Summertime is harsh on all women's hair, but women of color often have a tougher time with the heat drying their scalp and hair. It's especially true when they regularly treat their hair with chemicals.
That's one reason many Oklahoma City women are ditching the chemical treatments to go au natural.
“It's just so much easier,” said Kizzie Ledbetter, 30, a professional singer in the band Adam & Kizzie. The Oklahoma City woman wears her hair in a funky Afro that gets her a half-dozen compliments a day.
Her mother has followed suit, letting her naturally curly hair grow into a short, tailored cut. She kicked the coloring habit, and now her natural, bright white color gives her an exotic and natural beauty.
“She looks so beautiful,” Ledbetter said.
Finding the right style for your natural black hair can depend on several factors, including your hair's health, length and curl patterns, to name a few.
“We get into the habit of putting chemicals and things that are not natural in our hair, and then at the age of 29 or 30, we don't know about our hair. We have to re-educate ourselves on our own natural hair,” said Desiree Irving, a natural hair stylist at The Hair Cafe, 1120 N Walker.
Many women of color straighten their hair with perms or chemical relaxers because transitioning to all natural hair can be a style headache.
For example, if your hair has been chemically straightened and you want to go natural, you'll have to grow the treated hair out. That means your hair will be curly at the root and straight at the end until you decide to cut off all the treated hair.
Afros are a perfect way for many black women to wear their hair natural, sans chemicals and other treatments that can harm fragile strands.
Reasons to go natural
Women's reasons for going natural differ. Some do it to honor their African heritage. Some do it for convenience and others to express their personal style. Some do it because they're tired of abusing their natural hair with chemical treatments.
Ledbetter admitted she didn't exactly choose to go natural. Her circumstances chose it for her.
“I was on a cruise ship performing, and I didn't have anyone there who could do my hair, so I just had to grow it out,” she said.
As it grew out, she noticed how much healthier and stronger it became, largely due to putting less pressure on her delicate hair with chemical treatments.
She's been natural since 2009 and loves her 'fro. She dresses it up with hats in the winter and wears the sides pinned back in summer for a sleek faux fro-hawk.
Selecting a style
But if you think wearing your hair in an Afro is the only way to go natural, you're missing out on some great styles that are easy to maintain, look great in steamy summer weather and are good for your hair.
From braids to two-strand twists, Bantu knots and fro-hawks, and exotic updos, there are plenty of gorgeous styles that also keep your natural hair healthy.
Vanessa McGlothen, 30, of Oklahoma City, has worn her hair natural for 15 years, and in dreadlocks for half that time. As her dreads grew long and very heavy, McGlothen said she tired of the weight and the wear and tear, so she sheared off her locks and started fresh.
Her next hair challenge came when she entered the military.
“For me, having natural hair (in the military) proved quite a challenge. I couldn't sustain the maintenance like I wanted to,” she said. For that reason, she opted for braids and twists most of the time.
“You'll see a lot of military women with braids or things of that nature. The demand of the service greatly impacts our hair care.”
Protecting your locks
Most people's hair grows about a half-inch per month, but if you don't treat black hair gently, it will break off.
Many women of color choose to give their natural hair a rest, wearing it tucked up in protective styles for a couple months. A protective style can mean simply taming your natural hair into a style that protects the fragile parts, or adding faux hair, such as braids, over your natural hair to keep it protected.
Black hair needs to be well-conditioned, especially in the summer months when the heat dries the scalp. Many hair products marketed to black women contain ingredients such as petroleum jelly and mineral oil. These products can clog the scalp's pores and attract dirt to the hair.
Instead, look for products to keep hair soft and conditioned that contain no drying alcohol and sulfates. The women we talked to loved natural oils such as Moroccan, shea and argan. Other product favorites included Dove Leave-In Conditioner, Eco Styler Olive Oil Styling Gel, L'Oreal Ever Curl and Curls Unleashed.
Styling black hair takes a gentle touch. Many experts recommend using simple tools such as a wide-tooth comb, natural boar bristle brush and your own fingers to style your hair.
Help for natural hair
For help styling your natural hair, call Irving at 235-2233 (CAFE). For a wide array of hair products for women of color, visit Go Natural 24/7, 4721 SE 29 St in Del City.