By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Sharie Wilson hired graduates of high-profile cosmetology schools to work at her salon, only to find they didn’t even know how to use a pressing comb.
Although more than half of Americans have kinky, curly or coily hair, Wilson found incoming licensed cosmetologists had limited exposure to textured hair. So she retrained them, teaching them everything from shampooing, to detangling and braiding ethnic hair.
This was the driving force that led her and three other salons to open a cosmetology school in South Sacramento, founding The Mixed Institute of Cosmetology and Barber in 2013.
“We knew what was lacking,” co-founder Carnette Burnett said. “So many schools only teach one or two [hair] textures. But here, our students are learning how to do all textures of hair – there is no ethnicity attached.”
As the first Black-owned cosmetology school in Sacramento to offer students federal financial aid, Mixed has graduated more than 300 salon-ready stylists and has more than 100 students enrolled. Its hands-on curriculum is designed to teach textured hair as a feature and not a challenge. While the school offers job placement assistance, students regularly go on to work at one of the four salons owned by the co-founders.
But changing the narrative around textured hair isn’t just about educating stylists. It begins with how the Black community views the hair on their own heads.
“We’re even afraid of our own hair because of the stereotypes we’ve been brainwashed with,” Wilson said. “The only difference between our hair and … straight hair is that our hair may take a little more time and patience.”
The school recently gave back to the South Sacramento community with its back-to-school event, “Free Haircut Friday,” which drew more than 100 locals who enjoyed free haircuts and manicures while being entertained by barber battles and perusing local vendors.
“Our decision to open the school in a predominantly African American community was very intentional,” Wilson said. “We are in the heart of South Sacramento because we want to give back to our community.”
During the event, THE OBSERVER picked the brains of the instructors and students for hair advice that can be used at home.
Alopecia Treatment And Prevention
Burnett co-owns Cheveux Artistry Hair Salon with her husband, Maurice Burnett. She named alopecia as a top concern.
According to a 2016 survey of 5,594 Black women, 47.6% reported suffering from the autoimmune condition that causes hair loss.
“Everyone needs to talk to a dermatologist to really find out why they are losing their hair,” Burnett advised. “But there are different types of alopecia [and] some of them can be treated in the salon.”
Traction alopecia is a preventable form of the condition that’s caused by damage to hair follicles from repeated tension or pulling. Burnett explained that when installed too tightly, weaves, braids and other styles that pull can lead to hair loss.
“There’s so many women getting their hair done by people who are not professionals and it’s taking their hair out,” Burnett said. “Hair is just like a plant. If you pull it out from the roots, it’s not going to grow back.”
Burnett recommended seeking licensed professionals to install such styles.
“The difference between a professional and the girl down the street is that the professional will see what’s happening and start reversing it before it gets worse,” she explained.
Covering The Grays
When it comes to covering grays, box dyes won’t cut it.
“Gray hair is stubborn hair,” said Burnett, who covers her grays. “If someone wants to completely cover their grays, it is imperative they go to a professional.”
Burnett explained that a more direct dye than the peroxide-heavy box dyes that lift color is needed to deposit color into gray hair.
“If you keep using those boxed dyes, you’re going to keep drying out your hair,” she said. “It’s going to become more brittle and you’re going to start losing it.”
For those who want to wear their gray – and keep it healthy – Burnett recommended regular shampoo and conditioning. She also said there are color treatments to enhance the natural gray hair.
“We also have whiteners that keep the hair pretty,” Burnett said. “At one point we thought we had to cover our grays. Not anymore. Everybody wants gray.”
Take Breaks Between Protective Styles
Aniya Griffin has shoulder-length braids framed with slicked-down baby hairs. After completing the two-year program, the 19-year-old graduates from Mixed Institute in October. She said it’s important to take breaks between braided hairstyles.
“Braids are a protective style but you have to let your hair breathe in between,” Griffin said. “Don’t just take them out and put them right back in.”
