caring for the many variations of afro hair can still feel like a lottery.
With the hairdressing industry remaining unregulated, there is no independent body to check for the quality of care or standards to protect customers.
Those burned (sometimes quite literally) by their hairdressing experience may instead resort to DIY concoctions and treatments which can be just as damaging when experimenting with oils, heat and chemical processing.

What needs to change?

1. We need education! Every hairdressing student should be expected to understand how to handle and style ALL hair types with care and knowledge, including afro hair. Stylists who are already qualified should be encouraged to re-educate themselves in afro hair care modules so that we aren’t relying only on the knowledge of new graduates but also of those already in the industry, who are dictating the culture.

As mentioned in Chloe Sharpe’s article for Stylist, some education providers are starting to make changes. City and Guilds have been ensuring their NVQ qualification for hairdressing includes teaching students to have an knowledge of the 4 hair groups “from heavy straight hair right up to extremely curly, coiled or kinky hair, including afro hair”.
Stylist with wide ranging skills are more likely to be employed which will hopefully put further pressure on other training schools and qualification providers to extend their required curriculum also, so that their graduates can remain competitive in the job market.

2. We need to improve diversity in our salons, the availability of products and how we promote them. That means promotional imagery needs to represent all possible clientele served and the community of the area. In a city as diverse as London for example, there should be no exception.

3. We want to see fewer patients entering our clinic from avoidable hairdressing errors. Here at the clinic I am still seeing waves of relaxer burns and allergic reactions to dyes or contact dermatitis from oil mixtures that have been doused on hair and scalps in an attempt to tame frizz. The worst offender is the prevalence of traction alopecia among black and mixed women from weaves and braids attached too tightly and left in for too long.

This is a health concern and it is disproportionately affecting black and mixed women. We need to put a stop to this now and it is one of the main streams of education our clinic is passionate about promoting.
When we keep shouting that afro hair is beautiful in the natural state it grows from someone’s head, without being altered, smoothed, straightened or hidden away, we will reduce 80% of the avoidable conditions we treat at our clinic for our afro hair customers.

4. We need to see pride for the next generation of afro hair, so that they don’t feel a reason to need to change their hair other than for variety, and when they do want to have a change, it is done safely, and professionally, without causing pain, trauma and sadness.

So please join us in supporting the Stylist #HairEqualityInitiative  to encourage more hairdressers to commit to a fair standard of care for those with Afro hair.

Stay informed by reading our other blog posts that frequently cut through the confusing misinformation and current fads spread online about how to care for Afro hair and replace it with clear, scientific knowledge.

Remember, if you have experienced problems with your hair and would like a Trichologist’s assessment please call us to book in for a consultation, where we can assess your styling history, health and the state of your hair and scalp in person.

Please share this article to spread the word and make more people aware on World Afro Hair Day 2017. Let’s and put pressure on the hairdressing industry to make the necessary changes it needs to be truly inclusive and safe for all.

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