It has been said that a woman’s hair is her glory. For some women, hair isn’t glorious until it’s been processed, and for others, it is naturally glorious.
Tracy Favreau, D.O., assistant professor and director of dermatology at the College of Osteopathic Medicine, said that she has started to see a trend in black women switching from processed to natural hair.
“I’m starting to see an increase, and I’m happy to see it,” Favreau said. “The females in the ages of 30 to 40 are starting to go natural.”
Julian Moore, D.O., third-year dermatology resident at the College of Osteopathic Medicine, agreed.
“It’s become very trendy to go natural,” Moore said. “And I’ve seen some amazing styles with natural hair.”
Ulatha Cange, sophomore exercise science major, recently decided to go natural. Although she had thought about it for a while, she was not serious until she decided to write a paper for her composition class about “the myth that there’s such a thing as good hair or bad hair.”
She watched the documentaries “My Nappy Hair” and Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” before changing her mind completely.
“I left the library, and I went home,” she said. “I took out my weave, and I just cut my hair. I felt so good. I couldn’t help but laugh. All I did was laugh. People were like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said, ‘I just feel so much better,’ and it’s easier to manage. And it’s my hair — it’s not weave.”
Moore said there is no dif-ference in the protein composition of Asian, Caucasian and black hair. But there are still differences among them.
“The major difference is black hair has less tensile stress, meaning it will break more easily,” Moore said.
Black hair has fewer elastic fibers and anchoring hair follicles to the scalp, which makes it more susceptible to breakage. It is also more susceptible to spontaneous knotting.
Asian hair has a round shape, is the straightest and does not fray or spontaneously knot. Caucasian hair is straight or slightly curved and also does not spontaneously knot. Black hair is the most tightly coiled and is weaker than the other hair types. It is more elliptical in shape than Caucasian hair.
If a strand of hair is observed under a microscope straight up like a rod, black hair will appear frayed and flattened. Neither Asian hair nor Caucasian hair will appear frayed and will maintain their shapes.
Favreau said chemical relaxers, hot combing and other processes can cause Black hair to become weaker.
“All of these products can cause superficial chemical burns to the scalp if left on the scalp too long,” she said. “If they are used incorrectly, chemical alopecia [hair loss] can result due to significant breakage of the chemically damaged hair.
Moore said that the first step to going natural is to stop processing.
“Straightening, keratin [treatment], perming, hot combing and texturizing treatments — those are all procedures you’re going to have to stop,” Moore said. “But that doesn’t mean that you stop the fundamental hair care practices such as washing your hair and moisturizing your scalp.”
Moore recommends that women who choose to process their hair wait at least six to eight weeks between processing.
“If it’s relaxed or permed too often, these processes do cause a degree of irritation as well as inflammation of the scalp, which leads to trauma to the follicles which eventually cause scarring,” he said. “That scarring is what will retard the hair growth.”
That type of damage is what led Daquesha Cheever, D.O., resident of family medicine at the College of Osteopathic Medicine, to go natural two years ago.
“I was relaxing my hair probably too frequently, about every four weeks,” she said. “[I was] getting more and more damage and accumulating damage. I knew it was the best thing to do.”
After microbraiding her hair for a year and a half, she now wears a wig so she doesn’t have to worry about doing her hair.
“You have to have a good support system as far as knowing which products to use,” she said. “From August to now, I’ve been wearing my hair naturally under my wig.”
Melisa Coker, first-year docto-rate student in clinical psychology said many of her friends are going natural and she has researched it.
“In general, it’s definitely on the rise — this natural movement,” she said.
Coker is planning to go natural in about two or three years.
“I wonder about the professional implications of the afro [in corporate America.]” she said. “That’s one thing that’s hindering me from going natural right now and the challenges it poses while going to school right now. They say it’s really hard work to deal with.”
For now, Coker relaxes her hair every three months and wears ponytails often.
“I wear it up a lot,” she said. “Nothing too crazy.”
Coker also braids it one month every year but said she is careful that the braids are not too tight.
Favreau said that tight braiding can cause traction alopecia, hair loss due to tension in the hair follicle.
“When you braid it tightly, it causes inflammation in the hair follicle,” she said. “It causes scarring after a while. But the inflammation alone will make the hair fall out permanently. It’s trauma to the hair follicle over and over again.”
Fayssa Salomy, junior biology major, also perms her hair every two months even though she feels it damages her hair. To balance this, she braids her hair.
“Probably damaging my hair would make me go natural,” she said. “But even though I know that, I don’t think I will.”
Before going natural, Cange used to change her hair every week, from weaves and braids to relaxing.
Now, she wears it in an afro and is not going to relax it anymore. But she said she knows that going natural isn’t for everybody.
“Don’t do it because you’re trying to be accepted by your peers,” she said.
Moore said patients of his who have gone natural feel liberated.
“I’ve even had some young ladies who have experienced a sense of empowerment wearing it natural,” Moore said.
Glossary of Terms
Courtesy of Gabrielle Warren, Owner of Black Star Unisex, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Perm (relaxer): (for African-American hair) a chemical process which straightens the natural coil of Black hair.
Hot combing: straightening the hair with a hot cast-iron comb.
Texturizing: A chemical process, which loosens the natural coil of the hair but does not straighten it, thereby hair still curly but not as tightly as its natural texture.
Microbraiding: braiding loose hair extensions into small sections of the hair.
Weave: adding length or fullness to the hair by sewing hair extensions into the natural hair.