ESSENCE.com: What are the top three mistakes Black women make with their hair? DR. KARI WILLIAMS: Keeping a weave in way too long, getting braids too tight and consistent use of chemical relaxers.
ESSENCE.com: What’s too long to leave a weave in? DR. WILLIAMS: I know that weave styles can be up to $500 — and that doesn’t always include the cost of hair. But a weave shouldn’t be worn longer than 12 weeks. You can’t effectively clean your scalp and hair with a weave in.
ESSENCE.com: I heard a story about a woman whose weave was so tight she got an infection. Is that possible? DR. WILLIAMS: Yes. More times than not braiding foundations are way too tight. That can lead to inflammation and then an infection because of the dirt and bacteria that accumulate on the scalp.
ESSENCE.com: What else can happen if braids or a weave are too tight? DR. WILLIAMS: Traction alopecia or hair loss. And more times than not, the hair loss is permanent. Another concern of mine is that we do this to our children. It’s leading to hair loss at younger ages. I’ve treated pre-teens and it’s heartbreaking because they’re going to junior high and high school self-conscious about their hair loss.
ESSENCE.com: If you’re using synthetic hair, is there anything you should watch for? DR. WILLIAMS: Some individuals have allergic reactions to synthetic hair. The signs are excessive itching in the scalp, around the ear or the neck. A rash or bumps may show up. Do a strand test to make sure you’re not allergic to the hair. Buy one package of the synthetic hair, have your stylist put one small braid in your hair and see how your skin reacts. If you find you’re having discomfort, take the safer choice of a human hair.
ESSENCE.com: What’s the practical solution for women who want to relax their hair, but want to try to avoid hair loss? DR. WILLIAMS: I deal with women who had relaxers for years and you see that slow hair loss due to chemical burns on the scalp when the chemical relaxer is applied or consistent weakening of the hair shaft. By the time the woman is older, we see shiny bald spots in the scalp. Make sure that the stylist you’re with is not only concerned about giving you a good look, but also healthy hair. Also try to extend the time between touch-ups to at least two months or until you have inch of new growth. Up until then, ask your stylist to straighten new growth with a hot comb.
ESSENCE.com: Any other tips for our relaxing sisters? DR. WILLIAMS: Never let your stylist leave the relaxer on until you have to raise your hand and say it’s starting to burn. If there’s any discomfort during a chemical service and you have suffered a chemical burn, even from coloring, see your dermatologist who can either prescribe some topical ointment or do a scalp biopsy to make sure there hasn’t been permanent damage.