Solving blacks' hair care problems

June 1, 2006

Dermatologists who understand blacks' hair care practices and how those practices can lead to breakage and dry scalp can treat patients appropriately to patients' lifestyle needs.

Chicago - Hair breakage and dry scalp are top hair care concerns for blacks - especially black women.

Dermatologists who understand blacks' hair care practices and how those practices can lead to breakage and dry scalp can treat patients appropriately to patients' lifestyle needs, according to Victoria Holloway Barbosa, M.D., M.P.H., vice president at L'Oréal and director of the L'Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair and Skin Research, here.

L'Oréal identified breakage and dry scalp as primary concerns for black women after conducting a survey in spring 2005. The survey involved 1,217 women across four ethnicities: black, Caucasian, Mexican and Chinese.

"Particularly the problems of hair breakage and dry scalp can be grooming- or product-related."

Misuse of hair relaxers

L'Oréal found in its study that about 63 percent of black women routinely use hair relaxers.

At-home and salon-administered hair relaxers are alkaline products, which cleave the disulfide bond of hair, rearranging its structure and straightening it.

"One of the problems with dermatologists who are not well informed about the use of hair relaxers and other grooming practices of African-Americans is that they might tell patients that they should stop everything, and that can be really hard for people to do," Dr. Holloway Barbosa tells Dermatology Times.

Correct application is important. Once hair has been relaxed, users should only apply relaxer to the new hair growth, with application occurring every six to eight weeks, Dr. Holloway Barbosa suggests.

Common sources of misuse include using relaxers too frequently, because people want to maintain very straight hair, or reapplying them to the entire length of the hair.

Lye vs. no lye

Dermatologists should also know that there are two categories of relaxers: lye and no lye.

In lye relaxers, the active ingredient is sodium hydroxide. Generally, professional stylists are the only ones to use lye relaxers because the sodium hydroxide can be irritating to the scalp.

Home-use products, also called no-lye relaxers, usually include a combination of calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate, where the consumer has to mix the two ingredients. Guanidine hydroxide becomes the active ingredient.

While no-lye relaxers tend to be much less irritating to the scalp, people often leave these at-home alternatives on their hair for longer than recommended, increasing the risk of hair over-processing.

Thermal hairstyling

The curling irons, flat irons and hot combs that blacks use are much hotter than the average hot irons and combs that one might buy in the drug store, Dr. Holloway Barbosa notes.

"Temperatures of these hotter products are often above 400 degrees Fahrenheit and can be another real source of breakage," she says.

Asking the right questions

Dermatologists can ask a series of questions to better guide black patients with hair breakage. Dr. Holloway Barbosa outlines questions that dermatologists should ask patients. These questions should center around:

Dermatologists should ask whether relaxers are lye or no lye, and they should find out how often they are used and how long the patients are leaving product on the scalp.

Also ask if patients are using hair color at the same time as they are relaxers. Permanent hair color can also affect the integrity of the hair; so, it is best if patients use the relaxer and color products at least two weeks apart.