Infographic – The Natural Hair Movement
The Natural Hair Movement A Compelling And Holistic Review Of The Natural Hair Care Journey
A movement is defined in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary as “a change of place or position or posture.” Implied for the natural hair movement is that “natural hair care” has changed from what it once was – the chemical processes, straightening and flat irons that altered the hair’s natural state – to a new position of curls, coils, kinks, natural ingredients, quality products, hair types, and groups.
This new posture has been built around the growing awareness of the natural hair movement, and through it, black women have found a new sense of identity. They are supportive of each other’s decisions to go natural. There are movies, documentaries and PSA’s that send positive messages about the movement. Influencers, thought-leaders, and celebrities are behind this phenomena. Books, groups, workshops, and festivals are held locally and globally. There are untold resources available to black women as they navigate their new normal.
The natural hair movement has affected girls, women, the young and more mature, in all industries and sectors of society. All have been influenced by the change as to how black women treat, process and care for their natural hair.
We’ve sought unique insight from thought leaders in activism, hairdressing, social media, cosmetology and media. To garner their thoughts on the natural hair movement. Because we’ve seen the movement grow and the contrasting ways women approach and figure out the needs of their naturally curly hair.
The hairstyles of black women have always played a significant role in African culture dating back to the 15thcentury. Culturally hairstyles have been a symbol of family, heritage, age, tribe and status and they are the bases for how women socialize when styling their hair.
In the early 19thcentury hair was chemically treated to be straight and this gave black women a more mainstream look. These chemical processes in one form or another have been consistently used right through to the1990’s.
At the same time, in the last 60 years, there have been changes to how women style, care for and treat their hair. Interestingly the trends and styling have been a reflection of what’s happening in society.
In the 1960s and 1970s afros were worn as a reflection of black power and the civil rights movement.
The 1980s and 1990s there was an increased use of chemical processes with Jheri curl or the wet look and hair straightening with relaxers. The 2000s have once again abandoned chemicals and there’s a shift to caring for hair naturally.
Valley Fontaine “The Editor of Hair Valley.com” has an informed and insightful perspective on the trends in hair styling she says:
“Hairstyling has gone full circle. Pre-relaxers and pre-straightening with a hot comb we were natural, and this was the favored style in Africa, the Caribbean, and the USA. It was then prevalent to straighten natural hair with a hot comb. This was closely followed by women wearing wigs, to cover their natural hair to have a more European look. Essentially wig wearing became a global phenomenon. In the 1960s and 1970s, natural hair was once again in vogue and women wore afros and cornrows (braids).
Several years later weaves became fashionable and affordable; championed by celebrities who wore lace front weaves which were virtually impossible to distinguish from their own hair. And now we’ve moved from straightening back to natural textured hair that is widely celebrated.
We are able to style natural hair with wigs, extensions, and weaves. It’s a wonderful thing that we have so many options as it relates to hair styling and accessorizing. But these styles shouldn’t be a replacement for wearing our natural hair.We should be mindful however that different styling methods e.g. tight braids, weaves, sisterlocks, and extensions can be a cause of traction alopecia. This is a major concern when children wear the aforementioned styles. It looks cute today but in the future, they could lose their hairline and suffer broken and damaged hair and ultimately lose the confidence to wear their natural hair.”
We’re currently in the midst of the “Natural Hair Movement” how black women have styled their hair in the past has been indicative of what’s happening in society. We wonder what socio-economic events will history attribute to today’s natural hair movement?
The decline in the use of relaxers and straightening products has been significant in the last two decades. In part due to the significant adverse health issues women have faced when using the treatments. The implications are far-ranging and have been highlighted in research studies.
In a 2012 article in The Journal of Epidemiology the authors hypothesized about the impact of relaxers on women’s uterine health, the study found that:
“In this large population of premenopausal US black women, we observed increased risks of uterine leiomyomata (fibroid) in association with ever use of hair relaxers, duration of use, frequency of use, and total number of burns experienced during use.
Positive associations were also observed between frequency of hair relaxer use and risk of uterine leiomyomata among the long-term users (i.e., duration of use ≥ 10 years).
We found no association of uterine leiomyomata with age at first use or type of formulation used. Although stronger associations were seen for leaner women and women living in the South, there was no evidence of statistical interaction by body mass index or region.”
And a later report has more evidence as it relates to chemicals in products.
In there 2018 study, scientists at the Silent Spring Institute undertook the first study of its kind that measured a range of hormone-disrupting chemicals in hair and beauty products used by black women. The study found that:
“Chemicals in hair products and beauty products, in general, are mostly untested and largely unregulated,” said lead author Jessica Helm, Ph.D. “This study is a first step toward uncovering what harmful substances are in products frequently used by Black women, so we can better understand what’s driving some of the health issues they’re facing.”
