The Phenomenon of Hair-Salon "Deserts" — and How It Impacts Black Women

Unfortunately, due to the lack of education around natural textures, myself and several other Black women I know can't easily walk into an unknown hair salon and get serviced. This is also the case for Washington-based TikToker Mimi Taylor, who has openly shared her experience of not being able to find a stylist in her hometown willing to work with her 4C hair. After calling multiple salons in Olympia, Taylor decided to document the process of her attempt to secure a straight-back cornrow appointment that would allow her to wear a new wig.

"I was wondering if you guys worked with African American hair, specifically 4C type," she would start each call. Common replies included, "We do not, none of the girls do here," or, "We don't really have much experience, so I would say you're probably better off to look around." In the end, Taylor called a total of 26 salons in the area and was turned down by each one. Exasperated, she finally resorted to driving two hours away to her grandmother's house and having her cornrow it instead.

She's not alone in her experience. Taylor and so many other Black folks across the United States are forced to drive or fly to neighboring towns for hair-care services for their textured hair. This is not by choice but because the area in which they live is what you would call a "hair-salon desert." Here, we're breaking down exactly what that term means — and what really needs to happen to make it a thing of the past.

What Is a Hair-Salon Desert?

Like the name suggests, a hair-salon desert is simply where salons that can service natural hair types and textures are few and far between. It impacts Black people most significantly because there are countless areas in the US with minimal (or, sometimes, zero) salons that can service every hair type and texture — regions where the majority, if not all, of hairstylists are not proficient in Afro-textured hair and have a narrow focus on straight or smooth styles.

In some cases, a salon in a hair desert might take on type 4 hair and up-charge the client a "thick-hair fee" because they know they are that person's only option. In other cases, they might require them to do half the labor and arrive with curls detangled or blown out, knowing they are the only ones for miles to come.

Why Do Hair-Salon Deserts Exist?

Hair-salon deserts are not a new phenomenon. They are linked to racial segregation and systemic racism – leaning into the belief that straight hair is superior and anything outside of this confined style should conform. "Hair salons are a symptom of a broader issue," Sabrina Rowe Holdsworth, celebrity hairstylist and founder of NTRL By Sabs, tells POPSUGAR. "It's a clear depiction of system lack of investment and representation in the beauty industry. It's an industry that has historically undervalued the needs and unique beauty of Black hair and culture."

Hair-salon deserts don't leave room for curls or coils, which is why people in these locations often have to travel extended miles for service, find a trusted stylist like Taylor did, or become their own.

It becomes frustrating when you understand how abundantly trained Black hairdressers are. "As Black hairstylists, we are often expected to be well-versed in all hair types due to the diverse range of hair textures within our community," Sabrina Rowe Holdsworth, celebrity hairstylist and founder of NTRL By Sabs, tells POPSUGAR. Every Black stylist I've encountered is capable of working with every hair texture, be it straight, wavy, curly, coiled, or a combination of all four. So why is the same respect and talent not enforced to non-Black stylists? It's exhausting feeling othered when someone says they cannot do your hair.

According to Holdsworth, the large disparity is "historical bias and a lack of comprehensive education within cosmetology schools, where training is often centered around straight, Eurocentric hair types." As a result, she adds, "many non-Black stylists may not receive adequate training in handling and treating diverse hair textures, particularly afro-textured hair."

How Salons Can Help Minimize Hair-Salon Deserts

Stylists and salons must be held accountable to get the required training so Black people can walk into any business, be it a dry bar or non-Black salon, and get a simple or elaborate service with ease. We should not be terrified or manipulated to side with certain hairstyles for convenience or time constraints. And with that, there should be no extra fees or texturism conversations when servicing 4A-C types.

"It's our business as salon owners to hire different nationalities of hairdressers so that everyone can learn from each other," says celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson, whose clients include Zoe Saldaña and Anne Hathaway. "Education is key, and now is the time for all businesses to step up their game."

You can no longer say you do hair if "hair" has an asterisk.

To further education, there are texture courses, petitions and initiatives, conferences, and workshops at the disposal of anyone in the hair-care industry. "So many artist[s] offer independent education — you can seek out classes from top artists, including myself," says Monae Everett, a celebrity hairstylist and diversity equity and inclusion consultant., who offers courses through her website. Others offered: the Texture Education Collective and Inclusive Texture Education, both aimed at requiring cosmetology schools and state boards to include curly, coily, braiding, locking, and natural hairstyles in curriculums and exams. And there is the Halo Code, which, similar to the CROWN Act, is focused on altering the conversation around hair discrimination in schools. Additionally, stylists can also seek out natural-hairstyling licenses (300-hour approved courses) within their state, independent of cosmetology schools, to further continue their education and credibility.

So the big question is: if these resources are at the ready, why do so few use them? Hairstylists should feel encouraged and, most importantly, interested in learning about textured hair and the many curl patterns that can be found on a single head. You can no longer say you do hair if "hair" has an asterisk.

Still, learning how to work with natural hair is not an overnight victory to gaining Black customers. Non-texture-experienced hairstylists should be invested in the long haul. After all, the history with our hair, specifically in white settings, is a tangled one — and it will take time to gain our trust.