Originally published in October 13, 2018. Due to the popularity of this post it has been updated.
Caring for afro hair can be tricky when you're not sure where to start. At Afrocenchix we help bust the myths that afro hair is unprofessional, unattractive and unmanageable. We believe all afro hair is beautiful!
With the right hair care practices and afro hair products you can love and enjoy your hair. Through caring for your curls you'll prevent common afro hair problems like breakage, dandruff, hair loss and an itchy scalp.
Not sure where to begin? Well, ignore the hype about 'finding your porosity' and hair type. Caring for afro hair can seem complex but with a little know how it's as easy as A, B, C.
The first step in afro hair care is creating a simple routine that works around your lifestyle. If you have a regular routine then it will be easy to know what works for you and what doesn't. Without a routine it's hard to know what needs to be fixed if something goes wrong or if you try a new product out.
The concept of creating a hair care routine can seem overwhelming for many. YouTube is full of hair gurus suggesting you need to take an entire day out each week to wash your hair and spend 8 hours and upwards styling during the week. If that's what you want to do then go for it but it's not essential! In reality it's much easier to have a simple, regular routine that fits around your day to day life. If your routine works for you then you're more likely to stick to it and see results in your hair health and growth.
Not sure where to start? The approach we recommend is simple: Cleanse, Moisturise, Style, Repeat.
It's crucial to keep your scalp clean and healthy. Just as you wash and moisturise your face each day, you need to regularly cleanse your scalp. Hair growth starts in the follicle and new hairs grow through these tiny pores in the scalp. If the pores are blocked it is hard for new hair to poke through and you can get painful bumps and ingrown hairs. A dirty scalp can invite fungal infections, dandruff, stunted hair growth and other problems so it's essential to keep it clean.
We recommend washing your scalp every 7-10 days with a gentle sulphate free shampoo. Focus on massaging the shampoo into your scalp with a gentle circular movement to dislodge dirt and encourage blood flow to the scalp. A clean and stimulated scalp allows for optimum hair growth.
5 Tips for Washing:
Pre poo with coconut oil to avoid hygral fatigue: simply apply the coconut oil to your hair, focusing on the ends, then cover with a shower cap and leave for at least 30 minutes.
Massage the shampoo into your scalp using your finger tips and work it along the hair strands. Don't worry about getting shampoo on the bottom of your hair, it will get enough of a clean as the suds from your scalp run down.
Follow up with a conditioner that has a lot of slip to make detangling simpler. When conditioning or using a deep conditioning treatment, don't leave the product on for longer than specified in the instructions as leaving hair wet for too long will weaken it.
Detangle with your fingers or a wide tooth comb to minimise manipulation.
Once you've rinsed off the conditioner, squeeze out excess water. Next, wrap your hair with a microfibre turban or towel for swift drying. Avoid blow drying as it can damage afro hair, drying without heat is easier and leaves hair softer and stronger in the long run.
Once your hair is clean and nearly dry, it's time for the most important part of your afro hair routine: moisturising. Just as you wouldn't shower and dress without moisturising your skin adequately, it's essential to make sure your hair is well moisturised.
The main point of an Afro hair routine is to avoid bad practices whilst keeping hair clean, moisturised and easy to style and maintain. Having a routine will help you achieve healthy afro hair that is longer and stronger than you thought possible.
The primary reason afro hair is prone to breakage is a lack of moisture. Dryness is the bane of afro hair. Dry hair breaks easily and as afro hair is susceptible to dryness, it is also prone to breakage. Protecting your hair by locking in moisture is key.
So how do you lock in moisture? We recommend layering on products in what is known as the the LOC method:
L -Apply a Liquid.
A water based moisturising product in the form of a spray is best. We recommend Sheen, a water based blend of aloe vera juice, grape seed oil and essential oils. The hair is made of protein bundles kept together by hydrogen bonds and disulphide bonds. To keep hair strong it's important to keep it full of the moisture it needs for the hydrogen bonds and the most effective moisturiser is water!
O - Seal in the moisture with an Oil.
Water evaporates easily from the hair so a relatively thick oil blend is needed to seal in moisture.The best blends contain olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil and jojoba oil. Seal contains all of these and more so it's our top recommendation, it was recently voted the Indy Best top oil for afro hair because it: "penetrates the hair shaft and leaves your strands feeling hydrated and super soft, and it remains that way for hours afterwards."
C -Layer on a Cream.
This should be a water based moisturiser but not as fluid as the product used in the liquid step. A moisturising cream or leave-in conditioner will do the trick. We recommend Smooth, with its blend of coconut oil, olive extract and organic & fairtrade shea butter.
Protective styling and low manipulation looks are ideal for afro hair care. Check out our style page for inspiration of simple styles for afro hair to take you from the workplace, to date night.
Protective styles are any style where the ends of your hair are tucked away. Looks such as braids, twists or weave can be protective styles. With these looks ensure that you keep the style in for no more than 6-8 weeks and keep hair clean and moisturised throughout. Our protective style set contains everything needed to keep your hair in top shape.
Low manipulation styles are looks requiring little maintenance and those that don't invite your hands into your hair! Wearing a buns or a roll, twist and pin style throughout the week keeps knots and tangles at bay as you don't have to handle your hair much. With these looks, wrapping your hair at night will keep it looking great throughout the week.
When styling, we recommend working with your hairs natural curls. Those that say afro hair is unmanageable are often trying to get it to do something that goes against its very structure, that is straightening it.