Black women who no longer straighten their hair by chemical processes will attribute some of their decision making to simply not wanting to “relax” their hair, some the cost, others the associated health risks, and some sheer relief from the harmful effects of the application of relaxers.
We can now easily make the connection between the decline in the use of relaxers to straighten curly hair and the desire black women have to wear their hair natural.
There are two main methods that are used to transition from chemical-based hair processes to being natural: “Transitioning and The Big Chop.”
The Big Chop is where all straightened hair is cut off, leaving a tiny afro. It’s a great way to don a new hairstyle and have a fresh new look. For some, this may feel dramatic and they are not prepared or willing to take the plunge.
Transitioning is where curly hair is no longer processed with chemicals. It’s a longer-term strategy of going natural, and it’s a lot more subtle. You are able to maintain length and there are several styling options available as you traverse the transition between two textures of hair using protective styling e.g. braids and or curly hairstyles
In her book “The Science of Black Hair Journal,” Audrey Davis – Sivasothy provides guidance for women who transition:
“Transitioning relaxed hair back to its natural, unprocessed state can be a liberating experience. While the decision to forgo relaxing entirely has gained popularity in recent years, the process is often not for the faint of heart. Whether the decision to transition to natural hair comes out of necessity due to previous damage, breakage and hair loss from chemical relaxing or is simply a matter of conscious styling choice, transitioning the hair can greatly improve its health and growth potential.”
It’s definitely a personal preference as to which method should be used to transition. There is no right or wrong method. The decision of whether to Big Chop or not is best made when you way up the pros and cons and determine the best method for you.
When women make the decision to wear their natural hair there is a sense of feeling liberated from chemical processing and all that goes along with it. Black women are free to wear their hair naturally as it grows and as nature intended. There is also a definite confidence that emanates from a black woman because she now looks and feels great about how she has chosen to wear her hair.
Lekia Lee, activist, and founder of Project Embrace has a thought-provoking message that will inspire:
“It is really important that natural hair is getting its day and I am confident that it’s here to stay. The idea that afro-textured hair is bad, in other words not beautiful and therefore not acceptable and certainly not professional has been around not for decades but for centuries. This message has been internalized by everybody, so for black women to come out and say ‘hang on, who are you to say that my hair is not beautiful enough to be worn out to work, school, a black tie event, or wherever,’ it’s a statement of defiance.
For every culture from antiquity until now, hair has been symbolic and it continues to be. It has always been used to send some kind of message, and for a Black woman to wear her natural hair out, she is sending a message that her beauty is worthy, deserving and equal to anyone else’s, and this is a note to anyone who might think otherwise. But most importantly, she is sending a strong message to younger women and girls that they are enough.The problem is not that we appreciate beauty but that the definition of beauty is narrow.”
There are many trail-blazers, women who have gone before, whether they be celebrities or the lady beside you at the check-out whose natural curls, styling or color you admire. Without a doubt, the thing that you’ll probably notice most is her quiet confidence or regal stature, because she is being who she’s meant to be.
5. Hair Type
There are several hair types: Type 1 through to Type 4. For Types 2 to 4, there are further sub-classifications that range from A through C. The textures within the subclassification are wavy, curly, coily and kinky. The hair typing chart allows women to easily identify their classification by comparing which hair type is similar to their own.
Beauty Influencer and Natural Hair Blogger, Luyando Handia, (Pure Estrogen) expertly provides guidance on hair types she says:
“Hair typing makes us more aware of the diversity of the natural hair movement. While some types may be treated more favourably, it is important that we know our hair types especially when styling and caring for our hair. To avoid frustration, it is necessary to know which products and techniques will achieve a desired result. Something as simple as detangling natural hair can be done several different ways and discussing what works for different hair types and textures allows women with specific hair needs to easily design a regimen that will work for them.”
Discovering the needs of each unique type takes time, investigation, and exploration. Armed with this information, women can ensure that their natural hair doesn’t become frizzy, dry, and subject to breakage. Knowing your hair type helps each woman wear her curls with optimal definition.
Thirty or forty years ago, there were a handful of products on the market for natural hair, which primarily contained mineral oils and petroleum which left a lot to be desired.
At the time women and mothers used what was available and this goes some way to explain why black girls have had difficulty in knowing the best way to care for their natural hair.
But thankfully a lot has changed. A significant factor in this change without a doubt is the availability of hair care products designed for natural hair.
With the number of products now on the market, it’s not a stretch to consider that there is a direct correlation between the availability of these new products and the identification of hair types and classifications that have specific needs.
Because it’s a fact-finding mission to work out the products that are right for you. Initially, this can be a costly exercise but when you find the right products, it’ll be smooth sailing. The best teacher when it comes to your hair is YOU!
