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Eleven Tips for Growing and Maintaining Long, Healthy African American Hair

I’ve been accused of wearing weave so many times I can’t count. While I do understand that it’s pretty popular to have long hair by using weave, there are some women who really do have long, healthy hair in permed (or natural) hairstyles. Considering I have relaxed hair, these tips are solely for relaxed hair women.

Tip One: Realize you don’t have to wear someone else’s hair to feel pretty. I’ve never worn phony ponies, extension braids, hair pieces or micros. I’ve always been more fascinated with styling my own hair and don’t think I need anyone else’s hair to make me feel complete. It bothers me a little to see women bragging about how fantastic their hair is when it’s not theirs. There was an episode of “The Mo’Nique Show” with actress Taraji Henson and Terrence Howard, and she just kept talking about her weave. But when she came on again after Mo’Nique won an Oscar, she didn’t mention her hairstyle with her own hair once.

Tip Two: Dodge all the hair glue and tight braids. My godmother and my own mother wore braids so long that their own hair fell out. My godmother told me my godson burst into tears when he saw his mother’s hair fall in clumps while she was in the shower. I’ve had other friends and family who had the same issues. Sitting in a chair for 8 to 11 hours to get hair put in only for it to be so tight you can’t even frown should tell you that it’s not worth it. Hair glue pulls hair out, and sometimes it can pull it out from the scalp completely. Beware of going to braiders or stylists who don’t have a license. There are some who really can do the same styles as those with a license, but make sure you talk to and see past customers after at least a year of using their services. This way you know what the effects are. If you are deadset on hair weave, I’d suggested braiding or sewing hair in instead of gluing it in. Or, consider wearing wigs, which are way less painful.

Tip Three: Stop using a bunch of different relaxers without any particular reason for switching. I know there’s an ongoing hair debate about relaxer. I’ve had a relaxer since I was four, but I don’t recall ever using anything but Vitale Mo’ Body Sensitive Scalp and Vitale Olive Oil relaxers. When you find a relaxer (also commonly called a perm) that works, stick to it. If your beautician does not use your relaxer, bring it with you. Don’t let a stylist talk you into using a perm you’re unfamiliar with based solely on short supply. Your hair may pay the price for it. If perm is pulling your hair out, stop using it. I’ve never had this problem (outside of an overzealous beautician), but I would stop immediately if my hair started falling out.

Tip Four: Use regular rollers at least every other time you curl your hair. I used to flat iron or use curling irons on my hair every day, and the more I used them, the drier my hair got. I was oiling my hair and scalp more often because I was constantly frying it. I wouldn’t suggest using rollers that clamp on your hair because they tend to tangle and pull hair out. Personally I use sponge rollers, not magnetic rollers or heated rollers. If you’re using rollers that heat up, that defeats the purpose of slowing down on constantly burning your hair, especially if you have a perm.

Tip Five: I haven’t gone to a salon to get a perm in over 10 years. I just can’t see paying someone $60 for something I can do just as good if not better. I also used to have two beauticians who would overperm my hair. Every time they saw the slightest curl or my hair didn’t lay down exactly the way they wanted, then I was told I needed a perm. Because I wore my hair feathered and in stacks for several years, I understood why it was suggested for appearance purposes but not health purposes. I got into a full-blown argument with a stylist who wanted to perm my hair every four weeks. I ended up with a bald spot getting relaxers that often. I perm my hair a minimum of every three to four months, blow dry it and leave it in a ponytail for at least a week. Relaxer is hard enough on hair so I don’t start putting even more heat on it with curling irons and flat irons, etc.

Tip Six: Don’t be afraid to wear your hair in a ponytail or balled up. In Teri LaFlesh’s book “Curly Like Me,” she displays several hair style ideas in Chapter 13 “How to Do Your ‘Do.” Whether you have curly hair or not, these are still good hair ideas, and I’ve done most of them. Keep it interesting by using my six backup items for styling hair.

Tip Seven: Be careful with dying your hair or using a bunch of rinses. Whether it’s temporary, semi-permanent or permanent, the chemicals inside can pull out your hair. My mother, who has had her hair dyed all shades of red, blonde and brown, paid the price for that with hair loss that took years to grow back. For that reason alone, I never dyed my hair, especially considering my own hair changes colors in the summer months. It’s okay to keep your own hair color.

Tip Eight: I used to use petrolatum and mineral oil products growing up because that’s what I was told I was supposed to use. My hair was dry, but those hair oil products made my hair dirty and hard to comb. Gel also made my hair break off more and because it was so thick, I washed my hair more than ever. Over the years, I’ve found lighter hair oil products that don’t use these products like Parnevu T-Tree and Sofn’free. The only problem with using hair lotion is it can make thick hair like mine just as hard to comb if I use too much. Remember to only oil your scalp and not your hair. It’s your scalp that needs the moisture. When you comb your hair, the rest of it will get the necessary hair oil it needs.

Tip Nine: Pay attention to how your hair reacts to weather. It’s ranging between 85 and 90 degrees in Chicago right now, and with hot weather, I usually wear my hair in a ponytail. Bangs make my forehead break out. When it’s windy and humid, I make sure to bring appropriate hair accessories if my hair is down. Considering how thick my hair is, I know it’s only a matter of time before those curls wave goodbye.

Tip Ten: Do not avoid conditioning your hair after shampooing it. It will more than likely leave your hair sticky and strip necessary moisture. Unlike with other hair types, black women and men do not wash our hair on a daily basis. Whereas other cultures are washing excess oil out of their hair, it takes our hair time to get those oils hence the reason why we add hair oil to our hair. Never avoid conditioning your hair though. This is not only imperative for styling, but it stengthens and moisturizes your hair. If you have the kind of hair that can air dry without becoming tangled or shrinking into waves, consider wrapping your hair and letting normal air and the sun dry your hair without a hair dryer.

Tip Eleven: Exercise. I know this may sound like an odd piece of advice, especially considering some of us don’t like to sweat or mess up our hair while working out. But exercising is a stress reliever. You don’t have to jump head first into a pool, but even a walk to Chicago’s lakefront and beaches or a light treadmill run is better than nothing at all. Weight gain and overeating can lead to stress. Stress leads to hair loss. Don’t put more effort into your outfit than you do for the body wearing the outfit.

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