Relax? Don’t do it
Cape Town - Naturalista is the new black, with more women ditching chemical products and embracing their natural hair, kinks and all.
The movement is gaining traction in Cape Town, with blogger Amanda Cooke describing it as an emotional and spiritual journey.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t relax my hair. I did it every three to six months… because society expects my hair to be straight and shiny and blow in the wind,” says Cooke.
It was November 2012 when Cooke stopped in her tracks at Cape Town Station. She had a look around and all the coloured women “looked the same”. They all had straight, loose, flat-ironed hair.
“I thought that I needed to break away, and be an individual,” she says.
Her daughter Caitlin, 11, was also part of her motivation. She was 5 when Cooke first took her to a child salon so she could have straight, silky hair for a wedding she was to be part of. “I just thought that was how it was supposed to be. I do regret it,” says Cooke. She later realised her daughter was in danger of embracing the belief that straight hair is better.
Both of them stopped relaxing their hair that November.
The two went through a transition, and allowed their natural hair to grow out. She says nobody knew because she would still flat iron her hair. On December 3, she decided to take a leap and went for the “big chop”. This is where she cut off all of the remaining relaxed hair, and was left with a teeny weeny afro.
“It was a daunting, scary experience, because we’re taught our beauty lies in our hair. But it felt good. The more I played with my hair, and used natural products, the more my confidence started growing. I even started dressing differently,” says Cooke.
She has found new ways to care for her natural tresses and while she mostly wears a wash-and-go style, Cooke takes care to keep it moisturised with products like coconut oils or sulphate-free conditioners. Most products, like egg yolk, apple cider vinegar and even olive oil, are widely and cheaply available.
There are plenty of naturalista online communities offering haircare advice, she says.
She doesn’t miss the burn of relaxers, inhaling the fumes, or the scars left on her scalp from decades of chemical treatments.
Caitlin is still transitioning, but her relaxed ends are being trimmed frequently. She has found beauty in her natural locks, and is proud of her mother’s afro.
The journey has been an enlightening one: “I’ve always been taught how to be by society. Going against everything I was taught to be, to find who I am was an emotional and spiritual journey. It shows you’re never too old to take that first step and be who you were meant to be.”
Use common sense when picking products
Hair has once again come under the spotlight after the release of a report on the dangerous levels of formaldehyde in the popular Brazilian keratin hair products.
The study was led by associate Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo in the division of dermatology at UCT.
“I wouldn’t put it near anyone I love,” says Khumalo, adding that there is no point in looking good if it causes harm in the long run.
Formaldehyde is associated with eye and skin reactions and adverse pregnancy outcomes. It is classified as a carcinogen, and chronic exposure can lead to blood cancers, she says.
Khumalo says cosmetics are not held to the same standards as medicines, so anyone can mix chemicals in their garage and sell it. Only once there’s a problem, will authorities step in and do tests.
“Salons are trying their best and go for formaldehyde-free products. But unless a new method is developed, formaldehyde is the active ingredient that leaves hair straight, even after it’s wet. So Brazilian products can’t be formaldehyde free. Those claiming to be must explain their mechanism,” says Khumalo.
The other hair-straightening option is relaxer, but some patients have permanent hair loss and hair breakage.
Damage is also caused by constant flat-ironing. Because hair is a protein, it doesn’t tolerate heat well, especially if the iron is applied while the hair is wet.
Khumalo says people must use common sense, and do everything in moderation.
* Use an old T-shirt instead of a towel on your hair; the fibres are softer.
* Mix apple cider vinegar with plain water as a shine-boosting rinse.
* Co-washing: to wash hair with conditioner creates nourished, hydrated curls.
* Every two weeks, deep-condition the hair. Mix hair mayonnaise (available in stores, or home-made by mixing egg yolk and coconut or castor oil) into conditioner, and leave it on for four hours before rinsing.
* Trim the hair regularly to avoid split ends.
* A healthy diet can mean healthy skin, nails and hair.