By Nicole Har­mon of Hair Lib­er­ty

It’s no secret that African Amer­i­can hair seems com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from the hair of oth­er eth­nic­i­ties. As Chris Rock’s doc­u­men­tary, Good Hair, high­light­ed for the world, black wom­en spend enor­mous amounts of time and mon­ey to main­tain their hair. But why?? In most cas­es, the answer is not van­i­ty. African Amer­i­can hair requires spe­cial prod­ucts and tech­niques for the­se 3 rea­sons:

Reason 1: Kinks, coils, and curls

Doc­tors and cos­met­ic sci­en­tists have stud­ied African Amer­i­can hair in depth over the past decade. They have found that nat­u­ral hair of “African descent” is spe­cial because it is unique­ly curly and frag­ile. Not “nap­py”, just extreme­ly curly and coily. Any type of curly hair expe­ri­ences dry­ness because nat­u­ral oil from the scalp can’t trav­el down the hair shaft to keep it mois­tur­ized. There are just too many “bumps in the road”. Since African Amer­i­can hair is curlier than the hair of any oth­er eth­nic­i­ty, it is dri­er than that of any oth­er eth­nic­i­ty.

Reason 2: Curly hair is fragile.

Hair is made up of ker­at­in (the same type of pro­tein found in your skin). Nat­u­ral­ly curly hair with no chem­i­cal treat­ments and no heat relat­ed dam­age is rel­a­tive­ly strong, but still weak­er than straight hair. The kinks in each curl make the hair porous and prone to dam­age. Once you start wash­ing, dry­ing, comb­ing, relax­ing, col­or­ing, and heat­ing curly hair, it starts to get very weak, very quick­ly. Hair that is weak even­tu­al­ly splits and then breaks off instead of reach­ing its longest length. The dam­age accu­mu­lates with every process and because African Amer­i­can hair is dry and frag­ile by nature, it starts break­ing as quick­ly as it grows. An inch gained at the root, an inch lost at the end, per­pet­u­al­ly keeps dam­aged hair the same length.

Reason 3: “Extremely Curly” to “Perfectly Straight” is not easy.

It’s been a long time since the Cos­by wom­en were on prime­time show­cas­ing the beau­ty of nat­u­ral hair. Since the mid ‘90s, straight hair­styles have dom­i­nat­ed African Amer­i­can cul­ture and enter­tain­ment. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many black wom­en achieve that “per­fect­ly straight” look by using relax­ers and extreme heat (over 350°F). That com­bi­na­tion would lead to dam­age for any hair type, but it’s espe­cial­ly tough on black hair. Feel free to embrace what­ev­er style makes you feel beau­ti­ful. Just remem­ber that your hair requires high-qual­i­ty prod­ucts and gen­tle care.

Ladies, what are your thoughts on this?

Fran­bourg A, Hal­le­got P, Bal­ten­neck F, Toutain C, Leroy F (2003) Cur­rent research on eth­nic hair. J Am Acad Der­ma­tol 48:S115-S119. Retrieved from
McMichael Amy J. Hair Break­age in Nor­mal and Weath­ered Hair: Focus on the Black Patient. Jour­nal of Inves­tiga­tive Der­ma­tol­ogy Sym­po­sium Pro­ceed­ings (2007) 12, 6–9. doi:10.1038/sj.jidsymp.5650047
Syed A, Kuha­j­da A, Ayoub H, et al African-Amer­i­can hair: its phys­i­cal prop­er­ties and dif­fer­ences rel­a­tive to Cau­casian hair. Cos­met Toil. 1995; 110:39–48
Tay­lor, Susan C. (2008) Dr. Susan Taylor’s Rx for Brown Skin: Your Pre­scrip­tion for Flaw­less Skin, Hair, and Nails. New York, NY: Harper Paper­backs

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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31 Comments on "Vanity or Necessity? 3 Reasons Black Women Spend More Time & Money on Their Hair"

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[…] for your hair think about weath­er its ani­mal test­ed and and how you feel about this. Accord­ing to Nicole Har­mon, black wom­en spend enor­mous amounts of time and mon­ey to main­tain their hair. This is often […]

Brianna Nicolas

Who says we do? Also im pret­ty sure oth­er races do their hair as well.


