Submitted by Dr. Monte O. Harris on Mon, 05/20/2013 - 09:52

Much attention centers on the need to train primary care physicians to meet the growing demands of an ailing healthcare system . But subspecialists (Yes, even beauty doctors) need to adopt more of a generalist mindset to improve their patient’s overall well-being. Recently, when a cancellation arose in my patient schedule, I recognized it as an ideal opportunity to practice what I preach by enhancing my own holistic health consciousness. So I jumped on the Metro and headed to NIH to hear a lecture given by the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin.

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Dr. Benjamin was the featured speaker for the April 2013 NIH Health Disparities Seminar. The seminar was hosted by The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). The NIMHD is leading the charge to eliminate health disparity through the integration of science, practice, policy, and technology. Dr. Benjamin discussed the National Prevention Strategy and the importance of embarking upon a “healthy journey to joy.”

I’m pretty sure that I was the only plastic surgeon in the filled auditorium. After the talk, Dr. Benjamin opened the floor to questions. I stepped to a microphone and asked . . . “In your many discussions on hair as a barrier to exercise . . . has the issue of hair loss ever surfaced?” She said – “No.” I was not surprised. So, I briefly offered my thoughts on hair loss as a hidden health disparity.

Hair loss may have a profound impact on mental and physical well-being. A recent ABC News report highlighted the growing number of women, independent of ethnicity, experiencing hair damage related to extensions and weaves. African American women, however, suffer disproportionately from hair loss related to traumatic grooming practices. With hair loss, as with other health disparity concerns such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, black women’s lifestyle habits, aesthetic choices, and cultural customs often contribute to onset and severity of disease. The good news is that hair loss in women of African descent is largely treatable and preventable if detected early and managed with cultural sensitivity. The bad news is that integrative solutions enriched with cultural competency are lacking.

The Do Good H.A.I.R. Project is my aesthetic and cultural response to health disparity. The project redefines “Good Hair” as an active restorative process with a focus on aligning beauty, health, and identity. Beauty can be the cornerstone in a 21st century approach to achieving health equity. The arts of adornment and expressive forms of grooming reveal the culture of a people. Therefore, beauty is an untapped resource for improving cultural competency among healthcare providers. It is in daily rituals that beauty and health come together to support the inner building of identity. Through fostering health-mindful beauty rituals, we may nurture a modern culture of disease prevention. Who would have thought . . . a healthy hairstyle can be the jumpstart for adopting an overall healthy lifestyle.

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