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African-Ethnic Hair

Better Understanding African-Ethnic Hair for Non-Ethnic Persons
 
African woman       First of all, let me say that I am Caucasian and was in grade school in the 1970s. I was always fascinated by my classmates who were African-American – especially their hair. It was very different from mine – which at the time was fine in texture, straight with a cowlick over my left eye, and pale, yellow-gold in color. Two of my closer friends in class were Rhonda and Eldred and these were the first two people-of-color whose hair I was allowed to look at up close.
 
      In second grade, you don’t understand things like “relaxers” versus “natural”. All I knew was that Rhonda’s and Eldred’s hair was very different, and seemed able to do a lot more things than mine would. Rhonda’s hair was especially fascinating to me: she wore it parted in sections on her head and then it seemed to be sculpted into twisted ropes that tapered to small ends which would be secured with decorative clips or elastic holders. It looked like black cotton candy, and often reminded me of the twisty ice cream cones at the soft-serve ice cream place.
 
      Eldred’s hair was sometimes braided (he called it plaited), but usually worn loose in an “afro”. He would keep his comb or pick tucked into his hair, where it magically stayed put. He also did this with pencils, to my great envy. I used to try these things with my own hair and – of course – it never worked for me.
 
      As amusing as all this is, it taught me from an early age that there were fundamental differences in “white” hair and “African-ethnic” hair. Of course, it would not be until decades later when I began studying and practicing as a cosmetologist that I would learn the precise differences in the hair of various ethnic groups.
 
{Author’s Note: I am using the term “African-Ethnic” to denote the hair of persons whose ancestry is of African descent. Since this site is visited by people from all over the world, and many of those persons are of African descent, but are not American, I feel it is inappropriate to use African-American in this instance.)
 
A Wide Range of Variety
 
      Contrary to what many people believe, there is a wide range of texture and wave pattern to be found among those with African-ethnic hair. This is even before considering those whose racial ancestry is mixed. The hair can be fine in texture or coarse (meaning that the diameter of the hair shaft is smaller or larger), and the wave pattern can be winding strands, tight coils, or zigzag strands. These are all found in what is referred to nowadays as “natural” hair. We’ll discuss the need for the term “natural hair” more later.
 
      There are a couple traits that tend to be common among all African-Ethnic hair types. These are:
 
Tighter cuticle layer
 
African-ethnic hair tends to have more compacted cuticle layer which makes the hair more resistant to moisture and allows it to hold moisture in the hair better. It also gives the hair strands a shiny/glossy appearance which is why some people presume that African-ethnic hair is oilier than other hair types.
 
Unique Styling Abilities
 
Because of the wave patterns found in African-ethnic hair, it is uniquely suited to several styling techniques that aren’t readily possible with other hair types without pre-processing and manipulation. Twisting, plaiting, dreadlocks, and similar techniques are all easily achievable with African-ethnic hair in its natural state, and provide a near-infinite array of looks which can be achieved. The ease with which African-ethnic hair can be twisted and braided also lends itself to ease in incorporating additional hair onto the natural hair (braided extensions).    Next page
 
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