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You’re an African American woman who decided to go gray and natural. There’s nothing like the feeling of being free from hair color and chemicals. But gray and natural hair fall into the category of needing a lot of TLC. Natural gray hair is prone to dryness and breakage, making proper hair care and using the right products super important.

Going natural

Whether it is the big chop or the slow process of growing out chemically processed hair, more African American women are rocking their natural crown.

Going natural is emotionally challenging for many African American women. Eurocentric standards of beauty have led many African American women to use chemicals to straighten their hair. I was one of those women.

Terri HolleyMy natural hair was a mystery

As a little girl, my mother styled my hair with a press and curl. When my hair got longer, thicker, and too much to handle, she took me to the hairdresser for chemical straightening. I was 12 years old. This would be followed by 41 years of chemical straightening. I was 53 when I decided to go natural. I opted out of the big chop and slowly transitioned with frequent trims and lots of patience. After two years and six months (which seemed like an eternity), my natural hair emerged. It was the first time in my life I saw my natural curls. I have yet to go gray entirely, but I admire and adore my silver and natural sisters. 🙂

A huge step and a long journey

My transition to natural hair was hard. Styling and caring for two different hair textures was difficult. I would have done anything to make the process go faster, and I almost gave up. There was a lot of learning in the process, and for that, I am grateful.

I grew up during a time when many women of color felt pressured to adhere to societal norms, which meant hiding our naturally textured hair and using hair straightening treatments to fit in or be accepted. Eurocentric beauty standards shaped my beliefs about my body and hair. Going natural allowed me to challenge these beliefs and truly embrace what was naturally mine.

Going gray and/or natural – a hard decision for many women

When will the day come when our society does not judge women based on their appearance? When will the days end when women aren’t faced with the decision to color or straighten their hair to look younger or less ethnic?

Race-based hairstyles and discrimination

A study conducted by Dove in 2019 identified the magnitude of racial discrimination experienced by women in the workplace based on their natural hairstyle. The study included 1,017 Black women and 1,500 non-Black women ages 24-64. Here were some of the findings:

  • Black women are made to be more aware of corporate grooming policies than White women.
  • Black women are 8o% more likely to agree with the statement, “I have to change my hair from its natural state to fit in at the office.”
  • Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from the workplace because of their hair.
  • Black women’s hair is 3-4 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional and is consistently rated as less ready for job performance.

Ageism is alive and well

According to a study conducted by AARP, nearly 2 out of 3 workers aged 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job. It has also been shown that women experience the largest hardship when it comes to ageism. In a study conducted in 2015, researchers sent out 40,000 fictional resumes that responded to jobs in cities such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The study showed that callbacks were significantly higher for younger women.

Hope on the horizon?

More than 50 years after the passing of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, older workers are still experiencing discrimination. Adding to the problem is a 2009 Supreme Court decision that forced a much higher burden of proof on workers who are the targets of ageism.

The passing of The CROWN Act gives me hope. The CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) is legislation that was signed into law in 2019 to ensure protection against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles including braids, locks, twists, and knots in the workplace and public schools.

It’s time to end discrimination against race, gender, and age. Let’s work together to make that happen.

So let’s talk about caring for your gray and natural hair

Why does hair go gray?

The hair on our head is made up of a few parts.

The shaft is the colored part of your hair.

The root is the bottom part that keeps your hair attached to your scalp.

The cuticle surrounds each strand of hair.

The hair follicle capsulizes each strand of hair.

The hair follicle contains pigment cells that make melanin, the chemical that gives our hair color.

When we start to see gray, silver, and white hair, the pigment cells in our hair follicles have started to die. This gradual decline of pigment cells can be due to age, genetics, or other biological factors.

The fragility of gray, silver, white, and African American hair

When hair loses its natural color, the cuticle becomes thinner and the sebaceous glands that produce oil become less productive. This can leave gray, silver and white hair looking wiry and frizzy, as well as dull, dry, and brittle. African American hair is prone to dryness and damage due to its curly structure, which makes it harder for the oil produced by hair follicles to penetrate entire strands of hair.

Proper care is critical if your hair is both gray and natural.

Moisture is key for gray and natural hair

Moisture is vital when your hair is natural, gray, or both. Moisturizing treatments with enriching, natural ingredients can keep away dryness, frizziness, and breakage.

Deep conditioners do the trick

I indulge in weekly deep conditioning to keep my natural hair moisturized. My routine:

  • Wash my hair with a sulfate-free shampoo
  • Apply a deep conditioner
  • Place a plastic cap over my head
  • Sit under a dryer for 45 minutes
  • Rinse out
  • Apply a leave-in conditioner and seal lightly with oil
  • Style (usually a wash and go as shown in the picture above)

I am a product junky and have tried dozens of deep conditioners. Below are a few that I like. My hair is low porosity and a mix of 3B and 4A/B curls that are looser on the top and kinkier on the bottom and in the back. Every head of hair is different and responds differently to products. Experiment with a few products to see what works for you.

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tgin Honey Miracle Hair Mask Deep Conditioner with raw honey and olive oil is great for natural, dry and curly hair. Olive oil acts as a deep moisturizer by penetrating the hair shaft. Jojoba oil seals and locks moisture and adds shine. This deep conditioner is also a great detangler.

This is a wonderful, hydrating deep conditioner perfect for oily, curly hair. Ingredients include extracts of coconut, sugar cane, green tea, shea butter, and vitamin E. It is also a great detangler.

Aunt Jackie’s Coco Repair is a nourishing deep conditioner that is enriched with coconut and avocado oils along with mango and flaxseed that helps to repair and hydrate dry brittle hair.

Alikay Naturals Honey and Sage Deep Conditioner includes natural honey, babassu and sage, an excellent humectant combination. Honey pulls moisture from the air into hair and locks it into each strand. Babassu and sage, as well as extra virgin olive oil, add shine and softness. This is one of my favorites. It also smells great!

Curl Immersion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner is a super rich deep conditioning treatment that moisturizes, seals, and helps to restore natural curl formation while replenishing ceramides to help hair retain hydration and strength. It contains coconut, avocado, and grapeseed oils for maximum moisture. Great for kinky, curly hair. A little pricey, but it’s lovely.

Your natural gray hair will love this amazing deep conditioner. It is immersed with baobab oil, argan oil, organic peppermint oil, avocado oil, and organic aloe vera juice to strengthen and replenish moisture.