One of the major issues that African women face in terms of beauty and style is hair care, more precisely hair growth and maintenance.
In many attempts to grow our natural hair there have been a lot of failed attempts and rumoured concoctions including peanut butter and beer, palm oil and flour, vinegar and pepper and even urine (eek!)…the list goes on and it gets even more ridiculous.
The simple truth is that contrary to popular belief – African hair is simply fabulous! It grows in its natural or relaxed state. With this knowledge it is easy to actually take out the time and dedication you need to get your hair to whatever length you wish. It is a possible battle to win and instead of spending large amounts of money buying, fixing and maintaining artificial hair, you could spend less than half of that developing your natural tresses.
To further convince you that growing your hair is possible, we found a Nigerian girl who did just that! Bassey Akan runs the LushStrands Blog – http://lushstrands.blogspot.com/. She successfully grew her hair to an impressive waist length in 9 months. Keep reading for some tips and insight to how you can grow yours.
There is a general misconception that only mixed race African women can grow really long hair. Tell us about your heritage.
I am purely Nigerian. My Dad is from Akwa Ibom and my mum from Cross River.
Why did you decide to “grow” your hair ?
While in University, there were several black girls who had naturally long hair. Granted they were all mixed but I just felt that there was no logical reason why I couldn’t have long hair too. I mean, my hair was growing. The fact that I had to get my roots done every 6 to 8 weeks was proof that my hair was growing so it was only logical to expect my hair to get longer over time. However, as is the case with some of us, my hair was a perpetual chin length bob.
I started researching black hair care, stopped depending on my stylist and started learning how to care for my hair myself and within weeks I was seeing results. This motivated me to keep going and I haven’t looked back since.
With respect to the procedure, it can be categorized in 3 ways:
a) Technique: Making sure to comb gently, choosing protective/low manipulation styles, detangling only while wet and saturated with conditioner, combing from tip to root, wrapping with a silk scarf at night, moisturizing and sealing the hair often.
b) Products: Making sure to use products that meet my hairs needs. I have very dry hair so using moisturizing and lubricating products is key for me to prevent breakage.
c) Tools: Making sure to use the right tools e.g wide toothed combs with no seams or rough edges that can snag and/or rip my hair, using only high quality hot tools that distribute heat evenly and using very sharp scissors when trimming to prevent jagged edges which can cause split ends etc…
Talking about tools, products and techniques, how did you get your hair to grow so long?
Using the right product is a very important part of growing your hair out. However, there are so many great products out there and what works for one person may not necessarily work for the other. There is a bit of trial and error required to determine what really works for your hair. The key thing for black hair and especially relaxed hair is to keep the hair moisturized and lubricated. It is worth noting that oil does not moisturize hair, water does, so it is important to wet and condition (co wash) your hair at least once a week. Look for shampoos and conditioners that are moisturizing and listen to your hair because again, what works for one person may not necessarily work for another.
Protective styling has also helped me a lot. Protective styling is basically styling your hair in a way that the ends are tucked in and protected from the elements (wind/air, friction with clothes, extreme temperatures etc). This way you are able to retain moisture and prevent breakage. Wigs, buns and sew in weaves are all protective styles.
Generally when women decide to grow their hair they go natural. What do you think?
I love that I am seeing a lot more women going natural. It’s not yet as widespread and acceptable as I would like but I think we are getting there. In my opinion, natural hair is healthier and stronger than relaxed hair and has a better chance of growing longer (once you understand how to safely detangle).
From your blog, we can see that you still have how- to videos and styling tips for artificial hair even though your hair is long. Is that a preference for you or is there something more to it?
It’s a number of things. I wear wigs because they are a way to protect and give my hair a break. It also allows me the option of wearing different styles.
What do you think about the fact that African women all over spend such large amounts of money on weaves and maintenance?
You know, I think it’s fine. I wear weaves, wigs and extensions too. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. I just think that weaves should be an option, not a necessity. We should be able to wear our own hair out too and feel just as beautiful or maybe even more beautiful than when we wear weaves.
Weather affects hair growth a lot. When you’re out of the country how do you deal with that?
I am in Canada right now and the Canadian winter can be really hard on hair. It is extremely drying, so is the harmattan. I keep my hair from drying out by co washing, oiling with extra virgin olive oil twice a week and protective styling as much as possible.
