So you made up your mind or you’re considering your options on whether or not to go natural. You want to discover more about what it takes to transition from relaxed to natural hair. It’s understandable, I did that too. But first things first, before you educate yourself about shampoos, conditioners or hairstyles it is necessary to understand curly hair and how it differs from others. I hope this information will help you understand the needs of curly hair and guide you on a healthy hair journey.
Many believe or view hair as a living structure in the body, however, it’s actually not. The minute your hair pierces through of your scalp it dies. It’s a sad picture I know, but how else would it endure what we put it through. How would we endure the high temperatures, the chemicals, the pulling, the stretching…It would be horrific!
The image on the left side gives you a representation of a strand of human hair. The central part is the medulla which can be hollow or filled with cells. The middle part is the cortex and it’s where keratin can be found – a strong structural protein that is a major constituent of hair. The cuticle, the outer layer, plays an important part in maintaining the integrity of our hair. It is formed by several layers of scales that protect the cortex like a private army.
These characteristics are the same to everyone’s hair, regardless of race. However, when caring for our hair, there are characteristics between Caucasian, African and Asian hair that influence how our hair is and behaves, which are important to know so we choose the right products and haircare techniques.
Hair Growth and Density
Know how we, naturals, always want to make our hair grow faster than it does? Well, apparently African hair has the slowest growth rate when compared to Caucasian and Asian hair, with the later having the fastest growth and being the most predominant hair type (no wonder I secretly longed for Asian-like hair when I was a teenager).
However, I don’t want you to believe the hair myth going around that says that natural hair doesn’t grow. Shhh, those voices in your head, please. I’m telling you it is possible to grow your hair past BSL (bra strap length). Despite some studies pointing towards a slower growth rate, others point to the fact that differences in findings aren’t very expressive.
Contrary to what many people believe or know, our hair doesn’t grow all at the same time. Hair growth undergoes a repetitive cycle that has 3 stages: Anagen (active growth), Catagen (end of active growth) and Telogen (resting stage). The reason we believe our hair grows all at the same time it’s because 90% of it is in the active growth stage for 2-3 years, so we don’t really notice. Only 10-14% is in the resting stage (telogen) for about 3 months, which is when shedding occurs. The length of each stage varies, but it takes about 3 years for the cycle to be completed.
To increase the rate of your hair growth, you would need to prolong the Anagen phase. However, with proper care and a whole lot of patience you can make your hair grow. I believe the reason scientists are convinced African hair grows slower is because of its shape.
People across every race normally have 100,000 follicles of hair in the scalp with blondes having 10% more density and reds 10% less.
Hair can differ in shape, diameter and texture. Keep in mind that the hair follicle is like a tube that moulds the shape of our hair as it grows. Race influences our hair being thin or thick and being straight or curly. A cross-sectional view of the hair’s diameter shows Caucasian and African hair being narrower than Asian hair. This view of the hair also shows that the hair can be circular, oval and even flattened which influences curl pattern.
It has been proven that Asian hair is more circular and straight, Caucasian hair is oval and somewhat curly and African hair is oval, flattened and twisted making it more prone to damage and breakage. So, the issue of hair growth may not only be linked to its growth rate but also with length retention. Curlier hair when styled, whether through combing, styling or daily manipulation, is more prone to breakage and knots. Additionally, health, genetics, age, hormonal changes and environment have an effect on hair growth.
Another aspect that is influenced by hair shape is how dry or oily curly hair can be. The cuticle of the hair is covered with a layer of sebum (hair’s natural oil) secreted by the sebaceous gland which protects our hair from dryness and breakage. Sebum travels easier in straight hair. This oil has more difficulties travelling down the hair shaft the tighter the curl is. Making African hair more predisposed dryness that leads do to breakage.
Damage To Hair Structure
Despite all these differences, damage to the hair happens to all hair types. The cuticle layer of the hair with its scales protects the hair from environmental factors (the sun, the wind and cold dry winter). When this layer is damaged, your hair is more likely to break. Individuals with tight curly hair frequently straighten their hair structure temporally through the use of heat or permanently by using relaxers thus, weakening the cuticle.
Once the outer layer of the hair is damaged, this damage can develop and reach the cortex layer which is mainly composed of keratin. Keratin and other keratin-associated proteins help maintain the shape and texture of the hair which gives hair its elasticity and strength. This is chemically broken when the hair undergoes a styling process, such as hair permanents, straightening or colouring and the hair is then even more likely to split or break.
In the end, understanding racial hair differences will help find the best way to care for each hair type. Curly hair requires extra moisture and low manipulation to prevent dryness and breakage and to keep length retention. If the hair is chemically treated it will require regular conditioning treatments. Cleansing, conditioning and nourishing are important components of a good hair routine along with regular trimmings and use of protective styles.
Ultimately, whether our hair is short or long, straight, wavy or curly, natural, permed or relaxed knowledge will definitely lead us to our final goal – healthy hair.
Are you going natural? What makes you confused about your new hair texture?