by Tyra of Indigenous Curls
For 2 years I studied the theory of hair to prepare for the certification test to become a licensed New York State Cosmetologist. My class spent over 1000 hours washing, cutting, coloring, setting, perming, finger waving, pin curling, and blowing out white manikins. Living in suburbia, most of my classmates were white with silky, straight hair. My instructors, who were white as well, had curlier hair (3a). As one of only two black students in the class, I was hesitant to let anyone near my hair. I distinctly remember the first few classes touched on the theory behind cleansing and conditioning hair.
Shortly after learning which ingredients best soften hair and how they work, it was time to put that theory into practice. We paired up and were told to take turns washing and conditioning each other’s hair. My heart was practically beating out of my chest at the thought of a complete, inexperienced person, diving their hands (and possibly shampoo) into my newly transitioning hair. I had about 3 inches of new growth and 5 inches of relaxed hair. (My new growth was pressed at the time.)
As she prepared me for the wash, I knew I had to prepare her as well. “My hair is not quite like yours, you know,” I said. My mind was running with all the things I wanted to tell her before the water hit my scalp. I told her,“Its really really curly. I’m just warning you. Oh and I don’t use shampoo.” The classroom seemed to fall silent. “You don’t use shampoo,” my classmate asked, as she waved for the instructor. I frantically searched the room for the one girl who understood my kinky roots, but her head (freshly relaxed) was already in a sink, being shampooed to death. So there I sat, ready to cleanse, not willing to shampoo. I was armed with the theory lesson we had just learned as well as information obtained from my part time job at an all-natural black hair care salon.
“Are you allergic?”, the instructor asked. “Not really,” I responded, “Shampoo isn’t really good for my sensitive strands. The detergents in the shampoo strip my hair of its natural moisture. The conditioners we have here are not sufficient enough to replace the stripped oils.” I couldn’t tell if she was impressed or annoyed as her stone face always had the class guessing if their work was ‘good enough’. “What do you use at home?”, she asked. By then, this conversation had the entire class’s attention.
“Just conditioner” I shrugged. “Today, we just learned about Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, its properties and effects on the hair, but I already know S.L.S well. It dries my hair, leaving my scalp itchy. However, there are ingredients, found in shampoos, that my hair loves, like any acidic ingredient, Panthenol, fatty alcohols, and nut oils. You know what product has acidic ingredients Panthenol, fatty alcohols and nut oils?”
The instructor’s signature cold stone face thawed as she exclaimed, “Conditioner! Its good to see you ladies paying attention! ” She smiled and handed my washing partner a bottle of Paul Mitchell conditioner.
To further prove my point, I allowed my partner to shampoo only one side of my head. “Whoa,” was all she could say in response to the results. Cosmetology DIDN’T teach me anything about black or ethnic Hair. It taught me the theory behind hair period. It’s up to the individual to apply those lessons to their client or themselves no matter the type of hair they have.
What do you think is the best approach to incorporate black hair care into the curriculum of many cosmetology schools?
Tyra is a trained cosmetologist, curly hair enthusiast, recruiter, and writer. She big chopped over 3 years ago, & documents her hair journey, while giving 4c hair care tips on her blog Indigenous Curls. You can follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/