Henry Ford Hospital dermatologist Diane Jackson-Richards, M.D., who is the director of the Multicultural Dermatology Clinic, states that some African Americans can develop serious hair and scalp diseases through styling practices, saying:

"Hair is an extremely important aspect of an African-American woman's appearance. Yet, many women who have a hair or scalp disease do not feel their physician takes them seriously. Physicians should become more familiar with the culturally accepted treatments for these diseases."

According to Dr. Jackson-Richards, proper hair care can help prevent diseases, such as seborrheic dermatitis and alopecia. Dermatologists need to become more sensitive to the hair and scalp problems in African American people. 

At the annual American Academy of Dermatology conference in San Diego, Dr. Jackson-Richards will discuss these issues during a presentation of "Hair Disease and the African-American Patient". She states that, so far, there has only been limited research regarding the prevalence and causes of hair and scalp diseases in African Americans, but understanding the unique physiologic characteristics of African textured hair, for instance, that it grows slower and has a lower hair density compared with other ethnic groups, will help dermatologists in selecting the right treatment options.

African-American women's hair is washed less often than the hair of other ethnic groups, and approximately 80% of African Americans use chemical relaxers. Their hair suffers from the frequent use of blow dryers and hot combs, together with having fashionable hairstyles, such as hair weaves, braids and dreadlocks. All these factors subject the hair to added physical stress and contribute to scalp diseases, such as alopecia, or hair loss.

Dr. Jackson-Richards says:

"Hair loss is the fifth most common condition cited by patients when they visit their dermatologist."

She has developed some grooming tips for African American patients that lower the risk of developing a hair or scalp disease:
  • Braids or dreadlocks should be washed every two weeks.

  • Braids should not be worn too tightly and not for longer than three months. 

  • Use a wide-tooth comb to detangle the hair whilst the conditioner is still in the hair.

  • Do not use blow dryers, hot combs and other heated hair styling products more than once a week.

  • Hair should be washed once a week using a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner.

  • Allow two weeks between relaxing and coloring.

  • Keep your hair moist with natural hair oils containing jojoba, olive, shea or coconut oils
Written by Petra Rattue