Friday, 29 March 2013

Curl Class 6: The Andre Walker Hair Typing System

So, in our early blog posts, Zainab and I described our hair in terms of numbers and letters. I said I had a mix of all the 4s (and a little 3) whilst Zainab said she was 4c. I’m sure a number of you thought '-_- what does that mean?’ Well, to answer your question, it’s our hair type! (Well this post is called hair typing, lol.)

Instead of just saying straight, wavy, curly or kinky or dividing hair according to race, hair stylists have come up with their own way of categorizing hair. At the moment the most popular way is using the Andre Walker system, which the team over at Naturally Curly have expanded to create a much more extensive system. The second way is using the LOIS system (additionally Mizani have their own system too).

Hair types are supposed to help you when choosing products and styles but personally I don’t find hair typing very useful, as every head of hair is different (I only use it to find YouTube gurus). What may work for someone else may cause your hair to split and break. On top of that, my hair pattern changes from the back of my head to the front of it, and has also changed over time (as I’ve learnt to properly moisturize it and also as it’s grown). So you may think your hair is one texture now, but in the future you might change your mind.

When hair typing, it’s important to know that any race can have any hair type. Just because you’re black it doesn’t mean your hair can’t be naturally straight/wavy, and just because you’re white it doesn’t mean you can’t have naturally coily/kinky hair - if you don’t believe me click here and here. (I used to think that because the front part of my hair was wavy it was heat damaged, so kept cutting it down thinking that it would grow coily like the rest of my hair – it never did and now the front of hair is shorter then the rest :P)

Andre Walker
Not everyone likes this system. Firstly some people don’t like it because straight hair is number 1 and afro hair is number 4, secondly Andre Walker has said some pretty controversial things about type 4 hair (he suggested Type 4 hair needed a relaxer to be managed - read it here). This typing system divides hair into 4 types:

  • Type 1 is straight hair
  • Type 2 is wavy
  • Type 3 is curly
  • Type 4 is kinky-coily

Then within hair types 2, 3 and 4 are classes a,b and c. 

Type 2
L-R: 2A, B and C
Type 2a-b hair is made predominately of loose s-shaped waves and usually lacks bounce. Because it is wavy and fine, it easily becomes greasy as sebum can travel down the shaft. Type 2c has a bit more of a curl on the top half of the head.

Type 3
L-R: 3A, B & C
Type 3 hair ranges from predominately big loose curls (about the size of a finger) to small pencil-size curls. It frizzes up very easily when exposed to humidity (thanks to the British weather the front portion of my hair can never maintain a twist out :P) and ranges from being very fine to very coarse.

Type 4
L-R: 4A, B & C
All hair types lose moisture to the surrounding environment over time; sebum from the scalp is supposed to combat this by traveling down the hair strand. However the kinks and tight coils in type 4 hair make it more difficult for the sebum to travel down the strand, and the sebum takes longer to get to the end of the strand. (Think of it like two cars traveling to the same place: one car travels down a straight road whereas another has to take constant twists and turns. The second car will take much longer to reach its destination). The longer type 4 hair is, the drier the ends of the hair (in comparison to another hair type). If not moisturized regularly, the dry ends break off resulting in what seems like little to no growth.
My hair texture (this is a week old twist out)
4a hair is made from small coils, 4b hair kinky zig-zags and 4c hair very tight coils. 4c hair doesn’t clump together naturally like 4a and 4b hair as the individual strands twist and turn according to their own pattern, additionally the coils are so small it makes it hard for the strands to unite as one.

Next time I will tell you guys about the LOIS system!

Maz xx

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Twelve Top Tips to Transition!

(Disclaimer** Okay guys, if I’m honest, these are more like statements rather than tips but I just liked the alliteration. Seriously, try saying that title ten times in a row!)

Transitioning is difficult. Trust me, been there, done that and I couldn’t stand it all! I should’ve really just done a big chop but as I said before, the start of my journey wasn’t exactly intentional… And the thought of losing what little hair I had scared the life out of me. So instead I grew my miniature fro and the rest was as it is now I guess… It wasn’t incredibly difficult but these are just some of the things I wish I had known before I had started transitioning. Boy would it have helped.

