By Marissa Johnson
Did you know that slaves put petroleum jelly on their scalps so that fleas, ticks, and annoying blood-suckers couldn’t feast on their blood at night? Well now you do. A lot of black women assume black women grease their scalps just because it’s what we’ve always done. You probably didn’t know that when you were sitting between momma’s legs while she put grease on your scalp.
Slaves used scarves and hair covers in an effort to keep cool or to get warmer, depending on the season. A slave did not get a lot of provisions when it came to their clothes, so they needed to wear scarves for extra protection from the elements. The scarves served double-duty by enabling women with bald spots from ringworm, skin infections, and other maladies to cover them up.
Today, we realize that satin scarves are a Godsend for black hair. They protect the hair from friction, prevent hair from drying out of its natural oils that fabrics like cotton tend to suck up, and help black hair retain length. Plus, it protects our ‘dos.
So if we’re not worried about blood-sucking vermin, ringworms, and skin infections, is it really necessary for us to grease our scalps? The answer varies.
About.com’s Style Section says greasing your scalp is up to you, but on the whole, it’s not necessary. About insists that it’s the hair that needs the moisture, not your scalp—and to grease your scalp if you’d like with natural oils such as jojoba and coconut. About also suggests you do this only as needed for your particular scalp needs.
Black Hair Media also agrees that black hair needs oil. It says petroleum and mineral-based oils clog up the scalp, attract dirt, and deter hair growth, so it is a myth that black hair needs grease.
On the other-hand, the creator of the popular natural hair care blog, Coily Queens Rock, insists petroleum is in fact natural. She points to the fact that black women have been oiling their hair and have managed to have long hair long before the natural hair care movement. She further asserts petroleum is a natural compound and is of the Earth and is therefore safe. She denies it clogs scalp pores in one of her blog entries.
Now you know the truth about the history of why black women oil their hair. But is it necessary? The jury is still out on that one. Hair care experts do agree, however, that like our slave ancestors, wrapping the hair up is one of the best things you can do to care for your hair and scalp.