More African-American women embrace natural hair care

Melissa & Deborah Castor
Melissa and Deborah Castor are two sisters who love crafting natural hair styles for clients.

By Chambria Gordon

Are you tired of constantly having dry and damaged hair? Imagine soft curls that bounce in your hand every time you run your fingers through your hair. It may seem impossible, but it only takes a few steps. Step one, say good bye to perms, blow dryers and flat irons.

Many women worry that perms may be linked to cancer, brain tumors and even infertility, but scientific research is still inconclusive about a direct link. But there is no denying that chemical treatments can damage hair, and even no-lye relaxers have chemicals that can be damaging even though they contain different ingredients than regular relaxers.

Potential negative effects of chemicals in hair relaxers has resulted in many African-American women being reluctant to use them and embracing the beauty of their natural hair. According to global market research firm Mintel, sales of relaxers in the black haircare market dropped 36.6 percent to $525 million between 2012 to 2017.

“These days’ people are afraid to use perms, as they should be,” said Melissa Castor, a Tallahassee hair dresser and owner of Braids by Mel. Melissa and her sister Deborah Castor are known in the community for their natural and protective braiding styles that aid with repairing damaged hair.

“I have been natural for about four years,” said Melissa Castor.

A Lengthy Beauty Regimen

To avoid damaged and tangled hair, Castor must have patience. She washes her hair once a week, but it isn’t as easy as it seems. The washing and styling process takes about six hours. First, she divides the hair into five sections. Next, she washes each section individually to cause less hair shedding.

After this, she deep conditions her hair for an additional 45 minutes and adds oil for extra moisture. Finally, she proceeds w­ith the twisting process that helps protect her hair from heat damage. “I also trim my hair monthly and I try to avoid perms because it only dries out your hair and damages your curl pattern,” Castor said.

In her profession Castor deals with a variety of damaged and healthy hair. She admits the first step to a healthy grade of hair is keeping it hydrated by using the right shampoo. “As a licensed stylist I recommend using sulfate-free shampoos because it’s way healthier for your hair,” she said.

Healthier hair is a goal for both sisters; that is why Deborah Castor also decided to attempt the “big chop” almost three years ago. “I’ve been perming my hair since I was 13 years old,” she said. “My hair was so damaged, I had to chop everything off.”

After wearing a short cut for three months with no perm, Deborah Castor noticed a difference in her hair. “The chemicals in the perm was taking out the natural oils in my hair. My hair was dry and the texture was gone.”

She was surprised with the results and has vowed to never let a perm touch her hair again. “The perm thinned out my hair and it was already healthy. I thought it was easier to maintain when it was permed, but I realized that once you get through the first year, your goal [with natural hair] is not as far as it seems,” she said.

Training your hair is a part of going through the natural hair process. Many women find it easier to manage their hair when it is straight, but per stylists like Deborah and Melissa Castor, they’re damaging their natural beauty.

Twisting natural hair can result in a curly look.

“I think people are too lazy to put in the work for their natural hair,” said Deborah Castor. “It takes time to see results and it isn’t hard. You just need to purchase good products and stay committed to your journey.”

Deborah Castor encourages other women and girls to embrace their natural beauty. “Everyone should embrace their natural hair. I know I’m going to teach my children how to take care of their hair and how to embrace their natural beauty.”

Growing Up Natural

Meanwhile, Veronica Howell has been on her natural hair journey all of her life. While growing up, she constantly turned heads when she entered a room. But to her dismay she always felt that the only reason people stared was because of her natural hair.

“I went to inner city schools all my life and I was constantly picked on because I didn’t have a perm,” said Howell. “Growing up with my natural hair was a struggle; I’ve been natural all of my life.”

While all of Howell’s friends had perms, she never felt the urge to get one. “Back then I didn’t know how to manage my hair, but I refused to get a perm. I knew the damage it could do to your hair,” she said.

Braid extensions can help protect natural hair.

Every week Howell had to endure the same criticism from peers such as, “You’re pretty but your hair messes you up.”

“I just got really sick and tired of having to hear people ask me, ‘Why don’t you get a perm? You’d look better with one,’ ” she said.

Tired of the constant bullying, Howell learned how to manage her hair through years of patience and protective styles. With all her years of practice she is now encouraging people who have made fun of her in the past to try it as well.

“I’m friends with a lot of my old classmates on Facebook, and I am just amazed at how many women are three to four years natural and loving their curls,” said Howell.  “I guess it finally took them all these years to realize the damage that the perms were doing.”

Each one of these ladies have always had one fear: succumbing to peer pressure. After all these years, they have no regrets for keeping their natural look. “I don’t look down on perms,” said Howell. “I’m just happy I’m strong enough to think freely and not try to portray society’s version of beautiful.”

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