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Black Hair Care Basics

Taking care of African-American hair can be particularly difficult. Two experts weigh in on the proper black hair styling techniques, black hair products, weaves, and more.
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We talked to Tippi Shorter, hairstylist to Alicia Keys, Rihanna, and Vanessa Williams, and Titi Branch, co-owner of Miss Jessie's salon in Brooklyn, New York, about caring for black hair.

African-American hair tends to be more fragile, shrinks more when dry (wet hair can be up to twice as long as dry hair), and has more elasticity. They answered our top care questions:

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU WASH YOUR HAIR?

Both experts agreed that washing your hair once is week was plenty. Because African-American hair is naturally drier, washing it more frequently would over-dry the hair — plus it's highly unlikely your hair will look oily in a week. Due to the extra curly, kinky nature of the hair, oil doesn't get a chance to travel the whole way down the hair shaft, says Branch.

WHAT'S THE BEST TECHNIQUE FOR STRAIGHTENING OR BLOW-DRYING HAIR?

Using a comb attachment to the blow dryer is a must, says Shorter. Blow-drying wet hair takes a lot of pulling with a brush, and that can end up breaking the hair. Since African-American hair is much more fragile, Branch recommends letting the hair air-dry or sitting under a dryer for a short period before blow-drying to minimize on tugging time.

ARE WEAVES GOOD OR BAD FOR YOUR HAIR? WHICH METHOD IS BETTER: GLUE OR SEWING?

Both agree that weaves can be good for your hair as long as the proper care steps are taken and you go to an experienced stylist. In fact, a sewn weave protects your natural hair since you won't be straightening or exposing your natural hair to any outside elements. Glued-in weaves, however, tend to rip out your natural hair at removal and should be avoided.

HOW DO YOU CARE FOR A WEAVE?

Shorter recommends visiting your stylist every two to three weeks to make sure your weave stays as tight as possible. A loose weave can pull on your hair. She recommends that you make sure to cleanse your scalp as thoroughly as possible to prevent buildup and flaking. When should you take out your weave and put in a new one? Between 1.5 and 3 months. And after two consecutive "weavings," you should probably let your hair rest for a few weeks before putting in a new one.

WHAT ARE SOME MYTHS ABOUT AFRICAN-AMERICAN HAIR THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISPEL?

Myth #1: "That black hair can't grow long," says Branch. It grows at the same rate as other hair types — half an inch per month. However, the hair is extra dry and fragile, which makes it prone to breakage. In fact, it can break at the same rate that it's growing. The hair can grow long if you moisturize it all the time and nourish the hair with the right products.

Myth #2: "Some people think you can over-condition your hair, but that's a lie," says Shorter. If you're using a conditioner for "damaged, dried" hair, it will have a lot of protein. However, too much protein makes your hair hard, especially if you're sleeping with the product in it. The opposite then happens: the hair hardens and breaks. Luckily there is no such thing as too much moisturizing and moisture makes the hair soft and pliable.

WHAT ARE SOME PRODUCTS THAT EVERY AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN SHOULD HAVE?

For Branch, it's all about one word: Moisturize! She recommends four essential types of products: 
1. A moisturizing shampoo, like Ojon's Ultra Hydrating Shampoo, $18
2. A moisturizing deep-conditioning treatment, like Ojon's Restorative Hair Treatment, $21
3. A moisturizing styling product, like Tresemmes Anti-Frizz Secret Smoothing Cream, $4.75
4. A moisturizing hair dress to replenish hair daily, like Biosilk's Silk Therapy Serum, $12.99

Shorter is a big fan of Tresemme's line of curl products, especially the Flawless Curls Definition Jelly ($4.35) and the Flawless Curls Shampoo ($5).

Originally published on LHJ.com, August 2009.

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