A growing number of African American women, as well as other ethnic groups, are ditching the relaxers and chemical processes and opting to embrace their ethnic “roots.”
The use of chemical products, particularly the relaxer, is highly prevalent in the African American community. A relaxer, also known as a “perm,” is a chemical process based in alkaline (sodium hydroxide), which can burn the skin badly. The chemicals break down the natural bonds that occur in textured hair to straighten it, but they can have very harmful effects, leading many African American women to grow their hair naturally.
Courtney Greer, a junior education major, said she went natural because she wanted healthy hair. Two years ago, she made the decision to “big chop” her tresses because she was tired of using a relaxer to straighten her hair.
“My hair would just puff up and my ends would (look) like really bad, so I just let it go,” she said.
Greer chose the transition method of going natural by slowly growing out her relaxer and then finally cut off her hair. At the time, she said her hair was shorter than shoulder length and she experienced much shrinkage where her hair coiled, not revealing its true length while curly.
Students are turning to media sources such as YouTube to learn more about going natural. YouTube blogger Teaundra Coleman has been chronicling her transition for years and sharing what she has learned about natural hair to her 31,000 subscribers.
“I didn’t intend to be someone that people would watch on YouTube, I was just documenting what was going on with my hair,” Coleman said. “Nothing bad happened to my hair. I was in my senior year in college and my friend was like, ‘Let’s stop getting relaxers.’”
In addition to YouTube, many students are referring to sites such as CurlyNikki.com and The Science of Black Hair, also known as the “Hair Bible.” The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care is written by hair guru Audrey Davis-Sivasothy. The Science of Black Hair serves as a textbook to those who need guidance on how to build a hair care regimen, as well as the science of ethnic hair. The book is not just for natural beauties, but for anyone who wants healthy hair that is relaxed, natural, or color treated. Sivasothy is a trained health scientist who has done extensive research and writing about hair.
Greer said the best thing about going natural is the confidence boost.
“It feels sexy. You find out you’re sexy when you’re natural,” she said. “It’s a whole new kind of confidence that you never thought you had.”
But Erica McLauren, a VCU alumna with a degree in mass communications, said the transition to natural hair takes a considerable amount of time.
“It takes a lot of time and patience, but the end result is long, healthy hair,” McLauren said.
McLauren said she chopped her hair three years ago and started a rigorous regimen that consisted of weekly deep conditioning with a moisturizing conditioner and co-washing.
“Co-washing is when you wash your hair with a conditioner, the same way you would with a shampoo,” McLauren said. “It’s better for black hair. It doesn’t strip the hair of the natural oils and things that textured hair requires.”
McLauren said that with going natural, there is no getting out of bed and un-wrapping her hair in the morning.
“I try to use protective styles such as braid outs and flat twists that last several days, but otherwise, I have to get up and do my hair,” she said.
Going natural has proven to be cost effective for several students. Instead of paying upward of $110 every 10 weeks for a chemical relaxer or keratin treatment, they mix their own products in their dorm rooms or apartments and save money.
McLauren said she moisturizes her hair with a water-based product along with olive oil.
“Initially, I was a product junkie. I tried so many things trying to see what a good fit for my hair is … And trying to avoid the natural hair no-no’s like no mineral oil, petroleum, sulfates, it was frustrating,” she said. “But look where I am now, my hair is long and healthy.”
Ty’Shon Hargove, a senior public relations major, said there are a lot of misconceptions about African American hair.
“People think it’s nappy, and thick, and it doesn’t grow,” Hargove said. “My hair is soft and long; and it has character and personality. I’m not a stereotype. All hair is good hair.”
The Conciliation Project hosted a discussion on natural hair in the Student Commons on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Conciliation Project is a non-profit social justice theater company that uses art to disseminate injustice and racial stereotypes in the community.
Elyse Jolley, project manager of the Conciliation Project’s Conciliation Alliance Building Recognition and Engagement division, said the reason why they decided to host this event is because it was requested by members of the VCU and Richmond communities. The event is what the Conciliation Project calls a “kitchen table summit.”
“Saturday’s event was a dialogue about hair and how it relates both positively and negatively in life experience as far as race,” Jolley said.
There were various exercises and role playing games to demonstrate the emotion and experiences people have about their hair, as well as the misconceptions of African American hair.
“Every time we have an event it’s requested, (we had people asking) ‘When are you going to do hair?’” she said. “So, we’re finally doing hair and we’re back on VCU’s campus.
The Conciliation Project received a grant through VCU’s Quest for Innovation Fund and used it, as well as donations, to fund their cause.