Are YOU Tenderheaded?

I was surfing the net today when I stumbled across a site called Tenderheaded Accessories. They sell a variety of hair products they say are safe and gentle on your hair. Some of the items that caught my eye include their collection of SEAMLESS, wide-tooth combs and tortoise shell hair pins. Take a look when you get the chance; something might just catch your eye as well.

As I checked out the site, I was reminded that I’m not tenderheaded, so I don’t have a good concept of what it would be like. Thank God cause growing up, my mom was NOT the kindest or gentlest person to have combing your nappy head. And thing is, back in those days, you better not move or complain or cry cause she might just add insult to injury and pop you with the comb to get you to sit still.

Nevertheless, I had a head full of healthy hair back then…that is until my first relaxer at age nine. She was attempting to make life easier for her cause she had FIVE natural heads (me and my sis and her boyfriend’s two daughters plus her own) to keep looking nice and that was really taking it’s toll on her.

Although I wasn’t tender headed, I was looking forward to my first perm and not having to go through the ritual of getting my nappy head washed, combed and braided back up. I hated it. I mean, getting my hair done was NOT a pleasant experience. It did hurt, but I guess I wasn’t in excruciating pain either.

So anyhoo, fast forward to my involvement on hair boards, and that’s when I discovered how prevalent the phenomenon of tenderheadedness is. And it seems that it’s not something you out grow. Many many women report that as children they were in horrible and as adults, having their hair combed or doing their own hair is still very painful. Wow! I had no idea. I just can’t imagine not being able to do your OWN hair because it hurts. So I can only imagine how tortured tenderheaded folks were as children. 

And apparently being tenderheaded isn’t just a black thang either. Awhile back, I remember trying to do a bit of research on this and found a whole bunch of white folks who are tenderheaded as well. I’ll tell ya that I was a bit surprised since it seems to me that painful combing would be less of an issue for someone with naturally straight hair. Apparently not so. Seems anyone one can be tenderheaded, but man, I would think it would be even worse for anyone with kinky hair.

Well having this fresh on my mind after a discussion with a close, tenderheaded friend of mine, I decided to start a thread on My goal was to see if there were tips that people could share with one another to help ease the pain of grooming their nappy hair. Taking care of kinky hair can be challenging without having to deal with pain during the combing/brushing/styling process. As I think back, there was a good response to that thread so I decided to pull some tips/thoughts on the matter and share them here. If you’re tenderheaded and you need some help, I hope you find something that works. Should you like to read the thread in it’s entirety, it’s been archived on Here’s the link: The Tender Headed Thread.

If you’d like to weigh in, as always, your comments are welcome at the end of the post.

imnotmyha1r     My rules for being tender headed
when i detangle, I hold the hair that is close to my scalp and start from the ends. Me holding my hair is kind of a buffer between the comb’s tension and my scalp. If that makes sense.Also, I refuse to put any styling tool in my hair unless my hair is thoroughly moisturized.When I get braids (and I know the person is heavy handed) I take a Tylenol before I go get my hair braided so that my head won’t be throbbing afterwards.
mwedzi I am the poster child for “tenderheadedness”. I had to stop that YouTube video not even 1/2 way through because it is too painful to watch. It looks like me. Sometimes I see my face in the mirror as I’m detangling and I realizing it’s all scrunched up and I’m clinching my teeth. I still remember that little yellow comb my Daddy used to comb my hair with, “Comb-a-loo”. I think for the purposes of healing I’m going to buy a comb like that and burn it in effigy.@NM, yes, for me there is no such thing as a “light touch,” only a “lighter touch.” I am the lightest touch to my own hair, so I don’t like other people doing it.I don’t know, I’ve kind of always objected to the “tenderheaded” concept. I mean, think about it. It’s strange, right? I mean, is there a whole group of people whose shins are exceptionally sensitive and doing normal activity hurts them (other than arthritis which happens as one gets older)? What would this tenderheadedness be linked to? Is it some medical condition that can be observed and documented? It’s really a strange idea that we as black people have that there is a group of people who have some kind of condition, on the top of their heads only, that makes them hurt more than most people. In my mind it was always the other way around. I’ve always thought that the stuff black people do to their hair, under normal circumstances, does and should hurt, and people who aren’t hurt have built up some sort of tolerance. I don’t know, Jedi mind tricks? Like, if you took my hair and slapped it on some person who had never had this hair before and had never had any of the hair-styling practices black people do done to them but whose scalp and pain tolerance levels were average and healthy, and then started to try to do those black hair practices with the new hair, wouldn’t that person be hollering? I’m really inclined to believe so. I think it’s only natural that it hurt when you try to get a comb through this hair type and braid it down to the skin separating it from root to tip with each braid (as must be done with cornrowing or flat twisting). It’s what tells me that our hair is not meant to be combed or brushed or braided or whatever. Just like when the cfc hurt, or the hot comb hurt, that was our body’s way of trying to tell us to stop it, this is not good for/to you. If you’re doing something to your body on the regular and it hurts, you should stop. Especially if it’s for nothing more than cosmetic reasons.But, I know the world we live in. And I know the things we want, as I want them too. I do not, at least at this point in my life, want to organically lock my hair. So what to do, what compromises to make? We can medicate ourselves so we can continue to do those hair practices. We can try to make those hair practices hurt less. Or we can stop doing those practices.I’m not totally averse to the medicating. I will be incorporating the pre-styling Aleve since I’ve already been known to do it post-styling.

