What are the basics to caring for ethnic hair? Do you have any unique tips for women of color?
African American ethnic hair is different in form than its Caucasian counterpart. It grows naturally curly and naturally frizzy. It also tends to be very coarse. Like with any other hair type, there is a rich diversity in the amount of curl, frizz and coarseness. African American women can have hair that is kinky, cottony, spiral-shaped, wooly, wavy and even relatively straight. But the natural tendency is for tight curls, thick hair and heavy density. This means that ethnic hair requires a unique method for the haircut and the day to day styling.
There are two ways that I recommend women deal with the challenges this type of hair presents.
The first way is to work with your natural texture to create ultra-simple, classical shapes in the haircut. Simple short and rounded shapes that make the hair super-easy to manage and longer, more layered cuts that create enough space between the curls to free the hair from tangles and celebrate the unique shapeliness of the curls are my favorites. The big bonus of this approach is that you can keep your hair’s natural texture but still make the otherwise highly challenging day to day styling simple and easy.
The second way is to use advanced salon techniques to reset the formation of your hair. This reformation can be extreme or minimal. You can choose to “relax” your hair in a way that will make it permanently straight or you can choose to reset your curls from tightly wound and stern to a much softer, looser, freer curl formation that can be manipulated into various shapes and styles more easily. The biggest benefit of these kinds of services? Especially for those who want to go straight for good (or at least until the relaxer grows out), this service gives you a much wider array of hairstyles to choose from. If you do straighten your hair, then the wide variety of styles normally more suited to Caucasian hair types will be completely open to you.
For care and upkeep, ethnic hair needs shampoos and conditioners that are rich in oil and moisture. Even as far back as 3,000 years ago, Egyptian women used oils as part of their own hair care regimen, and today you should walk like an Egyptian to tame your own curly, frizzy hair. Oil and moisture based shampoos and conditioners will literally provide a sealed barrier that holds in the hair’s moisture. Even better, look for products specially formulated for ethnic hair types. One warning: Don’t fall into the trap of believing that just because the bottle says it is specially designed for your hair that it’s a quality product.
The best way to know for sure what you’re getting is to check the ingredient list. Look for oils like coconut or nut oil, both great natural ingredients in shampoos and conditioners for helping to maintain the integrity of your hair. Also, look to see if the product contains Panthenol (or vitamin B5), a great ingredient to add moisture and shine. If not, what other moisture-giving ingredients does it contain? Look at the label to see if it makes a moisture-giving promise. You want the packaging and/or the person selling you the product to make clear that the product contains the right oils and the right moisture for your hair.
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