Afro American Hair

We’ve all known for years that the ingredients in hair relaxers, hair straighteners, perms and hair colors can be harmful to our hair and scalp. But, this doesn’t deter us from our quest for beauty.

Hair straighteners, hair relaxers and hair extensions can break, burn and otherwise damage the hair and scalp. It’s easy to believe that when you can buy these hair care products off the shelves that they must be safe, or at least safe to use at home . . . but it’s simply not always true.

“Afro American Hair Warning”In a recent article in Dermatology Times, by Paula Moyer, Dr. Marta Rendon M.D. associate clinical professor at both the University of Miami and Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, sums up her warning by saying, “They need to know that if something itches or burns, it’s not good for them.”

Pay Attention

“Several of the hair straightening products and practices can make things worse, because they break, burn and irritate the hair, and can cause allergic dermatitis of the scalp,” Dr. Rendon says. So-called “hair relaxing” agents are also often used by patients of Afro American heritage or others with very curly hair. In these hair care products, which loosen the curl and make the hair easier to blow dry and comb, the active ingredient is typically lye, which can also cause allergic contact dermatitis, dry scalp, and scalp infections.”

Some of the newer hair straightening products and procedures, like Brazilian treatments or Japanese straightening treatments are advertised as “formaldehyde-free.”  Earlier hair straightening products contained formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen and can cause life-threatening allergic reactions.

Afro American hair is much more fragile than Asian or Caucasian hair. Afro Americans have fewer follicles per inch on the scalp making the hair less dense. The Afro American hair type also has less strength, breaks easily and is difficult to comb.

“Patients who use hair straighteners, hair relaxers, blow dryers and flat irons can eventually lose their hair, Dr. Rendon says. “The hair just can’t tolerate all these procedures.” Other procedures that can cause traction alopecia are the gluing of hair extensions to the scalp and the fusing of hair strands to give the illusion of more volume. Some hair extensions are now fastened with clips, which create less traction than glue.

I learned early on in beauty school that any scalp disorder needs to be referred to a dermatologist immediately. Dr. Rendon points out that timing is critical to being able to influence the ability to treat the condition. “We get them very early or very late,” Dr. Rendon says. “Problems that are fairly new are more likely to be reversed, but those of long duration can cause permanent hair loss due to scarring.”

“Brazilian treatments are often smuggled in and done in someones kitchen, often with disastrous consequences,” Dr. Rendon says. “We can teach patients to ask their hairdressers to tell them the manufacturers of the hair care products they use, and to stick with reputable companies.”

“The major cosmetics companies have done their homework to make sure that their products are safe,” Dr. Rendon says. Dermatologists can also teach patients to be suspicious of discomfort, she says. “They need to know that if something itches or burns, it’s not good for them.”


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