I Can’t Stop the Itchiness: When your scalp just won’t cooperate

Thanks for stopping by for another post, we welcome you warmly and hope you enjoy today’s read!

Today’s post is dedicated to the naturals who have to do double duty– caring for and maintaining their hair while also treating a skin or scalp condition. While there are many scalp conditions that can make growing and caring for your natural hair a bit more difficult, the focus of this post will be on a condition called Seborrhoeic Dermatitis (or SD).

What is Seborrhoeic Dermatitis (SD)?

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis is known to affect the areas of the body where sebum (your skin’s natural oil) is released, such as the folds of the nose, eyebrows, behind the ears, chin, scalp, genital area, etc. SD commonly manifests itself in the form of patches of dry, flaky, scaly skin that can range from super-dry to incredibly oily. The affected area can be very itchy, tender, swollen, bruised, and sensitive to external stimuli. There are many triggers that may cause SD to flare up, including stress, extremely dry or humid weather, excessive sweating, ingestion of certain foods, contact with common allergens (pollen, dust, pet fur, etc).

Treatment:

Currently, there is no permanent solution to SD.  The best thing to do if you suspect or know that you have this condition is to get referred to a good dermatologist to find out the severity of your individual case (severity varies between each individual); from there, s/he can prescribe you with medicated ointments, creams, shampoos to help you get the condition under control and to better manage it.

However, if you’d prefer to get an over-the-counter remedy, there are many options available to you.

Here’s a list of shampoos that can be used to help with your SD:

  1. Head and Shoulders Anti-dandrufff Anti-SD Shampoo: Active ingredient- 1% Selenium sulfide
  2. T-Gel: Active ingredient- 0.5% Coal tar
  3. Nizoral: Active ingredient: 2%  Ketoconazale

In general, all of these shampoos are used to help relieve itchiness, lift and remove flakes, soothe the scalp, and reduce inflammation of the affected area.

Now I’m sure you’re all asking the same question: What’s gonna happen to my hair? The truth is,  yes, all of these shampoos will dry out your hair to a certain degree; moreover, it is recommended that you use these shampoos frequently to keep the condition under control (a naturalistas nightmare!) However, don’t fret, as there is a work-around  that will keep your scalp happy, while also allowing your natural hair to thrive!

Here’s what you need to do on wash day:

  1. Wet your hair and apply your conditioner before your shampoo– this will help minimize the drying effect of the medicated shampoo on your hair.

2. Take your medicated shampoo, rub it between your hands, and then massage into your scalp- just focus on getting the scalp.

3. Let the shampoo sit for several minutes to ensure that it penetrates your scalp.

4. Wash out the shampoo and conditioner.

5. Follow-up with a deep conditioning masque or treatment.

6. Apply your leave-in conditioner and then seal your hair with whichever oil you prefer.

7. Cover your head with a plastic shower cap or bag for 15 to 30 minutes.

8. Uncover your head and style your hair, as desired.

On a final note, it’s important to be diligent and consistent when treating your scalp. Keep in mind that not every solution works for everyone across the board; so, yes, there will be a little trial-and-error involved in the process of finding the right SD regimen for you.

Finally, don’t despair about the shampoo completely drying out your hair- it’s okay- as long as you focus on the scalp while washing and ensure that you replace the moisture in your hair, as instructed above.

Getting your scalp condition under control is essential to your hair’s overall health and longevity- your hair’s home is your scalp– it can only be as healthy as your scalp is! So here’s to healthier scalps and optimal natural hair growth!

Do you struggle to maintain your hair health due to SD or a similar skin/scalp condition? Let us know your story, techniques, and remedies in the comments!

 

 

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How to Bantu-knot your hair

Bantu knots, also known as Zulu or Nubian knots, chiney bumps, pepper seeds, or hair nubbins, is a traditional African hairstyle, made by sectioning your hair into triangles, diamonds, or squares and coiling those sections into knots.