1. You think you know how to two strand twist? Think again my friend.
Going natural really teaches you a thing or two about your hair and one of them is that twists ain’t easy. It will take some practice and you’ll definitely get enough time for that. But with both the relaxed ends and natural roots, it won’t look as polished as most. It will take time, but you’ll get there and the first perfect twist will get you excited!

2. Your hairstyles won’t be what you expect them to be in the beginning. It’s a part of the journey!
You’ll watch videos of YouTube gurus and see people on the street with amazing hair. You can attempt to re-create it and it really could work but most of the time it’ll come out looking NOTHING like you planned. It’s genuinely a learning curve. Don’t be put off by the style you attempted to achieve! Try again one day. Practice really does make perfect.

3. The two textures will drive you up the wall and round the bend! 
There were days when I wondered why I bothered going natural. I was always told by my family and hairdressers that I needed a relaxer in order to manage my thick, course and unruly hair. Dealing with two different textures made this all the more believable but hold on to the reason why you changed your mind about relaxers! It gets easier, and rather than reach for the “sofn’ free ‘n’ pretty” decide if this means you’re ready to lose the straight ends.

4. Learn to be gentle when you detangle
The point between your new growth and the relaxed ends is very fragile. It could snap at a moment’s notice and it WILL. Be very careful when detangling because you’ll quickly realise that gone are the days when you could whip through your hair with a small tooth comb. The wide tooth comb will be your new bestie but you still need to remember that gently does it!

5. Once your natural hair grows out further, you might realize how damaged your hair was when it was relaxed. 
Trust me, the comparison between the new natural hair and the previously relaxed hair will be a bit shocking. It’s enough to motivate you to keep going with your natural journey and for me, it was enough for me to grab the scissors!

6. Find at least 3 people in the natural community you can gain advice from -  YouTube, blogs, friends, family
This is an important tip because the support is more helpful than you might think. Go through blogs, YouTube, friends and family and pick some people you think could benefit your journey. I find it’s best to watch videos from people with a similar hair-type to mine however, tips from a 3a person may be helpful to a person with 4c hair too. 

7. Find someone you can personally take the journey with
Lucky for me, my sisters have been natural for a while. Having them there has made becoming natural a lot easier than it would have been otherwise. It gives you a lot of motivation and also allows you to share tips and ideas that could help the both of you.
You wanna look like me?

8. Find a simple routine you know you can stick to even if you’re in a rush
This needs to be done! If you’re the sort of person that takes a long time detangling with an array of different sized combs and three heat caps (ahem… that’s me), think about what would be the fastest and most effective way of completing it all. Getting your routine down to a just a few hours is a helpful way of knowing (if necessary) you can get your hair done quickly, with desired results and leave the house without looking like a troll doll.

9. Don’t throw out all of your products unless you know they didn’t even work in your relaxed days
Being natural can be expensive especially if like me and Mariama you can’t help but watch YouTube videos constantly. You want to buy everything they have! Work on using what you have already, you may find it’s great for sealing in moisture or adding shine – if it never worked anyway, bin it, give it away or use it for another purpose. (Hair conditioner makes good shaving cream for soft legs lol)

10. Not every product you use will work 
You might find that the products you use will be more effective for the relaxed ends and others for the natural roots. Don’t expect everything to work because most products are made for a specific target market. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes creams and conditioners aimed at straighter hair-types might still work for you (Maz swears by Aussie Moisture) but just because it says it’ll “melt away” the tangles, doesn’t mean it really will. If you’re left with a Costco size tub of conditioner, see my above tip. Hehe. : P
I can wish for her hair, but it ain't gonna happen!

11. Don’t expect a curl – it may never happen
After staring at blogs and YouTube (damn you gurus with your amazing hair and perfect personalities! Grr) you may secretly expect your hair to fall at this perfect angle and hang with loose curls. It may never happen even if it does; no two naturals are the same! Embrace your beautiful hair and learn how to work it gurrl! (Okay. I promise never to do that again.)

12. Expect people to say mean things not know they’re being mean – it will happen.
This is my favourite tip - maybe because I’ve experienced it first-hand. People will say things to you that are so horribly rude but take it with a pinch of salt. They aren’t all hip to the natural hair movement! Let them say what they have to say, fight your corner if you need to and after that brush it off. Confidence is key and karma is a bish.

