What Are The Characteristics Of Black Hair

The production of all hair starts beneath the skin surface at the base of the hair follicle. Hair is made of the protein keratin, which also occurs in skin. Each hair strand is composed of three layers, including the cuticle, or outermost layer, the cortex or pigment-producing layer, and the medulla or innermost layer.

Though keratin is a strong substance and the hair cuticle is designed to resist penetration of excess moisture and chemicals, our hair is by no means indestructible and each layer can be damaged by styling processes we use every day.

Black Hair
Black Hair

Black hair differs from white hair in a number of ways. For example, the follicles of our hair tend to be curved instead of straight. This curvature contributes to the hair’s curl. It also contributes to our tendency to develop ingrown hairs after shaving and may even be partly responsible for our propensity for hair loss or alopecia.

Because our hair is so tightly coiled, it is often dry since the oil naturally produced in the scalp does not flow down from the curved follicle as readily and does not slide down the curled, knotted hair as it does down a straight follicle and straight hair. That’s one reason black women do not typically need to wash our hair as often as Whites-our hair simply does not get as oily.

So we do not need to wash our hair every day or every other day like women with straight hair. But we do need to wash it more than once a month, which is not the practice of many black women. Washing weekly is a real must for all black women. Our grooming practices- relaxing, blow-drying, hot combing, washing once or twice a month-also tend to further dry out our scalps and hair.

Black hair, as seen in cross section under a microscope, tends to have a fiat, elliptical shape. A long strand viewed microscopically looks much like a twisted piece of ribbon instead of a straight one. This shape makes the hair more prone to forming very small knots. While this -knotting may make it easier to cultivate some styles like locks, it also makes it more difficult to comb and style straightened or natural hair.

Because of this tendency, women of color may have more difficulty combing or brushing our hair without pulling on it with excessive force. “With constant and forceful combing and brushing comes breakage-a little breakage each day that accumulates. This continuous breakage is why many Black women can’t get the length that they desire, falsely believing that their hair won’t grow.

Another distinct difference between black and white hair is that black women have fewer elastic fibers anchoring the hair to the scalp at the dermal layer. “With fewer fibers, women of color may be more prone to hair shedding and loss.

That characteristic, coupled with our culturally ingrained tendency to pull tightly on hair while braiding, for example, or while gathering hair into a taut ponytail, can lead to problems such as traction alopecia. The greater numbers of melanin granules in our hair, which account for its dark color, may also produce free radicals that can cause damage to hair and hair loss.

Black hair has many distinctive properties, but is not, by any means, all the same. Because our heritage often includes Native American, European, and/or Latin ancestry as well as African ancestry, “black hair” comes in endless variations. Hair type, texture, and length are all determined by genes, though some changes may come with age. As you learn about your hair’s unique texture and condition-and how to work with it-you’ll be closer to the healthy hair of your dream.


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