What you will need:

  • Sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner
  • 
Towel
  • Spray bottle
  • 
Wide-toothed comb/Detangling brush
  • 
Tail comb
  • Butterfly clips/Snag-free ponytail holders
  • Water-based moisturizer
  • Twisting gel/cream
  • Bobby pins (optional)

Steps:

  1. For best results, start with damp hair that has been recently shampooed and conditioned and towel-dried.
  2. Spritz hair with water using a spray bottle.
  3. Use your fingers or a tail comb to divide hair into about 6 to 9 sections, depending on the thickness of the hair.
  4. Separate the sections using butterfly clips or snag-free ponytail holders.
  5. Starting at the back of the head, loosen one section of hair (one on either edge of the nape is usually best).  If the section feels dry, spritz it with some water.
  6. Apply your favourite water-based moisturizer to the section, paying extra attention to the ends of the hair.
  7. Use your fingers/wide-toothed comb/detangling brush to detangle the section of hair.
  8. Apply your favourite twisting cream or gel to the section to the moisturized, detangled section.
  9. Separate with your fingers or part a piece of the section with your tail comb into your desired shape (starting from the edge of the nape makes it easier), keeping in mind that the bigger the piece the bigger the size of your Bantu knot, and clip the rest of the section to the side.
  10. Bend the strand close to its base and pinch the bump created between the thumb and pointer of your left hand, and use your right hand to wind the length of the strand around the bump at the base to form a coil.
  11. Keep winding the length of the strand around the coil with your right hand, gradually winding closer and closer to your head with each round, until all of the strand has been completely wound up, to form a Bantu knot.
  12. If your hair is curly, and your knot is coiled tightly enough, the ends will likely stay coiled under the knot; if your hair is looser, then you may need to use a bobby pin to hold the knot in place.
  13. Unclip the remainder of the section, and repeat Steps 9-12 until the section is completely knotted.
  14. Move on to the next section of hair, and repeat Steps 5-12 until all of the sections are knotted.

***You can also create Bantu knots from two-strand twists: once your two-strand twists are completed, follow steps 10-14 above.***

To keep your Bantu knots neat, wear a satin bonnet or tie your head with a satin/silk headscarf when you go to sleep.

How to two-strand twist your hair

two-strand-twists-with-close-up-blog

Two-strand twists are one of the basic styling techniques for natural hair. They are similar to braids, only you intertwine two strands of hair instead of three.

What you will need:

  • Sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner
  • 
Towel
  • Spray bottle
  • 
Wide-toothed comb/Detangling brush
  • 
Tail comb
  • Butterfly clips/Snag-free ponytail holders
  • Water-based moisturizer
  • Twisting gel/cream

Steps:

  1. For best results, start with damp hair that has been recently shampooed and conditioned and towel-dried.
  2. Spritz hair with water using a spray bottle.
  3. Use your fingers or a tail comb to divide hair into about 6 to 9 sections, depending on the thickness of the hair.
  4. Separate the sections using butterfly clips or snag-free ponytail holders.
  5. Starting at the back of the head, loosen one section of hair (one on either edge of the nape is usually best).  If the section feels dry, spritz it with some water.
  6. Apply your favourite water-based moisturizer to the section, paying extra attention to the ends of the hair.
  7. Use your fingers/wide-toothed comb/detangling brush to detangle the section of hair.
  8. Apply your favourite twisting cream or gel to the section to the moisturized, detangled section.
  9. Separate a piece of the section (starting from the edge of the nape makes it easier), keeping in mind that the bigger the piece the bigger the size of your twist, and clip the rest of the section to the side.
  10. Split the subsection into two equal strands, pinching one strand in your right hand and pinching the other strand in your left hand.
  11. Twist the two strands together, overlapping the left strand over the right strand, left strand over the right strand, and continue overlapping the left strand over the right strand, down to the end of the twist.
  12. Apply some twisting gel or cream to the ends to keep the twist in place.
  13. Unclip the remainder of the section, and repeat Steps 9-12 until the section is completely twisted.
  14. Move on to the next section of hair, and repeat Steps 5-12 until all of the sections are twisted.

To keep your two-strand twists neat, wear a satin bonnet or use a satin/silk pillowcase when you go to sleep.

 

When you wish to wash your cares away…

shower

Going to the hair salon has always been a luxury to me- I’ve been blessed to have a mother and a sister who are both amazing at doing hair (my sister, Sarah, is a gifted natural hairstylist, actually), and I’m not too bad myself; so I’ve never really “needed” to go the salon to get my hair done, except for when I’ve been away from home.

Last week, though, I went to the hairdresser for the first time in over five years (I went to Urban Curls Toronto, to be exact. It was also my first time going to a natural hair salon, and it was wonderful).

hair-salon

I decided I needed to go to a salon to not only get my hair done for the sake of getting it done (it was in desperate need of a professional treatment, as it was dry and breaking a lot), but I also felt like I needed to go just for the experience of being at the hair salon.  I personally needed some T-L-C to soothe what has been a pretty rough start to 2017 with the passing of one of my best friends, my dear Grandma.

