The new black

"Hannah, I've got a crisis, can you call me back as soon as?" My friend Nana is on the phone. I call her back at once. "I'm thinking of going back to straightening my hair, and I want you to talk me out of it," she starts.

"Don't - you'll regret it within a week, you'll be pissed off with yourself and you'll have to start carrying an umbrella all the time, which means you'll need bigger bags."

She laughs. "I know you're right, and I feel like I'm letting the side down, but it just feels like the only option. I really want to keep it natural, but I don't want braids or twists, and I'm bored with my Afro. I can't do anything with it other than put it in bunches, and no one over seven should wear bunches."

We strike a deal: she'll wait until I speak to a couple of hairdressers and try to find an alternative. Jeanine Schranil, salon director at Urban Therapy in Battersea, south-west London, is my first port of call. She suggests what she calls an Alicia Keys look: "Use tiny cane rows at the top in a crisscross, then brush the rest of the hair out into an Afro."

Next up it's Errol Douglas, twice winner of Afro Hairdresser Of The Year. "I would suggest texturising - this is the softest way of changing the hair and keeps curls natural without the frizziness that can often occur. It also makes curls appear smoother and 'neater'. It is similar to relaxing the hair but it can still be blow-dried straight and it just allows a bit more flexibility."

But it's Reginne Lacey, stylist at Toni & Guy's Essensuals salon in Covent Garden, central London, who really comes up trumps. "There's a great new perm for natural hair," she says, to my utter surprise. "A perm?" I splutter.

"I know, I know. When you say perm, everyone thinks of Coming To America and wet patches on your sofa, but this has different effects. It gives you a dry, Kelis look: it makes the curl hang out and down, but without that wet, drippy look."

I hang up and call Nana. "I've done it, I've found an alternative. It'll cost you a drink."

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