[…] hair hopped straight from the moth­er­land and onto my scalp. It also means that my hair type is nat­u­ral­ly the most dry and most brit­tle. To retain length, I have to keep my hair stretched so that it does not cre­ate SSKs (sin­gle strand […]

Buy Brazilian Blowout Products

Cer­tain­ly a fan­tas­tic piece of work … It has rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion. Thanks for post­ing this. Your blog is so inter­est­ing and very informative.Thanks shar­ing. Def­i­nite­ly a great piece of work Thanks for your work.


If I leave my hair nat­u­ral I have to take care of it a lot! One great pro­duct, in my expe­ri­ence, for keep­ing hair healthy is argan oil. I have Pro Nat­u­rals Moroc­can Argan Oil and it deeply con­di­tions and hydrates my hair, plus it leaves it smooth and shiny. Rec­om­mend it!


I would say both, because…

NECESSITY: not want­i­ng my hair to turn into messy freeform dreads so I do a painful­ly sim­ple rou­tine of fin­ger comb­ing dai­ly, wash&detangle week­ly with african black soap.

VANITY: Adding condish, oils and but­ters to define & mois­tur­ize my beau­ti­ful 3b curls. Twists outs to reduce frizz, braid outs at night to avoid a bird’s nest in the morn­ing, cute styles and acces­sories, prod­ucts to make my hair the sex­i­est thing ever and ETC ETC ETC!

That’s the dif­fer­ence. Even though neces­si­ty to me is more impor­tant, the van­i­ty is there to make my hair more attrac­tive.

Although I do agree with the rea­sons pre­sent­ed in the arti­cle in rela­tion to car­ing for my hair, I dis­agree with what­ev­er research blah, blah, blah that con­tin­u­al­ly con­tends that black wom­en spend SO much more time and mon­ey on their hair. Any wom­an, black, white, asian, his­pan­ic, who gives a care about the the health and appear­ance of her hair, spends a good amount of time AND mon­ey on it.  I mean real­ly, if you go to any main­stream store, who are most of the prod­ucts catered to/targeted towards. If they weren’t buy­ing the prod­ucts, stores wouldn’t con­tin­ue to stock… Read more »
Sor­ry, but the claims are not neg­a­tive tom fool­ery. Black wom­en do spend more on their hair this can be seen by the val­ue of the black hair mar­ket, why are white com­pa­nies now jump­ing on the band wag­on, because they have realised it too. In the UK com­pa­nies have recog­nised the pow­er of the pink pound, as in gay and les­bians who have more dis­pos­able income as they are less like­ly to have chil­dren. Of course wom­en of oth­er colours spend thou­sands of pounds on their hair but black wom­en are more like­ly to spend this amount on their hair… Read more »
+100!!! So right- I total­ly agree with that. Most hair prod­ucts (and hair pro­duct adver­tis­ing) is direct­ed at cau­casian wom­en with long straight hair- which is why so many of us fall into that “brain­washed by the media” trap of always want­i­ng the same. How many pro­duct ads do you see tar­get­ing black wom­en with nat­u­ral hair? None. We buy our prod­ucts yes- but “fragili­ty” is real­ly not a prob­lem when we take good care of our hair. I’m so tired of that whole “treat your afro tex­tured hair like a ‘silk blouse’ ” as one site put it. My… Read more »
The rea­sons why Black female spend alot of mon­ey on hair care nat­u­ral or not is attract the males most desire which are Black males. If Black males decid­ed tomor­row that 4 tex­tured hair was beau­ti­ful and only desired it it would change Black peo­ple. Give it about a mon­th to catch on and and a lot of Black females would be nat­u­ral and those who do not have 4 tex­tured hair would alter their hair to get it. It’s real­ly that sim­ple. Most females alter their looks to attract the male they desire. When a female doesn’t want to… Read more »

Hon­est­ly I don’t wear my nat­u­ral hair to attract guys and I didn’t perm my hair to attract guys either
I have 3c/4a hair and I was able to attract black men with straight hair and when I went nat­u­ral . I do admit that going nat­u­ral got rid of all the gpod for noth­ing black men and I usu­al­ly have con­scious sin­gle good black men com­ing up to me now as well as oth­er races .