Being at the hair salon always feels like the royal treatment to me: someone else is taking care of you, and it feels great.  I especially love having my hair washed by somebody else (though it hasn’t always been this way: as a child, I loathed the process!) With this mass of 4b/4c hair that I’ve got, washing my hair is always a bit of a chore; so it’s nice to get a break! I love the sensation of having my scalp massaged and really feeling like my hair’s getting a deep clean. I love the sound of the water running, as it lulls me into a peaceful catnap.  I find it very therapeutic.

drain

This time, though, I really took in the process of washing my hair.  This time it was symbolic.

This time I was trying to get some serious stuff out of my hair: the stress of 2016, and the end of the year, in particular…

Transitioning from a job.

Struggling to get my book finished.

My Grandma falling ill.  The weeks in the hospital.  The trips to Sunnybrook for radiation.  My last Christmas with her.

That awful Monday morning.

Making the plans. Sending her off in style.

Laying her to rest…

As the water ran through my hair, I paused and reflected on it…a metaphorical attempt to wash my cares away…In that moment I remembered how much my Grandma enjoyed having her hair washed by the nurses at the end of her life. I thought how she too must have found some peace from the water running through her hair, washing the pain away, if only for a few minutesIn that moment I felt close to her.

hair-washingI realized that there is just something that we all love about having our hair washed with gentleness and care.  It comforts us and helps us to forget about everything else- whether at the beginning of life (like this sweet newborn baby: http://www.today.com/parents/watch-blissful-newborn-have-her-hair-washed-first-time-t105333), at any point in the middle, and even at the end.

 

I think the hairdresser will be seeing me a lot more often this year…

 

 

 

 

 

Why braiding matters

Braiding school in Senegal

Honing my braiding skills in Senegal

Ten years ago, I embarked on a journey to learn about the practice of hair braiding around the world. Why? Because, at the time, I noticed that even though hair braiding, in its various forms, was (and has always been) a universal styling technique in various cultures, people seemed to have a negative view of African stylized braiding; and I wanted to know why.

I’ve always loved braids, both wearing them and doing them.  To me, hair braiding is an artform, and I couldn’t understand why people have had a problem with it (and I still don’t know why).  So, I wanted to help people acknowledge the beauty and significance of hair braiding, not only to persons of African descent but to humans all around the globe; I really wanted people to recognize the value of hair braiding as a human practice.

Also, at the time I wrote my Watson project proposal, most of my girlfriends from college and many other Black women I knew had never been taught how to braid– and in many cases, they had no real desire or a need to learn- since, for the most part, they wore their hair straight. So, what this meant was that the practice of stylized braiding, a long-standing tradition in Black culture, was no longer being passed down from mothers to daughters.

Braiding O.N.'s hairThankfully, things were slowly starting to change: more and more women were beginning to return to their natural state.  As a result, braids (which, for a long time, had been reserved simply for the maintenance of little girls’ hair) began to be considered as an appropriate styling choice again.  Even so, many women were still not learning how to braid themselves, or teaching their daughters, for that matter.

Ten years later, that trend toward “going natural” has turned into a movement; and with the Natural Hair Movement now in full effect, I believe the art of braiding has become all the more important.

Spelman Naturalistas

10 years later, and we’re all natural!

Though I don’t expect for anyone to be as crazy about braids as I am, here are a few reasons why I think braiding matters (and why you should learn and also teach your children):

Braiding facilitates day-to-day maintenance and manageability

  • shrinkageBraiding can help stretch your hair if you’re experiencing shrinkage.
  • Braiding your hair into sections can make the washing, conditioning, and moisturizing processes easier, especially if your hair is thick.
  • When your hair is braided, it is easier to oil your scalp.
  • Once your hair is braided, you spend less time on a day-to-day basis doing your hair.
  • Being able to even just plait your hair before you go to bed at night can make a world of difference between having a manageable head of hair or having to spend time detangling your matted tresses the next day.
  • Braiding can be used to create heat-free crimps (also known as a braid-out).

Braids can help with the transitioning process

  • If you’re going natural, and are not ready to go the full nine yards yet by doing a big chop, wearing properly-installed extension braids can help during the process of growing out your hair (which can be a particularly frustrating time, in terms of styling, since your hair is two different textures at the same time).

