At this years Book Expo in New York City I made a point to pass by the Amber Books booth in the African-American pavilion to see what they had. After going to BEA for the past several years in NYC I recall seeing Amber Books booth catering to an African-American demographic with books focused on how to get financial help for school, various beauty books, and biographies on popular African-American entertainers. A book I was particularly interested in, but wasn't available was one on Black Skin Care. But what did catch my eye was Beautiful Black Hair by Shamboosie. As someone who's always looking to improve and learn more about ensuring the health of my hair I was intrigued, and quickly purchased it at a discount. I read the book weeks later and couldn't believe how intuitive it was. At the same time I sighed with indignation at the faulty advice previous hair care "professionals" had given me while at in the same breath being relieved that my current stylist's protocol seems to be very much in line with what Shamboosie preached in Black Hair.
Black hair care is a huge industry, filled (like any business) with good and bad products, as well as people who are knowledgeable and those who aren't. Beautiful Black Hair reflects the accumulated knowledge of a hair care professional to females--practically calling out to us--to pay attention and take better care of our hair.
After reading Black Hair I couldn't help but think back to previous stylists and the ridiculous information they gave me when I started getting my hair chemically treated as a pre-adolescent. My last hairstylist went from working in a salon in midtown Manhattan to operating out of her own home, not something unheard of in NYC. She told me to wash my hair every two weeks and that Pink hair care products were wonderful. Instead of saying she wasn't sure she told me to continue doing what I was doing rather than providing step-by-step advice on how not to dry my hair out, get rid of a flaky scalp, or keep my hair silky smooth. I'm lucky that my transition from Curl to Relaxer didn't make me bald in her care. At one point I was combing out large clumps of hair because she refused to do the research or ask advice to get me the right information to take proper care of my hair (stylist pride to the detriment of a client is something Shamboosie touches on in his book as well). As far as my then stylist was concerned Denorex was an excellent product to rid me of dry scalp and maintain a nice luster. She urged me to put Pink setting lotion (an extremely thick and greasy product) into my hair which did not help matters.
The last draw with this stylist came when she overused hairspray on my hair the day prior to my wedding to keep the style in. Rather than showing me how to accurately wrap my hair and brush it out in the morning she sprayed half a can of Ultra Sheen (yes, that big ole red can of chemicals that put a whole in the Ozone). Those who've used this popular product know it is not a lightweight product and makes your hair stiff as a rock. After my shower the next morning as I took my hair out of my scarf I noticed I could barely comb through it. As I did I had limp and stiff strands envelope my face completely negating the work done on my hair the night before. I cried in my fiance's arms and had to pin my hair back. Guests were kind, but I still didn't have the signature look I craved even for my small wedding.
Reading Black Hair may make you want to sigh with relief (as I do now) at having a conscientious hair stylist or wring your hands in anger at those who've provided misguided information to you (like the woman I mentioned above). Everything Shamboosie writes makes sense. And don't fret entirely if you feel the latter, hair can be salvaged if taken care of, conditioned & washed regularly.
First things first, wash regularly! It may seem like common knowledge, but by the information I was given obviously it is not depending on your background. Next, get good conditioners and shampoos that moisturize your hair as well as protect it. Many products out their specialize in retaining color, removing dandruff, neutralizing chemicals, protecting your hair from sun damage, etc. But it is important that not only do these products protect your hair for whatever specific situation you're in, but that they moisturize your hair as well. Shamboosie provides a chemical breakdown as well as a follicle breakdown on what parts of our hair are affected by what products and how base differs from acid. All important things to know as you go through his book and pick up his references. You learn more as he explains and understand the why as well. This makes you the reader more capable to ask specific questions of a future or current stylist to know how much they are working off of what they've been taught or truly understand Black hair care.
Shamboosie's emphasis, for those of us who get our hair relaxed, is to make sure our stylist is using a Conditioning Lye Relaxer that keeps hair silkier and allows it to absorb the moisture from the conditioners being released. No Lye, apparently, is bad news, capable of damaging your hair and drying it out. Upon some research at my local pharmacies and hair care stores all I could find available for over-the-counter purchase were No Lye relaxers. Not good apparently. He also does not recommend doing relaxers at home unless you are a certified professional. Considering that it seems No Lye relaxers (Dark & Lovely, Silk Elements, Luster's, Motions, Soft Sheen, etc.) are all that is available to customers that aren't certified this builds his argument.
