Whether you wear your hair relaxed, loose, or in a protective style like braids, caring for Black hair can sometimes feel like a full-time job. But the rewards are huge. As any Black woman will tell you, the hair bond between Black moms and daughters runs deep, and hair has played an important role in Black history.
Black hair is different from other hair types. In general, it contains less water, grows more slowly, and is more prone to breakage than Caucasian or Asian hair.
Most African Americans have some degree of curl in their hair—from loopy curls to tight coils to zig-zag strands. Knowing your hair type and how to care for natural curls can help prevent hair loss and encourage hair growth.
What is natural hair?
Natural Black hair is hair that hasn’t been chemically straightened with a relaxer. This is sometimes called a perm.
There’s no one type that defines natural hair. It ranges in texture from wavy to coily-kinky (and, more rarely, straight).
Textured hair tends to have spring and bounce, which can make it look strong. But curly hair is delicate and more prone to breakage. As such, it needs to be handled with care. This means frequent conditioning and minimal use of direct heat.
Different hair types
To properly care for natural hair, you first need to know your hair type. Andre Walker’s hair typing system is one of the best tools we have for identifying hair type and texture. Broadly, the four hair types are:
Type 1: Straight
Type 2: Wavy
Type 3: Curly
Type 4: Coily
Each type has 3 sub-classifications (A, B, and C) based on the width/diameter of the curls.
Type 2A hair, for example, has a slightly tousled texture. It’s fairly straight from the roots to around eye level with a loose, undefined wave beyond that.
Type 3B curls spring from the roots and resemble corkscrews with circumference about as wide as a Sharpie marker.
Type 4C curls are the tightest (coils) and the most fragile, with texture ranging from fine to coarse. Type 4 curls need lots of moisture and gentle handling.
Most African Americans have Type 3 or 4 hair—but it’s possible to have different curl patterns in different areas.
For example, you might have looser curls around the sides of your head and tighter curls near your crown and down the middle. This is totally normal—although it might make your hair care routine more complicated.
Understanding hair porosity
Maybe you’ve heard the term “hair porosity,” which simply refers to your hair’s ability to soak up and retain moisture.
Hair with high porosity has tiny holes that absorb moisturizing products well, but it also holds onto humidity. This can make hair frizzy. Leave-in conditioners and hair butters can help seal up these holes and prevent frizz.
Hair with low porosity tends to resist moisture. Products also tend to build up on porous hair, which can make it look dull and weighed down. If your hair has low porosity, use a clarifying shampoo once a week to reduce build up.
Not sure about your hair’s porosity? Try this test:
Place a few strands of dry hair into a bowl of water.
Let it sit for a few minutes.
If your hair floats, it has low porosity. If it sinks, it has high porosity.
African Americans have been preparing their hair in protective styles like braids and cornrows for centuries. But this practice goes back thousands of years. Depictions of women in Northern Africa wearing cornrows have been found in Stone Age paintings dating back to 3,000 B.C.
Many people of African descent have thick, tightly coiled hair, which is perfectly adapted to protect their heads from the heat of the sun. While afro textured hair is resilient, it’s also delicate and needs protection from damage and loss.
This is where protective styles come in. “Protective” simply means tucking in the ends of the hair, which are susceptible to tangles, knots, and breakage. Protective styles include (but aren’t limited to):
Natural Black hair care tips
From perms to puffs to locs and knots, Black women have so many options with their hair. If your goal is to go natural, here are some tips for keeping your hair strong and healthy.
Adopt a wash day routine.
Avoid washing textured hair more than once a week, especially if you have dry hair and scalp. But don’t wait too long between washings. Hair can get frizzy and dry if it’s not washed often enough. Bacteria can also grow on the scalp without regular cleansing.
Choose a day of the week when you know you’ll have the time and energy to do your full wash routine, whatever it entails.
If you have dry hair and you’re worried about stripping away moisture when you wash it, use a sulfate-free moisturizing shampoo designed for natural textured hair, along with a moisturizing conditioner. Also avoid using hot water, which can dry out your hair and scalp.
Pretreat your hair before washing.
If you feel dry or itchy by the time wash day rolls around, try pretreating your hair and scalp with natural oil treatment before you wash it. Choose an oil that is liquid at room temperature, such as jojoba oil, avocado oil, shea butter oil, or emu oil.
Use a bottle with a narrow tip applicator to apply the room temperature or slightly warm oil to your scalp. Wrap your hair in a towel and let the oil do its work for 30 minutes to an hour.
Gently comb hair when it’s wet.
You should avoid combing textured hair when it’s dry, which can cause breakage. Instead, apply moisturizing oil or conditioner to your hair when it’s wet, and part it into manageable sections.
Comb each section with a wide-tooth or detangling comb, starting from the ends up. Gently detangle until all the knots are gone.
Reduce friction while you sleep.
Moving around at night causes your hair to rub against your pillow. Night after night, this can lead to hair damage. Certain pillow fabrics (like cotton) can also rob your hair and scalp of moisture.
You can reduce damage-causing friction and moisture loss at night by using a silk or satin pillowcase or headwrap. Also remove tight-fitting hair bands, which can tug at your hair and cause breakage.
Want more great content?
Listen to Edges, a storytelling podcast series where host Shantae Howell invites friends, family and other folks in the Black community to share their "hair x mental health" stories as she unpacks her own (ongoing) identity crisis.
Check out Edges at https://www.dcpofficial.com/edges.