‘Nat­u­ral’ hair is mak­ing waves

More black women comb out chem­i­cals

USA TODAY US Edition - - YOUR LIFE - By Michelle Healy USA TO­DAY

Flip through magazines and TV chan­nels this month, and you’ll see coily, kinky and curly nat­u­ral hair mod­els in ads from Banana Repub­lic to Gain de­ter­gent, from Home­goods to Kmart.

“Nat­u­ral hair has been a move­ment for sev­eral years. What we’re see­ing now is a con­fir­ma­tion that this is a life­style that is very im­por­tant to a lot of women,” says Cyn­telia Abrams, mar­ket­ing co­or­di­na­tor for De­sign Essen­tials, an At­lanta-based hair-care com­pany that com­mis­sioned a 2010 study on the pop­u­lar­ity of nat­u­ral hair.

The num­ber of black women who say they do not use prod­ucts to chem­i­cally re­lax or straighten their hair jumped to 36% in 2011, up from 26% in 2010, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Min­tel, a consumer spend­ing and mar­ket re­search firm. Sales of re­laxer kits dropped by 17% be­tween 2006 and 2011, ac­cord­ing to Min­tel.

TWAS (teeny-weeny afros), mega­size ’fros, braids, coils, heat-straight­ened ’dos — a num­ber of styles are be­ing worn by black women, from state­ment-mak­ing fash­ion­istas to im­age-con­scious pro­fes­sion­als.

Rochelle Ritchie, 29, a reporter for WPTV in West Palm Beach, Fla., made head­lines last year when she went nat­u­ral af­ter years of chem­i­cal straight­en­ing, braid­ing, ex­ten­sions and wigs. “It wasn’t me,” says Ritchie, who grew tired of “the fi­nan­cial bur­den” and “feel­ing like I was cov­er­ing up.”

The pub­lic re­sponse has been “ex­tremely pos­i­tive,” says Ritchie.

And view­ers get to see that “I’m still pro­fes­sional, still ar­tic­u­late. My hair doesn’t change any of that,” she adds.

In the Washington, D.C., sub­urbs, Braids Elite owner Marie Lour­des Price, a li­censed cos­me­tol­o­gist for 21 years who to­day fo­cuses solely on nat­u­ral hair clients, is booked well into 2012. “I see ladies re­ally em­brac­ing their nat­u­ral hair,” says Price.

Keisa Cromer, 30, a nurse and mother of two who lives near Jack­son, Miss., and blogs about nat­u­ral hair at newly nat­u­ral.com, stopped “re­lax­ing” in 2007, in­spired in part to “see what my own hair looked like.”

Like many black women, Comer grew up be­liev­ing that her tightly curled nat­u­ral tex­ture would be more at­trac­tive, ver­sa­tile and man­age­able worn straight. That re­quired the use of hot combs for tem­po­rary straight­en­ing, start­ing when she was about 5, and then, from her pre­teens into adult­hood, the use of strong chem­i­cal-based creams that al­tered the struc­ture of the hair, keep­ing it straight for weeks.

But ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Academy of Der­ma­tol­ogy, highly tex­tured, curly hair is, “by its na­ture, more frag­ile than nat­u­rally straight hair,” and “re­lax­ers make curly hair more frag­ile.”

By Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Just be­ing her­self: “My hair is an ex­ten­sion of me, and that's how it should be,” says en­ter­tainer Esper­anza Spald­ing. Reporter Rochelle Ritchie of West Palm Beach, Fla., went nat­u­ral af­ter years of straight­en­ing, braid­ing, wigs and ex­ten­sions.

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