So you’ve done it! You picked up the scissors and chopped off your hair! Now what?
That’s the question I aim to answer with a series of posts on being newly natural. It’s a learning curve for the majority of us so I’m sure some advice wouldn’t hurt. Chances are you’ve spent your life regularly relaxing your hair so you have no clue what goes into caring for kinky hair. Well I was like that too! But now that I’m almost 2 years into it, I look back at times and wish I had done it differently. Luckily for you, you have people like me to help you along 🙂
Abandon expectations about how your hair will look or how it will behave.
It’s easy to look at pictures of stars like Solange and Corrine Bailey Rae online or in magazines and start thinking your hair will resemble theirs. And they are inspiring too however all natural hair is different. There are different textures and these textures depend on our genetics. Those that are mixed race will tend to have a looser curl pattern than those that are not. In addition to that, within a particular race you also have varying textures and thickness. My cousin and I went natural at the same time and we were surprised to find her hair is natural extremely soft. She could comb it easily and didn’t have to use as much product to get it manageable as I did. My hair on the other hand needs all the help it can get and combing is not something I can do everyday. So throw all your expectations out of the window and just take some time to get to know your hair. Feel it with your fingers and see how it reacts to products till you know exactly what it needs from you.
You need your confidence now more than ever!
People will react to your hair differently. Some will like it and some won’t and they will make their opinions heard more often than not. Before going natural I threw the idea out to my friends and family and I often was told “You will look like a villager” or “Your hair will be too hard to manage, are you sure you want to do that?” At first I’d be quite offended but I once was of that same school of thought so I really couldn’t blame them. For majority of us, relaxed hair is all we know and the idea of having nothing but “new growth” on your head is scary. We think it won’t be attractive or easy to work with because we’ve rarely had examples of people in our lives who have had beautiful stylish natural hair. For you to get through this stage you need to be your own cheerleader. You need to encourage yourself to keep going and hold on to every encouraging comment your receive. The people around you will take longer to catch up to the idea than you will so give them time.
Be prepared to put in work!
Growing healthy hair, regardless of whether it’s natural, relaxed or in locs, is not a walk in the park. You have to put in work to get results. There are people who are happy with maintaining a short do out of a desire to keep their hair low maintenance, but if you want longer hair you will have to work for it. And for those who think relaxed hair is less work, think of the retouches you have to do every 6-8 weeks. If you braid or weave often, that requires time and money. All healthy hair has received time and care by someone. So you have to prepare yourself. If it’s not something you will enjoy doing then give up now because it doesn’t get any easier. However if you love your hair and really want to care for it, go for it!
Change your concept of hair care
Before going natural, I did not know what hair care entailed. I did not understand my hair and therefore could not adequately care for it. Having done some research though I now know. Here are a few points to get you started:
- Hair is not a living thing: Our hair is dead as soon as it leaves your scalp so your job is to maintain it. Long hair is well maintained hair. If you don’t maintain it, it will break and get damaged. And since it’s dead, there’s nothing you can do to “renew” it.
- Your scalp has a job too: Your scalp naturally produces an oil called sebum. Sebum keeps your scalp and hair from becoming too dry and helps protect your scalp against the drying effects of wind and water. Think of it like the skin on your face. What happens when you apply a thick layer of oil on your skin day in day out? Your pores get clogged and you develop pimples. We wash our faces once a day while our hair usually gets washed once a week or less so you can imagine how bad it must be for your scalp to receive layers of oil or mineral oil every week. Some effects of regularly applying thick hair food and such to your scalp include itchiness, dryness and dandruff. I used to have a major dandruff problem but once I left my scalp alone, it stopped. If you still have scalp issues you may have a condition and should see a dermatologist. Normally though, your scalp does not need help, it will do fine on its own. Your job is to keep it clean by shampooing regularly.
- African/black hair needs lots of moisture: Out of all the races, we have the driest hair. This means we have to put more effort into keeping it moisturized because dryness=weakness and breakage. The best kind of moisture is water. Conditioning also puts moisture back into your hair after shampoo strips it out. Products like leave-in conditioners and moisturizers also help in this area. Your hair will never get enough. Relaxed hair is easier to moisturize because straight hair distributes product easier than curly hair. This is why Caucasian people wash their hair so often because product builds up faster on straight hair and before long it’s attracting dust and dirt. Natural people are often known to have a spray bottle or two of water mixed with a hydrating product like coconut oil or Aloe Vera juice to keep dryness at bay.
- You have to keep the moisture in: No point in moisturizing your hair and then letting it all dry up. The most effective way to trap moisture is to seal it with an oil. The oils often used for this purpose are coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil, jojoba oil and even butters like shea butter are used. Sealing is usually reserved for the ends of the hair because that is the part that is the oldest and most delicate. If your hair is relaxed and long, that’s the part that is often in contact with your shoulders and therefore gets affected by friction. If your ends are dry and damaged, all your efforts will be in vain so make sure to show the ends lots of love!
So from those 4 points you can already see what you need to do: wash, condition, moisturize and seal. This is the basics for hair care regardless of what type you have and whether it’s natural or not. And the proof is in the pudding. Ask anyone with long hair what their routine is, I guarantee they do at least 3 of these 4 things. Look at the type of styles they do too. Is their hair constantly braided, weaved or tucked away? All those styles are known as protective styles, they help protect the ends from damage and therefore help you keep the hair you grow.
So now that you’re emotionally ready and know what good hair care entails, how do you begin?
Get into a regular routine
Wash regularly then moisturize and seal afterwards while it is still damp. How often you wash is your preference. As your hair grows you may find yourself washing less. I can only last about a week before my scalp begins to itch from product build up, so I wash weekly. However some wash bi-weekly or monthly, there’s no set rule, it depends on your hair.
Choose a few products to work with and see how your hair reacts
Product wise many naturals will tell you organic/natural products (or in other words products without mineral oils, sulphates, silicones and parabens) work best. However that is not to say products with those things don’t work. Use your own discretion. As long as they are used correctly there shouldn’t be a problem. So buy a shampoo, a conditioner, a moisturizer and a sealant. For example a good cost effective start is VO5 shampoo and conditioner, JO’M spray and pure Coconut oil. You can expand as you go along but start small so that you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Buy a few hair accessories
There is very little you can do with short natural hair so learn to make accessories your best friend. Hair bands, silk scarves, hats, colourful clips and pins, flower pins etc. Some chose to dye their hair but if you do make sure it’s done professionally or your hair can be badly damaged.
So this is where part 1 ends. In part 2 I will basic dos and don’ts for natural hair. Feel free to send any questions or topics you want covered my way!