So this is it guys. I hope I helped somebody out there! Transitioning isn’t all easy but the results are wicked. Taking a pair of scissors to those relaxed ends is so worth it and it’s just the first step to being a fully-fledged natural! Enjoy it whilst you can. : D

Zee xx

Friday, 22 March 2013

Curl Class 5: Why Afro Hair Needs Extra Care (Part 2)

Unlike Caucasian or Asian hair (which has a circular shape), African hair has an oval shape and twists on itself as it grows therefore the hair changes diameter randomly down the length of the strand. Each hair may also twist in a random pattern, so the hairs won’t necessarily clump to form a curl (this is also why black hair forms an Afro, the strands just grow any which way and form a large ball of hair). So unfortunately curly-kinky hair is inherently weaker than straight hair, in fact the straightest and therefore the strongest hair actually belongs to East Asians (a fact I learnt from Blue Peter, they demonstrated this by holding up an apple with a strand of a Chinese woman’s hair. See television can be educational!).

Healthy hair and damaged hair
This weakness is why African hair needs more love and attention then the hair of other races. Lots of hair styling tools simply aren’t made for black hair (especially small-tooth combs, whoever designed the small tooth comb deserves a slap!) and a lot of products aren’t designed or tested on black hair (although that is changing now. In fact a lot of creams that are ‘made’ for black hair are made with ingredients like mineral oil and petroleum; these can’t penetrate the cuticle and be absorbed into the cortex so our hair is greased to the max on top, but the strand is dry on the inside.

Relaxers and constant straightening destroy and permanently break the disulphide bonds that produce the strength our hair requires causing a reduction in Cysteine levels as the hair grows out of the scalp. This causes the strand to continually break at the ends as they have a reduced foundation and the cuticle opens causing the cortex to be exposed and be damaged (and remember once your cortex is damaged, that’s it!). So if your hair is thin at the ends and is constantly snapping off, it’s not normal! I use to think it was just how my hair was, and that my hair could only ever grow to shoulder length - until I started taking proper care of it. Breaking, snapping, dry hair is a sign that your hair is damaged and that you’re doing something wrong! So whether your hair is relaxed, weaved, straightened, natural or braided, make sure to actually take care of your hair!

Maz xx

PS. I know I’ve told you guys already to change what you are doing to stop your hair from breaking but haven’t actually said what to do :P. I know a lot of you are interested in what we’ve actually been doing to our hair to make it grow and stop breaking and other more fun things like that. Zainab and I will start talking and making videos about this stuff soon, we promise! It’s just that studying medicine has made me want to go over all the basics and theory of hair before I do all the fun practical stuff. We promise the fun stuff will come soon!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Curl Class 4: Why Afro Hair Needs Extra Care (Part 1)

So how are curls and kinks formed? It’s all down to two things: the keratin fibres that make up the strand and that wonder of chemistry: the chemical bond! (I bet you wish that you had listened in chemistry class now!) The building block of the hair is the amino acid, and a couple of these join together to form a peptide (another name for a small bit of protein). These peptides then link up to make several long strand chains called fibrils. Several of these fibrils then accumulate several times over producing the cortex of the hair1. There are three different bonds that keep all this stuff together: the permanent disulphide bond (which means two sulphur atoms joining) and two weaker bonds: the ionic (or salt) bond and hydrogen bond.

The disulphide bonds in the strand are due to one amino acid: Cysteine (there are only two amino acids that contain sulphur anyway). Disulphide bonds are permanent meaning they cannot be dissolved by water, they are only destroyed by heat, force or a strong chemical and once destroyed cannot be reformed. They occur between the individual fibrils across the strand and in between the scales of the cuticle1. The number of bonds formed determines if your hair will grow to be curly or straight as well as the strength of your hair (also they cause that horrible distinctive burning-hair smell when you straighten your hair). The more disulphide bonds you have the more your fibrils twist around each other leading to a wavy, curly or kinky strand.

