Modern Cosmetic Science

Unveiling Beauty's Tech Frontier: Exploring the Latest Breakthroughs in Modern Cosmetic Science.


AI Still Doesn’t Understand Black Hair, and That Points to a Larger Issue

As artificial intelligence continues to become more embedded into our daily lives, we’re seeing its effects across all industries, especially in the beauty space. From creating avatars in the metaverse to enlisting robots to do your lash extensions, it feels all but certain that more people will begin using the technology to inform their routines. So, what happens when it becomes extremely clear that there are still gaping holes in the way that AI interacts with Black audiences?

Case in point: when I asked OpenAI’s ChatGPT to create a hairstyling routine for my type 4 hair, it gave some generic answers like making sure to shampoo and condition and getting regular trims, but when I asked for more specific details about actual styles that would work for type 4 hair that had leave-out and sew-in extensions, it fell short.

A few of the options provided included: a faux hawk, a high bun, and a half-up half-down look. If you know anything about traditional sew-ins, then you’re aware that none of those are viable styling options. In fact, all of them would show the braids and wefts of the extensions underneath, which is a huge no-no. The difference is I’m a beauty editor who is fairly well-versed in styling my hair and knows good advice from bad. Imagine the frustration that would come after trying one of these from someone who doesn’t.

How AI Highlights the Lack of Knowledge of Black Hair

While the technology got quite a few things wrong in terms of offering advice, it also highlighted the huge gap in the way that Black hair is understood in the cosmetics space. “It’s no surprise that the terminology used by AI is very general when it comes to protective styles,” hairstylist Brendnetta Ashley tells PS. “There is a lack of education and knowledge around the specifics of our hairstyles. So when it comes to AI I’m not surprised the information isn’t available since the industry as a whole doesn’t have it all.”

It’s true. In a time when advocates are still fighting to get the C.R.O.W.N. Act passed in legislation and when Black hairstyling is only now becoming required in some cosmetology schools, it’s clear that the hair industry as a whole has a lot of catching up to do.

“While education in the hair space could use quite a few improvements when it comes to a knowledge of Black hairstyling, there is still beauty in knowing that AI can’t take the place of a real hairstylist,” Ashley says. “Not only do we have a unique profession that requires the human touch, but we also need hairstylists who know and understand all aspects of curly hair from a practical and cultural perspective. This knowledge is invaluable. AI will never understand that.”

Given that AI technologies typically just regurgitate the information that is already available on the internet, it makes sense that there is a gap in advice that caters to hairstyles that are popular in the Black community — it’s reflecting the lack of knowledge that is present in the real world. Coupled with any blind spots that code developers may have when engineering these technologies on the back end, “advice” like this feels like the best that we’re going to get from AI technology for a long time. Still, as with all industries, there is hope for AI to eventually catch up, but it’s important for the rest of the hair industry to pave the way.

“Before AI can understand, the industry needs to as well,” Ashley says. “This also means that we need to do more education in our schools and advanced education. From understanding the why behind a style, how certain techniques can truly protect Black hair, and even proper maintenance — all of it is important. The more these things are learned then we can see how it will impact AI.”

If you’re looking for hair advice from software like ChatGPT, I suggest you stick with the basics. You can ask for help on natural hairstyles, but know it doesn’t understand the complexities that come with styling sew-ins, tapes, or quick weaves. As Ashley said, AI technology will never replace the advice of an experienced professional, so take any advice with a grain of salt.

Ariel Baker is the associate editor for PS Beauty. Her areas of expertise include celebrity news, beauty trends, and product reviews. She has additional bylines with Essence and Forbes Vetted.


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