Considering going natural, so you can rocks locs like India Arie, an Afro like Jill Scott or one of our 70s sisters from last week, or riotous curls like Tracee Ellis Ross and Rachel True? Before you take the plunge, here are the five most important things you need to know about natural black hair and making the transition from relaxed to natural.
1. You’ll have to cut it. There, we said it. It’s out there, and like ripping off a Band-Aid, it’s best to get this statement confirmed and carried out right away. Although many women dread the thought of giving up any hair length, it is necessary. You have to cut off your relaxed strands before the new growth can flourish properly. Leaving straightened ends around not only creates a texture difference that makes combing and styling tresses an enormous hassle, but usually leads to breakage and split ends. It’s best to just remove the relaxed hair, and save frustration and damage.
That said, there are ways to forestall the inevitable, if you’re not quite comfortable with short hair just yet. When getting your last perm, go all out! Get that dream relaxed hairstyle you’ve always wanted, no matter how long or outrageous. After your big send-off, get braids or a weave, to keep hair under wraps while the new growth grows out.
2. You can’t treat your natural hair the same way you’d treat relaxed locks. In almost every way, natural African American hair will need to be cared for differently than relaxed hair. While tresses still need regular trims - and, in fact, will probably need them a bit more often, to prevent splitting up the entire length of the hair shaft – many of the processes and products used will change. Obviously, a fine-toothed comb will do no good if your natural hair is very thick and coarse; while transitioning, find out your hair type and invest in a wide-toothed comb and brush set, for detangling. Toss out heavy, drying, or alcohol-filled styling products, as natural hair tends to need lots and lots of moisture, and is usually best styled when wet, as opposed to dry styling.
In fact, the curlier your hair is, the more you just need to forget about styling your hair while dry; for kinky-curly types, it’s an invitation to disaster. Many natural sisters find their hair can stand, and NEEDS, more frequent washing and conditioning to stay supple, healthy, and cute. So find hair care products that work for you - don’t be afraid to experiment - and keep it clean with styles that are easily switched up or transformed.
3. Nine times out of ten, natural hair will surprise you. It won’t behave the way you thought it would, or even the way it did between relaxers. Even women with the most kinky or wavy hair find that they have several different hair types coexisting on their own head, and that what they thought would be a tough transition turns out much easier – and vice versa. Take time to investigate what your special head of hair does and doesn’t do, and realize that...
4. Natural hair is all about embracing and working to the strengths of what you’ve got. While going natural can be a great way to restore strength and grow out damaged tresses, if that’s the be-all and end-all goal of your natural experience, don’t bother. Why not? Simply put, if you really, really want long, straight locks, you won’t enjoy being natural, and it will only frustrate you more and cost you hair. Furthermore, if chemical services have damaged your hair so badly that a natural spell is needed, the true problem is likely your overuse or misapplication of chemical services. If you take time to learn how to use relaxers, hair colors, and other chemical products properly, your hair will grow healthy; if not, you will only have grown out a luxurious mane of natural lengths, only to see it break or fall out all over again, from mistreatment.
The best approach to going natural is to pay attention to your hair, to its strengths, weaknesses, and needs, and to play to the strengths, minimize the weaknesses, and meet the needs. Recognizing that your tresses won’t look like an S-Curl kit without using one, or that your hair simply won’t loc up or form kinks like Angela Davis, is the first step toward discovering what your hair can do, and making it do that, beautifully.
5. There is no need to “strip” your relaxer to get longer locks faster. So don’t try it! Who knows how many women have taken it into their heads that they can strip their perms with a mixture of laundry soap, bleach, and vinegar, or some other concoction. Remember that a big part of going natural is eliminating the use of harsh industrial chemicals on the hair and scalp - so why would applying the harshest of these be a necessary step? Avoid the risks, and be patient when growing your hair out. Slow and steady wins the race, and yields healthier hair.
For more information on natural African American hair, check out some of our past articles, and be on the lookout for special tips on styling and care.
Take care of yourselves,