This is actually collagen, but it's a good illustration of how fibrils twist around each other causing a curl.
The ionic and hydrogen bonds are the reason why your hair looks different when wet and when dry. Both are also the reason why hair has the ability to change shape using twists, braids, rollers, straighteners, blowdryers (basically lots of things) as they interact with water molecules2, (this is why rain and humidity can ruin a good hairstyle!) Hydrogen bonds are the most numerous and occur in between the peptide chains, their soluble nature allows us to set our hair in a style when wet, then as the hair dries the water evaporates and new hydrogen bonds are formed meaning the dry hair remains in the style. Slightly stronger ionic bonds occur down the length of the chain, they can dissolve in water (but in hair usually stay strong) but are totally dissolved by acids and alkalis2, this is why we may need hair products to keep our hair in a style (this is also how those ionic blow-dryers and straighteners that claim to strengthen the hair work). 

Next time I'll talk specifically about the structural weakness of afro hair.

Maz xx 

  • Franbourg, A. et al (2003) Current research on Ethnic Hair Journal of American Academic Dermatology, Volume 48, S115-9
  • Wolfram, L.J, (2003) Human Hair: A Unique Physicochemical Composite, Journal of American Academic Dermatology, Volume 48, S106-14
  • Images from Current research on Ethnic Hair (2003) and European Bioinformatics Institute

Monday, 18 March 2013

Get empowered by your afro! (Part 2)

So there I was. For the first time since my last relaxer, I faced my hair in its new state. I was still ready to chicken out and call in sick for work the next day until I realised I had no choice but to go in. A simple roll, tuck and pin was all I could do in the short time I had designated to my hair that morning, (it would take longer than I had planned) but after a second stare (you can tell I enjoy looking at myself in the mirror lol) I actually didn’t look all that bad! I made it a point to watch the faces of everyone that I came in contact with that morning and honestly, nobody really cared! I had to wonder why I thought they would. Because it was such a big deal to me, I assumed it would mean the same to everyone else. It sounds stupid, I know, but these were the thoughts racing through my head.

A month later and I do get the odd questions from colleagues but I’m so comfortable in myself that it doesn’t bother me. “Why is your hair not done?!” Erm… This is my hairstyle guys! “Aren’t you going to relax it? *GASP* Why not?!!” Of course, people will never understand what they aren’t a part of but that’s a whole ‘nother story and it’s a long’un!

It’s so easy to be brought down by the negative comments you get from people. It’s actually worse when people don’t realise that what they say can be seen as hurtful but in some ways, it helps me to realise that this natural hair journey is truly a JOURNEY. I’ve learnt so much about myself that I never realised existed or mattered. Now it’s just about sitting back and awaiting results. Well, not so much sitting back. Mostly moisturising and detangling but you get my drift. Stay empowered by what you have guys. It’s not always easy but it’s definitely worth it.

Zee xx

Oh BTW, I just realised how melodramatic this may sound to the readers that have had their hair out all their lives, haha. This is just my story and I thought it could help those of you in the same situation. It’s really not as easy as it seems!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Get empowered by your afro! (Part 1)

It seems like just yesterday I forced myself to stop hiding behind the various head gears that seem to be sold on every street corner - weaves, wigs, extensions and of course, my beloved turban. These were just a few of the things I used to stop myself from having to deal with my own afro and also prevented me from having to face what I believed would be negativity on a daily basis.

Now, don’t get me wrong guys, I LOVE my extensions. They take a few days to put in (depending on the size) but when they’re in... The numb bum is so worth it! And my turban. Let’s just say, if I start talking about her, I won’t stop. But really, why do we decide to cover up what all other ethnicities flaunt so proudly? It’s just hair, right? WRONG. (I think I've heard that before...) It’s so much more than that! It’s an expression of our personalities and a shining beacon to everybody we come in contact with, conveying the fact that we take care of ourselves, that our appearance is important and that we’re individual and unique in our own right.

But let’s face it. Maz and I aren’t here to lie to you guys. It feels ten times easier when you can just stick your braids in a bun and bounce at a moments notice! You don’t have to think about sealing the ends with Shea Butter. You don’t have to think about how much growth you’ve had. You don’t even have to bother doing the whole wash routine that normally, you’d be planning days ahead! Time is saved and now, your fingers won’t cramp up at the thought of detangling your afro. A job made slightly more difficult due to shrinkage (grrr).

