Exploring The Natural Hair Treatment In Nigerian Salons; Rational or Discriminatory?

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People who had natural hair when straight hair was the ideal hair type have had it tough. Hairdressers had no prior knowledge of how to treat natural hair – especially ones with tighter curls, natural hair products and informative tutorials on how to handle tough bristles were lacking. For women with natural hair, finding the ideal hairdresser who would be gentle on your hair, or use the right products for your hair type is like finding a needle in a haystack. Hairstylists just slap a higher charge because your hair is natural amongst other qualities.    

Walk into an average Nigerian salon and tell the stylist you want to get your hair done, she gauges your hair using her eyes and fingers based on these features; texture, length and density. You proceed to tell them your preferred hairstyle and an extra price is added if your hair looks demanding i.e ‘natural hair’ or ‘virgin hair’ as it is commonly called. For instance, if you have thick natural hair and you want to do a time-consuming hairstyle like single braids with hair extensions, chances are you will be charged more for the number or amount of products used in taking care of your hair and the time that was spent making your hair. An Artist, Samantha Akintoju, went natural in 2013. She says “when I went to the hair salon recently, I told the hair stylist the hairstyle I want and asked for the cost. She asked if my hair was the virgin type. I told her it was. She paused and from the cost, it was higher than what I usually paid. I told her how much I was willing to pay and we eventually agreed”. 

In most cases, due to a lack of understanding, many Nigerian hairstylists treat hair with negligence. Most handle natural hair as they would straight hair which should not be so due to the different hair textures and qualities. Sometimes,  hairstylists use the wrong tools to handle the tough bristles or they comb out the hair without initially prepping the hair to make the combing smooth. This is a nightmare for people with natural hair, and due to this, many would rather not visit a salon. Some hairdressers also prefer people to come to the salon with their natural hair already straightened and ready to be styled because of the stress that presumably accompanies tough hair. On what hair type is easier to make, Basirat Olasupo, a hairdresser at Bee Daisy salon says “unlike natural hair, relaxed hair is easier to do and it’s not as painful. Some natural hair is difficult, and some are dry, but relaxed hair is easier to do. You can easily put a serum on straighter hair, it will soften and you are good to go. As for natural hair, It’s not all products that work for it”. PanAfrican University student, Somto Kalu believes natural hair is stressful and hairstylists barely took proper care of her hair. She said “I never really used to go to the salon to do my natural hair or carry my natural hair out. The few times I went, they never cared for my hair properly.”

While this setback existed for a long time, social media played a role in the turnaround towards natural hair. The natural hair movement was first popularized and glorified by YouTube influencers in the 2010s. As a result of the lack of content on natural hair on YouTube, YouTuber Whitney White started off by creating a personal channel to document her natural hair journey. Soon, the natural hair movement spread, fans joined in and the movement became global. Since then, more people went natural and YouTubers with natural hair created natural hair content to educate people on the different natural hair textures, styling and caring for their natural hair. Companies that originally sold hair products reserved for straight hair became inclusive of natural hair products. New hair companies created products solely for natural hair and salons became a little more accepting of hair texture. These days, it will be easier to find salons that are more accepting of the tough hair texture than you would have about ten years ago. According to Basirat, Bee Daisy salon does not add extra costs for people with natural hair and at the salon, natural hair products are available for people with natural hair. She says, “not exactly, except they want to do special treatment for it but making natural hair, it’s the same price. When people with natural hair come in, we have products that we use for them, it is easier to do and maintain”. 

One of the common debates is if it’s right to place extra fees on natural hair in the salon. For some, the pattern of charging extra fees for natural hair has been viewed as discriminatory. Basirat believes it’s not discriminatory to charge people with natural hair more. She says, “the process is long and there are some complicated hairstyles which would take more time. You can finish the hair of two people with relaxed hair before you finish one person with natural hair”. Kessy Morrison, a Human Resource Officer, does not think it is reasonable to charge extra fees for natural hair. She says “I think hair is hair regardless and if you are a professional, you shouldn’t charge somebody higher because they have a different texture. You should only charge the person based on the style the person wants to do, that’s if the hairstyle is complicated, not charge them higher because they brought natural hair to your salon.” Somto Kalu recently switched from natural to relaxed hair after 6 years, she holds a different opinion, “natural hair is really stressful, it takes more energy and products to maintain than relaxed hair so you have to charge for the time you will spend making the hair, the efforts you will put in and the products you will use to make the hair.” Barbara Chukwu’s view tallies with Somto. She says, “if you think about it, the time they could spend doing my hair, they could spend it doing two people’s hair so I am kind of shortening their income for the day. I don’t like it but I can understand it.”

While a resolution on if people with natural hair should be charged more in salons may not be reached due to personal views and experience, most salons in Nigeria need education on how to handle and treat natural hair. Some people do not want to keep straight hair and Nigerian salons should be more understanding and accommodating of that instead of subjecting them to intense pain. Kessy Morrison and Barbara Chukwu intend on wearing natural hair for a long time, but Somto Kalu doesn’t have any plans of going back to natural hair. She says “I would not go back to my natural hair except I get bored of this. I don’t think the stress is worth it.”