Whether you opt for a retro Afro, classic pageboy,
braids or dreadlocks, be sure to use the right products when styling
Black hair is more fragile than most, requiring tender, loving care.
The follicles and hair shaft are tightly curved, creating a naturally
curly or kinky texture. With less oil production, black hair also
tends to become dry and easily knotted.
Cornrow braiding, glues used to apply extensions, use of hair
relaxers and other popular services may lead to hair and scalp
problems that require a visit to the dermatologist.
"The frequent use of chemical hair relaxers to straighten
the waves of African-American hair weakens the hair, even when
done properly," says Dr. Gary J. Brauner, an associate clinical
professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York
For women who favor Afros for a natural look, use of a pick to
lift hair at its bushiest spots can cause damage. If braids are
pulled too tightly, hair may fracture and break, leading to bald
spots and hair loss. Women who regularly use a hot comb to relax
their hair may suffer progressive, irreversible hair loss, beginning
at the crown and spreading across the entire head.
Jenyne M. Raines, a former associate beauty editor at Essence
magazine, encourages black women to make peace with their hair
in her new book, Beautylicious! The Black Girl’s Guide to
the Fabulous Life. She outlines six basic hairstyles for women
of African heritage, with chic updates. (“The rest is just
a riff on a theme,” she writes.)
The Afro was designed to form a perfect circle
during the 1970s. Today, aim for a “textured, piecey,
free ’fro,” she recommends, perhaps parted to one
The classic pageboy, meant for straightened
hair, is now a modern, layered bob.
The “slicked-back ’do”
for short hair was generously “lubed” and brushed
back when you were younger. Today, it’s “texturized
to highlight the natural curl pattern.”
Long, straight hair will never go out of
style, but Raines recommends angling it at the face or fashioning
“a riot of natural curls.”
Ponytails are always a sensible standby when
you’re pressed for time, but Raines believes buying an
I Dream of Jeannie-style hairpiece confers a more sophisticated
Braids are always pleasing to the eye, and
Raines urges women to aim for Janet Jackson’s look in
the film Poetic Justice.
Dreadlocks are another popular style, particularly during the
summer, when hair feels heavy and you want to reduce its contact
with your neck. For the uninitiated, dreadlocks are not braids.
Rather, the hair is tightly twisted, tangled and knotted (“locked”)
into place (think of reggae great Bob Marley). Locks are difficult
to undo, so select this style only if you’re comfortable
with a long-term commitment.
You don’t need long hair to wear locks. A length of 3”
will suffice. Some women will lock their own hair, but it’s
advisable to use an experienced stylist.
Some women erroneously believe that locks are maintenance-free.
The style can be worn without problems if you follow specific
Shampoo appropriately: every three to five
days, on average—definitely at least once per week. If
you fail to shampoo frequently enough, your locks will become
dirty, itchy and begin to smell. If you wash too often, locks
will become too dry. Your shampooing schedule should be based
on your scalp condition and lifestyle. When dreads are new,
experts often recommend washing them through nylon mesh to prevent
loosening. (A pair of clean pantyhose works well.)
Use the right shampoo—one designed
for black hair, which won’t leave residue. Many stylists
recommend Dread Soap (available from www.dreadlocks.com), which
contains no colored dyes, fragrances, animal products or chemicals
that compromise locks. Always rinse well after washing, and
dry locks thoroughly with a towel, followed by air-drying. Tight
dreadlocks that retain water may actually form mildew.
Use specially formulated astringent cleansing
pads between shampoo days to reduce any buildup of excess oil
on the scalp.
Moisturize regularly with appropriate products.
Dr. Susan C. Taylor, a dermatologist who directs the Skin of
Color Center at St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital Center
in New York City, and author of Brown Skin, recommends two products
manufactured by Dark and Lovely: Tea Tree Oil Lock and Twist
Buster, as well as Hydrating Citrus Braid and Sheen Spray.
Avoid product buildup by switching from pomades
and gels to light oils. This will also help eliminate frizz.
Wear a silk or satin scarf when you sleep
to prevent frizz and dryness.
Maintain dreadlocks by replacing rubber bands,
as needed. Otherwise, locks will loosen. Never tug or pull at
Exercise caution when coloring or bleaching
dreadlocks. Seek the assistance of a qualified stylist to avoid
To find a qualified stylist, visit the African American Hair
Salons search engine (www.AfricanAmericanHairSalons.com), which
can help you locate hair salons, spas, services and supplies in
your geographic area.
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