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The History of the Hot Comb

Avatar • Sep 8, 2010

“There is a misconception that the hot comb was invented by Madam C.J. Walker, the first self-made African-American millionaire. In all actuality, the tool was used by French women in 1845 who were trying to replicate the styles worn by the ancient Egyptians.”

By Sherica Phillips

Now honestly, I’ve probably only had a hot comb used in my hair three times. But that was enough! Each time I swore my hair was frying and I’d have to settle for resembling the Cynthia doll from the Rugrats for the rest of my life! But believe it or not, this invention wasn’t discovered by Black-American women. Most of you that really know your natural hair history are probably gonna get this right on point. It was discovered by the Europeans, the French to be exact!!!!

There is a misconception that the hot comb was invented by Madam C.J. Walker, the first self-made African-American millionaire. In all actuality, the tool was used by French women in 1845 who were trying to replicate the styles worn by the ancient Egyptians (hmmm how ironic). The comb was actually sold in Sears and Bloomingdales to the American public in the 1800s. However when Madam C.J. Walker received a patent for the hot comb, she redesigned it giving it wide spaced teeth so that it could better accommodate thicker hair of various textures.

Hot combs were a significant improvement from the older methods used by African- Americans during slavery to straighten hair. Back then they used to use axle grease, heated butter knives and homemade lye. That’s how it came to be in the black community. The actual inventor of the hot comb is still unknown.

In 1968 Dr. Christopher Papa released a study that stated hot combs had caused inflammation and scarring to the scalps of most Black American women. They labeled this “hot comb alopecia” and said that it was the combination of petroleum and excess heat from hot combs that lead to the burning and scarring of the scalp causing this condition. Lesson of the day and of our lives ladies! Love yourself! Dark skin, light skin, wavy curls and tight curls. Just learn to be happy with you! Apparently trying to change would just be extremely costly and unbearably painful. At the end of the day you are who you are! Don’t just learn to be satisfied with it, learn to be PROUD of it!!!

Sherica and sister Taneica are authors of the new blog Shatterproof Glass Dolls. Be sure to check it out.

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vonnie
9 years ago

lordy, that sounds extremely painful! I don’t remember ever having a hot comb to my head but I probably have a time or two when I was younger. The things we do for “beauty”, yikes

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Shones
9 years ago

ahhh… I remember when my Mom would lay the hot comb on the coils of the stove, and then come toward my head with it. I could feel the heat approaching my nape. But then she would say, “Don’t move!” and I knew if I cringed I risked burning the back of my neck. So I sat there, still and taut, suddenly realizing my freshly-washed hair wasn’t totally dry yet, as the hot comb hit a slightly damp spot, sending steam straight down the hair shaft and into the follicles of my scalp. Ouch!!! Thank you *God* I don’t have… Read more »

Tam
Tam
9 years ago

I have many days with a hot-comb..and I can’t see myself using it anymore. Just remembering to stay still when my mom took it off the stove, blew on it and wiped it with a paper towel makes me shudder.

Makeda
9 years ago

I am grateful for this post. I use to press my hair. I learned to do it myself. Then I left that alone and used the flat iron. I bought one that could heat to 400 degrees and give me the straight, European hair I wanted so badly. I’ve burnt my leg, my neck, my forehead, my hands, my hair and my scalp. I would get as close to the root as I could. It’s sad, really. I hated my blackness for a very long time. I am now natural and the happiest I’ve been. My hair is strong, curly,… Read more »

Josie
Josie
8 years ago
Reply to  Makeda

I’m happy for you girl ! I’ve been natural also, for a little over a year now, completely loving my hair. I was masking my hair with relaxers and straighteners. Natural is beauty.

Gladys
Gladys
3 years ago
Reply to  Makeda

Hi..Madam C.J. Walker did not invent the straightning comb. It was first used in France. Msd. Wlker did a new patient on it to widen the teeth to accomidate our thick heavy hair.It really is not known who invented it.

iri9109
iri9109
9 years ago

However when Madam C.J. Walker received a patent for the hot comb, she redesigned it giving it wide spaced teeth so that it could better accommodate thicker hair of various textures.”

is the present hot comb supposed to have “wide spaced teeth”??? if so, the original DEFINITELY couldn’t have touched my head…

this article gave me a flashback to sitting in the kitchen with the hot comb on the stove and my hair full of grease, and my mom telling me to hold my ear (even though it still got burnt lol)…

Leo the Yardie Chick
Leo the Yardie Chick
9 years ago

I watched my friend get her hair hot-combed in her kitchen when we were both around 9–10. That’s the closest I’ve ever been to getting one.

joyankait
joyankait
9 years ago

Madame CJ Walker should be credited as one of the first entrepreneurs to do what many natural entrepreneurs are doing now — make her own hair products!! She started with a scalp and hair conditioner and made her own shampoo which she sold door to door. She may not have been promoting natural hair, but she wasn’t advocating for women to burn their hair out either. Lol, we all need remedial courses in black history :).

real talker
real talker
9 years ago

I personally like the hot comb because i dont put alot of greae on my hair, i bought the one that you plug in like a flat iron and set the degrees which i dont set high at all. I really condition my hair so when i use the hot comb it isnt burning my hair off and i gain moisture. Is this practice still bad for my hair? (I have a 4b texture) Also i love natural hair but i like straighten my hair to see how long its and because its easier to manage. so straightning my hair… Read more »

Bri
Bri
9 years ago

Everyone race uses the Hot Comb, to some point. I’m thankful for hot combs, hot curlers, and flat pressers. Because I’m never going back to wearing perms; my last perm was July 2010. Though I am currently rockin the “Twist” in my hair now.

Shantavia
Shantavia
8 years ago

French women trying to imitate the Ancient Egyptians”? As in the AFRICAN Egyptians? Funny, I was under the impression they wore wigs, like in their hieroglyphics. And most likely, should have had course, thick curls. People forget Egypt is part of Africa cause it was colonized by Arabia for so long

Paige
Paige
8 years ago

I too still use a hot comb once or twice a year when I want to wear my hair straight… so that’s only now during the cold holidays…I am also a 4b…and I don’t make the comb very hot…just enough to pass through once so when I go to flat iron my ends will be straight…I haven’t noticed any damage.. I use pressing grease…seems to work well for my texture… I can’t hate on the pressing comb at all!!! *picture is of my hair straighten with the use of a pressing comb and flat ironing*
[img]http://bglhonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/xmas20105.jpg[/img]

Just As I Am
Just As I Am
8 years ago
Reply to  Paige

Your hair looks great.
You really know what you’re doing with that hot comb, especially if your hair isn’t suffering from it.
Good job!

folamix
folamix
6 years ago

Yes I knew about the French connection. I remember many a day sitting in the kitchen, getting my “naps busted” as they used to say. Now I proudly wear my natural hair and doubt that I will ever straighten it, even for a length check. But not knocking anyone who does.

trackback

[…] and beautifully kinky hair of young girls and women alike. In fact, I lived it. I lived through hot combs and suffered the consequences of rocking baby hairs before they were a trend. I vividly remember […]

Nathalie
Nathalie
5 years ago

I remember getting my hair pressed as a child being a truly traumatic experience. I remembering crying/screaming as my hair sizzled with grease as the hot comb went through it. I would never subject anyone to that. I got a Jerri curl at age 7…

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