Extension Braids (front)Extension braids (back)

Braids serve as great protective styles (provided they are done properly and are well taken care of)

  • Braids (which also serve as the basis of many protective styles, such as crochet braids and weaves) are great for protecting your mane from the wear-and-tear of constant manipulation; friction from your clothing, pillowcases, etc; and the elements.
  • Make sure you don’t braid your hair too tight, or leave your braids in for too long, otherwise you could do more damage than good to your hair and/or scalp. (Click the following link for Protective Styling Do’s and Don’ts tips from London Ivy ProductsProtective Styling ebooklet)

Ancient Egyptian braidsBraids connect us to and are a celebration of our African roots

  • Since the time of the Ancient Egyptians, braiding has been an important cultural and hair maintenance practice throughout the entire African continent.
  • Stylized braiding serves as a cultural souvenir of our African heritage, and is one of the main practices that survived the Middle Passage.
  • By learning how to braid and teaching your children how to braid, you would be carrying on a treasured ancient African tradition.

Braiding and bondingBraiding is bonding

  • Braiding creates bonds between the braider and the person whose hair is being braided- whether it be stylist/client, parent/child, between sisters or friends, etc- given the amount of time such styles may take and the conversations which take place.
  • The act of braiding is very intimate: when someone allows you to braid her hair, she is inviting you into her personal space and trusting that you will handle her hair with some TLC.
  • Braiding your own hair allows for deeper interaction and a better understanding of your tresses.

Braids are beautiful!

  • Braided styles are art: they are essentially hair sculptures!
  • Braiding highlights and displays the unique properties and beauty of textured hair; it’s a styling technique where your kinks and curls work to your advantage!
  • There’s nothing like a well-designed, neat braid-up to make you stand out from the crowd!

Natural Updo

Do you know how to braid? If not, would you like to learn?

Wrap it Up: A Tribute to the Head Tie

20150815_193018Today, I want to talk about every Black girl’s most treasured possession (next to her wide-toothed comb, of course, lol): her head tie.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a “head tie” or “head wrap” is a piece of cloth or a scarf that is used to cover or wrap your hair, also known as a bandannakerchief, head scarf, gele, dhuku, duku, doek, or tukwi, depending on who’s wearing it and/or its function.  Please keep in mind, different head ties are worn for different purposes; and not all head ties are created equal.

IMG-20160529-WA0000 copy

Sarah-Naomi of Sarah Naomi’s Hair Care & Beauty

Lately, head wraps have been becoming increasingly popular, during our present-day “African Renaissance”, as I like to call it, and falling in step with the Natural Hair Movement.  Everywhere I look, I see Black women wearing bright beautifully patterned African head coverings.  But the head tie is nothing new to Black culture…

A little bit of history…

Portrait_of_a_Haitian_woman

Portrait of a Haitian Woman by François Beaucourt, 1786 (Public Domain)

The head-tie or bandanna was a piece of cloth that female slaves wore to shield their heads from the heat of the sun, absorb sweat, keep their hair clean and their braided styles intact, and to “train” the growth of their hair.

Though head-ties are now considered a traditional African clothing item, when the Europeans explorers first arrived in Africa, people actually wore their hair uncovered. One historian believes that the practice of wearing head-ties may have come from the expectation of women to cover their heads for mass in the New World and in the West African colonial settlements.

For Black slave women, head coverings were used to hide their hair when it was messy because untidy hair was considered disgraceful for women, according to West African traditions. Given the importance of hair in traditional African cultures, not being able to take care of and braid their hair like they used to in Africa was particularly humiliating for slave women, so they used their head ties to cover their shame.

Head ties thus helped female slaves feel a bit better about their appearance, and by the mid-1800s, almost all slave women wore them. Since then, the practice of wearing head ties has been passed down through the generations, and Black women still use them today to cover their hair for various reasons.

 

My head tie, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

When I want to keep my hair clean, I wrap it up!

Untitled 2 copy 2

2016 Color Me Rad 5K, Toronto

As for me, I started thinking a lot about my head tie particularly this past weekend as I was getting ready to do the Color Me Rad 5K.  The night before the 5K, while most people were probably worrying about whether or not they should bring their own water bottle, or if they should run with a backpack, I was at Walmart trying to figure out what I was going to buy to tie my head.  

Why? Because I just wasn’t ready to have to contend with trying to get that coloured powder out of my hair afterwards.  After all, I had no idea what they put in that stuff, and I didn’t want it all up in my ‘fro (mind you, it wasn’t til afterwards that I thought, hey, whatever’s in the powder is now on my skin and in my lungs, for that matter; but that’s another story, lol).  So, I wandered up and down the aisles trying to find a white bandanna, or a cheap pashmina, and even considered just using one my husband’s white t-shirts.  I just needed something to cover my head!

