7 Secrets to Growing Afro Hair
The expert hair tips that every woman with Afro hair should know about
Finding it difficult to get your hair past a certain length or make it look glossy and healthy? Step in Afro hair expert Samantha Stewart, based at the Spencer Clinic in South Kensington, who shares the best ways to grow hair and make it look more lustrous in the process. “The difference with Afro hair to European hair is that it comes out of the follicle wavy or curly. This is genetically-determined - and it won’t necessarily be the same all over your head; some of my clients have defined curls at the back of their head but frizzy bits or a straighter texture at the front.” The best way to keep your curls looking healthy lie in understanding the hair’s chemistry - “hair is made up of three layers: the outer hair shaft, which stops moisture leeching out; the cortex, which is the first inner layer and tends to be slightly flatter and weaker in Afro hair, and the medulla, which is the central core. That said, the number of cuticle layers differ, and herein lies the key to making hair feel - and look - healthier.” Here are Samantha’s tips:
1. Understand your Hair.The number of cuticle layers differ between ethnic groups, with European hair having between four and seven layers, Afro hair having from seven to eleven, and Asian hair having eleven plus. The more cuticle layers you have, the more resistant your hair is to chemicals and as such if treating Afro hair, the chemicals need to be stronger than those used on European hair so that they can penetrate the cuticle and begin the process of remodelling the hair structure. Proceed with caution, though - once penetrated, there is a risk that the cortex can become damaged due to it being naturally weaker in Afro hair. Therefore care and attention must be paid to the timing of the chemical procedure to avoid damage. Catch-all advice? Minimising heat exposure and ensure chemicals aren’t left on the hair for too long.
2. Do your Salon Research.Don’t choose the salon that is the most convenient: the hairdresser and chemical practises lead to the damage of Afro hair so before you embark on any chemical treatment always have a consultation. A good hairdresser should examine your hair and check its elasticity first. Before you let them treat your hair, research the relaxers they are suggesting and read up on the manufacturers guidelines so you know how long they should leave it on for. Go into the salon and ask for a non-chemical treatment to see how they run their practice. Watch their time keeping and be observant to check out much experience they have.
3. Minimise Damage.If you feel like your hair has suffered chemical or mechanical damage, embark on a treatment regime that would allow you to grow out the damage and minimise further breakage - do not apply more chemicals or heat. Depending on the level of damage, it’s very difficult to reverse but you can minimise it with a treatment and trim regime. Don't panic - you won’t have to cut off all your hair, just trim carefully and use reconstructive conditioners until it gets to the length you want it.
4. Be vigilant with Weaves and Braids.Longterm use of weaves and braids can lead to a condition called Traction Alopecia and, over time, this can lead to permanent hair loss. The areas that are generally affected are the hairline and the crown. Be vigilant about this, and take time to inspect your hair between the application of braids so you are aware of what your hairline and crown area look like and know that the hairline is still in tact. Look at the hair density and keep an eye on the width of your parting by checking a section a few inches away from your hair line and comparing it - if it is wider, this can be the first sign of hair loss. It’s safe to say that if a weave or braid is your continual hairstyle of choice it will put too much tension on the hair, pulling them out. Once you are noticing damage, try to give your hair a break, treating weaves and plaits as special occasion hairstyles or investing in a bespoke wig to lesson the tension.
5. Optimise Length.The best way to ensure your hair grows to it’s optimum length (everyones growing phase is different) is by looking after it. You can take all the supplements in the world but it won’t grow any faster or longer if it is continually being damaged. A lot of our clients complain that their hair doesn’t grow, but because of the chemicals and heat treatments their hair is breaking. When the hair breaks it springs up, so heat is applied again and the cycle continues.
6. Don't wash hair too often.Afro hair is generally drier due to inability of oil to travel along the whole hair shaft as it does in European hair. Because of this, there is no need to wash your hair daily provided you don’t have scalp issues. I recommend washing hair weekly or once a fortnight, however, it is possible to wash your hair more often with a good shampoo that contains moisturising benefits and not as many surfactants that can strip the hair of natural oils. Conditioner is a must on Afro hair as it restores the Ph level and closes and smoothes the cuticles, and if the cuticles are left open after shampooing they won’t protect the inner part of the hair. I also recommend using a treatment conditioner to penetrate the cuticles and apply a protective coating which stops the hair strands absorbing the moisture from the air thus ruining the hairstyle while having a contracting and constricting action, weathering the hair and cause it to become brittle.
7. Use a natural oil.Apply oil to up the health of your hair when needed. Go for a natural oil that absorbs into the scalp and won’t act like a barrier. Avocado, jojoba, coconut oils and Shea butter are good choices because they penetrate the hair instead of sitting on the surface. Afro hair is naturally duller because of the way the cuticle is made up so if it doesn’t naturally shine it doesn’t mean it is damaged - it can just be down to the way it reflects light. To differentiate between your natural texture and damaged hair, run your finger from root-to-tip to feel if the texture changes from the newest hair at the root to the lengths. This way you can identify your true natural texture. If you feel like your hair is damaged, heed the above steps and consult a trichologist.
Book a consultation at The Spencer Clinic of Trichology Ltd, 31 Thurloe Street, South Kensington, London SW7 2LQ, 020 7584 4255
Samantha Stewart, expert in Afro hair at the Spencer Clinic