African-Caribbean hair is the most vulnerable to damage of all hair textures due to its unique structure and specific processing, styling and grooming needs. African-Caribbean hair requires special care and use of specifically-formulated products in order to look, feel and be at its best.
The Structure of African-Caribbean Hair
The hair shaft of African-Caribbean hair is flat with a twisted structure and a thin diameter. Where these ‘twists’ occur, there is a change in the width of the hair (think of what happens when you bend or twist a straw). These twists and curls are weak points along your hair, and this is one of the reasons why African-Caribbean hair breaks so easily.
Because African-Caribbean hair is curly, it also tangles easily. Trying to detangle it can worsen hair breakage if you’re not careful and pulling may also lead to traction loss, so be as gentle as possible. Start at the ends and work up to your roots with a wide-tooth comb.
Your hair gets its colour from melanin, pigment granules, in your hair follicles. African Caribbean hair is not always truly African-Caribbean, but a combination of African-Caribbean and red pigment. Shades can range from almost true African-Caribbean to dark brown and auburn.
Colouring African-Caribbean Hair
It’s vital to protect and hydrate African-Caribbean hair if you colour or bleach it. African-Caribbean hair’s flat shape means that it absorbs chemicals more rapidly than other hair textures. Because it’s already prone to breakage, this makes it even more vulnerable to damage and if you have very dark hair, more concentrated bleach is needed to lighten it. To help prevent snapping and breakage, use an intensive pre-shampoo conditioning treatment at least once a week.
African-Caribbean Hair Problems
The occurrence of traction hair loss in African-Caribbean women is underestimated and is often mistaken for other types of hair loss. Traction hair loss starts as thinning at your front hairline, then receding continues with a general thinning all over – similar to the appearance of male pattern hair loss. Traction loss can also occur all around your scalp edges, know as banded traction alopecia. Another type of traction hair loss is where your hair comes out in clumps.
The main causes of this ‘patchy’ hair loss are sleeping in rollers, using too-tight rollers or wearing very tight braids (especially in children). The reason why these methods cause traction loss is that they constantly pull at your hair, causing breakage and plucking hair out from the roots. It’s very important to catch this type of hair loss early on, as over time it can damage your hair follicles and lead to permanent loss of hair.
Traction alopecia shouldn’t be confused with alopecia areata, which looks very similar as it also occurs in patches. However, alopecia areata is often caused by psychological or internal stress rather than physical, external stress from traction. If you are concerned you have alopecia areata or traction hair loss, please consult with a Philip Kingsley trichologist. Our hair and scalp specialists can give you a proper diagnosis and treat your condition accordingly.
TREATMENT & PREVENTION
The best prevention for traction hair loss is to stop or reduce the pulling of your hair. This either means removing or loosening braids, or styling and brushing your hair more gently. If damage has already been done, the same measures need to be taken. However, treatments that encourage hair regrowth and improve the condition of your hair may also be needed. If you are concerned you are losing your hair, or unsure of the cause, make an appointment to see a trichologist. He or she will be able to tell what is causing the loss and recommend the best treatment.
African-Caribbean Hair Care Products
It’s vital to use a specialized and ultra-hydrating conditioner on African-Caribbean hair. Conditioners fall in two categories – pre-shampoo and post-shampoo. Both need to be used frequently to keep African-Caribbean hair looking its best. Look for products labeled ‘moisturizing’, ‘re-moisturizing’, ‘emollient’, ‘deep conditioning’, ‘elasticizing’, ‘penetrative’ and/or ‘intensive’. It’s best to avoid the heavy, oily types of styling products. Although many are labeled ‘oil free’, they leave an unpleasant coating on your hair that dust and dirt cling to. This gives hair a dull, greasy look instead of providing a healthy shine.
Adding Shine to African-Caribbean Hair
Have you ever noticed that light reflects better from flat surfaces than it does from uneven surfaces? Well, this also applies to hair and means that curly hair doesn’t reflect light as easily as straight hair, and is naturally not as shiny. To give your hair added shine, use products that condition, smooth and encourage light reflection.