It’s an exciting time for many black women in the US, UK and around the world. It is like a second wave of African feminism – this new era of liberation from the shackles of European standards of beauty where we are finally embracing, loving and wearing our afro textured hair with pride and some style!
The bloggers and vloggers that provide advice on caring for and styling afro textured hair have finally been acknowledged by the mainstream media and news of the natural hair revolution has appeared in the New York Times, CNN, WPTV and many other mainstream news media outlets, inspiring scores of women to embrace their afro textured hair in its natural condition.
For the young black women in their teens, twenties and even thirties – they still have plenty of youthful years to enjoy their natural hair and to grow it long. But for women like me over forty, the sense of joy and excitement at falling in love with our natural hair is tinged with a little sadness, and anxiety.
I regret that I didn’t go natural years ago when I was younger and when my hair was stronger. I could have enjoyed my natural hair when I was in my prime, instead of hiding my natural beauty under relaxers and weaves.
I am also somewhat anxious about my hair as whilst adopting an effective hair care regimen can help to retain hair length, I am conscious of the fact that as we get older our hair gets thinner. I remember my late mother having thin hair around the temples and on the forehead.
I have seen exactly the same thinness in her surviving younger siblings. Am I destined to lose my hair before I can enjoy it in its natural condition? Will I ever grow my natural hair past my shoulders, where my stretched twists currently reach?
I am both inspired by and immensely proud of the YouTube vloggers that have made a name for themselves whilst helping millions of black women between them to style, manage and grow their natural hair.
KimmayTube, Naptural85, Simply Younique and Curly Chronicles are my favourites. But I can’t help noticing that they are several years younger than me and wonder if their hair success is partly attributable to the fact that they have youth on their side?
There is a plethora of information available in books, blogs and vlogs on how to manage, style and grow afro textured hair – but I can find precious little information about growing afro textured hair when you are over 40! From the research that I have managed to gather, it seems that whilst growing hair for women over 40 presents some challenges, there is still hope!
On the downside, as we age our hair loses strength, moisture and elasticity and then there are the dreaded grey hairs. For afro textured hair this presents greater challenges since the hair is already prone to dryness and breakage.
The best way to combat this is to moisturise the hair every day without fail. When I first went natural in May I compounded these problems by using a permanent colour and using ceramic straightening tongs every day for about three weeks. I am lucky I have any hair left on my head!
I will not be using a permanent colour in my hair ever again and have found a natural alternative called Herbatint, but will be waiting until the end of September to apply that. I have also banned myself from using the straightening tongs and no longer blow dry my hair after washing. These actions have helped me to nurture my hair back to health. Improvement in the condition of my hair has also resulted from adopting a consistent hair regimen .
But the biggest improvement I have noticed has been from spraying my hair with a home-made moisture mix twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening before bedtime. This consists of distilled water, vegetable glycerine, aloe vera juice and a little olive oil. My hair feels soft to the touch and breaking and knotting has been greatly reduced.
Protective styling for black women over 40 is even more important, since our hair is thinner and weaker and therefore more prone to breakage. Styles that protect the ends and that do not pull
the hair too tight will keep more of our hair on our head and therefore reduce the impact of thinning hair.
According to a 2006 article in Ebony magazine, thousands of black women suffer from hair loss due to age, heredity, hormonal changes and alopecia – which we have no control over. Dr R Martin Earles is quoted as saying that hair thinning and hair loss affects up to two thirds of African American women by the age of 50.
But the good news is that by far the most common causes of hair loss are self-induced and not caused by uncontrollable factors such as age. Traumatic alopecia is the term used to describe hair loss from improper use of chemical products, excessive use of heated tongs, hot combs and blow dryers, gluing hair during the weaving process and combining a relaxer with another chemical treatment, such as a permanent hair colour.
Traction alopecia is probably the most commonly known, due to the unflattering pictures of super model Naomi Campbell. It results from excessive pulling of the hair usually through braiding and cornrows when used with extensions and weaves.
Whilst we cannot turn the clock back and we cannot change our genetic make-up, there is still plenty that we can do as black naturals over 40 to keep our hair healthy and to retain growth. Does this mean that I can grow my hair past my shoulders towards my waist? That I don’t know, but I intend to have fun trying!
I would be very keen to hear from afro textured naturals over 40 – what works for you and have you managed to grow your hair long?