Hear what some of London’s best in the black hair industry have to say about their relationships with their own hair and how to care for our natural kinks and coils
We've just passed through October, a month quite often connected to the idea of dressing in ghoulish outfits in the name of Halloween. The month has always carried different connotations for me as a young woman of Caribbean descent, however. Since the 1920s October was labelled Black History Month here in the UK and is dedicated to celebrating the contributions made by African and Caribbean people to restoring the country post-war. For many, Black History Month is bittersweet, a single month to shed light on an entire race just doesn’t seem to suffice.
Despite there being much growth in the representation of ethnic minorities within the UK media, there is still some way to go. Out of the 214 magazine covers published last year from 19 of the bestselling publications in the UK, only 20 featured a person of colour. And this issue of underrepresentation spans further than just journalism, the beauty industry is also incredibly guilty. Until superstar and entrepreneur Rihanna released her 40 shade-strong foundation line over a year ago, many major brands were still lagging behind with minimal and undiverse colour ranges.
Although more conversations are being had around the topic of race, the effects of poor representation still linger. When we don’t see people like ourselves in the media it makes it harder to love the way we look. And when it comes to our hair, it becomes harder to embrace it or even to learn more about it.
To make these conversations more progressive they must be rooted in education, in order to facilitate understanding and eradicate ignorance. Black hair is one of the favoured topics when it comes to discussions of blackness, so we spoke to three black hair experts – Taiba Akhuetie, CEO of Keash; Charlotte Mensah owner of The Hair Lounge Salon and founder of Charlotte Mensah Manketti Oils, who was recently crowned “Afro Hairdresser of the Year”; and Anthonia Bakare, founder of home-run wig service Toniasunits – and devised a list of hacks for all those who possess hair that defies gravity.
Hack #1 Know your hair
There are so many terms that float around the afro hair stratosphere to describe hair types. In fact, too many. As a result, people are frequently left feeling as though their hair isn’t “good hair”. When identifying your own hair, focus on how it feels and looks to you personally. Anthonia, for example, has 4C texture hair that alternates between curly and coily, while Taiba has soft afro hair that is quite fine, and Charlotte’s has frizz and low curl definition. Identifying your own hair is essential to establish how best to treat it, as everyone’s hair is different and so requires different treatment. Stop being convinced that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to how your hair should look.
Hack #2 – Find your style
“Unfortunately, I can't truthfully say I like my hair,” says Taiba. “I think growing up in a society where my hair was never appreciated has been fully ingrained in me. I am obsessed with long, thick silky hair.” This is a mentality that many sadly share, leading them to rarely expose their natural hair. “I never wear my hair natural out,” Taiba says, mostly opting to have a full head of weave which, she says, made her feel like she fits in more. “The sad thing is I felt less black which made me feel more confident. In recent years I have gone back to braids and I believe starting KEASH had a huge impact on building my confidence as a black female.”
Not wanting to expose your natural hair on a daily basis needn’t be the end of your natural hair journey, however. As well as wearing weaves there are several methods of protective styling such as the braids that Taiba herself can do for you. Find alternative methods that enable you to still nourish your hair. Start off with ones that make you feel comfortable and eventually you’ll be more likely to branch out.
Hack #3 – Locate products that work
Knowing what products to use can be a long and expensive pursuit, and knowing where to go can be even harder. Entering a black hair shop, while exciting, can also be very overwhelming. There are so many products that all claim to do the same thing, so how on earth are you supposed to know which one to choose?
Once you know what kind of hair you’re working with figuring out what will help to nourish it becomes a lot easier. Speaking to people, whether that’s those in the hair shop or people in real life and on the internet with similar hair to yours, will help. While trying new products is great, you can save a lot of money and time if you have these conversations beforehand.
If you’re stuck for a place to start, Charlotte Mensah’s Manketti Oil haircare range is suited for virtually all hair types, including afro and curly, with products that have been specially formulated for dehydrated, under-nourished and damaged hair. Another great recommendation is Dizziak, Taiba’s favourite product for black hair. A deep conditioner formed from a complex combination of plant butters and oils, it’s perfect for those seeking shine and definition.
Hack #4 – Moisturise
Maintaining moisture for your afro hair is key! “The most important thing for women with Afro hair is to keep your scalp and hair moisturised as dry hair leads to breakage and naturally coarse hair is dryer,” says Taiba.
Charlotte also adds that taking five minutes before bed to pamper your hair can make all the difference. This is a time to decipher if your hair needs a little extra oil added to the scalp, or deciding to tie your hair with a silk scarf to maintain the existing moisture.
Natural oils are the holy grail when it comes to moisturising. Charlotte recommends massaging them into the scalp before bed to stimulate the follicles and add additional moisture. Castor oil, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, is good for those looking to regrow hair that may be weakened or damaged. While Jojoba oil is great for reducing build-up whilst reducing frizz and adding shine.
Hack #5 – Devise a routine
Having a routine is vital for helping you handle all the aspects of caring for your hair. While many people seek assistance from friends, family, or hairdressers, you can also do it yourself. Take inspiration from Anthonia’s washday routine: “my biggest hack is when washing my hair, which I do every other week, I mostly co-wash. After shampooing, I section my hair and braid it. I then proceed to apply conditioner, then wash that out and let it air dry while still braided. I find this makes my hair more manageable and ensures my scalp get all the nutrients too.’’
Hack #6 – Remain patient
Afro hair is more complex than other hair textures, and as a result, there’s more to learn. As well as learning for ourselves we should share what we discover about our hair with others. While much improvement has been made in regards to black hair and how it’s perceived in wider society, there is still a ways to go. “Sometimes my hair causes fascination with other races,” Anthonia says. “Sometimes I get harmless questions as to why it doesn’t fall down and it always stays up. Other times they come across as ignorant – there was this one time a manager thought I didn’t comb my hair, hence why it’s a kinky texture. That threw me.”
Taiba shares her thoughts on how to keep the conversation moving forward and progressive. “On the high street, no famous salon chains cater to black people, which is why there is so much tension. We need to be aware of everyone’s needs, it can’t be either/or. We need to educate ourselves about others and allow people to learn instead of creating a divide. I think it’s great that other cultures come to KEASH and want to get their hair done. But on the flip side when people use other people’s culture for their own personal gain we are creating a problem. Society has control over how we go about dealing with things and I think people need to take more time supporting people and giving the right people a voice.”