How well do your nails grow? because a lot of the nutrients that support hair growth do the same for nails.
Oh yes, nutrients that help in nail growth also help in hair growth. I did at some point take hair, skin and nails vitamins and I noticed a difference but I couldn’t sustain taking all those pills so I stopped. I would say that my nails grow at the average rate.
Have you ever cut your hair?
Lots of times. I have had many set backs mostly from bad relaxers and incompetent stylists that required me to cut several inches off my hair. I even had the “Toni Braxton” cut in secondary school. lol.
Healthy hair growth benefits a lot from good diet. Did you have to change your diet to achieve your goal of waist length hair?
No, I didn’t change my diet. I have always been health conscious, I get lots of protein (egg, milk, chicken, fish) and fruits. I did take hair skin and nail supplements for a while and it did help, but it is always better to get your nutrients from food rather than from supplements.
There are pictures on your blog that show you with ombre dyed hair. How does that compare to dying natural hair and would you advice against it when growing hair?
I have never died my hair. Bleaching relaxed hair is so counter productive if you are trying to grow it out so opt for a wig instead.
What brand of hair care products and tools do you use?
I used to use Herbal Essence’s ‘Hello Hydration’ shampoo and conditioner. However, I have recently switched to the L’oreal ‘Ever Pure’ sulfate free line because it is gentler on my hair and the shampoo is less drying.
A major problem that African women face, especially after braiding and excessive fixing, is they begin to loose hair along their hairline and in length. What do you advice can be done regarding this?
Braiding and fixing can actually help growth if done properly. Just make sure the braids/cornrows are not too tight, make sure to keep your hair moisturized, don’t use extensions that are too heavy because the weight of the extensions pulling on your hair can cause follicle damage especially around the hairline. (human hair is usually much lighter than synthetic so opt for human hair if you can)
How have the people around you reacted to your hair and the fact that it has gown so long?
I get all kinds of reactions. Some people marvel at the fact that my hair is so long, others insist that I am mixed race. Some are even convinced that I have “hidden tracks” or some kind of new age weave technology.
Different hairstyles affect hair growth in different ways, do you have a specific way you like to style your hair?
Lace wigs (glueless) are probably my favorite. Primarily because they are so easy; I just wear it and go. It literally takes me 5 mins to do. It is also very flexible, I can have straight black hair today and curly brown hair tomorrow. It’s very convenient.
What is your number 1 tip for growing hair?
Keeping it simple. I don’t experiment with products much. Once I find what works, I stick with it. I also don’t do elaborate hairstyles that require a lot of manipulation. Honestly, the key is to just moisturize, lubricate and leave your hair alone. Hair is constantly growing, that’s all it does. It’s up to us to make sure that it doesn’t break off. That’s the key to retaining length. Another thing I have to stress is to detangle and comb very gently, this is so important and it is where a lot of us go wrong. Combing recklessly causes hair to break off at weak points of the hair shaft. This causes thin uneven ends and the need for frequent trimming which impedes length retention.
A lot of people would get to read this, what would you like them to know?
It is possible for us to grow our hair long. We are not that different from other races. Our hair is made of the same proteins as everyone else. Our hair grows at the same rate (on average) as all other races. The only difference is our texture: kinky, curly hair is typically dry and more susceptible to breakage so we just need to apply extra care and treat our hair according to its needs. We need to reorient ourselves when it comes to how we treat our hair. A lot of us were brought up using grease in our hair, raking small toothed combs in dry hair, brushing our edges, shampooing without conditioning etc. These are all very damaging to our hair. It is now up to us to educate ourselves (and our children) on how to care for our hair. The information is out there on the internet. There are lots of blogs and Youtube videos with insightful information on how to care for our hair. I am really looking forward to seeing more African women with beautiful, lush strands of hair.
It was a treat chatting and learning from Bassey on hair growth and the definite possibility of achieving waist length hair as African women. To find out more on how you can do this and see more of Bassey’s videos, visit http://lushstrands.blogspot.com/
Watch Bassey of Lushstrands waist length update video here
Watch the BritPopPrincess video which challenged Bassey to grow her hair