USA TODAY US Edition

‘Natural’ hair is making waves

More black women comb out chemicals

- 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.
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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