Screenshot_2016-05-31-13-22-49-1 copy Screenshot_2016-05-31-13-34-45-1 copy

I ended up settling on this baseball cap (pictured above), which did its job well enough; but I do know nothing would’ve given me the same coverage as just the right head tie!  The sort of head tie I’m talking about is the one whose only purpose is to keep my hair from getting dirty or in the way.

 

When I’m feeling like a queen, I wrap it up!

As  I mentioned earlier, with this “African Renaissance” that has been taking place, there’s been a renewed interest and celebration of all things African.  Alongside the Natural Hair and Black Lives Matter Movements, people of the African Diaspora have been retracing and re-appropriating many aspects of our cultural roots, with pride; and, as a result, the head wrap, as a fashion accessory, is really starting to make a comeback, for members of the diasporic community.

Interestingly enough, earlier this year, in Durham, North Carolina, a group of girls at The School for Creative Studies were asked by a school administrator to remove the African geles they were wearing for Black History Month because their school district does not permit students to wear head gear except for religious or medical reasons.  I don’t know about the ins and outs of the school’s dress code policy, but I do know that wearing a head wrap is often more than a mere fashion statement: it’s a tribute to our African ancestry.

For me, these sort of fancy head wraps always remind me of my Auntie, who’s been wearing them ever since I could remember; she’s always embraced Afrocentric fashion.  And when we were younger, she used to dress my sister, cousins and me in West African attire, complete with our head wraps; thanks to her, we grew up being the beautiful African princesses she knew we were.

Office Lens 20160415-122822 copy Office Lens 20160415-110829 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now, as an adult, I know that whenever I wear a head wrap, I feel like a queen: it’s like wearing my own African crown.

Getting my Senegalese headtie Getting Senegalese headtie (3) Senegalese headtie

 

When I want my hair to “stay good”, I wrap it up!

20150906_133516 copyWhenever I’ve had my hair done, I know there’s no way to keep my hairstyle intact and long-lasting like tying it down with a nice silky head tie- in this case, a head scarf- especially since my hair is natural.  This sort of head tie is typically worn at nighttime to keep the hairstyle from being disturbed by tossing and turning.  This sort of head tie is also worn to protect the hair itself from pillowcases, which can dry out and break textured hair.  And sometimes if an occasion is extra special, this sort of head tie might be worn in public, but only to make sure that all flyaways and frizzies are held down until the last possible moment, so the style looks perfect upon its unveiling!

This particular function of the head tie is one that is not readily understood, and understandably so.  I remember when I was getting ready for my bff’s wedding, my fellow bridesmaids (who were of Korean descent) asked me if I was planning on wearing my head tie (pictured above) for the actual wedding.  I had to explain to them that, even though this scarf matched the colour of our dresses, I was only wearing the head tie to keep my braided style neat.  And, sometimes, that’s all that the head tie is there for!

 

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Wrap Queens: Me and Monique London of London Ivy Products

When I don’t know what to do, I wrap it up! 

Last, but not least, my head tie saves my life when I have no idea (or time) to do anything with my hair!

As a naturalista, there are times when I just don’t have the time (nor the desire) to do a twist-out, get my hair braided, or pick it out into a ‘fro; so, on the head tie goes! This sort of head tie can come in handy, for instance, on wash day, when you’ve combed out your hair, but haven’t had time to style it (as was the case for me in the picture above, a couple of days ago, when I ran into Monique London of London Ivy Products, who was also sporting her pretty head wrap!); or any other day, for that matter, when you may be having a bad hair day, or are just not in the mood!

So, those are the reasons why I love my head tie! If I’ve inspired you to wear one yourself, check out this link to learn how to tie one: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/02/how-to-headwrap-ways-to-tie_n_7705824.html

And if you’re looking to purchase your own African print wraps, check out London Ivy Products: http://londonivyproducts.com/collections/headwraps 

 

Sources:

Byrd, Ayana D. and Lori L. Tharps. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001, pp. 4, 13.

Rooks, Noliwe M. Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African-American Women. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1996, p. 25.

White, Shane and Graham White, Stylin’: African American Expressive Culture from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998, pp. 58, 59, 60.

Wikipedia, “Head Tie”, 2016.

Do you love your head tie as much as I do? How and when do you wear yours?