The beauty industry has subjected Black women to an impossible standard of beauty for centuries, and many women are still suffering the effects of trying to change their natural hair. Black women seem to be under constant scrutiny for their hair, and that pressure to fit a standard of beauty that was not created for or by them can lead to desperate treatments that cause more harm than good.
Many of the traditional treatments for coarse or coiled textures involve high heat, damaging chemicals, high tension, or hiding natural hair under hair pieces for long periods of time. Even the simple process of detangling, when done incorrectly, can cause hair damage or even hair loss.
These processes have been passed down through generations but might be better off left in the past:
Four Traditional Hair Tools to Leave in the Past
1. Hot Combs
Hot combs are a major cultural staple for Black American women, but they have single-handedly created more bald spots and heat damage than any other hair tool. Hot combs were traditionally heated on the stovetop, then run through greased hair to straighten and flatten natural hair texture and curl. While these are a nostalgic part of Black Hair History, it’s time for the Hot Comb to retire.
Why It’s Harmful:
Because hot combs are metal and heated using direct heat, hot combs can reach temperatures that are extremely dangerous for any hair, no matter how coarse. The metal teeth are unforgiving, causing hair breakage from even minor snags and tangles. Plus, the temperature of the hot comb is notoriously inconsistent, so burns, scalds, and scorches are often inevitable.
If you are reluctant to give up the hot comb altogether, try utilizing electric straightening combs instead. That way, your temperatures remain consistent, and often these combs are made of more forgiving materials that are less likely to tear through your strands.
Relaxers are a controversial hair treatment, because while they are proven to cause baldness and breakage, they are often the simplest solution for people who prefer straight, easily manageable hair. For generations, Black women have done at-home relaxers for their daughters in kitchens all over America, and though the pungent sulfur smell for some triggers memories of hair damage and the beginning of their struggle with hair loss, for others it’s nostalgic.
Why It’s Harmful:
Relaxers use either sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide to break through the cuticle of the hair to release curls and straighten the hair shaft. When applied to the scalp, most users feel a recognizable “burn” that too many confuse with a sign that it’s “working.” This highly alkaline process compromises the hair’s elasticity and ability to hold moisture, often leaving it brittle and prone to breakage with everyday styling. Not only that, but the process, if not done by a trained professional, can cause scalp burns, chemical irritation on the scalp, or can lead to hair loss from literally dissolving the hair completely.
Technological advancement in the beauty industry has led to massive improvements when it comes to hair texture treatments. Though it is not a permanent treatment, Keratin Treatments are a great alternative to at-home relaxers. Keratin Treatments gently smooth and relax coarse textures, but also allow the hair to maintain its natural curl. They make blow-drying and detangling easy and improve the strength and elasticity of natural hair. Plus, Keratin Treatments last for anywhere between 3-5 months with limited washing, so it’s perfect for women who want variety in their looks without making a permanent change.
3. Glue-in or Tape-in Extensions
We love a weave. Adding wefts of hair to short, thin hair gives you an instant boost of confidence. However, certain extension methods can make your natural hair even thinner and more prone to damage than ever before.
Why It’s Harmful:
Glue-In and Tape-In Extensions use tacky, often nearly impossible to remove adhesive to attach hair wefts to your natural hair. These are especially dangerous because the glue is very difficult to fully remove. Glue that adheres to the root of the hair can seep onto the scalp, blocking pores and inhibiting hair follicles from shedding and growing new hair. Extended use of hair glue on the natural hair or scalp causes hair loss, severe damage, and at the very least, heavy buildup that can take a long time to fully remove, even with professional remover products. Not to mention, the heavier the weft, the more tension your hair and scalp have to endure. This is a very quick way to lose hair, especially if your hair is already thinning or damaged.
Sew-in extensions on coarse or high-textured hair is a safer and less damaging option for long-term weaves, but only when applied by a trained professional and only on hair that is strong enough to handle the weight. Too-tight cornrows, too-tight applications of wefts, sew-ins on thin hair, and heavy extensions can also damage your natural hair growth. Tension, Halo, and temporary clip-in extensions are much safer alternatives for adding length and fullness to your hair.
4. Jheri Curl
Even writing this, we can’t believe out ears, but the truth is—the Jheri curl is trying to make a comeback. Grandmas and Aunties are finally getting the validation they’ve been waiting for since the Jheri Curl died alongside stirrup pants and big shoulder pads. Basically, the Jheri curl is a permanent relaxer and curling process that gives the appearance of loose, cascading curls. However, the process is so damaging that the hair must remain fully greased and moisturized at all times so as not to break off. No, we’re not kidding.
Why It’s Harmful:
The Jheri Curl process is in two parts: first, the hair is heavily chemically relaxed to loosen the natural curl pattern, then an activator is applied via spray bottle to re-activate the curl. This activator needs to be reapplied every day in order to keep hair from literally drying out and breaking off. Not to mention, that activator leaves a greasy residue on (everything!) skin and scalp which can cause breakouts and irritation.
With the return of the shaggy, mullet-y wash-n-go, don’t be afraid to play with your natural texture through twist-outs, braid-outs, and bantu-knots. But if you’re really curious to try the Jheri curl look, get a wig. Wigs are fun and unless installed with unsafe adhesive, they’re a safe alternative to permanent hair texture treatments.