“Going natural” is more than just deciding to stop relaxing your hair. Managing your hair in its natural state will alter everything about your hair care routine. For many, it will be a lifestyle change as you discover the variance in time needed to care for your hair and conditions that your hair can tolerate.
I was not opposed to a short, sassy cut, so I big chopped my hair at the end of 2008 and started to let the cut grow out in 2009. But, my baby sister was not interested in such a dramatic transformation, so I transitioned her hair over two and a half years starting in 2011. During that time, we did a combination of straight and protective styling, mainly braid-outs and buns, that allowed her to smoothly transition without cutting all of her hair at once. Note: You do not have to plan to transition for this length of time; the point is that it is indeed possible.
If you are relaxed and considering transitioning your hair to natural versus doing the “big chop,” here are ten things you should know and do to make your transition more manageable!
1. Mentally prepare yourself for some difficult days. There will be some weary days along the way…and some hills to climb. As you get more new growth, detangling your hair may become tougher to do and take more time. You may feel that styling is more difficult and you’ll definitely begin to experience every natural’s annoyance, humidity.
Tip: Take your time and be gentle with your hair when it’s wet and make sure you are using heat protectants and leave-in conditioner regularly to combat frizz.
2. Set a monthly budget for product exploration. As you get started you’ll feel compelled to immerse yourself in natural hair products. You will see people using all sorts of oils, crèmes, butters, glosses, puddings and gels and you will think you need them all. I suggest you give yourself a monthly budget so you do not break the bank in this process and end up with tons of products you did not need to begin with.
Tip: Services such as curlBOX help naturals explore products through a monthly subscription where you receive a sampling of full and trial size products to try each month for a set fee.
3. Drink LOTS of water and eat LOTS of protein. While rate of growth and texture/hair type are genetic, you can positively impact how your hair grows with proper diet. You should be drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water each day. And I am not talking about sports drinks or teas; I am talking about straight, pure water! This will also prove beneficial for the health and appearance of your skin. You should also be eating at least five ounces of lean protein each day, more if you are physically active.
Tip: You can also install protein in your hair on this side of the scalp to keep it strong with protein treatments.
4. Watch the line of demarcation. This is the point where your relaxed hair and new growth meet making it the weakest point of your hair during transitioning. It is important to keep your hair moisturized and not excessively pull with tight ponytail styles or with brushing too harshly.
Tip: Use a wide tooth comb to detangle when wet and invest in a Denman Styling Brush or something like it for detangling when dry.
5. Reduce use of flat irons for straight styling as you get more new growth. You don’t want to heat damage your natural hair before you even get to wear it! Using products that help stretch new growth can aid you in heat styling without damage.
Tip: Make sure to always use ceramic tools when you heat style your hair. And, be sure you are using the appropriate heat setting for your hair type. Usually there is information included in the packaging of the tool that gives suggested temperature ranges per hair type. Also, consider roller sets, flexi-rods and bantu knots as a way of creating curls versus daily heat from styling tools.
6. Use protective styling with caution. All naturals will tell you that protective styling is a must. And while that is true, too much of any good thing can be bad. Your hair needs breaks from heat styling and your ends will thank you for tucking them in sometimes for protection from the elements (hence the term “protective styling”), but your scalp needs to breathe and your strands need to be free sometimes too. It’s all about balance.
Tip: Try to do quick styles that you can wear for two to five days then take down. If you are considering protective styling with extensions, always choose human hair over synthetic. While braiding styles are convenient, not everyone’s hair can withstand the pulling and rubbing of harsh synthetic fibers for weeks at a time. You have to use your best judgment; if you’ve had breakage in the past with braiding, expect that it will continually be an issue in braided styles. With sew-in styles, be sure your hair is not braided too tightly and that you are properly conditioning and trimming your hair between installs. Also, I personally do not recommend using a net for sew-ins because the synthetic fibers can rub against your hair causing breakage, and it is harder to cleanse and moisturize your scalp. But, that is a choice you have to make with your best judgment.
7. Always protect your hair at night. This one is simple; tie your hair up at night with a silk or satin scarf or bonnet.
Tip: If you have a hard time keeping them on your head due to twisting and turning at night, buy satin pillow cases. That way, you are protected no matter what! Also, if you are trying to preserve a twist-out, braid-out or rod-set curls, try the pineapple.
8. Incorporate hot oil treatments into your washday regimen. You will need to keep your hair properly moisturized during transition and after, and hot oil treatments are an easy way to do that!
Tip: Plan to do a hot oil treatment at least once per month, or every other week if you feel your hair is very dry to the touch often or if your scalp feels dry.
9. Tend to your new growth versus the relaxed hair once you’ve grown several inches. The things you did to manage your relaxed hair are not the same things you will do when you are fully natural. Once you have more than two inches of new growth, you have to intently start acting like a natural. Protein treatments, hot oil treatments, protective styling, pre-conditioning, and deep conditioning with a hooded dryer or steamer are examples of things you’ll need to start incorporating into your routine.
Tip: This is a good time to get familiar with hair typing and create your own hair profile. This profile will change with growth, as you will not fully know your natural hair texture until all the relaxed hair is removed. Knowing your hair type will help you better choose products and styling methods and understanding how to adjust what you see others do to fit your hair type.
10. Expect some breakage and shedding. If you gracefully make it through transitioning your hair without experiencing shedding and breakage, that is awesome! However, lots of transitioners notice the ends of their hair are a lot thinner after several inches of new growth. That is not uncommon as the point of demarcation can be weak and vulnerable to breakage. Do not get discouraged by this, keep pushing forward and get ready for all of your new, beautiful natural hair that is growing!
Tip: You should plan to clip at the rate you grow. Pay attention to how much new growth you have every month and cut away the relaxed ends as an exchange. It will help to keep a written record of growth. Each month, take a ruler and measure your new growth while your hair is dry to see your progress. Or, take pictures from the same angle to compare.
Try not to allow yourself to get frustrated along the way. Re-learning your hair is a process and it will take time. If you haven’t managed your natural texture since you were a child, it may be a bit overwhelming at first. But, remember to be patient and don’t give up. You’ll make it!