"Good hair" and "bad hair" are phrases that for decades have been used in the black community to describe a person's preference in texture and style, but Lexington stylists who focus on ethnic hair care agree that there is no such thing as good hair and bad hair, only your hair and the way you take care of it.
The black hair industry — like the personal-care business in general — has evolved over decades, and more women are looking to embrace their hair — whether relaxed, natural, braided or in any other style — and wear it the healthiest way possible.
Today, there are products, techniques and treatments that were not available only a few decades ago. But the experience of navigating them can be, um, hair-raising.
Melanie Day of You've Got Curls, Odilia Chindo of Smart Braids in Lexington and Anetra Polk of Stylin' on Regency weighed in on caring for black hair and how to get it looking and feeling its best for summer.
More and more black women are going back to their roots, literally. They have chosen to cut off their processed, straightened hair and grow it in its natural state, curls and all.
Day, 28, a licensed cosmetologist, specializes in all ethnicities of hair and hair care.
At Twisted Salon on Malabu Drive, Day founded the You've Got Curls & Hair Loss Center and started the Hair Matters: Live Curly workshop, dedicated to helping women learn about their hair and love their curls.
"I am here as a guide to assist clients with their hair concerns, because hair is a journey," she said.
More women are wearing their hair in its natural state and steer clear of the chemicals used to relax hair. Day called it "the journey back to me."
One part of that process is learning how to style natural hair after wearing it straightened for so long.
Day said a good style starts in the shower.
"Shampooing and conditioning hair is the foundation of the style," she said.
She suggested organic and low-sulfate products to clean hair and keep it moisturized.
Day said using essential oils like tea tree oil and peppermint is a way to cleanse the scalp naturally.
She sees a lot of women this summer wearing their hair in what are called "protective" styles, such as braids or weaves. Protective styles are those that require little manipulation of the hair, giving tresses a break from daily styling and encouraging hair growth.
Braids and twists are popular looks among women for defining the curl pattern, or the way curls grow on a spectrum from wavy to coily.
For nights out, the bouffant and Mohawk are styles of choice for women with longer hair. But for women who recently did the big chop, Day said, she has noticed that they are making use of scarves and other accessories to highlight their natural curls.
"There are endless possibilities for natural hair. It all depends on your mood that day," she said.
Day lived most of her life with natural hair except for one time during her cosmetology training when she was required to relax her hair to pass the course.
"In beauty school, it wasn't really conducive to learn about textured hair," Day said.
Day, then 17, grew out her hair with weaves and braids, and at age 28, she continues to wear it natural.
Growing her natural hair was a journey, she said, and she urged those growing their hair to "stay strong, and stay focused. Some days you won't want to look in a mirror, but know it pays off."
Braids have become an increasingly popular protective style among women in Kentucky, said Chindo, 37, a professional stylist at Smart Braids who has practiced the craft for years.
Braiding is a part of the culture from her upbringing in Douala, Cameroon.
"Black hair art is the way we black people manage our hair," she said.
Hair and fashion trend-setters including Solange Knowles have inspired women to reclaim the braided look once left in the '90s (think: Janet Jackson in the movie Poetic Justice and R&B singer Brandi).
There are several variations of braids and a sea of style possibilities with or without using extension hair.
Styles called box braids, tree braids, Havana twists and Senegalese twists are among the most popular looks with extension hair this summer, Chindo said.
Women are taking them to great lengths, wearing their braids or twists down their backs or longer. However, Chindo said, long hair is not the most ideal in the summer heat.
Bouffants, oversize buns and a number of creative up-dos that get the hair off the neck can be worn to keep women cooler yet stylish.
Chindo said the creativity in hairdos is because there is no formula for making a good style with braids.
"You just need to play with your braids to bring a style from it," she said.
As for maintenance, she suggested women wash their braids every week or two to ensure the scalp is clean and the hair is moisturized.
She recommended Sulfur 8 brand products to keep hair healthy and protected underneath braids, and oil sheen to maintain luster.
Despite the rise of the natural hair care movement, women continue to relax, or chemically straighten, their hair.
Polk, 27, is a licensed cosmetologist at Stylin' On Regency salon and has been practicing since 2007.
Relaxed hair dries out easily and sheds more than any other hair because of the porosity of black hair and the strength of chemical relaxers, she said.
The tendency for relaxed hair to dry and break doubles in the summer because of exposure to sun, saltwater and chemicals in pool water, Polk said. That threat can cause women with relaxed hair to steer clear of the swimming pool, but that's not necessary, she said.
"Before you go into the water, spray your hair with a leave-in conditioner" to avoid breakage and drying, Polk said. The conditioner can be a simple mix of water and a favorite conditioner.
"What the leave-in does is it actually seals the cuticle down," Polk said.
Sealing the cuticle, or the outermost part of the hair shaft, prevents split ends and protects hair from breaking at the shaft.
After swimming, she said, women should wash their hair with a clarifying shampoo to get rid of salt and chemicals. To add moisture back to the hair, "co-wash," or use a conditioner as a cleansing agent.
Polk suggested alternating between washing and co-washing to keep hair clean and moisturized.
ABOUT CURL TYPES
Knowing the curl pattern or type of your hair will help determine what products are best, what maintenance is necessary and even how much heat to apply, stylists say.
According to the most widely used system, hair ranges from Type 1 (straight) to Type 4 (very curly). Black women's natural hair is most often Type 3 or 4.
"One way is to feel the hair for tightness and texture," Melanie Day of You've Got Curls said of determining your curl pattern. "Type 4 hair may feel more like wool, while Type 3 may feel more like cotton or silk."
Type 3 curls make an S or Z pattern and also frizzes more with humidity, according to the website for the 3 Sisters of Nature line of hair products. Type 4 curls are coily or kinky, and the hair strands are fragile and dry and need to be moisturized and hydrated to prevent breakage.
All types have subcategories — A, B and C — that further specify curl patterns.
Day said the best time to see your curl pattern is after hair has been washed and dried without any product in it.
There are online resources including YouTube videos and bloggers to help women with similar curl patterns figure out their hair types, but Day said the best way to determine it is to consult a professional stylist.
Weaves have become an increasingly popular way to protect hair during the summer.
To create a weave, hair is braided into cornrows, and tracks of hair are sewn into the braids, hence the nickname "sew-in."
"Most celebrities on the red carpet are wearing weaves or extensions," Anetra Polk of Stylin on Regency said.
Polk advises weave wearers to use a squeeze bottle with a long spout, such as the ones stylists use to apply hair color, to cleanse their hair underneath.
Polk says the trend she notices in weaves is that people are choosing lengths of 20 to 30 inches of hair.
"Find hair that blends, first and foremost," Polk said, and working within a budget and doing research also are key.
Polk suggests purchasing a sample if available to test how the hair blends with your own hair. To ensure that hair extensions are blendable, look at luster and texture.
To keep hair under the sew-in healthy condition in and out of the water, Polk suggests that, before swimming, the wearer use a leave-in conditioner, which could be a simple mix of a favorite conditioner and water. Afterward, wash with a clarifying shampoo and conditioner.
"Dilute the conditioner with water and spray it down into the braids," Polk says about applying leave-in conditioner. "As long as you keep the moisture in the hair, that is what's going to keep the hair fresh."
Polk said a clean scalp and clean weave can help hair growth and make your summer sew-in a lot less hassle.
Melanie Day and her advice on natural hair: Gotcurls.com.
Anetra Polk and her tips on relaxed hair or weaves: Anetrapolk.com.