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Take Special Care With Braids

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I love seeing African-American women sport hairstyles that are influenced by The Motherland. I love seeing their locks, braids, twists, and Afros on public display, and I get particular satisfaction seeing the styles flaunted in corporate settings and at church.

To me these styles are more than fashion statements; they’re symbols of cultural pride.

Such adulation should come as no surprise to regular readers of this column. They know that I’m a shameless supporter of nappiness and all things related.

But at the risk of tainting my reputation as a kink crusader, let me get one thing er, straight. My cultural affinity has not affected my common sense. Natural and African inspired hairstyles may be beautiful, but they can also be problematic if not given proper care.

Some of the most “hair-rowing” stories that I’ve heard about hair and scalp problems have come from women who have gone au natural but gotten careless with hair care.

Women who wear braids are particularly vulnerable. Hair braided too tightly could result in serious damage. I asked Dr. Eleanor Ford, a dermatologist in Silver Spring Md., to talk about the consequences of poor braiding methods.

“There’s a condition known as traction alopecia,” says Eleanor Ford, who serves a large number of African American women who wear natural hairstyles. She also wears her hair in braids. “When you continuously braid the hair tightly around the temples and along the frontal hairline, irreversible hair loss, and damage can occur.” Dr. Ford says that one of the ways to avoid getting traction alopecia is to vary the braiding style to keep from placing stress on the same areas of the scalp. She also recommends going to experienced braiders.

Moisturizing is also a must.

“African American hair, in general, whether it’s kinky, straight braided or in locks, tends to be dryer than hair from other ethnic groups,” Dr. Ford says. “The cortex is thicker, and it makes the hair shaft dryer. The dryer it is, the easier the hair breaks.”

Dr. Ford does not endorse using one particular moisturizer over the other since hair textures respond differently to different types. She personally avoids moisturizing products that have a heavy base.

“I would not put grease on my braids,” she says. “It would get all matted up in the braids, and it’s hard to wash that out.” Dr. Ford personally uses Pantene moisturizers that are reportedly good for both relaxed and natural hair of women of color.

So there you have it, my good citizens of the nappy nation. Continue to flaunt your cultural “hairitage.” But be sure to do it with proper hair care.


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