All kinds of hair need to be treated with care to look healthy and beautiful, but African-American hair needs extra care owing to its unique features.
Black hair has a curly, coiled texture and is more prone to dryness and breakage. Curly hair generally tends to be drier than straight or wavy hair and, thus, requires intense conditioning. Since it tends towards dryness, it is extremely fragile (1).
While it is not advisable to wash black hair too often, it is also not a good idea to go without shampooing for too long. In this article, we discuss the best practices for washing and taking care of black hair.
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What Makes Afro Hair Unique?
Not all afro hair is the same. African-American hair is generally categorized as type 4. It is further divided into three types – 4a, 4b, and 4c – depending on its look, feel, and texture. Type 4 hair is extremely curly and coiled, which makes it difficult to manage. It also tends to be drier and coarser than other kinds of hair (2).
Type 4 hair is extremely wiry, has tight coils, and is very fragile and dry. Even though it looks coarse, each hair strand is very fine, and the strands are packed tightly together. It requires much more care than other types of hair to avoid breakage. Black hair is difficult to brush, let alone style!
Due to its unique characteristics, black hair needs to be treated differently from other kinds of hair. But, how often should Black people wash their hair? Find out in the next section.
How Often Should I Wash Afro Hair?
All hair types, including afro hair, should be washed regularly to remove excess oil, dirt, styling products, and other debris that accumulate on your hair and scalp. However, since natural black is drier and more fragile than other kinds of hair, it is not advisable to wash it too often.
So, how often should black hair be washed? It depends on whether it is natural, relaxed, or styled.
- Natural Hair
Your hair gets dirty over time due to environmental pollutants and styling products. Even though natural black hair is dry, the build-up of debris can make it feel greasy if not washed regularly. You should ideally wash your natural black hair once in seven to fourteen days. Use a mild cleansing shampoo and a gentle conditioner.
- Straightened Or Relaxed Hair
Avoid washing your African-American hair for two to three days after getting a perm or after relaxing. Shampooing too soon after the treatment can harm your freshly-processed tresses as they are more susceptible to damage at this time.
If you feel the need for a wash, it is better to use a dry shampoo rather than water and shampoo. Once at least three days have passed since the treatment, you can wash your hair the regular way.
- Protective Styles
Protective styles like braids, twists, or faux locs not only shield your hair from the harsh sun but also protect it from excessive breakage and environmental damage. However, wearing a protective style does not mean you can skip on a regular cleansing routine!
Braids need to be washed every two to three weeks. Focus on your scalp during the washing routine, and use a clarifying shampoo to get rid of the dirt and build-up on it.
Washing your natural black hair the right way is as important as washing it regularly. Here is how to do it properly.
How To Wash Afro Hair The Right Way
Since afro hair tends to be drier and more fragile, it is important to handle it with extra care. Follow a proper regimen to prepare your hair for washing, and shampoo it the right way to make your black hair look vibrant and beautiful.
1. Pre-Shampoo Treatment
Type 4 hair needs to be detangled properly before washing. First, separate your hair strands with your fingers and run a wide-toothed comb through them. You can use a moisturizing oil like coconut oil or olive oil to ease the process. These oils are known for their deep-conditioning properties that make your hair more manageable (3).
Pre-shampoo oiling makes it easier to detangle your hair and leaves it soft after washing. Leave the oil in your hair for at least 30 minutes before washing it off.
Wet your hair thoroughly in the shower. Start by applying a little shampoo at the roots and wash the length of your hair while taking care that it does not get tangled while lathering.
First, use a clarifying shampoo to remove any product build-up, dirt, and other debris from your hair and scalp. Rinse off and repeat the process with a moisturizing shampoo to hydrate your hair. Use warm water as it helps to open up the cuticles, allowing your hair to absorb more moisture.
Since afro hair tends to be dry, it is very important to condition it after shampooing. Gently wring your hair to get the excess water out after rinsing off the shampoo. Now, apply a moisturizing conditioner. Take care to avoid the roots – it can lead to build-up.
Leave the conditioner on your hair for five to ten minutes to let it absorb the moisture. Rinse off the conditioner. Use slightly cool or cold water for the final rinse as it helps to seal in the moisture from the conditioner.
After washing, it is time to dry your hair properly. Curls can get unruly and unmanageable if not dried with care and styled. Wrap your head in a microfiber towel or an old T-shirt to absorb the excess water. Now you can apply a styling hair gel and proceed to style your hair.
Conditioning is an important part of the black hair care regimen. It helps keep your hair soft, supple, and easy to style. Find out why in the next section.
Why Is Conditioning So Important For Black Hair?
African-American hair is more fragile and prone to damage from environmental factors, making proper conditioning all the more important.
A good conditioner leaves your hair feeling smoother and helps prevent breakage (4). Conditioners leave a thin wax-like coating on the hair strands and lessen the friction. Smooth and soft hair is less likely to tangle and break. Conditioning also helps to lock in moisture and reduces static and frizz.
Here are three useful tips for conditioning black hair:
- Don’t forget to condition your hair every time you wash it. Shampoos can strip the natural oils off your curls, leaving them dry.
- Dry conditioners are a great way to give your hair some much-needed moisture between shampoo washes.
- Opt for the occasional deep conditioning treatment if you have bleached or colored locks. Bleaching makes your hair more prone to damage, so you need to provide your tresses with extra nourishment (5). Use a good deep conditioner that is suitable for type 4 hair.
African-American athletes and swimmers should take a few precautions to maintain their hair and scalp health. We have outlined some tips below.
Love To Exercise? Here Is How To Care For Your Black Hair
People who love to engage in strenuous physical activities like running and swimming might find it especially challenging to care for, wash, and style their black hair. Here are a few hair care tips for active folks:
- Brush your hair and style it into braids or a ponytail before working out. This step helps prevent your hair from getting tangled while you exercise.
- Wear a cotton headband. By absorbing the sweat from your forehead, it prevents your hair from getting sweaty.
- Use a conditioning gel to moisturize your extensions or any other protective style after a workout.
- It is important to wash natural hair more frequently if you exercise and sweat a lot. Commit to a weekly washing and conditioning schedule.
- Co-wash your hair with a conditioner to retain its elasticity instead of washing it with shampoo every time. Use a clarifying product twice a month.
Natural black hair is different from other kinds of hair and needs extra care. While it is not advisable to wash black hair too frequently, it is important to wash it regularly with a gentle shampoo and follow up with a conditioning routine.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should you leave the conditioner in black hair?
You can leave the conditioner in your hair for up to 30 minutes. Over-conditioning can weigh down black hair.
Can Black people wash their hair every day?
No, it is not advisable to wash black hair daily as it can make your hair dry and brittle.
Which shampoos are best for African-American hair?
For the best results, use SLS-free shampoos that are gentle on your hair and scalp (6).
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