Hair Headlines: A Long Stretch From Tradition

Preventing common hair and scalp disorders

caused from braids and weaves

By Diana Dudas, Razzamatazz

My earliest memories of braids are watching little girls sitting on their front porch steps being having their hair done by their elders. Now, this old time tradition has turned into a multi-million dollar business. Braids have come a long stretch from tradition and become an elaborate art form. It seems as though salons specializing in braids and weaves have popped up almost overnight. This new talent is highly respected. However, there are concerns and problems caused by going to a stylist not specialized in this field, making it vital that you find a well-respected hairstylist and insist on a receiving a consultation before making your appointment. Hair braiding can take anywhere from three to ten hours, and is therefore costly. So you need to be sure that this is something for you.

Why are consultations important?

Whenever you are considering trying a new hair service, or something that you haven't done in a while, it is vital to sit down with your stylist of choice for a consultation.

Once you have decided on a service, in this case braids or weaves, the stylist should discuss the pros and cons of this service, along with telling you how to maintain your new look, and the cost entailed for both receiving and maintain the new look.

But most essentially during this time, the stylist should be checking a few vital pieces of information. Such as the hair's texture, porosity, and most importantly the hair's ELASTICITY! Braids or weaves should never be performed on hair that has poor elasticity.

Why is the hair's elasticity so important?

Elasticity is, in my opinion, one of the most important properties of hair. This is the hair's ability to be able to spring back to its original shape and length without damage. Wet hair that is in optimum condition can be stretched up to 25% of its length, and return back to its original length when dry. As an experiment, if you were to hold a piece of hair about two inches long in your fingers and pull, you would be able to see considerable movement.

Hair's elasticity depends mostly on the keratin levels and sulphide bonds in the cortex of the hair. These can be quite easily damaged by chemical treatments, such as relaxers, perms, or bleaching. These chemical services will then create poor elasticity in your hair. This will limit the amount the hair will be able to stretch. The hair will also not curl, be weak, fragile and will break easily. Natural and artificial sunlight will do the same damage. Poor elasticity can be rectified by the use of good treatment conditioners that contain wheat, rice and corn proteins. Treatments containing Keratin protein are also acceptable; however, the natural ability of vegetable proteins to immediately penetrate into the hair shaft make them a better choice.

You should wait at least two weeks after a chemical service, or until you get the stylist's OK, before considering braids or weaves.

Traction Alopecia caused by braids and weaves

Alopecia is a medical term for hair loss. There are various types of Alopecia such Alopecia Areata (this is normally caused by severe trauma and causes one to lose hair in small patches on their head, that can then enlarge and become one), Alopecia Androgenetica (otherwise known as male of female pattern baldness, which normally happens as one matures) and Traction Alopecia.

Traction Alopecia is caused by constant stress on the hair follicle, due to continuous wearing of tight ponytails, hair buns , up-do's and most commonly hair braids, such as corn rows, or braids that are now used for hair weaving techniques.

In order for hair braids to look neat and to last any length of time without loosening, they need to be put in very tightly. Most hairstylists specializing in braids or weaves etc. have great dexterity and strength in their fingers; this is due to having been braiding from a very young age.

It is important when receiving this service to let the stylists know if they are pulling too hard; however, it is my experience that stylists normally insist that they need to pull tightly in order for the braids stay in. If you are having braids as a one-off, this is not too harmful as your hair follicle will be able to withstand the stress. However, if you continue to braid your hair on a regular basis (every six weeks or so) your hair will eventually pull away from the follicle, shortening the hair's lifespan.

Braids Shorten Your Hair's Lifespan

The lifespan of an individual hair is on average between two and six years. This life span is divided into three stages:

ANAGEN -- which is the first stage, when the new hair grows from the base of the hair follicle.

CATAGEN -- during which the hair has now ceased to grow, the root shrinks and the follicle breaks down, allowing the hair to move upward.

TELOGEN -- The mature hair is loosely anchored to the hair root, and after a couple of months the hair will fall out. Hair overly stressed during braiding can encourage the hair to fall out shortening its lifespan.

Scalp problems caused by braiding wet hair

I have known stylists to wet or dampen the hair before they braid. This is because it helps them to section the hair more precisely, and makes hair easier to control and hold in their fingertips. What happens then is that when pulling the wet hair, it will stretch it to its fullest potential; this will, of course, depend on the condition and elasticity of the hair. Then as the hair dries, it will contract and try to return to its previous length, causing great stress on the hair follicle. This can cause severe headaches a day or two after the appointment. It can also cause sores to appear on the scalp, which in turn can become infected and very painful. These sores can also be caused by the stylist being too harsh when using sharp combs or implements during braiding.

Hair Breakage caused by braiding too soon after a chemical service

There are cases when braids are applied immediately after a chemical service. This is not acceptable, because the hair after a chemical service does not an optimum moisture level of 8%, is overly porous, and most importantly has poor elasticity. Even if the hair does not break at the time of service, it could break within days or weeks after the services.

Caring for your braids

For all of the above reasons, it is vital that once you have your braids, you take care of them. Follow the stylists' instructions. However, due to the lack of conditioning, once your hair is braided it is often recommended that you do not condition, for fear of the conditioner making the hair soft loosening the braids. It is vital that a month prior and past your appointment that you spend time giving your hair lots of TLC. This means pampering your hair with shampoos that will restore your hairs moisture level to its optimum 8% treatment, and conditioners that contain vegetable proteins, improving elasticity. Try and give your hair a treatment at least one a week.

Author's Notes: There is no reason at all that you cannot enjoy the experience of hair braids or weaves, as long as you take the proper precautions. Go to a well-respected specialist, use good professional hair care products, and ALWAYS GET A CONSULTATION.

If you have any questions on this article or other hair care questions, e-mail .

© 2002 Diana Dudas, posted with permission

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