When it comes to other ways to make it hurt less, there’s always the search for the super slippery detangler. Many people have found something that really helps. I’ve found things that are better than others. I should make a new post in the Products forum, in fact.

We can endure more pain upfront so that we can go longer durations with no pain, as in braiding or cornrowing or flat twisting the hair and keeping the style for a long time.

We can stop doing the practices that cause us the most pain. This has been my route. So it’s a rarity that you’ll see my hair cornrowed or braided or whatever because, in addition to taking eleventy billion hours at once, it hurts more than not doing it. I’d usually rather have 1/5 of the pain each week than all of the pain once every 5 weeks.

I am really interested in investigating this no-detangling method. I can’t understand how that could work, like it would just get more and more tangled until . . . what, I don’t know. I’m a bit scared to try it, because what if it leads to more pain? But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? It’s at least worth finding out more about.

AuNappturale LOL! So, why’d they post that video? To show how tender-headed he is? I’m glad she took her foot out the camera. *sigh* I miss Sanford & Son and Fred’s Ripple.Okay, on topic, NICE THREAD, NM! I am that person that all the folks used to wonder, “How I had the nerve to tender-headed with hair like this.” I mean, like it was a choice or something. It was the worst when I’d get my hair pressed and it’s have to be combed out after a wash. I’d have to stop the hairdresser half-way through just so I could get some relief for a brief moment. It was sheer torture! Sometimes I’d get someone who apologized the whole time. Other times I’d get someone who’d just tell me to be still and take it ’cause there was nothing they could do about it.To combat the issue I do the following:

  • Only comb hair while wet.
  • Manipulate dry hair as little as possible, even if that means the hair at the root is all tangled. I’ll get to it on wash day.
  • When combing, hold the roots and start at the bottom of the section.
  • Do my own hair, as no one’s touch seems to be lighter than mine. Shoot, I even hurt myself sometimes, which I don’t get. Guess I’m naturally heavy-handed.
redecouverte another tenderheaded signing in..that’s why i hated getting touch ups because my scalp would burn all the time.
I did not even try to watch the video because i knew it would just bring back childhood memories where i used to run away from the comb or getting my hair cornrowed…to remedy this situation
1) i don’t comb my hair anymore…actually since i stopped combing, i feel FREE!!! i just finger comb
2) i rarely do cornrows (maybe once in a while and i have to take a pill after) and i don’t do braids…too long, too painful, 3 days of a pounding headache, scalp pulling, i just can’t!!
3) since i went natural, i do my own hair…i am not paying someone to bring tears to my eyes…What if tenderheaded folks just have a lower tolerance to pain?that might explain why i am such a baby about pain….lol
LBell This is a VERY interesting thread. Until I read it I would have agreed with Mwedzi in that tenderheadedness is primarily a function of folks not knowing how to use a dang comb. But I see that for some people it could be a very real condition independent of the type of comb / combing method used.However, I have to say that, given the classic definition, I WAS tenderheaded…until I went natural and started doing my own hair. I’m not tenderheaded now. Even when I went to the salon last summer to get a BC and the woman was combing my dry hair out (it was about to get cut, so I didn’t care), it didn’t hurt nearly as much as it used to when I was younger.
REGEE I am tenderheaded too! So much so the I’ve had someone STOP doing my hair ’cause she was hurting way TOO Much!! Now I don’t wear braids much ’cause my head hurts days after putting them in. I definately don’t do much dry combing!!! I don’t wear any style that pulls my scalp because my head will literally HURT!! I had my hair braided for my family reunion and I took a pill before I had it done then after it was done. The NEXT day I took my hair down!! So now I don’t let any one do my hair, I do what I can.
nevergiveup I’m tenderheaded too. I thought the relaxer caused the tenderheadedness too but my Mom assures me that I was ALWAYS tenderheaded. It seems worse this time around then ever before. I’ve put my beloved cornrows and flat twists on hold until something changes. My scalp literally throbs so much after taking those styles down that I get scared that clumps of hair will start falling out. No exaggeration. I apologize afterwards with a no manipulation shrunken fro for days–and thank God he let me keep my hair and promise not to do it again.:afrofrown:
9 Responses to “Are YOU Tenderheaded?”
  1. Alisa says:

