Hair care tips: How to keep African American hair healthy and shiny
Caring for African American hair
African American hair requires extra attention to keep it healthy and shiny. Because of its coarse state, many African American women use chemicals such as relaxers for management as well as styling options. These chemicals break the protein bond in the shaft, thus making it more vulnerable to damage and breakage.
Also shine has also been an issue with African American hair due to the texture. Light reflects at a higher rate on smooth linear surface such as Euro hair provides. This is not so with afro hair, thus it requires assistance to maintain a shine.
There are four components to keeping African American hair healthy and shiny. They are washing, conditioning, moisturizing and protecting.
Most of us grew up washing our hair once a week or once every two weeks. Imagine the build up your scalp accumulates during a seven to fourteen day cycle. It is essential to wash one’s hair more than once a week, in order to keep the scalp clean and free to breathe. A healthy scalp promotes a healthy environment for hair to grow. A secondary benefit of frequent hair washing is scalp stimulation. Stimulating the scalp encourages blood circulation in the scalp, which is essential for bringing nutrients to the scalp and hair.
Just as important as the frequency of washing, are the products used when washing. There are three products that may be used to cleanse the hair and scalp: shampoo, conditioner and apple cider vinegar.
Shampoo cleanses our hair by stripping it of products and natural oil build up. Due to this fact, shampoo can dry the hair out. When washing one’s hair daily, one should use a protein conditioner only. There is enough detergent in the conditioner to cleanse the hair. The conditioner also provides elasticity and strength to the hair, which helps guard against excessive shedding and breakage.
If daily, bi-weekly or tri-weekly conditioner washes are in your routine, you must take care to prevent conditioner build up. This is done through weekly washes with a shampoo or an apple cider vinegar ( ACV ) rinse.
Apple cider vinegar ( ACV ) rinses are one part vinegar and three parts water. One might be careful not to use too much vinegar or the hair will be stripped and the pH level too acidic. ACV rinses clean the hair and scalp of product build up as well as providing “slip”. Slip is the level o f smoothness the hair shaft achieves. It is usually measured by folding dry hair into a loose knot and witnessing it “slip’ out of the knot, due to the smoothness.
The smoothness is a result of the cuticle shaft being closed. This is also highly responsible for shine. The smooth surface reflects light and provides a shine.
There are three basic conditioners. They are daily, deep and leave-in conditioners. Daily conditioner is needed after every shampoo or ACV rinse to replenish the moisture lost during the wash.
Deep conditioning is necessary periodically to help mend damage that is done to the hair from chemicals and/or styling tool heat.
Leave-in conditioners help seal the cuticle after a wash and condition. The leave-in provides a layer of protection on the shaft against heat from styling tools.
The major characteristic of Afro hair is the dryness. Daily moisturizing prevents brittleness which leads to breakage. Moisturize the hair only, not the scalp. Applying heavy products such as grease or pomade to the scalp suffocates it. Apply moisture in the form of creams or glycerin spray, sparingly to the hair. But make sure that the ends are thoroughly moisturized.
Glycerin sprays also provides a high shine for the hair, especially for close to the head styles. Oil sheen should be used for flowing styles.
Protect the hair against friction by tying the hair up with a silk scarf at bed time. Also use satin pillow cases for additional protection against breakage.
Protective styles such as buns and false ponytails help hair reach optimum length. Saturate the ends with moisture, fold into a knot (secured with a cotton scrunchie) and add a fake ponytail to protect the hair.
Box braids are good for protecting the hair and allowing it to rest from daily manipulation. Be careful not to have them done too tight or breakage will occur.
- Tightly braided hair styles. They cause hair shedding and breakage that can be permanent.
- Heat. The less heat, the less damage to the hair.
- Plastic combs with raggedy teeth. They literally cut and shred the hair.
- Rubber bands. They break the hair. Use a scrunchie instead.
The key to keeping African American hair healthy and shiny is maintenance. By keeping the scalp clean and stimulated, the hair conditioned, moisturized and protected the hair will retain a healthy state. Also remember that what comes out of your head is a reflection of what is in your body. Maintain a diet high in Omega fatty acids (found in some fish) and consider vitamin supplements, such as a multi- vitamin, B-complex or Biotin.