After the Chop: Black Women & Natural Hair Care

They’ve chopped. They’ve celebrated. Black women have officially come a long way in the relationship with their natural hair. But after leaving behind the relaxer you’ve loved for years, where do you go?

It seems like most women with newly natural do’s turn to increasingly popular hair care blogs. “Disembracing mainstream standards of beauty and getting in touch with our hair is radical and we’re turning to each other for advice on how to manage the aesthetics for that,” says Lanita Jacobs-Huey, author of From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and Becoming in African American Women’s Hair Care. Thanks to popular bloggers, the do-it-yourself possibilities for natural hair care are endless. Chescalocs provides styling tips, HeyFranHey suggests best ways to moisturize, and Afrobella provides self-tested product reviews.

However, Afrobella creator Patrice Grell Yursik, arguably the best known of the natural hair gurus, argues this is both positive and negative. “An unfortunate side effect from the natural movement is we have moved away from respecting professional stylists.”  She notes that there is a lot of information out there, but recognizes that even she doesn’t know it all. “There are a lot of self proclaimed experts online and it is concerning,” she says. However, she can’t blame women from straying away from stylists, noting that the popular stylists seen in magazines like Essence and Ebony are usually experts in relaxed hair, so natural women learn how to handle their own locks.

Sakeenah Nzingha of Nu Ade Natural Hair Products says being natural doesn’t mean you have to do-it-yourself. Unlike many new naturals, as a little girl she could be found hanging around her mother’s salon, Tulani’s Regal Movement, (now known as Nu Wave Kultural Kreations) the first specifically natural hair salon in Brooklyn. They’ve been creating handmade moisturizing products for over 20 years, but their products can only be found in natural hair salons. This is intentional.

“This is a luxury product, its handmade, and you can’t get it anywhere else,” Nzingha says. Now that being natural is all the rage, she wants to spread the word beyond loyal consumers that you can still trust stylists, and you should if you want to ensure healthy hair.

The most important thing is assuring that your hair is healthy. “You want to avoid hair breakage, pattern baldness, dryness. You want to protect your ends from breaking, your edges from breaking,” she says. Nu Ade combines peanut oil, castor oil, and olive oil in a frankincense and myrrh scent that ensures moisture, retention, and minimizes scalp irritation. By keeping their product in the salon, they can be sure that only trusted stylists trained in proper techniques that don’t hurt hair health are using their products.

But many women say it will take time to regain trust with a stylist. Audi Mincey, creator of Completing Your World hair oils, can remember precisely the salon that once made her scalp scab from lye relaxers. She stopped perming 15 years ago, but it wasn’t an easy decision. Mincey said she struggled because she was afraid of what would be said at work. For many, natural hair is synonymous with unruly hair. “I think black women are scared to wear their hair natural because they don’t know how to care for it,” Mincey says. She also says that natural hair salons can be overpriced because “a lot of people can’t do natural hair at home and feel pretty about it.” Mincey started creating her hair oils because of allergic reactions. “If I can’t put it in my face I shouldn’t put it in my hair,” she decided. Now, she does natural hair in her living room using homegrown products she creates herself. She agrees with Nzingha about the most important thing,  “Moisturizing your hair, that’s the main thing. People think it’s wash and go because it’s natural. Sometimes with natural hair, you’re taking care of it more.”

Whether in the salon or in the living room, natural hair stylists and products have to keep up with the changing times. Lanita Jacobs says that the black salon and barbershop are here to stay and the positive side of the chop is that women are experimenting in associated products, which can be lucrative. In 2010, the ethnic health and beauty care market grew by 13 percent. In 2011, the most recent year available, the market reached $3 billion in sales, according to Packaged Facts, a market research firm.  “And the bigger picture of this is that black hair care has always thrived because someone had a dream and someone got in their kitchen,” says Jacobs.