Are protective hairstyles for Black women really protective? Here’s what experts say

Box braids. Cornrows. Bantu knots. Senegalese twists. Lace-front wigs. These are just some of the protective hairstyles Black women wear to take a “break” from daily maintenance or to simply switch up their look. But excessive pulling at the scalp and the repetitive nature of braiding and twisting strands without proper technique and care can lead to breakage, or even worse, hair loss.

The age-old belief that “pain is beauty” is deeply rooted in American culture, and it’s part of the reason why so many Black women are willing to sacrifice hours of suffering for the sake of looking good. But what about the damage it inflicts on their mental health?

Video Transcript

- No pain, no gain. Right?

- I'm thugging it out in the chair like-- [SIGHS]

- Holding onto the arm rest.

- Pop some pills.

- Did I say anything? No.

- Everything will be fine. No, it was not fine.

DERICK MONROE: For years, women have been told pretty hurts, from corsets to hairstyles. What good is it to have a beautiful style, but you're not comfortable? You could be a party with this amazing hairstyle. But the whole time all you can think about is how your head is hurting.

KARI WILLIAMS: We'll typically see a lot of hair loss around the hairline. And that is a result of a lot of the hairstyles that we wear as Black women. It can start and be temporary. But if that particular type of trauma is repeated over and over, it can cause and lead to permanent hair loss.

AFIYA MBILISHAKA: So hair loss can impact someone's mental health because it can impact self-esteem, low self-worth, sadness, and just fear that more will come out. And when we don't have hair, then there's potential for a disconnection with our environment and social world.

MELANIE FAUNTLEROY: So I'm thinking that's something that older women experienced, like 60 and older. But to be in your early 30s or even late 20s to be experiencing hair loss, I was feeling more frustrated than anything.

KARI WILLIAMS: I think that anyone, no matter what your ethnic background or race is, can identify that, when your hair is not looking good, you don't feel good. For Black women especially, throughout history, this particular aspect, our hair, has been under attack. Who we are as people are under attack that, when a Black woman is experiencing hair loss, there is a sense of loss of self.

AFIYA MBILISHAKA: I think that it really needs to be normalized because the research right now suggests that 47% of Black women experience hair loss at some point in their lifetime.

DERICK MONROE: It's been hard a lot of times. But if your hairstyle is that you're sort of born to do this, you're not just good at your craft, but you're also somewhat of a psychologist, you can tell that women are going through stuff emotionally. When they are losing their hair, they are, a lot of times, put themselves down a lot, I've noticed, like, oh, I'm not pretty or, oh, my hair looks a mess. And it's like, no.

As long as you take the time to nourish and figure out what your issues are and what your problems are, that's nothing that we can't overcome.

AFIYA MBILISHAKA: There are a few different steps that Black women can take to end hair loss. A major piece is self care. What's going on inside of our bodies can actually impact our hair and hair growth.

KARI WILLIAMS: To the Black women who are suffering from hair loss, I would encourage you to not lose hope and to seek help immediately.

MELANIE FAUNTLEROY: After watching the documentary, I'm realizing that it's a matter of being comfortable with just who you are and just being confident in that.

More From

  • Jillian Michaels 7-Minute Fitness Challenge, Day 4: Abs and Core

    Health and fitness expert Jillian Michaels created a 7-day challenge for Yahoo readers. Each day features a 7-minute calorie burning, strength building, confident boosting workout. Are you up to the challenge? This body-carving challenge is just the beginning. Michael’s is offering Yahoo Life readers an exclusive deal on her fitness app, which is stocked with a slew of effective 7-day workouts, and much more. Enjoy a free 7-day trial and a 3-month subscription for just $19.99 (usual price is $44.97), and 12-months for $59.99 (usual price is $179.88). Get the offer here, by cutting and pasting this link: jmfit.io

  • Sports Illustrated Swimsuit names Josephine Skriver 2020 Rookie of the Year

    Victoria’s Secret model Josephine Skriver named Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s “Rookie of the Year."

  • Five tips for preventing stress induced hair loss

    Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Michelle Henry discusses five tips for preventing stress-induced hair loss.

  • How does a vaccine work? An expert breaks it down

    Marya Ghazipura, epidemiologist and biostatician based in New York City talks to Yahoo Life about all things vaccines: What is a vaccine? How is it made? How long does it take? The purpose of a vaccine is to train our bodies to create an immune response to pathogens so that we can successfully neutralize a virus when we come in contact with it in the future. “A pathogen is a protein that’s foreign to your body, like a virus or bacteria,” Ghazipura explains. “The idea is that we want our bodies to create antibodies against it.” In order to create these antibodies to act as a defense mechanism, we first need to be exposed to the virus via an antigen in a vaccine. “Antigens are proteins that are on the surface of the virus, they look like the pathogen but they’re inactive or they’re weakened,” she says. Once we are exposed to these antigens via a vaccine, our bodies learn to recognize them as a hostile invader, creating antibodies to fight them off. “That way in the future when you’re challenged with the virus, your body already recognizes it as a foreign object, and it has adequate storage of antibodies to neutralize the virus,” Ghazipura tells Yahoo Life. “Vaccines don’t just work at an individual level, sure they protect us, but they also work at this population level,” she explains. “This results in something called herd immunity.” Ghazipura explains that if enough people are immune through vaccinations, the virus stops finding enough hosts and eventually starts dying out. That’s why it’s important that as many people as possible become vaccinated. Ghazipura says that the process to develop a virus is made up of 5 key phases that can take up to 5 years, but science is being expedited at unprecedented rates to stop the spread of COVID-19. Once all phases are complete including three levels of clinical trials involving thousands of volunteers, a vaccine is approved and moves on to mass production. Ghazipura says that although push back against science is at an all-time high, in order for a vaccine to work properly, we need everyone on board. “We want as few people as possible to be contagious, and in order to make that happen we need higher vaccine uptake,” Ghazipura says.