I apol­o­gize for Eng­lish, for any gram­mat­i­cal and spelling errors I have made.


Nat­u­ral hair is as com­pli­cat­ed as you make it to be…when I first went nat­u­ral, I was so excit­ed that I went over­board with prod­ucts. Now that I have found what works for me, I actu­al­ly don’t use many prod­ucts at all and I have a lot of left over prod­ucts that I will end up giv­ing away.

Less is more!


Rea­son 4:

because our hair is so dif­fer­ent from every­one else’s, black wom­en are more self-con­scious about their hair and mak­ing them­selves look “appro­pri­ate” or “more accept­able” to oth­ers.

so, we jump through more hoops, some­times need­less­ly.

Mer­ry, Com­plete­ly agree with you there. I jumped off the relax­er band wag­on when I was 22 I’d left uni­ver­si­ty, didn’t have a job and could not afford the main­te­nance, I just shaved my entire head and had a short cut for about a year, although I went back to the relax­er again once I had a job I soon regret­ted it, the main­te­nance of hot comb­ing my hair and the evil hair­dressers was just too much for me. I used to dream about hav­ing a super straight Halle Berry style but this was only achieved in the hair dresser, when I… Read more »

[…] this arti­cle: Van­i­ty or Neces­si­ty? 3 Rea­sons Black Wom­en Spend More Time … ← Con­di­tion­ers for Nat­u­ral­ly Curly Hair Care | Nat­u­ral Hair Styl­ist – Hair […]

This arti­cle doesn’t explain why some wom­en are will­ing to spend hun­dreds of dol­lars per mon­th on hair care. My kinks, coils and curls cost me less mon­ey now than when I was relaxed. This arti­cle does absolute­ly noth­ing to address the van­i­ty and neces­si­ty of hair incor­po­rat­ed in the black com­mu­ni­ty. The­se may be legit excus­es for some, but cer­tain­ly not for most. Curly, frag­ile hair doesn’t explain why some wom­en spends hun­dreds of dol­lars on weave, sor­ry it just doesn’t. There are deep­er issues that this arti­cle doesn’t even skim the issue of black hair. Also, the tone of… Read more »
IMHO, dry­ness and fragili­ty have noth­ing to do with why black wom­en spend so much mon­ey on hair. Kitchen oils and patience are all we real­ly need to tack­le those, not $$$. The blame rests square­ly on rea­son #3: Too many black wom­en are obsessed with try­ing to trans­form their hair into the oppo­site of what it nat­u­ral­ly is, requir­ing fre­quent salon vis­its and expen­sive weaves. To all the nat­u­rals out there who are break­ing the bank try­ing to nour­ish their God-given strands: With time and expe­ri­ence, you’ll real­ize that HAIR CARE DOES NOT NEED TO BE EXPENSIVE. You CAN… Read more »

Well said.


When you want some­thing done right, you invest the required time and mon­ey.

