Studies Examine Hair Issues Of African-American Females

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Hair has long fascinated people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. In particular, recent studies have looked at the impact of hair on physical exercise as well as scalp diseases.

One study by a team of investigators from Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, found that hair practices could limit physical activity for some African-American women; the researchers surveyed the women on their hair care practices and their physical activity. 103 African-American women participated in the study, and the researchers discovered that almost 40 percent of the study subjects purposely did not exercise because of their hair. The research findings were recently published in the Archives of Dermatology.

“There are a lot of barriers to getting enough exercise among men and women of all ethnicities, including finding time, meeting child care needs, and cost and safety,” the study´s author Dr. Amy McMichael, a professor of Dermatology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, told U.S. News. “But we found that hair concerns among African-American women is itself a real issue that needs to be added to the list.”

The findings are especially important as increased exercise can lead to a reduction of obesity. In particular, sufficient physical activity (PA) is either 150 minutes per week of moderately physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. However, African-Americans may not meet this exercise criteria as they fear sweating or messing up a popular hairstyle that may have been costly to them.

“Hair maintenance in African-American women in this study limited their participation in PA with more than half of the women exercising less than 75 minutes/week and 26.2 percent reporting 0 minutes of exercise per week,” wrote the authors in a prepared statement.

Popular hair styles for African-American women include braids, dreadlocks and hair weaves which can add physical stress to hair. A majority of the women (62.1 percent) had their hair in a relaxed style that was chemically straightened. As well, many of the ladies (81.6 percent) would wash their hair every one to two weeks. Of the women interviewed, 35.9 percent stated that they avoided swimming or other water activities due to concerns of their hair. Furthermore, 29.1 percent stated that they avoided any gym or aerobic activities due to the same hair concerns. Interestingly enough, females who had normal scalps that were not dry nor oily had a greater chance of participating in aerobic activities or visiting the gym than their counterparts who were concerned about their scalp.

“Effective strategies to promote PA in African-American women, known to disproportionately have obesity and associated sedentary diseases, must include addressing dermatologic barriers to PA with strategies that address hairstyle maintenance. The high percentage of African-American women with baseline scalp complaints suggests that dermatologists need to consider these symptoms when providing care for African-American women,” continued the authors in the statement.

The other study on hair practices of African-American females was completed by scientists at the Henry Ford Health System. They discovered that style practices can cause significant hair and scalp diseases for some African-Americans. However, hair grows slower and at a lower hair density for African-Americans.

“Hair is an extremely important aspect of an African-American woman’s appearance,” remarked Dr. Diane Jackson-Richards, a dermatologist and director of Henry Ford’s Multicultural Dermatology Clinic, in a prepared statement. “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.”

The researchers believe that, with the proper hair care, individuals can stop the development of diseases like alopecia and seborrheic dermatitis.

“Hair loss is the fifth most common condition cited by patients when they visit their dermatologist,” continued Jackson-Richards in the statement.

They state the importance of studying physiologic characteristics of African texture hair in terms of developing treatment options. The team of investigators also provided a list of grooming tips for African-American females including, washing hair on a weekly basis with shampoo and conditioner, limiting the use of blow dryers and hot combs to once a week, keeping a two week gap between relaxing and coloring, detangling hair with a wide tooth comb, as well as utilizing natural hair oils like coconut oils, olive, jojoba, and shea. With these grooming tips, it is possible that patients can help lower the risk of later having hair or scalp disease.

According to Med Page Today, there are certain limitations to the study done by the Henry Ford Health System. For example, the study cannot be generalized to African-American females who live in other parts of the country. As well, the study participants were recruited from a dermatology clinic and there may have been an overrepresentation of individuals with hair or scalp issues.