July 24, 2009

Question: Why don't we wash our hair everyday?

Last Summer I had a friend of mine ask me, "Why don't black people wash their hair everyday, or, how come they can't?" (The latter part of the question told me that someone must have told her something already). As a person who is passionate about ethnic/cultural-reconciliation and dispelling myths, stereotypes and ignorance about culture and ethnicity while bridging gaps and promoting cultural integration in my social circles, I usually spend my time educating others. My friends are the same way so there is a lot of support. I'm more than happy when people ask me a question because it means that there is an opportunity to open the minds of others. Why become defensive and angry for no reason especially when opportunity is knocking at your door to educate someone regardless of how the truth that you share with them is received? You just might end up planting a seed. I strongly believe in being the change that you want to see. My friend is of another ethnicity but she was curious and genuinely interested in learning about and understanding our hair. Here was my explanation to her question:

My Friend: "Why can't black people wash their hair everyday?" (We were in the shampoo section of the market). She knew some things about black hair but still had questions. This was my reply:

My Response: "Simple. Black hair is highly textured and very coily/kinky and even though we produce the same amount of natural oil as everyone else, this oil does not completely cover the entire shaft of a hair strand thus making it more fragile as a result. It's easier for oil to make it's way down a straighter hair strand than a coily hair strand. It takes time for our natural oil to cover the entire shaft therefore creating sheen and not "shine". Black hair will never be shiny unless you use an external product on the hair to give it that shine (i.e.: Oils, cremes, weaves).

If we were to wash our hair everyday then we would wash out our oils which are needed to keep our scalp moisturized, and our hair would become more dry and brittle and break off. Plus, oils attract dirt and dust and because there is less oil along our hair strands, it attracts less dirt and dust making it less greasy/dirty (unless you apply hair grease). That's why we don't need to wash it as often.

The other issue too is shampoo. Commercial shampoos are not made for our hair texture because they contain an ingredient that strips oil from your hair and scalp (made for people with a straighter texture which produces more grease sooner, hence more washing for them). For us, these shampoos strip not only the oils but the moisture from our hair and scalp making it really dry and rough. So that is why there are black hair products made for our texture or moisturizing shampoos. Everything I have said is referring to our natural hair texture, especially at the roots. This does not include permed, relaxed, or weaved hair because these are external products that contribute to producing a different result."

My friend replied that now she has a better understanding and that it all made sense. I did my best to explain to her how our hair texture operates in comparison to her naturally straight hair texture.


17 comments:

shea said...

great explanation
i, truthfully, get agitated when i have to speak for the entire race however.
i mean- i have no idea why each individual black person who actually doesn't wash their hair daily (because I actually have no way of knowing if that is an honest assessment) doesn't do so.
so i applaud your patience, dewdrop :)

Queen Nat said...

As I'm reading this, I'm saying, "good answer, good answer!" I agree with you about not getting upset. It was a great opportunity to educate.

Rashida Chinue Blake said...

You educated her well. Very good. :)

Bajan Lily said...

to follow on from this Kalia - I had often thought that daily washings weren't essential because there is no daily buildup (of oils for example) as is usually the case with caucasian friends with straight hair. From reading your answer (which was pretty informative thanks) it would seem that your bit about oil travelling down the shaft of straight hair faster than down coily hair - concurs. Thanks for the education!

Anonymous said...

I'm black. I have super curly hair. I have washed my hair everyday in the hot summer without any adverse effects. I actually get irritated by generalizations about black hair. It's all about finding what works for you.

dewdrop said...

Everyone has some great input and thanks for sharing! Keep them coming.

@Anon: I agree that generalizations are annoying and even explaining the fact that we can wash our hair everyday (like you said based on what works for us) would probably confuse people even more. My best friend has extreme eczema and must wash her hair daily (she has nappy hair with a little looser coil) and she doesn't have any problems either. Thanks for sharing your input because you made a very valid point. :-)

anthia-ofo said...

ITA excellent response. I might add this is certainly true of most, but not all as someone pointed out, but I've noticed it's the'harsh' shampoos that actually dries out afro hair, especially the sulphate shampoos. If it was washed everyday (or rinsed) using nap-friendly shampoo/conditioner the results can be dramatically different.

Kicukalah said...

I thought that was an excellent response.

BrownSuga said...

Well spoken! She could not have asked a better person to educate her on the subject.

The Woman Inside said...

I love love your blog. It has given me so much encouragement as I am about to start my sisterlock journey in a week or so. What a great response and you explained 4 hair very well. Actually, my white girlfriends are noticing that they shouldn't be washing their hair everyday with shampoo either but it is hard to go through the adjustment of letting their hair feel 'greasy' while their oil production slows down.

AFunkyKindaGlow said...

I am clapping my hands frantically.
Very good answer, I will promise not to scowl next time some one asks "do I wash my hair?" instead I will share some of your wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right Dewdrop! That was the best most articulate explanation why African type hair should not be washed on a daily basis. Because the oil does not make its way down the shaft as quickly. Well said!

curtissepearl said...

I have a better understanding now too. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have had to help my 12 year old daughter with this issue when curious classmates have asked questions. I use a explanation similar to yours.

I work out moderately at the gym in the morning before work and I only shampoo my hair once or twice a week. I often wonder if the "regulars" I see at the gym on week day mornings are thinking that I never wash my hair and that my locks must be dirty. That's why it's best to take the opportunity to educate people when possible.

I found this information a few years ago. I don't agree with everything being said by the scientist but, I found the descriptions and illustrations of hair folliciles very educational.

http://www.thetech.org/genetics/ask.php?id=107

LL82 said...

I like it! =) Ask a real question, get a real answer...

Anonymous said...

Afro-textured hair is different from straight hair. Individuals with straight hair produce more sebum(a natural scalp oil) than individuals with curly/kinky hair texture. Then oil easily slides down the hair strands. Where as with curly/kinky hair which doesn’t grow down and instead up and out, it is harder for sebum to coat the strands. So, individuals with straight hair have to wash it almost everyday with a clarifying shampoo to prevent their hair from being oily. Whereas individuals with curly/kinky textured hair apply oils and moisturizers onto their hair to prevent it from being dry.

Curly/Kinky textured individuals should condition their hair more than they wash it. Also, many of the shampoos available contain sulfates and other drying and harmful ingredients though they may be advertised for black women, they use the same ingredients from straight hair shampoos.

Another reason why black women may not wash their hair for a certain time is because their is a standard of beauty that promotes and celebrates straight hair. For black women, it is hard to maintain and live up to those hair styles. Most black women will relax or flat iron their hair. Applying water on the hair would revert the hair back to its normal state(though you cannot revert a relaxer, it is a myth that you can ‘sweat out’ your perm or relaxer).

So, black women do not wash their hair everyday because a) it is not a hygienic necessity b)mainstream shampoo does more harm than good for their hair and c)this form of hair maintenance interferes with hairstyles that black women wear.

Anonymous said...

I happened on to this site and loved your answer. On the flip side, I'm straight-up white with very curly hair, and I can't wash my hair every day because it would just become a huge frizzy mess even the 70's would reject. It's going gray now, too, which adds another fun dimension to work with. *sigh* I've never wanted to be someone with straight hair, though. True, mine will never shine like a shampoo commercial, but my crazy curls suit me and I like them! (grin)