But one day, after taking out my braids, I suddenly thought to myself, “What would happen if I was to go out like this? No braids, weaves or anything?” I had to stare for a long time and imagine the faces of people when they saw me approach. In my head they all seemed to laugh and point at me! (The serious kind of laugh too… Tears coming outta their eyes and everything.) After staring for what seemed like an eternity, it seemed worth it to just give it a try. What harm could it do? If it all went down the toilet and if I couldn’t face it, Mariama would be there to re-introduce me to my braids and life would be “normal” again. 

Zee xx

What happened when Zainab took out her braids? Find out in Part 2...

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Curl Class 3: Why doesn't my hair grow?!

So, last time I said I was going to convince you that all hair grows. Let’s be honest I know there are lots of people who still buy into the myth that black hair doesn’t grow. You or your sister or your mother have had the same length of hair for [insert number of years you’ve been alive], and you’ll say ‘Mariama, even Wikipedia says that black hair grows more slowly or doesn’t grow at all!’ (Don’t believe the papers cited by Wikipedia though, one of the studies was done on 38 people, hardly representative of the entire black population, and the other was done on school children - we all know school children don’t take proper care of their hair! Even in the pictures you can tell they don’t have healthy hair, most of it is damaged and broken… anyway I’m straying from the subject). 

Aug 2011
Feb 2013 (with much better glasses :D)
All I can say to you is… (and please don’t throw rocks at me if you see me!) it’s your own fault your hair doesn’t seem to grow. Yes, I said it! It’s YOUR fault! You’re probably thinking, ‘but Mariama, everyone in my family has short hair! It’s my genes that mean my hair can only grow up to this length!’ WRONG! (Actually I’m being a bit mean, that is partially true). What I am trying to say here is that your hair doesn’t seem to be getting longer because of your hair care practices. Contrary to the myth Afro hair is not tough at all, it is actually very weak and when uncared for becomes more fragile and dry causing it to break very easily. The strand grows at the root and then breaks at the end meaning that it cannot retain the length from the root, and you end up with no added length. The reason why everyone in your family has the same hair length is probably because you all do the same things to your hair rather than your genes.

Unfortunately I probably haven’t done an amazing job yet of convincing you that Afro hair can grow as long as you want it to. But in the next post I will bust the tough black hair myth by explaining a little more about curly hair structure and why augmenting the structure can cause breakage and stop you from retaining length. 
Mariama xx
1.  Khumaloa et al (2000) What is normal black African hair? A light and scanning electron-microscopic study. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 43, 814-20

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Curl Class 2: The Science Behind Hair Growth

Hair growth begins in the follicle and the average person should be able to grow about 4-7 inches1 a year regardless if it is straight or curly, healthy or unhealthy, coarse or fine. The follicle has several layers each designed to assist and protect the hair strand as it grows out of the skin. Each follicle is also connected to a sebaceous gland secreting sebum (an oily secretion) onto the surface of the skin. The oil from this gland is all our scalp requires to stay moisturised and does NOT need additional help. There is no need to grease your scalp, NO NEED!! (My poor head! All throughout my life I was always told to grease my scalp, my follicles were probably suffocating!). The base of the follicle is also known as the hair bulb and is found in the dermis (the second layer of your skin). Here the follicle obtains nourishment from the blood vessels and nerves in the dermal papilla – the commander of the scalp. The dermal papilla controls the scalp and organizes when, how quickly and how thickly your hair grows. 
Hair growth occurs in three circular phases: anagen, catagen and telogen.
Anagen - the growth period - can last anywhere from 1-10 years2 (so the average head of hair can potentially grow 4-70 (!) inches in a given growth period) but the average length is about 3 years. During anagen, keratinocytes in the follicle produce keratin to make the hair shaft. As it is the longest period in the cycle the majority (90%) of your follicles are in the anagen phase right now.

The remaining 10% are in either the catagen phase (the transition period) or the telogen phase (the rest phase). Catagen lasts about three weeks2 and in this phase the hair is prevented from growing or producing melanin (which is why the bulb is white). The follicles shrink and the dermal papilla begins to break down in preparation for telogen. Telogen takes about three months, here the hair pretty much just waits there until stimulated to undergo exogen (shedding).