If you are after the straight look then try stretching and straightening without heat and without chemicals by trying out traditional African threading techniques. This is a great way to get a new look whilst keeping your hair healthy.
Once your hair is clean, dry and styled you can tweak the look throughout the week to reflect your changing vibe. Whilst keeping the core of the routine the same you can switch up the styles you do each week, perhaps going from a low maintenance bun, to micro braids, to a twist out after each wash day. The key thing is to keep your routine the same and make only minor changes at a time.
So now that we've covered how to build an afro hair routine that really works, let's talk about breakage, dandruff and other common issues.
B. Common Afro Hair Problems and Why They Occur
In the decade since we launched the first Afrocenchix website we've had thousands of emails, messages and calls from women with afro hair. Many of the queries have been about breakage, dandruff, hair loss and itchy scalps: these common afro hair problems are easier to tackle once you understand how they occur. Let's look at them each in turn and then explore the simple solutions.
Afro hair, like other types, grows at about 6 inches a year but often breaks off as fast as it grows and so gets a reputation for being short and weak.
The myth that afro hair doesn't grow comes from the fact that it is prone to breakage. Every curl and coil is a potential point for afro hair to break. The curly structure of afro hair also means that sebum produced by the scalp can't reach the ends of the hair, leading them dry, brittle and vulnerable to snapping off.
Common causes of breakage include dryness and friction from rough handling, cotton pillowcases and wooly hats and scarves. Using heat such as straighteners and blow dryers weakens the hair and leads to breakage. Chemicals can also lead to weak, brittle hair that breaks easily, the biggest culprits for afro hair being relaxers and bleach based hair dyes.
Using harsh hair products can cause dandruff and severe flakes. Other key causes are an overgrowth of microbial fungus which can lead to serious dandruff unless treated and controlled. Dandruff can also be caused by a build up of the sebum that your scalp naturally produces and this is made worse when combined with shed skin. If hair isn't washed frequently then sebum, skin flakes and product remnants build up, leaving the scalp vulnerable to dandruff. Another common cause of dandruff is simply having a dry scalp.
Common causes of hair loss include tight braids or extensions (also known as traction alopecia) and damage from rough handling and the use of chemicals such as relaxers (traumatic alopecia). Using the wrong tools can lead to hair loss and breakage, for instance, rough bristle brushes or combs with dozens of tiny teeth will pull out your hair and damage the hair that is left behind.
Long term mistreatment of afro hair can lead to permanent hair loss and bald patches. Stress can also be a cause and is one of the biggest culprits behind sudden hair loss.
Many women also find that they lose hair in bulk 3-4 months after giving birth. Although this can be scary it is nothing to worry about. Normally we shed 100 hairs a day but during pregnancy the hair strands remain in their growth phase and don't fall out. The 100 hairs a day that would have been shed over the 9 months of pregnancy tend to all fall out all at the same time once your baby reaches around 3 months. This can seem like cause for alarm but it is very normal and calms down after a few weeks.
An itchy scalp is usually caused by sensitivity to hair products, especially shampoos containing SLS (sodium laryl sulphate) and parfum (artificial fragrance).
Sodium laryl sulphate is a cheap surfactant created during the industrial revolution to clean machinery. The low cost of SLS and the fact that it creates so much foam make it a popular choice for large cosmetics companies. SLS is also used in allergy tests as the control substance to apply to skin because it is a known irritant that will turn the skin red. We recommend avoiding it and opting for plant-based alternatives.
Irregular washing of afro hair and the use of heavy oils such as castor oil directly on the scalp can also block the pores and lead to product buildup or an overproduction of sebum which causes itchiness.
C. How to Combat Afro Hair Problems
The best way to avoid breakage is to ensure that the ends of your hair are adequately moisturised and regularly tucked away in protective styles or low manipulation styles.
Afro hair is more vulnerable to breakage when it is damaged by rough handling, chemical use or heat styling. The best way to avoid breakage is to treat your hair like silk and keep it from common problems. The key steps are:
Finger detangle or use a wide-toothed comb
Avoid relaxers and bleach-based hair dyes
Stay away from blow dryers and hair straighteners
It also helps to sleep in a satin bonnet or on a silk pillowcase. Sleeping on a cotton pillow case leads to breakage for two reasons. Firstly because the cotton absorbs moisture from hair (this is why socks are cotton) leaving it dry and vulnerable to breakage. Secondly because cotton is a rough fabric so as you move in your sleep friction is created between your hair and the pillowcase and afro hair easily snaps off when not covered up.
Avoiding tight braids or extensions as well as relaxers will help you to escape hair loss. We recommend ensuring that any braids are no smaller than the size of a regular pencil and ideally larger.
We also recommend indulging in self care to keep stress at bay and avoid that common cause of bald patches and thinning afro hair.
Washing your afro hair every 7-10 days and not allowing products to build up will help keep itchiness away. We also recommend not having tight hairstyles. Keeping the scalp moisturised with a specialist scalp oil such as Soothe will make your scalp happy and healthy.
First time hearing of Afrocenchix? Here's how and why we started in a nutshell, you can read more about our story on our about us page.
Joycelyn and Rachael started Afrocenchix as teenagers with just £50 each and a drive to solve the problem we faced: safe, eczema & allergy friendly hair products that actually worked for afro hair just didn't exist.
Today our small team delivers to over 23 stores and hundreds of customers worldwide.