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'Hair today, gone tomorrow!'

BEFORE AND AFTER: Sky World News presenter Lukwesa Burak

AS BLACK women, our hair is very important to us. Hair is important to most people, but it is no secret that us women of colour take pride in our crowning glory.

Many of us go to great lengths to make sure that our mane stays luxurious, even if it means using potentially harmful chemicals and extreme heat. We spend billions of pounds on hair care products, both in England and the US, but do we really know how to look after our precious tresses?

According to Sky World News anchor Lukwesa Burak, the majority of us do not know how to look after our hair. As a black news presenter, who made the decision to wear her hair natural, Burak went through a life-changing odyssey as she tried to achieve the ‘ideal’ head of hair.

Now, after finding her perfect style, the mother-of-two has founded Gidore, a black hair care company that focuses on helping people to prevent hair loss.

Healthy hair has always been something that Burak has struggled to maintain, due to a severe episode of bullying at school. [Warning – Burak’s description of her hair loss is quite graphic].

“I was born in Zambia, lived in Zimbabwe but I came to Britain when I was eight-years-old,” says 37-year-old Burak. “I was the only black child in my school and the village and I was bullied relentlessly. I went through so much stress I had developed a stress-induced psoriasis [scalp condition].

“It started off as itchiness; I thought it was just dandruff. My mother put on Vaseline on it but it didn’t get better. Then I had this crust develop on my scalp, and it was about a centimeter thick and my hair couldn’t grow through. Underneath was a thick mold and it was all spongy. When that fell off, it took my hair with it, and my head was pink. I had great big patches coming out and it used to smell. It was like I was rotting.”

Luckily for Burak, her family moved back to Zimbabwe and within a month, her hair started to grow back.

“I had it canerowed so it would grow and eventually, my hair came back. But it wasn’t as strong as it had been before.”

Despite the fact that her hair scalp was damaged, a teenage Burak buckled under the pressure of wanting straight hair and decided to relax it – to disastrous consequences.

“In my teenage years I wanted hair like the rest of my friends at school, so I had it relaxed. It wasn’t long before my hair was all gone. It burnt my scalp and I had chemical burns on the back of my neck. But after it grew back, I tried it [a relaxer] again. The second time around, my hair just broke so I cut it all off and went to university with natural hair.”

Though she was content with her natural look for some time, it was her decision to enter the media industry that made her question her image once more. Like many, Bukara believed that in order to work in the media, she’d have to adhere to a specific image. Namely, a European look, complete with sleek, straight hair.

“When I started working in the media, I went through the whole thing of thinking ‘Oh my God, how do I look? Everybody has this nice, shiny, straight hair.’ So I went for a middle ground and decided to texturize my hair. [A texurizer is a milder form of a relaxer that loosens the hair’s natural curls.]

“It worked, but because my hair was fragile, it broke a lot. I would texturize it and put it in rollers, but then my hairline started to break. Then I had enough; I wanted to cut off my hair. I told everybody at work and to my surprise, they said fine. They said they were happy, because it was my natural hair and they didn’t think one type of hair was more acceptable than another. In fact, they didn’t know why I thought it would make a difference."

“I walked away dumbfounded. I assumed they wanted me to look a particular way and I got it all wrong. I had a prejudice within me and thought they wouldn’t want me with my natural hair.”

This was a turning point for the news presenter in terms of the way she viewed hair. After undergoing the big chop, she posted images on her website and received a variety of comments.

“I had some messages saying I was looking great, and more lovely feedback like that. I was quite nervous because of the public profile; some people can be nasty. I had one man post a comment saying, ‘You look like a dog with your flat nose and your short hair’, and I just thought, ‘mate, you’re off!’”

As a result of cutting her hair, Burak was inundated with questions about how to look after natural hair and a company was born.

“I started the business because women contacted me, saying they were losing their hair and asking what would I recommend. I got on the phone and went to meet a lot of people and put something together to answer all the questions.

“So we have since put together numerous black hair and scalp health seminars and we cover issues including menopausal hair loss and balding from medication or pregnancy. There’s a difference between shedding and balding. A lot of people suffer from alopecia, but there are so many different kinds. Also, diet is something that needs to be addressed.”

One aspect of hair care that is often overlooked is mixed race hair. In fact, a number of parents of mixed race children have contacted Burak asking for help.

“I’ve had emails from parents and grandparents who do not know how to look after the hair of their mixed race children. They have tried everything, but they don’t know how to look after their hair and nobody listens to them. They feel invisible.”

The seminars are not just for people with natural hair. Anyone who has a problem with their mane can seek help from celebrity trichologists and award winning stylists, who will be on hand to show women and men how to care for their hair.
“You can’t lecture anybody about what they should and shouldn’t do [with their hair], Burak concludes. “But you can give them the information and then let them make their own choice.”

The next seminar will take place at The Swiss Church, 79 Endell Street, London WC2 on March 31. For more information visit www.gidore.com

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