Afro haircare has never been so good. The proliferation of quality products on the high street and online, a number of brilliant hair salons opening up across the UK and an increase in knowledgeable experts have all contributed to its fast growth and success. Despite this, a handful of damaging afro hair myths persist, which makes it difficult for many women to achieve the afro hair they want and deserve.
The myth: Braids and wigs are the best protective styles
Afro hair likes to be left alone. Protective styles are a good option and help increase length retention but only if installed correctly and maintained properly. "Braids and wigs are often touted as protective styles, yet they are a major cause of traction alopecia and breakage," says London-based trichologist, Ebuni Ajiduah. "Following a salon visit, many people will experience headaches and soreness from the installation, immediately forgoing any positive effect they could have."
The solution is finding a stylist with a light touch. If installing yourself, avoid putting tension on your hair from securing the style too tight and applying too much weight from bulky extensions. Ebuni recommends using extensions and wig bases that help prevent excessive friction and to wear the style for a short period of time (6-8 weeks maximum). Try The Renatural Wig Fix, £25, a silicone-based gripper which protects and stimulates the scalp.
The myth: Coconut oil is bad for afro hair
Coconut oil was once all the rage, with many naturalistas singing its praises. Then horror stories of crunchy hair, breakage and skin irritation began to surface and coconut oil suddenly fell out of favour. But is it really beneficial to avoid it?
Coconut oil has been shown to penetrate the hair fibre and prevent protein loss. This makes it beneficial in haircare, especially prior to shampooing. There is a caveat, though. Oil, like any other product, can build up on hair over time, especially when washed infrequently. "This can lead to the feeling of dryness," says Xaviera Agbor, professional haircare scientist and natural hair coach. "If you decide to use coconut oil, ensure you use a small amount. Warm it up by rubbing it in your hands or leaving it to melt, to ensure it is completely fluid prior to use."
Xaveria adds: "It’s important to know that there are several reasons why your hair can 'like' or 'dislike' a product. These reasons include how ingredients are sourced, processed and preserved. Not to mention the effect of other ingredients contained in the formulation, other products and tools you use in your hair regimen, your personal preferences, and what your scalp and skin may or may not find irritating." It might be worth giving coconut oil another shot, especially if your hair is very dry and brittle.
The myth: Washing your hair less will make it grow faster
Other than it won’t win you any friends, washing your hair less often than usual could actually cause scalp issues and even hair loss. "Dirty hair does not grow any faster than clean hair," says trichologist Stephanie Sey. "It will lead to dull, lacklustre, lifeless hair and a sore scalp."
On average hair grows about 0.5 inches per month and your growth rate is determined by a number of factors such as your genetics, health, diet and haircare practices. "Hair growth starts deep within your hair follicles and having a nutritionally balanced diet is definitely the first step to achieving strong growth," Stephanie explains. "The second step is making sure you have a great environment for the hair to surface from and the best way to ensure this is by cleansing your hair and scalp regularly." Stephanie recommends Clean by Big Hair, £14, or KeraCare Hydrating Detangling Shampoo, £14.
The myth: Oils will moisturise natural hair
Oiling your hair and scalp is an intimately familiar ritual for black women. But slathering on some sticky pomade or brightly coloured grease in the name of warding off crunchy hair won't actually work.
"This might come as a shock but oils do not moisturise the hair," says Kemisade Bamigbola, haircare expert and coach. "Oils simply act as a coating for the hair and just give shine." When applied on hair that is already parched and dry, oil can actually act as a barrier and prevent moisture from penetrating the hair shaft, leading to more dryness. "A good way to moisturise is to ensure that water is present," advises Kemisade. "This means a good leave-in conditioner or hair milk where aqua or deionised water is the first ingredient on the list. This will quench thirsty hair."
But don’t throw out your hair oil just yet as it does have a place in the moisturising process. Use oils as a final layer to lock in water-based products. Try the Argan & Meadowfoam Milk, £12.99, to help moisturise parched strands.
The myth: Natural ingredients are the best hair treatments
There are lots of blogs and vlogs dedicated to the use of everyday foods and pantry items as haircare products. Chief among them are eggs and yoghurt, which supposedly make an effective protein treatment. But do they work?
Enitan Agidee, hair coach at the Healthy Hair Studio says: "Eggs, Greek yoghurt and mayonnaise are indeed protein from a nutritional point of view as they contain amino acids. However, they have little impact on hair structure because those amino acids are not hydrolysed." Essentially, hydrolysed protein has undergone a specific process to turn the large molecules into smaller ones which are able to penetrate hair strands, improve hair structure and protect it from day-to-day weathering, sun damage and constant manipulation. According to Enitan, the protein molecules in eggs are just too big to have an effect. "They cannot help recover damaged keratin or replace it," she says. If you're looking for a strengthening treatment, try the Healthy Hair Studio Protein Defence Treatment, £22. It helps fortify hair, without making it stiff like traditional protein treatments.