She said to use the time between stylings to trim the hair and moisturize. She suggested wearing styles like ponytails and buns in the interim. For those concerned with having their edges “laid,” Griffin encouraged using alcohol-free products.
“Use an edge control with flaxseed and no alcohol,” she said. “A lot of edge controls use alcohol and that’s another reason why your hair could come out.”
The Key To Length And Density Retention
Wilson co-owns DreamGirls Fine Hair Imports and Salon in Elk Grove with her sister, Tonya Thompson. The salon prides itself on helping textured hair grow.
“Our whole motto at DreamGirls is that if her hair can grow down to her butt, our client’s hair can grow down to her butt too,” Wilson said. “Watch us do it.”
Wilson named properly combing hair as the key to length and density retention.
“A lot of us lose our hair length because of how we comb it out,” Wilson said. “Our hair may grow in a protective style, but when we [comb out the style], we’re ripping it out.”
Simply put: Don’t comb hair when it is bone dry. Use a product that allows the hair to slip through the comb.
Wilson and her sister developed the “TLC Comb-Out Treatment,” a moisturizer and detangler used when taking out weaves, braids, ponytails — every time the hair is combed.
“In my salon, we make sure the hair is thick all the way from the top to the bottom,” Wilson said. “The [TLC comb-out] adds moisture and retention to your hair.”
Jaylah Tate is a student approaching the end of her first month at Mixed. She suggested using a wide-toothed comb and to “be gentle.”
“When you’re combing out your hair, always hold the roots, start from the ends and gradually work your way up,” Tate, 22, said. “The rougher you comb, the more hair you will take out.”
Razor Bumps Treatment And Prevention
Iyzick Webber rocks an afro and full beard. The 23-year-old has been in barber school at Mixed since April and offered tips on preventing razor bumps.
“You can use a little bit of aftershave after you cut,” Webber said. “But it just depends; everyone’s skin is different and you might have sensitive skin.”
Wilson also added to the conversation about razor bumps. She explained that curly hair loops back into the skin, causing bumps.
“Even women get razor bumps in different areas,” Wilson said. “One way to keep that from happening is to make sure you’re exfoliating. … A good esthetician can help you with that as well.”
Don’t Cross The Line
When it comes to the lineups, men are notoriously particular. But persnickety clients are not without warrant, the lineup is the most important part of the cut, said lead barber instructor DeAdrian Moore.
“We teach the barbers how to see the points of the line,” Moore said. He explained that the line should go to the middle of the eyebrow, where the hairline naturally is. “If a line is good, it will make the whole cut.”
For men with afros and longer natural hair, he recommended washing and deep conditioning weekly and moisturizing with a light oil.
“You have to understand that your hair is a living thing,” Moore said. “Washing and deep conditioning will help bring that hair back to life and free it of the debris floating through the hair.”
He also added an important note for durag-wearers: wash them.
“Durags are designed to breathe, but because you have grease built up there’s no ventilation,” Moore said. “That’s going to cause dandruff, irritation of the scalp and things of that nature.”
Prices of haircuts have skyrocketed in recent years, easily upwards of $40 at most Black barbershops. At Mixed, the public can get cut at a discount, with haircuts starting at $10. While the barber’s postgraduate prices will no doubt raise to market rates, Moore hopes to instill integrity in the barbers entering the industry.
“It’s not about the money – it’s about the skill. If you have the skill, the money will come,” Moore said. “Take pride in your work. Your name is on that cut.”
Healthy Hair Begins Inside
While each Mixed instructor and student shared a different tip on textured hair, many of them led with a similar message: healthy hair is an inside job. A healthy nutrient rich diet, drinking water, and vitamins were all mentioned over the course of the interviews.
Lorraine Jackson has short platinum blond hair and is the operations educational coordinator for Mixed. When asked what piece of advice she regularly gives, she turned the question on its head.
“I could give all regimens, but the main thing is to take care of yourself,” Jackson said. “No, everyone is not going to have the same hair texture, but when you take care of yourself, you feel better about yourself.”