It’s snowing, it’s windy and it’s cold; not great weather for people with afros with our kinks and curls! But there is beauty and strength in every snowflake; they have a form and design that is completely unique, and likewise, I love the way each strand of my afro has its own unique kink and curl. I often find hairs my head has discarded and inspect them closely. My strands grow left, right, up, down and they always fascinate me, they’re individual and beautiful too, and there is strength in that. But herein lies a weakness; the bends and corners in each strand results in an obstructed path for nutrients and moisture to travel along. If you have ever used a shower hose and you twist and fold it back on itself the amount of water that is able to flow to the shower head gets severely compromised, and the places where the hose has been twisted and folded experience structural weaknesses that could end up with the hose cracking and causing a leak or even breaking. This is the life of your average strand of afro hair. Therefore, afros naturally experience more breakages than straight or wavy hair; the price we pay for our glorious curls! So we have to pay extra care to the health of our afros and be conscious of the effect certain actions or environments could have on our locks.
Dryness can be a killer.
If our strands dry out, they are more prone to breakage. Cold windy weather can actually dry out hair and skin faster than when it’s hot and dry. Wooly clothing is double trouble for afro hair as the wool fibres cling to and snag hair which puts unnecessary stress on our afros, and wrapping up in warm wooly jumpers, hats and scarves can also suck moisture from your hair should they come in contact with each other. If you’re wearing wool, try to keep your hair (and especially the ends) tucked away; this winter I even invested in a satin lined wool beanie which has been used heavily! If I’m going out with my hair exposed, I will spritz it with water then with a light oil to seal it. Drinking plenty of water can also help keep your hair hydrated, and it’s great for your skin too.
We are what we eat.
It makes sense that if you put healthy, nutritious food into your body, you give your body good quality building blocks to make healthy hair. Hair is produced in the follicle which is found just below your skin, and they receive the majority of their nutrition from your blood. Therefore, eating a good balanced diet that includes plenty of vitamins and minerals can help limit the amount of hair breakage you experience, as your follicles will be getting fed well. Make sure you get your RDA of vitamins B and E, as well as all the essential amino acids, and iron, as these all have a direct effect on the health of your afro hair. This is especially important if you intend to eat more or less of a particular food group for a prolonged period of time (reduced calorie, paleo, vegan etc).
Styling and damage.
Heat damage from straighteners and hair dryers is a common cause of hair breakage. They can excessively dry out strands, as well as cause structural weakness especially if used at a high temperature on wet hair. Hair absorbs water into its structure. Applying strong heat to the hair can evaporate this water, the sudden molecular change can cause a bubble-like texture in the hair and therefore structural weakness; and ultimately breakage and weak hair strands. Try to dry hair as much as possible before using straightening irons, and use them on the lowest temperature possible. Also invest in a good thermal protection spray, as this can give added protection. If you blow dry, using too much heat evaporates the water inside the hair strands just like when using a straightener, so blow dry with cool air and only to remove enough of the water to allow you to go about your day to day tasks without being hindered.
If you're relaxed, it's worth noting that to get your hair to be straight the relaxing process has to break down the hair's protein structure, and protein makes up 95% of the strand. This makes your hair weaker than normal, and you even lose some protein during the process. Never apply a relaxer to hair that is already breaking and split as this will only further worsen the condition. Wait until your hair is in good shape to relax. Mitigate the damage by using a protein intensive hair treatment containing keratin both before and after getting your hair relaxed. But keep an eye on how your hair reacts to the treatments as too much protein can overload your strands and cause further weakness; trial and error and patience will lead to greater hair enlightenment and happiness.
Bad hair care regime.
Overwashing, washing with shampoo containing sulphates (sulphates are chemicals whose presence is often betrayed by excessive suds and bubbles, they are there to remove dirt and oil build up but can also strip your hair's natural oils), drying your hair with excessive heat or a towel, combing wet hair can all damage hair strand structure and remove nutrients, causing breakages. It's important to think about your interactions with your hair before doing them. Get to know how often you need to wash your hair, and research which cleansing products work the best with your strands (I have a hair diary in which I make a note of my hair interactions and their effect). Rubbing your fro with a towel post wash damages the strands, so lightly wrap your hair and leave it for as long as possible allowing the material to gently absorb the water. Try to stay away from cotton if you can as it’s too effective in absorbing water, microfibre towels are best. Wet hair is much weaker than dry hair, so try not to brush or comb it until it's at least a little dry, and when you do be gentle. Last Valentine's I treated myself to a silk pillowcase and it's one of the best things I've ever bought. It has really helped with the dreaded frizz, and has stopped my hair from drying out too much. Paying attention to the little things, reducing dryness and overall stress to each strand all contribute to reducing overall hair breakage.
As incredible wonderful women, our bodies regularly experience changes to our hormone levels, be that because of our menstrual cycle or because of pregnancy. It's important to recognise that this can lead to changes to the robustness of our hair and also to how it reacts to our environment. Consequently, it's natural to experience increased hair breakage during these periods, but it's unusual to be to such a level that the overall volume of your hair is affected. If you feel that the amount of hair breakage during your monthly cycle, or other times where your hormone levels are likely to have changed, is excessive, speak to your GP and explain your concerns as it could be due to your birth control method, or they could suggest something that could help regulate the hormonal changes you are experiencing.
You and your hair are in constant evolution so it's natural that you'll experience changes in your afro hair. It's a good idea to try to make at least a mental note of what you notice, the reaction to different inputs or even the same inputs, and any changes you see. Build up your own hair encyclopedia/diary that will help you, guide you and give you confidence on your hair journey.
Fro stay strong. x