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Black Iowans have struggled to embrace and appreciate the texture and beauty of their own hair because of white American beauty standards, bias and racism, they said. But the growing natural hair movement has inspired many Blacks to rock braids, locs and cornrows — and to abandon their reliance on the chemical relaxers/perms of their youth — used for ease, and in part, to assimilate into American culture. With a dizzying number of styles possible through protective natural hairstyles and wigs and weaves, Black Iowa hair professionals use their talents to ensure their clients’ hair is thriving. They shared their hair recommendations with Black Iowa News.
West Des Moines barber Martavious Clayton notices his clients get a boost of confidence when they leave his chair with a healthy, fresh fade.
“Even their walk changes. Their posture changes,” said the barber of 15 years. “It builds up their confidence.”
Sioux City braid studio owner Tene Williams knows Black women prize the versatility that natural hairstyles, wigs and weaves provide but said it all begins with their own healthy hair.
“I like to compare our hair to the plants outside,” she said. “It gets water. It gets sunlight, and it grows. That’s the same way you have to treat your hair, you have to wash it, you have to oil it.”
Hair loss expert Cortney Ewing hears from clients who lament having had a lot of hair when they were younger but are now coping with hair loss.
“The biggest issue I come across is the lack of education,” she said. “I believe with the proper education Blacks having healthy hair would be a no-brainer.”
Dubuque boutique owner Erica Brewer has expertise in braiding hair, installing wigs and weaves and applying mink lashes. Prepping the hair before getting the latest style is a necessity, she said.
“Especially if you’re getting hair added — always wash your hair and deep condition it before,” she said.
Clayton is a barber at Platinum Signature Barbershop in West Des Moines. Williams owns AM/PM Braiding Studio LLC in Sioux City. Ewing is a certified hair loss practitioner and certified associate trichologist who owns and operates Arukah Hair Loss Center in West Des Moines. Brewer is CEO and owner of Belle Allure Minkz and Boutique in Dubuque. They agree beautiful Black hair is achievable with good habits and great products.
Tene Williams owns AM/PM Braiding Studio LLC in Sioux City, Iowa
Tene Williams owns AM/PM Braiding Studio LLC in Sioux City. Photo courtesy of Williams.
Williams said Blacks' hair tends to be drier, is delicate and is in need of protection. She advises drinking more water, taking hair vitamins and getting more sleep — for starters.
“You have to take care of yourself,” said the Baton Rouge, Louisiana native, who moved to Iowa in 2020. “Your diet is what’s going to help your hair grow.”
Washing your hair regularly is also important, but never blow dry hair without a heat protectant, she said. Also, don’t rake a comb through dry hair, she said.
“You need to run it through while it’s wet,” she said. “And then you need to moisturize it. If it’s matting up, then it’s not moisturized.”
Using products catered to Black hair is also essential, she said. Design Essentials and Aphogee are two lesser-known product lines for Black hair she recommends.
Braided styles are super popular, but some maintenance is still required, she said.
“A common misconception about braids is that braids grow your hair,” she said. “Not necessarily. Not that way people think. It’s more so the oils that you utilize while your hair is getting braided. If you’re not oiling your hair, you’re causing more damage to it than before you got the braids.”
Oils must be massaged through the hair, she added.
“Massage is going to cause circulation, blood flow and stimulate it, increasing the opportunity for growth,” she said. “You’ve got to take time to give that hair some tender-loving care.”
Martavious Clayton, Platinum Signature Barbershop in West Des Moines, Iowa
"The Perfectionist" Martavious Clayton is a barber at Platinum Signature Barbershop in West Des Moines. Photo by Black Iowa News.
The basis for a fresh fade starts with clean, healthy hair said Clayton, who recently gave free back-to-school haircuts to a long line of students during J-ROCK the Block in Johnston, a back-to-school event held on Aug. 21.
Clayton, once nicknamed “The Perfectionist” for his painstaking haircuts, learned about Black hair professionally from the elder barbers who visited his barber college, taking care of his own hair and giving haircuts to others. Fades are a part of Black culture, he said.