The three rea­sons given are sat­is­fac­to­ry, but not com­plete IMHO. Is it just me or does this arti­cle read as if its’ intend­ed audi­ence are those who fre­quent­ly use heat or chem­i­cals? To the ques­tion: I think the prin­ci­ple rea­sons many spend too much of their income on hair products/salons are: Lim­it­ed or erro­neous knowl­edge of one’s own hair, his­tor­i­cal fac­tors (400 years of mas­sive brain­wash­ing and pro­pa­gan­da (which has affect­ed both males and females), socio-eco­nom­ic mobil­i­ty, ‘every­body perms’ (bandwagon),social pres­sure), and until recent­ly, a lim­it­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the diver­si­ty of ‘black­ness’ and ‘black’ beau­ty. Ini­tial­ly, many new nat­u­ral­is­tas are… Read more »
“I do not need to look as if I just stepped out of a music video, a mag­a­zine, a porno, or somebody’s wet dream (Ok-may­be on the week­end at an evening soiree or for my hub­by, lol). May­be we need to get away from that media-hyped mind­set of always wear­ing “swing­in-free” and loose hair.” ” I’m tellin’ you ladies, most wom­en through­out his­to­ry have always worn their hair in pro­tec­tive styles. The loose styles were for spe­cial occa­sions and one’s sig­nif­i­cant oth­er.” This is extreme­ly poignant right here.…very true that wom­en of ALL races usu­al­ly wore their hair in pro­tec­tive styles… Read more »
Annie L.


i am get­ting to where i like my hair again. i’m start­ing to love it. so much body and bounce, and almost no split ends ever since i learned how to take care of it. or, rather, relearn. years of flat iron­ing your hair can make you for­get how to nur­ture it prop­er­ly. now that i am, i’m so hap­py with it. i feel like it’s stronger, and now i don’t get hard­ly any break­age what­ev­er. that’s the key, is care. and what works for you might not work for me. i don’t think a lot­ta black wom­en could use… Read more »
Annie L.

Awe­some! PS I have a ‘spon­ta­neous’ rou­tine too but I final­ly love it.

I don’t spend as much time on my hair as I did when I first stopped straight­en­ing, but I do find that my hair takes more effort to retain length, which means more gen­tle­ness and tlc. I hate to say it, but I do find myself get­ting frus­trat­ed more often because it is more chal­leng­ing to style my nat­u­ral hair than when it was straight. When it was relaxed, it was 1)wrap and apply hair lotion at night, and 2)comb down in the morn­ing. Now unless it is twisted/braided, I have to mois­tur­ize, seal, braid, unbraid in the morn­ing, and… Read more »

Why does every­thing about our nat­u­ral hair has to be so darn neg­a­tive?!!?
Dry­ness, Break­age and heat dam­age, can we get an arti­cle high light­ing the positives..and we won­der why some of us are so neg­a­tive about nat­u­ral hair!!

Shamaia Veira

Read more arti­cles hun!! This site has great pos­i­tive arti­cles on nat­u­ral hair!! But it is impor­tant to high­light “neg­a­tive” real­i­ties with wear­ing out hair nat­u­ral. I thought this par­tic­u­lar arti­cle pos­i­tive­ly defend­ed the time and mon­ey black wom­en spend on our hair!


You want neg­a­tive? Check out this “fun” post:

I hon­est­ly had to stay away from the nat­u­ral com­mu­ni­ty for a bit because I felt it was like peo­ple com­plain­ing about how hard it was to take care of their hair non­stop.

Stephanie Thornton
The arti­cle was to be neg­a­tive, there’s noth­ing neg­a­tive about nat­u­ral hair. The arti­cle is stat­ing the truth about our hair type. Some­thing we need to know because major­i­ty of us new nat­u­rals have nev­er known the “Truth” about our hair. Like it said in the the first para­graph its “NOT Nap­py” . As African American’s that is what we would call our hair, when in all truth its not true. This arti­cle is teach­ing us why are hair is the way it is, and we can take those help­ful tips and us them to our ben­e­fit. I’m great­ful to… Read more »
I, for one, loooove to spend time, mon­ey and ener­gy on my hair because it is one of the few ways that I actu­al­ly get to pam­per myself. I look for­ward to my week­ly hair reg­i­men (wash, con­di­tion, leave-in, braid­ing ses­sions). For me, it feels like a “treat­ment”. I also agree with the rea­sons list­ed above. My hair (in par­tic­u­lar) is rel­a­tive­ly frag­ile and it is not always easy to work with. S.N. — there was an exhibit in a muse­um in Harlem a few years ago called “Black Hair” that had beaui­ful combs (made from wood, ivory and metal)on dis­play… Read more »