Advocacy isn't as hard as you think: here's how I make a difference in people's lives by sharing my story with politicians.
Published On: Jan 31, 2022
Last Updated On: Jan 31, 2022
When I was 14 years old my hair started to fall out because of my seborrheic dermatitis.
Any time I washed my hair by myself, my scalp would itch so badly I would scratch and scratch. The itching was so bad that I could not stop scratching.
Because I was in high school, I felt so embarrassed and hoped that no one would notice the scratching. We didn’t know what it was. Parts of my scalp turned grey around my hairline: it was so noticeable and see-through, and eventually I lost all my hair.
One of the interesting things about being Black is the various skin hues and hair textures that exist. If you’re mixed race, you might have softer texture or curlier hair. My dad is Jamaican and my mom is Trinidadian, and my hair would fall into the category of “kinky,” which requires straightening or a lighter, spongy and more manageable hair texture. Being a person of color can sometimes mean we have a naturally drier scalp, and because it’s dry already, at least for me, it accelerated the itch-scratch-cycle because I didn’t know what to put on it—anything I tried could potentially irritate my scalp.
My mom owned her own hair salon since she was 19 and tried everything possible to help me get my hair back on track. Our family would ask: “what’s going on with her hair?” In my own way, I confidently smiled and assured them everything was okay. As I reflect back, I remember perm-days so vividly when my mother would have to rinse any product off my scalp because of how badly it burned. I had open sores and scabs and when the product was applied to my scalp, it felt like fire and intense burning. On a scale of 1-10, the pain was a 9.5: unbearable. My mother also tried no-lye relaxers.
This went on for about 10 years.
When I was in my early twenties, we finally went to the Cleveland Clinic and I met a dermatologist—I can even remember her name to this day—Dr. Afsa Akshar, who gave me a diagnosis of eczema on my scalp.
This was the best and most hopeful moment of my life. All of the research and waiting had paid off.
With her help, we started to figure it out. Now, what I do: I don’t use those old products anymore; I maintain a care balance with the oil in my skin. And I realized there were certain foods that were making my skin more oily, especially my scalp. For me, after all my research, it was prepackaged foods that triggered my oily skin.
Now, I don’t eat any preservatives. I make all my own meals. Anything that has a shelf-life that could outlive me, I’m like: NO. If it’s in a bag, I’m going to stay away from it. No sweeteners. Only real food. And that helps me maintain my oil balance.
My mother also helped teach me how important it was to “base” my scalp. For someone who might have seborrheic dermatitis but not yet realize it, I would recommend trying to base your scalp to see if it cools down the itching.
A typical hair regimen for a person of color looks like this: wash your hair, part it, and apply sheen; we don’t have a lot of oil in our hair naturally, so it replenishes the oil. But with such a sensitive scalp, what works for me is to base my scalp with petroleum jelly on the part, then put product over the top of my hair versus directly on the scalp. We did that for a few years and it helped. Even now, with my eczema under control, I still base my scalp out of fear.
Anytime you get a relaxer in your hair, you should use a base such as Vaseline. I’ve noticed that many people only tell you to base your edges and your ears. When relaxing my hair, I based my edges, my ears and my scalp. Basing the scalp has definitely helped stop the burning.
I’ve now been “in remission” for several years. In 2019, I moved from South Florida to Chicago to pursue new career opportunities. Now I work as the manager of diversity, equity and inclusion & culture for a mortgage lending company. I’ve discovered that I thrive in cooler climates. South Florida was so humid, but since living in Chicago I’ve never had a flare-up.
I love Chicago, where I’m constantly surrounded by innovation and progressive thinking.
I’ve seen other young girls, including a 10 year old girl in my church, experience what I went through, and I want to help. I want to be an inspiration.
I want to encourage you not to give up. Keep in mind that with the plethora of skin types and hues of black skin, you have to love the skin that you’re in. Love the “oily skin you” or the “dry skin you,” and start isolating your triggers one day at a time. Start with your diet, then maybe your hair products (natural hair versus permed), perfumes, fragrances and metals. Ask your doctor for an allergy test to know where to start.
Your story is important. Do not give up.
You are one day closer to your breakthrough and the entire NEA community behind you.
Author Turquoise Peart is a NEA Ambassador. Learn more and join NEA Ambassadors.