Hair Care for All: Panelists Discuss the Importance of Hair Inclusivity

March 15, 2024

Panel Discussion on the Importance of Hair in a Health Care Setting

“If you can feel better about how you look, it makes a difference — it lifts your spirits. For us, that’s what it’s all about.”

Those were the words of Ursula Dudley Oglesby, president of Dudley Beauty, a Black-owned beauty products company, during a recent panel discussion hosted by Beth Israel Lahey Health’s (BILH) DEI office. Oglesby was joined on the panel by other Black leaders to discuss the importance of respecting patients’ unique hair textures and styles in a health care setting.

Dudley Beauty recently partnered with BILH as part of our Hair Care for All initiative, designed to engender a deeper sense of belonging in our hospitals. Providing products with ingredients for a wide-variety of hair types, kits include moisture rich shampoo, conditioner and detangler for adult patients across our health system.

Reclaiming a Sense of Self in the Health Care System

Hair Care for All was conceived by Dr. Brittne Halford, a hospitalist at BIDMC, BID Milton, and BID Plymouth. Halford was struck by one of her patient’s reluctance to take part in her care — she wasn’t eating, was hesitant to participate in physical therapy, and her condition worsening.

Like her patient, Dr. Halford is a Black woman. Because of her own experience, she recognized that the patient wasn't receiving care that included her unique hygiene needs. Halford took it upon herself to change that.

“A lot of our agency is taken from us [when hospitalized],” Halford said. “I saw this as an opportunity to care for her in a way that no one else had.”

To better meet her patient's needs for individualized care, Dr. Halford brought her hair care products to work and together with other members of the patient's care team restored the patient's sense of self.

Feeling empowered, the patient was more willing to participate in her care, and the results were astonishing. “She literally came alive in that moment,” Halford said, inspiring the nurses and other care team members to institute similar changes on a broader scale.

Hair Inclusivity is Central to Health Equity

As our panelists noted, hair and hair health is a key part of self-identity. In a care environment, it's essential that we have products that more equitably meet the diverse needs of our patients. Providing care inclusive of these differences will help people retain their sense of self.

This is critical to dismantling barriers to equitable care. Dr. Nnenna S. Ezeh, a fourth-year dual resident in the Harvard Combined Dermatology Residency and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Internal Medicine Residency, noted that American beauty culture is highly racialized; it teaches Black women and other women of color that their hair isn’t good enough and should be modified to meet white beauty standards.

“That's led to billions of dollars spent by Black and brown women on products that are not necessarily the most high quality,” she said.

With Hair Care for All, we're providing hydrating products at the bedside as one way to deliver accessible and essential hygiene care. By respecting the unique needs of our patients, we help influence a part of their healing through ownership of their care.

Small Actions Lead to Broader Change

In 2022, then-Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed the CROWN Act into law, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s natural hairstyle.

“These efforts are really important to letting young people know that all types of hair and all hair styles need to be championed,” said Ruthzee Louijeune, President of the Boston City Council and a leading advocate for the CROWN Act.

Louijeune sees the CROWN Act and BILH’s Hair Care for All initiative as separate parts of the same broader action. Just as the CROWN Act inspired further action, Hair Care for All could lead patients at other hospitals to demand similar accommodations.

“This is how a movement starts,” she said.

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