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Afrology: The Science of Black Hair

There are popular myths and misconceptions associated with black hair and scalp; the old-wives-tales, and the ‘hairsay’, so to speak, writes Richard Spencer

Black hairdressing, for many years, has been based on passed-down, out-dated theories instead of scientifically-based facts. People are told things like ‘wearing braids or weaves will grow your hair’, or ‘poor water intake will cause scalp problems’.

Furthermore, hairdressers will often completely ignore product guidelines on the correct application and timing of chemical procedures.

Many of these beliefs will most certainly cause detriment to the hair and scalp.

First, let us deal with scalp issues. People regularly tell us their scalp is scaly or flaky, lumpy or bumpy, itchy or gritty, dry or oily, sensitive or sore. They then tell ‘us’ it is because of the products they use, or stress, or diet or climate or the tap water etc. Or even that that they only use water to wash their hair and scalp, or only shampoo every six weeks!

Well, some of the above will certainly be correct. Stress, the wrong product or bad usage of a product and yes, only washing in water or every six weeks can cause certain scalp problems.

The fact is that scalps can often get itchy and flaky etc due to a build-up of excessive natural oil, sweat – a gym workout is a way of life for many these days – and product application (to the scalp) in-between washes.

The length of time between washing the hair and scalp shouldn’t be more than once a week or less than every two weeks, depending on the condition of one’s scalp.

Obviously, if you do not feel you have a particular scalp problem, you should be able to judge how often to wash your own hair, which may be less often than every two weeks.

It is also important how the hair and scalp is washed, as well as the products used. A good way to judge when to wash your hair is if or when the scalp becomes flaky or/and itchy.

Of course, we are all individuals, and some may suffer from more chronic complaints like eczema or psoriasis. You can monitor your own scalp by observing how quickly it becomes flaky after a wash. If it is within days, it may be advisable to consult a trichological specialist (make sure they are recommended by our institute).

Remember also, old theories date back to when shampoos were very stripping. These days there are some wonderful products that treat the hair and scalp with much more care and sensitivity. People rarely suffer these days with a scalp infection or ‘disease’.

It is harder to wash the scalp well when weaves, braids, plaits, cane rows or extensions are worn. Take special care to clean the scalp, not just the hair.

Now for some hair issues:

An ancient misconception regarding black hair has been the so-called benefits of putting your hair away. There is a belief that braiding and weaving the hair allows the hair to ‘rest’ and grow faster and, therefore, longer.

Both myself and my colleague, Samantha Stewart, a hair consultant and specialist in black hairdressing, continue to explain to our clientele that whether the hair is ‘put-away’ or left out, it will continue to grow at the same rate.

The simple answer is, when hair is put away by means of a weave, plait, braid or cane row, this will invariably lead to a condition known as Tractional Alopecia. This occurs as thinning or balding areas. This very common complaint has been explained in past issues of Black Beauty & Hair, but if you missed them, you can find more information about this condition on our website

Another common misconception is when people visit us for consultation and complain of hair fall, which, they are often convinced, is due to a physical health issue, stress-related issue or, hormonal, genetical or dietary problem, which, of course, is perfectly possible.

However, once we have carefully examined their hair and scalp, we find that the hair density on the scalp is completely normal and healthy but the hair itself has been severely damaged by chemical over-processing leading to major hair breakage which appears to the client as hair loss. It is very easy to assume the hair is falling from the scalp when one is not aware of the condition of the hair.

The misconception continues when one visits their hairdresser complaining of hair fall. The hairdresser may often be unaware of the fact that the hair is breaking due to chemical abuse, then, will inform their client that the fall is probably due to any of the above-mentioned, and then continue with a chemical procedure which will only exacerbate the problem.

If you see, at any point, more hair fall than usual, or experience an uncomfortable scalp, then it may be a good moment to consult a hair specialist and get a professional opinion.

Our clinic provides a very informative consultation, check up and full hair and scalp ‘MOT’. Please do contact us if you have any hair or scalp concerns.

Trichology is the science and study of all conditions and complaints related to the hair and scalp. Richard Spencer has been a practising trichologist for the past 30 years and is the founder of The Spencer Clinic of Trichology, which is one of the longest established Clinics in Europe. Consultations and Treatments are given at his clinic in Thurloe Street, opposite South Kensington Station. Visit here

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