In today’s post, I thought I would debunk seven natural hair myths that I have heard over the course of my natural hair journey. Natural hair commentary and hair practices are often laced with misconceptions and miseducation. I argue that these myths contribute to natural hair frustrations and beliefs that efforts to grow healthy hair are futile.
Myth #1: My hair is not growing.
Truth: There are blood vessels beneath the hair follicles that keep your hair growing.
But, there are caveats. Some hair follicles can stop hair growth as you get older, which results in hair thinning and balding. These factors do not necessarily hinder the ability to grow long strands of hair though. You may think that your hair is “not growing” because it’s actually breaking off at the rate of its growth. You are not seeing stagnant growth, you are experiencing a lack of length retention. This is due to a variety of reasons such as inadequate moisture, harsh handling of hair, or damaging haircare practices.
Split ends, for example, will hinder your ability to maintain long hair. When split ends are not removed, they will travel up the hair shaft as fast as the actual hair grows from the follicle and continue splitting. Thus, it makes it appear as though your hair is not growing. It’s important to consider what hair practices you can nix in order to increase length retention and to prevent damage. For my kinky hair, I have personally eliminated the use of combs. You can watch a video here on how I finger detangle my natural 4C hair.
Myth #2: Natural hair isn’t for everyone (and why this myth perpetuates Whiteness).
Truth: Natural hair is for everyone, across all groups.
This is one of those natural hair myths that I don’t quite understand. It’s disheartening that there are members of my community who truly believe that the hair that naturally grows from their scalp is not suitable for them. It is reflective of people of color, particularly Black women, succumbing to years of social conditioning. This myth is particularly nuanced. It is typically directed at or said by Black women with highly textured, kinky hair or by women who do not necessarily have tresses that cascade down their backs or shoulders.
What is deemed as suitable in mainstream culture often excludes features that are purely African. If we really want to tackle this natural hair myth, we have to start dismantling Whiteness as the standard of beauty, because it has found its way into the natural hair community.
Myth #3: You can reverse/repair hair damage.
Truth: Hair is essentially a collection of keratin and dead skin cells.
The living tissue that makes your grow is hidden inside a hair follicle, and those follicles have nerves wrapped around them. Once your hair is pushed out of the follicle, the cells within the strand aren’t living anymore. This is why you cannot feel pain when you have your haircut, you only feel pain if it is being pulled from the hair follicles. Because hair is not living tissue, it cannot heal. As a result, hair damage (whether from color, heat, or mechanical) is beyond repair. Have you ever straightened your hair only to realize that your strands never curled as they once did even after you washed your hair? Have you ever dyed your hair and noticed a difference in texture, density, or overall curl pattern? More than likely, you have some sort of damage.
Companies that market products promising to reverse hair damage are not being completely honest. For example, a store-bought deep conditioner or treatment may promise smooth, softer hair, but it is only a temporary fix. These products are good to use to protect your hair from further damage. However, you cannot reverse the damage, you can only prevent it. The only way to truly remove damage is by cutting it off and safeguarding your hair by incorporating healthy practices.
Myth #4: Oil is bad for natural hair.
Truth: Whew. This is why hair science is important! Two of my friends have told me that their stylists discouraged the use of oils on their natural hair. They argued that oils can “suffocate” the hair. This is only partially true because 1) not all oils are created equal 2) oils don’t moisturize the hair, only water can do that. But this holds true: Plant-derived, naturals oils are some of the best, most effective substances to use when caring for natural hair. They contain a host of nourishing properties, vitamins, and minerals that protect the hair and allow it to flourish.
Our scalp produces its own oil, sebum. The curlier or coiler the hair, the more difficult it is for sebum to travel down the hair shaft. This is why kinky hair often feels dry. Therefore, using plant-derived oils can compensate for this difficulty. Also, let’s go back to the idea that not all oils are created equal. There is a stark difference between plant-derived oils and manmade oils. And a difference between plant-derived moisturizing oils and sealing oils. As with any claim of anything being bad for your hair, research is key. I’ll definitely be sharing a post on hair factors to consider when choosing between sealing and moisturizing oils and the differences between both.
Myth #5: Protective styles can make your hair grow.
Truth: I love protective styles and the creativity used for them! Protective styles can help improve length retention, but they do not affect hair growth.
How well you’re able to retain length is contingent upon how well you can maintain a protective style. When natural hair is in a style such as crochet or box braids or in a wig, there still needs to be a hair care routine in place. before, during and after your protective style. Putting your hair in protective styles and then leaving the hair alone will do more damage than good. Some simple “dos” when protective styling is that you moisturize, cleanse, and deep condition your hair. Try to avoid any products that will cause buildup such as mineral oil, petrolatum, and dimethicones, and polyquats. Dimethicones and polyquats are difficult to get rid off without shampoos that contain sulfates, which are very drying to the hair. The closer a product is to the earth, the better it is for your strands.
Lastly, if you know your hair is damaged and the damaged hair is in protective styles, stop where you are and prioritize dealing with the damage. Protective styles on damaged hair can make matters worse. That’s like slapping a bandaid on a wound without treating it first.
Myth #6: Trimming your ends will keep your hair from growing.
Truth: Though it seems counterintuitive, trims are actually necessary as you grow your hair out.
If you are currently struggling to let go of hair that is damaged in favor of keeping your hair long, remember that it’s a huge barrier to hair health and length retention. The ends of our hair are the oldest, most brittle strands and therefore, are prone to the most breakage. It is important that the ends of our hair receive careful attention by trimming as needed. How often you need to trim depends on how well you take care of your ends. On days when I detangle or when they are in two strands twists, I keep a pair of hair shears handy to remove any knots or scraggly ends. This is referred to as dusting. Also, make it a habit to concentrate your efforts on moisturizing your ends by misting them with water and sealing the moisture in with a product of choice. You can use a DIY oil to do this.
Myth #7: Natural hair is too much work/not manageable.
Truth: I’ve noticed this natural hair myth often expressed by women who haven’t learned how to properly care for their hair or are discouraged or frustrated by their journeys. The common solutions are often resorting to quick puffs, weaves, wigs, braids or having someone else take care of it and calling it a day.
Natural hair is not too much work. It is not unmanageable. Saying such things makes it sound burdensome. I often wonder that if there was a world without the European paradigm of beauty, would we still consider natural hair to be “too much work”? Sometimes, I think about my future daughter. I never want her to think that her natural hair is too much for me to handle or for her to feel that way about her own hair. Mastering natural haircare takes time, for natural veterans and newbies alike. Once you’ve mastered a routine, taking care of it becomes easier.
So, that’s a wrap! Debunking natural hair myths not only requires research but also a personal commitment to unlearning negative perceptions and ideas of natural hair. What are some natural hair myths that you have heard? Share them in a comment below!