“I think when we were young, our moms took care of our hair, so our hair was super nice,” he said. “When we get older, we veer away from our parents taking care of our hair, and it’s all on us.”
And that shift in care can lead to problems, he said. Clayton’s psychology degree from William Penn University comes in handy with his faithful regulars, who are primarily Black, white and Latino.
“Some men don’t realize that you have to make sure your hair is moisturized,” he said. “The scalp is just like the skin on our body. If we don’t put lotion on our body, it can become flaky and scaly. Our hair’s got to stay moisturized. Our scalp’s got to stay moisturized so our hair can grow and stay flexible.”
Men should wash and moisturize their hair every three or four days, he said. He recommends products by Avalon’s As I Am and KeraCare.
“Those two products are very good for our hair,” he said.
Cortney Ewing, Arukah Hair Loss Center in West Des Moines
Cortney Ewing is a certified hair loss practitioner and certified associate trichologist at Arukah Hair Loss Center in West Des Moines. Photo courtesy of Ewing.
Alopecia began trending on social media after Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, and Will Smith slapped him at the Oscars. Hair loss, however, is no laughing matter. Arukah seeks to reverse alopecia through education, products, treatments and services, according to Ewing’s website.
“Too tight hairstyles,” products with harmful chemicals and the improper use of relaxers contribute to poor hair health and hair loss," said Ewing, a US Trichology Institute graduate. Trichology is the study of the hair and scalp and a bridge between cosmetology and dermatology, according to Ewing's website.
“Protein treatments are a must,” she said.
She added: “For example, knowing our hair porosity is key to knowing how to properly take care of it.” Porosity describes the ability of the hair to retain moisture, according to the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists.
Ewing's clients request consultations with her to seek solutions to their hair loss, including Low Level Laser Therapy to get their hair back on the right path. Many people have a “love/hate” relationship with their hair, she said.
“When my clients talk to me about different hairstyles, it’s along the lines of asking if a certain style or technique is damaging,” she said.
“The styles and hair habits prominent in the Black community are the cause of a lot of our hair loss,” she added.
Erica Brewer, Belle Allure Minkz and Boutique in Dubuque
Gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear and Erica Brewer, owner of Belle Allure Minkz and Boutique in Dubuque. Photo courtesy of Brewer.
Last April, Brewer received the 2022 Deb Dalziel Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award from America’s SBDC Iowa. She’s also the first and outgoing president of the BIPOC Leader and Professional Collective. Brewer’s expertise is in lash extensions, and she is a certified natural hair braider.
Photo courtesy of Brewer.
The Chicago, Illinois, native said it’s important for Black women to protect their own hair underneath wigs and weaves. Pricey lace frontals and weaves can handle the high heat and vibrant colors that would severely harm one’s own natural hair, she said. She encourages wig and weave-wearers to place a protective shield over their own hair first before they begin attaching wigs, weaves and glue.
“When you’re applying your track hair, putting glue on it and putting it directly on your scalp is the worst thing you can do,” she said. “I used to do it when I was younger. You end up with lost edges. A lot of lost edges.”
She also cautions women against over-reliance on heat styling. Heat higher than 375 degrees can be used on Brazilian or Malaysian hair bundles, she said, but not on “our real hair.”
“It burns and just damages your hair,” she said.
In between styles, she recommends thorough washings, deep conditioning treatments and rice water rinses.
“I put that in my hair, put a bag over my head and I will sit there and let it soak in for like 45 minutes,” said Brewer, who opened her boutique in 2020.
She also recommends clipping the ends of the hair to promote growth. She likes products by Bella Curls, Cantu and Motions.
“Those are my go-tos,” she said.
Iowa Natural Hair Braiding Registry
Coming up: The CROWN Act, Chemicals in Black Hair Products and the Culture of Black Hair.
Top banner: Aniyah Talbert, 9, who attends third grade in the Johnston School District, gets cornrows by braider Shellanda Johnson during J-ROCK the Block's back-to-school event held Aug. 21. Photo by Black Iowa News.
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