As you know by now, I set up the Natural Hair Forum UK to offer support and advice to fellow naturals. The forum is well underway now and it has some fantastic new features, as well as prizes and discounts.
As part of the service I’m very happy to announce our collaboration with top trichologist, Keith Hobbs, Clinical Director at the Institute of Trichologists.
‘But what does a white man called Keith know about black hair?’ you may ask. Well quite a bit, actually. Keith, pictured here, has more than 50 years of experience in the hair industry under his belt.He has spent much of his career working in Brixton, where he developed a love affair with black hair. He went on to specialise in this field and has become one of our leading trichologists.
He has written exams, invigilated, lectured and founded several clinics over the years. In fact, there’s not much he doesn’t know about keeping black hair healthy.
Forum users have the incredible opportunity to pose their questions to Keith for his expert advice. So if you have any concerns about hair or scalp issues, Keith’s your man. Please take advantage of this fantastic resource to get advice from a professional.
To celebrate Keith’s involvement with the forum I thought I’d put him through his paces with a Q&A session.
What, exactly, does a trichologist do?
“We diagnose, advise and treat specific hair and scalp disorders.”
You were a hair stylist, way back when…so what is the best thing specifically about styling afro hair?
“Black hair is the most versatile hair type with such variations of style. Also black women are generally far more “hair aware” than other races. They really care what they look like and spend time and money on looking good.”
(Ain’t that the truth!)
What made you specialise in black hair in particular?
“By accident, when in 1986 I started to study trichology at the Hair and Scalp Clinic, Stockwell Road, Brixton. There are a lot of hair loss problems out there and the community needed us.”
What do you think about the so-called Natural Hair Movement, and the fact that black women are learning how to care for their natural hair?
“Natural hairdressing methods are going in the right direction, as the strong chemicals used on black hair are capable of not only breaking hair but also causing permanent hair loss. Unfortunately it is not only chemicals that can potentially damage hair, it can also be a combination of heat (blow-drying with an afro-nozzle, heated tongs/hot combing) and physical trauma (weaves/extensions).”
With the natural hair movement, people are beginning to think differently about the products they use and what they eat. There’s a lot of talk about ingredients in our products that are thought to be harmful, like parabens for example. How true is this, and do we really absorb these products through the scalp?
“The main purpose of skin is protection and it is highly successful in doing this. Very few things penetrate skin. However it is thought that certain chemicals can indeed penetrate skins and potentially cause cancers in very rare cases. Black skin has a far better protection against the ultra violet (UV) rays of the sun, even thought it can still burn, particularly when visiting a sunny climate after the lack of sun in Britain. On the minus side, lack of vitamin D (manufactured within the skin from UV) is more common in darker skinned races because of increased melanin keeping UV out.”
With this in mind, what do you think of chemical straightening creams for black hair? Are they a bad or good idea, in your opinion?
“The easy answer is – they damage hair, but careful relaxing performed by a qualified experienced hairdresser (there are a lot of unqualified ‘hairdressers’ about) minimises damage and can make Afro hair more manageable, easier to comb and style.
Relaxers are intended to relax the curl, not make it completely straight. Relaxers contain Sodium hydroxide (lye, also called caustic soda13-14pH), which is used to clear drains) No-lye relaxers such as guanidine hydroxide, lithium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are also strong chemicals capable of completely destroying the hair structure if left on too long. I do not approve of home relaxing where it is easy to leave the cream on too long with frequently disastrous results.”
Suddenly there’s a proliferation of oils, creams, conditioners and products for natural hair. Do you think they really help, and can the products we use really make a difference to the health of our hair?
“Hair conditioners are extremely important to the condition of hair and the modern range of products are extremely good.”
One question we all want to know is: can we really grow black hair? This is a rather loaded question that’s become somewhat of a bugbear to natural haired ladies wanting their hair to achieve its true potential…are we deluding ourselves or is there a way for us to retain our hair length?
“Hair length is determined by inheritance. When black people say their hair doesn’t grow, it is because it breaks beyond a certain length because of lack of hydration and various hairdressing and physical traumas.”
(Phew, that’s great to know – there are things we can do to help retain the length!)
What do you think is the main reason for hair loss and damaged hair in the black community?
“Rarely neglect. Most hair loss problems are caused by the opposite – doing too much to the hair. The most frequent condition I see is hair loss caused by a list of potential problems, one on top another:
- Dry scalp (black skin is frequently dry in the British climate)
- Dry skin is frequently itchy
- Itchy skin/scalp is frequently scratched
- Relaxers used on scratched scalp frequently cause irritant dermatitis
- Irritant dermatitis can create sensitivity to oils
- Sensitised skin itches
- Itchy scalp is scratched – a lot!
- This causes abrasions
- Abrasions cause secondary infection
- Scalp infections can cause scarring and permanent alopecia.”
Do you have any advice on the perennial problem of dry hair, which is a characteristic of afro hair?
“Hair is dry not because it lacks oil but because it lacks water. Black hair is more suited to the hot humid conditions found in Sub-Saharan Africa and the West Indies. Black hair in Britain is dry because there is less moisture in the air (in spite of the rain).
Regular steaming is the answer followed by a light oil to seal the moisture within the hair shaft. Problems occur because fashion dictates black women must have their straight, and so even when hair is steamed (and shrinks and curls) it is then put through traumas such as relaxing, blow-drying (afro nozzles), hot tongs and tension.
Blow-drying Afro hair straight involves taking all the water out of the hair, making steaming useless. Then, when oils and leave-in conditioners are used they act by keeping the humidity out of the hair shaft, to keep it straight.”
So, what can we do from the inside (i.e. diet) to look after our scalp/hair, and what other tips would you give for healthy black hair and hair growth?
- “Steam your hair regularly
- Use good conditioning products
- Minimise hairdressing traumas involving long term use of: chemicals, heat and traction (weaves)
- Drink plenty of water
- Do not massage scalp excessively
- Eat a balanced diet containing protein at least once daily
- Make sure you are not anaemic
- When having a blood test ask to GP to include the serum ferritin level (iron storage), which must be above 70ug/L
- Get plenty of sleep
- Manage your stress levels (e.g. Yoga, Pilates, etc.)
- Don’t constantly try to make your hair straight. Curly hair is beautiful – why straighten it?”
(And that’s why we love him!)
Keith will be answering questions over at the Natural Hair Forum UK. Don’t miss out – register and post your questions to Keith in the Hair SOS section.