After about ten growth cycles our ability to pigment our hair worsens and we begin to develop grey hairs1 (this also happens during periods of stress, which is why during or after exams you may find random greys1), if you have a shorter growth cycle you also may discover yourself going grey earlier! More bad news: less than half of women and 2% (!!!!) of men go through life with a full head of hair3. So the lesson is, if you think your male friend going bald is hilarious right now there’s a 1 in 2 chance that’ll be you in the future (almost 100% if you’re a boy reading this)! :D
Maz xx
1     Krause, K; Foitzik, K (2006). Biology of the Hair Follicle: The Basics. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, Volume 25, Issue 1.
2.    Bernard A. Bruno (2003). Hair Shape of Curly Hair. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 48, S120-6
3.    Lai-Cheong, J.E; McGrath, J.A (2009). Structure and Function of Skin, Hair and Nails. Medicine, Volume 37, Issue 5
Images taken from The Medical Dictionary & Stylecraze 

PS. Happy Independence Day to Ghana! xx 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Curl Class 1: What is Hair?

Even though we give so much attention to the hair on our heads did you know that only about 1.6- 3% of our hair is located on our scalp1? Hair is a protein fibre (mainly made of keratin) produced in the follicles (the little pits) found over most of the skin (except for parts of the hands and feet). The thinner hair all over our bodies is called vellus hair, whereas the thicker, coarser type (including the hair on our heads) is named terminal hair. Hair growth originates in the hair bulb and the part that we see is referred to as the hair shaft.
The shaft is made of three parts: the cuticle, the cortex and the medulla.
The scaly outer part of the hair is called the cuticle and is the bodyguard of the inner cortex. The cuticle’s overlapping layers determines how well your hair holds on to moisture (which will spoken about a little later :D) and once damaged the harm to the strand can never be reversed! It’s goodbye to the other layers, an appointment with the scissors will be needed to regain healthy hair.
The second layer is the boss layer: the cortex. If you want shine and vibrant colour, look after your cortex (actually I’m lying, look after the cuticle and the cortex will mostly be taken care of). The cortex is where approximately 90% of your hair is found and it’s where we get our hair colour and structure from2. Hair colour depends on how much melanin is produced by the melanocytes (the cells which make melanin, and therefore the colour of our skin and hair). The lighter the hair colour, the less melanin in the cortex (except for redheads who have a different kind of melanin). The cortex is where relaxers, curly perms and colouring treatments attack to change the nature of the hair.
The most inner layer, the medulla, can perform a disappearing act. In fine or blond hair the medulla vanishes, so why have a medulla I hear you ask? Well the only known function of the medulla is its ability to reflect light causing our hair colour to change in various environments3. (I tried to make the function of the medulla sound cool but compared to the other layers the medulla is pretty lame, sorry guys :P).
I bet you’re thinking, ‘Geez, so much info for such a little bit of protein!’ My friends, it’s only the tip of the iceberg! Next time I’ll be talking about hair growth and will be trying to convince you that all hair can grow to any length! (Believe me, please believe me!)
Maz xx 
1.    Krause, K; Foitzik, K (2006). Biology of the Hair Follicle: The Basics. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, Volume 25, Issue 1.


Introducing the Curl Classes!!

So… hair… It seems pretty simple right? WRONG! When I decided to go properly natural I pretty much went into information overload; there’s so much information on so many sites that sometimes it’s difficult to keep up. But guess what you lucky lucky reader? We’ve decided to spare you the late nights up next to your laptop, trying to absorb reams of information and have collected it all for you! For the next few posts Zainab and I will be teaching you all about the basics of hair! Aren’t we nice to you, eh?

BTW this information is for everybody. It doesn’t matter what hair type you have or if you are natural (you don’t even have to be a girl), I believe it is important for you to know about your hair. You don’t have to go natural to have long healthy hair (I can hear all the ladies who want to stay relaxed breathing a small sigh of relief) but after this series, nobody else (not even your hairstylist!) will know this much information about hair. If you want your hair to grow long, strong and healthy – and stay that way – keep on reading.

Maz & Zee xx