Determine your hair type and its unique needs and remember what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. It’s a process that takes time but if you use a quality product consistently over weeks or months you’ll see a remarkable change.
Luxju Natural Hair Products is a carefully formulated hair care range of natural and organic hair products for natural hair.
It’s important for healthy natural hair that products are chosen are formulated with quality ingredients and do not contain chemicals and harsh ingredients. Parabens, sulfates, synthetic artificial fragrances and mineral oils are not only harmful to natural hair but also to a woman’s health.
Some women have chosen to create their own hair products at home because the best products are made with natural butters, essential oils, carrier oils, and plants.
There are many ways of styling natural hair that provide black women with a great deal of flexibility. There are protective styles including crochet braids and weaves. Styles that are sleeker and controlled, including buns. And styles that emphasize volume and curls such as a twist-out and wash and go. The great thing about natural hair is that you could literally have a different style each day of the week.
Celebrity hairstylist and author Monae Everett presents an enlightened and profound window into her experiences as a stylist:
“I now consider natural hair a mainstay instead of a movement. People are taking better care of their bodies and going to great lengths to avoid ingesting chemicals into their system, including their hair and scalp. Women and men are loving the versatility that their curls and kinks provide. Natural or non-chemically straightened hair has become more popular as bigger and fuller looks have taken over fashion and become aspirational. In addition, more people are exploring hair color. Avoiding chemical relaxers makes it easier to change color.
Natural hair has become such a way of life; there are now conventions and events focused on loving, maintaining, and creating new looks. The “Natural Hair Industry Convention” an industry event focuses on education for cosmetologists, and “Curl Fest” is targeted for the consumer. I love the camaraderie that surrounds natural hair.
I love seeing so many natural hairstyles. As a hairstylist who strives to show that hair is about texture, not race, I really enjoy working with my coily haired celebrity clients Sonequa Martin-Green, Victory, and Dominique Fishback. As a result, we are changing the conversation on what is beautiful on-screen, red carpets, and runways. We’re able to present how beautiful, elegant, professional, and fun natural hair can be. I enjoy seeing tucks, rolls, braids, shapes, as well as the volume produced in natural hairstyles. I enjoy that we constantly show that natural hair can be stretched, coiled, flat ironed straight, braided, locked, extended longer, pinned up, or worn in a teeny-weeny afro and still look feminine and goddess-like.”
It’s been said that variety is the spice of life and with natural hair there are so many options for styling. You can change or adapt your hair to suit your mood, season, clothing or event. What could be more interesting, exciting, and fun?
When you go natural there will be good and bad hair days!! There are without doubt struggles that are unique to being natural and having tight kinky, coily or curly hair. The struggles or pain points can be overcome with routines, regimens, quality products and understanding your own hair type and its unique needs.
Addie Gombauld President of the Caribbean Society of Cosmetic Scientists has great advice for women with curly hair:
“Most women who have curly hair often wonder, what’s the best way to care for their hair, which products to apply or how to highlight their curls? Everybody’s hair grows at approximately the same speed. But some hair types are more fragile than others.Curly hair will break more rapidly than straight hair, due to the curved shape of the hair follicle that has multiple breakage points. Consequently, curly hair is unable to maintain its length unless the correct principles of hair care are adopted.
Moisturization is key! Whichever routine you adopt always look for moisturization. This occurs when the hair cuticle is hydrated throughout the day. But water alone doesn’t hydrate, trapped water does! Water alone will eventually evaporate and leave hair dry. You need to apply an oil-based product, in order to control water’s evaporation over time. Unlike petrolatum-based products, vegetable oils or butters still allow the exchange of water from the air to the cuticle and vice-versa. Oil doesn’t hydrate hair but water alone will not either. A combination of both oil and water provides the right hydration to hair. Conditioners, hair creams and masks provide much-needed moisturization to curly hair. The secret to healthy hair resides in always supplying hydration, especially to hair that has been damaged by aggressors.”
Being natural takes time and patience to figure out what is “right for you.” Just know that every day may not be a good hair day! But when you make the investment, it’s worth it. Over time you’ll see the results of your effort and dedication. And one day you’ll catch the lady beside you at the checkout admiring your healthy defined waves, curls, kinks or coils.
Is there a new trend on the horizon as it relates to hair care for black women? Or will the natural hair movement evolve into something new? We’ll see!!
For now, we can embrace the fact that there are now increasing numbers of black women with coily, kinky or curly hair represented on mainstream media, as news presenters, in tv ads, in magazines, posters, and billboards.
Are you on your natural hair journey? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.
We would like to thank all contributors to this research. The annex below has contact details, further information, and links to their websites.