Black hair is different from all other hair types. It is naturally dry and prone to breakage. When black hair is chemically relaxed, it becomes even harder to keep healthy. Many black women suffer from breakage and hair loss
which keeps their hair from growing very long. The information below may help you to better understand your hair structure and the care that it needs.

Black Hair Structure

Black hair care must take into account the unique structure of black hair. Like other hair types, it is made up of several parts.

The cuticle is the outer layer which protects the hair shaft. It is coated with sebum, which gives the hair its shine. The cuticle is made of scale like cells that resemble the shingles on a roof.

The cortex gives hair its strength, elasticity, and texture.

The hair follicle is the part of the skin that grows the hair.

Sebaceous glands produce the sebum that coats the cuticle.

Melanin is the pigment in the cortex which gives hair its color.

However, black hair is elliptical in shape, giving it a unique structure that is more prone to breakage. Products must be used to cater to the uniqueness of black hair for it to grow very long.

Moisture, Porosity, and Elasticity of Black Hair

Black hair care must address the main components that make up condition of black hair. These are moisture, porosity, and elasticity.

Moisture is the amount of moisture water contained in the hair's cortex. It is greater in humid areas, and less in drier areas.

Porosity is the hair's ability to absorb water and chemicals. If porosity is normal, it keeps the hair from absorbing or releasing too much moisture. Overly porous hair cannot hold its moisture; it is much like a sponge. It easily sucks up moisture, but cannot hold it.

Elasticity is the hair's ability to stretch and return to its normal length. Wet hair should be able to stretch about half of its length without breaking. If your hair's elasticity is low, it will break when stretched.

Black hair that is relaxed will often be over porous, have low elasticity, and have low moisture content. For this reason, it is necessary to take special steps to keep black hair healthy so that it can grow its longest.

Black Hair Growth

Most people have about 100,000 hairs on their head. Normal growth is about one quarter to one half inch per month. Actually hair that grows one half inch per month is considered fast growing. Black hair normally grows slower than this. Every hair on your head will go through three phases: growing, resting, and shedding.

The growing phase can last from 3 to 7 years.

The resting phase lasts about 2 to 4 weeks.

The shedding phase can last from 3 to 4 months. This shedding is the natural process that replaces old hairs with new hairs. It is normal to lose about 50 to 80 hairs per day.

If you have ever wondered why your hair will grow to a certain length then stop, it is because of your growing phase. Your growing phase (or anagen) is a certain length of time. This is something that we are born with, so there isn't much that changes it. A person with a very long growing phase will grow longer hair than a person with a shorter growing phase. Therefore, the anagen phase actually determines the maximum length your hair will grow.

Black Hair and Scalp Problems

Black hair care must also cater to hair or scalp problems that most will experience at some point. Hair problems such as breakage, dryness, shedding, thinning, and slow growth can be caused by different things.

Breakage is caused by damage to the hair's cortex. This type of damage causes the hair to become fragile and break easily. Heat styling, over processing, and using harsh products can cause damage to the cortex. Heat styling reduces the moisture content in the hair and weakens the natural protein in the hair. Over processing hair with chemicals can lead to major damage and air loss. Chemically processed hair is already damaged to some extent simply because it has been chemically processed. So it is at greater risk of damage from styling. Chemical processing can cause high porosity and low elasticity, both of which can lead to breakage. In addition to this, using harsh shampoos which strip the hair can lead to further breakage. It is important that gentle shampoos be used on chemically treated hair.

Dryness is caused by sebum being stripped from the hair shaft. Black hair is dry naturally and must be moisturized regularly. Most oils and moisture products do not effectively moisturize black hair, because it cannot penetrate the hair shaft. Only water based moisturizers and coconut oil can penetrate the hair shaft. Other oil products simply coat the hair giving it a look of moisture. However, the hair is still dry and susceptible to breakage.

Shedding is a normal process. When more than 80 hairs per day are shed, it may be excessive. This type of shedding can be caused by stress, hormonal changes, diet, or scalp conditions. Many women experience this type of shedding after giving birth. This is because pregnancy hormones can lock all of the hair into the growing phase. After the delivery, many hairs will go into the resting phase to be shed two to three months later. Birth control pills and menopause can have the same effect. High androgen birth control pills can cause major shedding and hair loss. Other causes of severe shedding are fever, blood loss, low iron, drastic dieting, and thyroid disorders. Excessive shedding can also cause thinning. To minimize thinning, you first need to find out what is causing your shedding. To stop shedding immediately, garlic can be used on the scalp to tighten the pores and prevent the hair from shedding. To use garlic for shedding, simply blend garlic with your favorite conditioner until it is a paste. Apply the mixture to your scalp and hair and cover with a plastic cap. Leave in for an hour before washing.

Slow growth is a common complaint associated with black hair. This can be caused by the natural growth rate, breakage, or nutrition. Each person will have a different growth rate. Some people will just have hair that grows faster or slower than normal. However, breakage can also make hair seem to grow slowly. If your breakage is keeping up with your growth, it can make your hair seem like it is not growing at all. This is a common problem for black hair due to the damage and breakage caused by relaxers. To speed up hair growth, use a hair vitamin formulated to increase hair growth.

Scalp problems can be caused by bacteria, fungus, and other reasons. Dandruff, for example is caused more cells being shed from the scalp. It is associated with a yeast present at all times. The yeast will grow more quickly when dandruff occurs. Scalp itch can be caused by various problems such as fungal infections like ringworm. Fungal and bacterial infections of the skin need to be treated by a doctor with oral medication. Most topical shampoos, creams, and oils will not cure scalp conditions.

Michelle Monaes of Oak Park, Michigan specializes in all aspects of ethnic hair care and we can help you maintain a healthy head of beautiful hair.