    WOW, am I glad I stumbled onto this site. I’m 42 years old and am tragically tenderheaded. It is my secret shame that with my fly clothes shoes and hair if someone took my wig off I would be a horrible matted mess underneath cause I haven’t combed in weeks. It’s not just in my mind. Thank you

  2. Holly Joiner says:

    What can i take prior to getting my hair braided that will minimize the pain???/

    • nappyme says:

      Hi Holly,
      I used to take tylenol. However, after years of getting my hair braided and thinking that’s just the way it was, that it just hurt to get your hair braided. I started going to a different braider who did an excellent job and had the lightest touch ever.

      So really, it doesn’t have to hurt as much as what you’re going through. If your braider hurts you that badly, then I say find another braider pronto!

  3. Deaunt'e says:

    Hello, my name is Deaunt’e and I just started growing my hair last September, and it’s really thick, and it’s starting to get longer, but in the morning I don’t even feel like getting out of the bed because I know that after I wash my hair (which I wash everyday) I have to go through 10 minutes of pain, when I pick it out and comb it because one i’m tender headed and two my hair can’t stay straight for more than 2 seconds I mean I can comb it for a whole hour straight (which I have done before, plenty of times) and still like 5 minutes later it’s back to being nappy all over again, and I hate re-combing it because i’m tender headed and clumbs of napps always come out when I re-comb it! Also don’t get me started on when I get my hair braided it hurts so bad that I feel like just getting a knife just to end my pain! Please help me i’m so tired of this, and it’s almost as bad when i’m taking out my braids! So what’s your advise, please I really need it, i’m so up for anything, but cutting my hair off!

  4. sann says:

    Ok, so I was never (never ever) tenderheaded as a child. I had hair to the middle of my back, not real nappy but thick and looooong for a dark skinned kid. Fast forward to thirty something years later when I decide to go back to being natural and take an extra step by locking my beautiful tresses. Now I am tenderheaded!! Oh it’s hurts to WASH my own hair. I think it came from the low maintainence of the locs (monthly maintenance). I’ve come to the point where I can style them and everything is excrutiating: pins, rollers, shampoos, twists. OMG. Has anyone had this problem?

  5. Tylenol? PSH! KIDS’S STUFF! I cosign…there is NO lighter touch- especially when it comes to having braids and cornrows. I take motrin or excedrin each time I get braids or cornrows to take the edge off but at the end of it, my head feels like my scalp is raw. I have 6 tattoos and they didn’t hurt as badly as getting my hair done. Cornrows seriously feel like someone is taking a knife and slicing through my scalp. I’ve never been able to meet anybody who understands. It’s because of my tenderheadedness that I have a high pain threshold- tattoos, piercings, bruises even broken bones haven’t hurt as worse as getting my hair done. And I am dead serious. And when I take braids or cornrows out it’s even worse- because my scalp hasn’t been touched in months. This has me in tears. It is seriously excruciating. Nobody understands. Which is why I don’t like being judged for wearing weave or a perm when it has nothing to do with self-hate issues. I am part Native American and I have very thick hair. It hurts just to have it in a bun for work. (I’m also military). It breaks off like crazy but I don’t care. It hurts too much to deal with regularly. I feel like it’s a curse.

  6. Tara Evonne says:

    Wow, I am so glad to learn that I am not the only grown woman who is still as tenderheaded as I was when I was a child. As a child the people outside could hear my screaming when my mother combed my hair and let me tell you, it still hurts JUST AS BAD now it’s just that I know how to hold back the tears!

    I too have tattoos, had piercings, have been thru all kinds of things that other people cringe at but getting my hair braided is the worst pain ever to me!!! Especially around the edges. And I have a big ole head so it takes FOREVER!

  7. ki says:

    Wow, this post is very interesting. I’m a 32 year old woman with EXTREMELY thick hair and I’ve been tenderheaded for as long as I can remember. I have a very high pain tolerance, however, when it comes to my head i sometimes literally feel like crying.I usually wear short, relaxed hair, and I’ve noticed that my head won’t hurt at all during my normal, day-to-day styling regimen, however, when it’s time for a relaxer touch-up,(I’m talking even the slightest bit of new growth) my scalp will get really sore. And if I get braids, you can forget about it; it feels as though my scalp is being pulled from my body while being set afire.

    In my line of work (I’m a cosmetologist) I come across all different hair textures, and what I’ve found is that the people with the thickest hair tend to be the most tender-headed. I’m really thinking it’s because the hair follicles are so thick that it just hurts when they grow, (this isn’t scientific fact, just my own theory)

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