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

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

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila, 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 thoughts on “Vanity or Necessity? 3 Reasons Black Women Spend More Time & Money on Their Hair

  1. 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 and photos and drawings dating back to the 15th century of fabulous African hair styles. The styles were done mostly for celebrations and rituals, but they were far more elaborate than anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime and beautiful at that. Black women and FABULOUS expression through hair is definitely not new.

    Be blessed ya’ll.

  2. 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!!

    • 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 have this information, to help me acheieve longer healthier hair, and its working. I’ve had growth like NEVER EVER before!!

    • 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!

  3. 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 find a cute/decent style because I can’t so loose-hanging hair every day–it usually needs to be up or in a braid.

  4. 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 my particular brand of hair care because it’s so spontaneous. i wash my hair on a whim, and i love wash days because it’s like a fresh start, a time for my hair to rejuvenate itself. the water on my scalp is the most wonderful feeling, and even the detangling process is a time of reflection for me. it has taught me patience, and it’s this lesson that has been the most invaluable so far along my hair journey. i hope everyone can make peace with their hair and come to terms with it. a few weeks ago i hated my hair, coming so close to chopping it all off. i’m thankful now that i stuck with it, because there’s nothing like that feeling of elation one gets once they’ve found a routine that works!!

  5. 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 desperate to find that product that will produce their desired look; but, from what I’ve been reading and in my case, once you learn to accept and love what grows out of your head, your bank account grows too.

    Just sayin…Our hair really is low maintenance; yes, TLC is a must, but once it’s done it’s done =) Maybe I say this b/c I’m a protective style type of lady-twist,braids with my own hair, scarfs, headwraps, and buns. A spritz here and there once in a protective style with some kind of sealant every couple of days and I’m good.

    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.

    Just a humble opinion from an older lady with thriving type 4abc…z hair =)

    • “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 (not always on purpose) in the past….

  6. 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 have a beautiful head of hair on a shoestring budget, just as you can wash your body and moisturize your skin without paying unreasonable sums of money for high-end soap and five different brands of lotion.

  7. 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 this article seems to imply that most black women hair extremely dry, damaged hair.

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  9. 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 think how much money I spent.

      My first year of properly looking after my hair I spents lots of money on products trying stuff out but now I know what works for me in terms of natural styles and products.

      Giving up trying to have Halle Berry hair and being someone I’m not has saved me time and money.

  10. 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!

  11. 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 be bothered by males they usually get the message in her appearance first.

    • 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 .

  12. 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 them. If you watch youtubes videos of women of other races/ethnicities pulling out their favorite hair products they pull out just as many as black women. And no these women don’t get relaxers and such, but some do get perms, costly dye jobs, and other services. A great number of them wash and redo their hair like some naturals do.

    Although the article doesn’t have a negative intent, the concept that blacks spend so much more money on tom foolery than any other race is a negative concept that is constantly published in “research”. And just because a topic has been “researched” or “surveyed” doesn’t mean its valid. You have to take a look at many others factors including the source, intent, and population to name a few.

    Whew! I’m done! lol

    • +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 hair is strong enough to withstand being dyed, fried, lyed, emulsified, stretched, straightened, and twisted- where do you see it being weak? Cutting out just two of those things immediately shows me the kind of results that certain people with straw like hair are constantly being pressured to find, so where is my hair so much “weaker” than theirs? I think what we always need to remember is that it grows back… our hair always grows back, and we have as a collective the worst hair care habits of any race on the planet, yet our hair always grows back. Show it some love and it turns into beauty. So why all this fuss about weaker strands? In my opinion, I should be bald right now. Instead, I have a gorgeous head of thick beautiful curls which speak for themselves.

    • 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 because they think that black hair is difficult to look after. I don’t see as many hair groups or shows for non blacks as there are for us blacks.
      All over London there are hair shops dedicated to black hair products in Peckham you don’t have to go far on the high street to find one, you don’t see that for other hair types, yes they can just pop into Boots or the supermarket but black hair is a lucrative business and people are cashing in, I can count at least 8 black hair shops on Peckham High Street and that is only to the middle of a very long the high street and in Lewisham there are two practically side by side.
      From my personal experience I also think black women take more pride in their overall appearance full stop.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

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