He outlines proper relaxer application techniques so that you know if the chemical is being applied properly to your hair and that neutralizing shampoos are a must unless you want the chemical to continue eating at your hair leaving you bald. I understood why my stylist shampoos my hair with neutralizing shampoo at least three times--to ensure that the chemical is out of my hair.
Shamboosie encourages women to do different things with their hair, but to also be careful. In particularly for those who color and chemically treat their hair for curls or relaxer. ONLY get these two treatments done in the same day if you are using a permanent hair color on gray hair that is less than 30% (meaning 30% of your hair has gray hair spread evenly throughout the scalp). Otherwise space the dye and relaxer treatments out by a decent amount of time so that your hair is not being double, or even worse, triple processed (meaning several chemicals are in your hair at the same time). One of the longest chapters in Black Hair is dedicated to proper coloring and how to go about it. He again refers to the pH scale, the color wheel (why certain primary and secondary colors promote a nice tone for what you want in your hair), and proper application.
Shamboosie also delves into hot irons, weaves & wigs, and tips on maintaining natural hair while also considering the steps of going from natural to chemical or vice versa. There's even a Q&A section in the back with, what one can assume, are commonly asked questions many of which are answered throughout the book.
The one negative about this book is that it was printed in 2006 and it doesn't look like reprints have updated information in regards to suggestions for new hair products you can find in lieu of ones mentioned by Shamboosie when he first compiled them. But what is important is that the core information still applies.
The amount of information is abundant, but helpful and should be applied as soon as possible. And whether you get all or some of the treatments he mentions done to your hair I suggest reading it from cover to cover to get a full understanding of how treatments can relate to each other and just in case you may have an inkling to branch out and try something new.
Here are some of my favorite products to use where I have seen/felt results:
- Joico's Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner: My current stylist carries many Joico products including KPAX foams to protect from heat and ones to detangle hair. I find that the conditioner does a great job of detangling my hair and afterwards my hair is left feeling soft and clean. You definitely see and feel the difference from using a harsher shampoo & conditioner that may focus purely on cleaning and getting rid of dandruff.
- Keracare's Dry & Itchy Scalp Moisturizing Shampoo & Conditioner: a medicated shampoo and conditioner that focuses on riding the hair of flakiness, which it does very well. My stylist recommended this to me once I left my previous one and I have used this regularly ever since. Your hair is not as soft as with a full-on moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, but you definitely feel the effects of having a clean scalp. I use this on a rotational basis with moisturizing shampoos/conditioners.
- Jane Carter Solution Wrap & Roll: Again, recommended by my stylist because Jane Carter uses organic materials and little chemicals. Everything from Jane Carter--from her scalp oils to her hair sprays--smells like citrus. Her Wrap and Roll foam is great for wrapping hair right after wash and during the drying phase or after drying and you're turning in for the night. I use it regularly.
- Dudley's Creme Press: This was suggested in Beautiful Black Hair. I went to Dudley's website at Shamboosie's suggestion to see a cornucopia of products for Black hair maintenance. I bought this creme and swear by it. The creme press is to protect hair when you use a curling iron or flat iron. Make sure not to be heavy-handed with this product as it can make your hair/scalp quite greasy thereby making it dirtier faster. It has a hardened gel texture and when you rub it into your hands it becomes more greasy then creamy. But it protects your hair very well from heat also helping to lock in style a bit longer than if you used no product at all. To date my stylist has not yelled at me for overusing the flat iron and breakage is down to a minimum. So buy this if you haven't already!
- Nioxin Defining Pomade: While I was not a fan of the Nioxin Scalp/Hair Care kits (it dried out my hair severly) I do like their light-weight and fragrant pomade. It's strong, holds all day, yet when you wake up the next day to style your hair you don't have to worry about any clumping or hardened hair. Fantastic.
Feel free to let me know of any other suggestions and go out and buy Beautiful Black Hair or request that your local library get it. It's a great reference for women of any age and color.