The Ultimate Guide To African-American Hair — 3 Pros Tell All

Any healthy relationship requires mutual trust — and that's especially true of the bond between hairstylist and client. If you're in the salon for more than an occasional trim, you better hope the person standing behind the chair really understands your mane. Relaxer regular? Weave devotee? You know what we're talking about. For the maintenance of those tresses, you need to find someone you can depend on. And, luckily, we're one step ahead of you.
Well, these guys are. We tapped three salon owners — all experts in the art of African-American hair care — to gather their pro tips. In need of killer curls advice, essential treatments, and even the best at-home products to keep your coiff looking gorgeous? Voilà, the ultimate guide to African-American locks is exactly what you're looking for. Salon-perfect strands are just a click away.
Rahni Michael Flowers
Van Cleef Hair Studio, 56 West Huron Street (at Dearborn Street); 312-751-2456.
His Mane Objective
“Our standard at Van Cleef Hair Studio is to ensure that the client's hair is as healthy as possible. The products, and moreover the techniques we use here in the salon, help us to restore moisture and vibrancy to the hair. We also help teach clients how to best maintain and manage their hair at home between salon visits. The next most important thing is to make sure that our clients' haircut and style is flattering while being easy to achieve with their lifestyle.”
“You should view hair as an accessory; it should complement the way you live, your fashion sense, and be a reflection of your personality. We receive inspiration from the world around us; sometimes it's people we see on the street, movie characters, different cultures, or historical pieces.”
Tips For Relaxed Hair
“If you have relaxed hair, it's best to make sure you have the retouch performed regularly. For most women, that is every six to eight weeks. For the first few weeks you can comb your hair normally, but after the third or fourth week, you should avoid combing all the way from the scalp unless you are using a wide-tooth comb. The new growth will have a tighter texture than the hair that has been relaxed. The point where the two meet will be more fragile, so be very careful even using a wide-tooth comb.”
Tips For Keratin-Treated Hair
“We do not offer keratin treatments at Van Cleef Hair Studio. We have not found it to be beneficial to textured hair, in general. If used at all, it should only be done on hair with a very loose patterned curl. We have had many clients come to the salon because they have experienced dry and brittle hair after having a keratin treatment — and we have a reputation for restoring hair to a healthy state. We find most people will experience better results simply by having their hair relaxed correctly.”
Tips For Color-Treated Hair
“Hair that has been relaxed is weaker than natural hair, so it's important to choose a product that is gentle. There are semi-permanent and demi-permanent colors that will achieve great results on relaxed hair. We use the Wella brand of professional colors. It's important to understand that relaxed hair should not be overly lightened — normally no more than three shades lighter than their natural color. Otherwise, you risk breakage.”
“It may be a wiser choice to add highlights to the hair rather than lightening the entire head. Highlights give you a lighter look and use a high level color instead of bleach. It's important to carefully cover any previously lightened hair with a protective oil the next time you apply relaxer so that the relaxer doesn't overlap onto the highlights. In general, always be very careful in applying relaxer directly to chemically lightened hair — especially highlighted hair, since this will process more quickly than hair that has not been lightened."
His Product Picks
Aveda Control Paste
“A small amount of Control Paste combed at the hairline will give a just-relaxed look to the finer hairs here without dryness or flaking.”
Aveda Control Paste, $22, available at Aveda.
Elucence Moisture Benefits Shampoo And Conditioner
“The Elucence Moisture Benefits Shampoo provides excellent cleansing without overdrying the hair, while the Moisture Benefits Conditioner is excellent for hydration.”
Elucence Moisture Benefits Shampoo and Conditioner, $6 to $8, available at Curl Mart.
Sebastian Trilliant
“This product provides shine, moisture, and a light hold when used as a finishing spray.”
Sebastian Trilliant, $19.95, available at Ulta.
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Photo: Courtesy of Van Cleef Hair Studio
Lillian Howard
Lillian Dion Salon, 1020 South Wabash Avenue (between 11th and 9th Streets); 312-386-9311.
Her Mane Objective
“I believe in treating the hair and the scalp weekly, so I really look at factors such as nutrition and climate. I only offer products and hair care techniques that bring out the natural shine of the hair and promote growth.”
Tips For Natural Curls
“One of the main culprits that dry curls out is product build-up — be careful of overusing product. When we wear our hair curly, we tend to use gels and pomades daily to control our curls. Be sure to properly clarify curls to ensure product does not build up.”
Tips For Pressed/Straightened Hair
“Be mindful of how you use heat to straighten your hair. When blow-drying, be sure to always have the heat directed down the hair shaft — but not too close.”
Tips For Color-Treated Hair
“Utilize semi-permanent color more often. In addition to great shine, this will apply a nice deposit to the cuticle layer and fill in any damaged spots along the hair shaft.”
Her Product Picks
Malibu Crystal Gel Treatment
“It works great to remove build-up and any mineral deposits on the hair.”
Malibu Crystal Gel Treatment, $62.40, available at
It’s A 10 Miracle Leave-In Conditioner
“It’s excellent for detangling and hydrating the hair.”
It’s A 10 Miracle Leave-In Conditioner, $21,
Olive by Esuchen
“It’s a great line of products for dry and damaged hair.”
Olive by Esuchen products, $13 to $33.95, available at Healthy Hair Plus.
Photo: Courtesy of Lillian Dion Salon
AJ Johnson
AJ’s of Chicago, 648 West Randolph Street (at Des Plaines Street); 312-454-1133.
His Mane Objective
“To enhance the beauty in women. Style is important, but the key is healthy and well-conditioned hair — which is obtainable with every texture. I was inspired to develop my hair-care line to meet these objectives.”
Tips For Extensions On Natural Hair
“Natural hair is the best foundation for getting extensions. Hair in its natural state provides the best anchor for extensions. First and foremost, the textures must blend with the natural hair.”
Tips For Extensions On Relaxed Hair
“A lot of women prefer to relax their hair before extensions, but I recommend only relaxing the hair that is being blended in with the extensions.”
Tips For Extensions On Transitioning Hair
“Extensions are a good idea for transitioning hair because it can be used to camouflage. This applies to both short to long hair or chemically treated to natural hair.”
His Product Picks
Aveda Brilliant Anti-Humectant Pomade
"Only use this product on your natural hair as it will allow the natural hair to blend better with the extensions. It adds shine to the hair while blending the hairline and your edges with the extensions."
Aveda Brilliant Anti-Humectant Pomade, $20, available at Aveda.
AJ's of Chicago Intense Penetrating Masque
"Before you add extensions to your hair, condition your natural hair with this masque. This will protect your natural hair while retaining the moisture."
AJ’s of Chicago Intense Penetrating Masque, $15, available at AJ’s of Chicago.
Curls Unleashed Shine And Define Mousse
"Once you have your extensions, this product will help to set and define your curls while eliminating the frizz."
Curls Unleashed Shine And Define Mousse, $10.99, available at Sally Beauty Supply.
Photo: Courtesy of Robert Trachtenberg/ Style

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