It’s not easy being “Natural”. Especially in the Latin community.
A little over ten years ago, I walked into a Cherry Hill Rite Aid after taking out my braided extensions from the summer. Fall was approaching, and I wanted a fresh relaxer for the new season. I went to the hair aisle and was horrified.
There were NO relaxers!
A pleasant salesperson cheerfully informed me (after pointing me to curly perms after I had asked her where the perms were located) that this was not their “ethnic” branch, and I was welcome to travel to Camden (!!) to procure my much-needed products. Mind you, the salesperson was black.
I proceeded to walk next door to the Supercuts, and told them to chop it off. ALL off. And I never looked back.
My friend & pageant sister Makho Ndlovu just completed her “Big Chop”, and it brought me back to that day in the Rite Aid. I was terrified, because I’d never seen ‘my’ hair, and because I had not one clue what I was going to do from that day forward! So with that in mind, I thought I’d share a few tips for first-time naturalistas:
1) Let’s get one thing straight; ‘Natural’ hair is NOT easier, cheaper or less time-consuming than chemically straightened hair (I am looking forward to a 3-hr twist-out as we speak). However it is strong, versatile and more malleable than chemically straightened hair, which is only due to the chemical process being permanent. You can go from giant curls to jazzy crimps to silky straight in one week- and do it as a blonde! It may require a bit more planning than your ‘old’ hair-but all the new possibilities will be tons of fun.
2) Research ‘natural’ hair care websites and blogs, familiarize yourself with the lingo & their methods- then throw it all away and make your own rules; “4-c”. “Co-wash”. “Scab hair “. “TWA”. “ACV”. “Silk pillowcases”. HELP!! ‘Natural’ hair has its own language, and all this lingo can get really intimidating and make you run for the creamy crack-pronto. But once you take the time to process the cute acronyms and read thru the hair care tips & product recommendations, you will find that almost every blogger & webmaster is simply chronicling their personal journey to find what works for them. Take their hints- and then go find what works for you.
3) Understand that ‘natural’ hair care is a journey that will cause much frustration before reward; I have been ‘natural’ for over a decade now. Back then there were no blogs, no fancy oils, no natural style role models (this was even before Jill Scott!), no tutorials on twist-outs vs. braid-outs, I was alone. And while there’s lots more information and a lot more products than when I started (I used s-curl spray, y’all!) your journey will, ultimately, be only yours. And it will not always be easy. You will cry. You will have bad hair days. Your braid-outs will tangle. Your mother will tell you you’ll never get a man looking like that. People will touch your hair without permission. And most of all, you will want to go back to your “carefree” relaxed days when no one paid attention to you & you could just live your life. I’m here to tell you; live your life anyway. Confidence attracts more men than hair ever did. Your braid-out will detangle. “In a world where you can be anything you want, BE YOURSELF”. Make no apologies and take no prisoners.
**I usually decline giving specific tips on hair care but these two are very important:
4) Handle your ‘natural’ hair the same way you handle a fine steak on the grill; That is to say, with the understanding that your hair responds best the less it is handled, and great results come to those who wait. For example, if I’m wearing my curls out un-styled or un-stretched I don’t comb my hair after applying conditioner (I detangle with shampoo), and I don’t towel-dry my hair or touch it a lot after applying my leave-in products. This reduces frizz and allows your hair to curl on its own. Find the balance that works for you, but learn to trust your hair.
5) **Controversial Tip Alert** Wash your scalp, condition your hair; I get asked all the time how to “make your hair grow”. Well, while I believe that everyone has a set length that their hair will reach, the number one (and really the only) tip I give out is to let your scalp breathe. I apply shampoo to my scalp generously, and my hair sparingly. I make sure to take the time to thoroughly rinse, then condition from the ends up. Leave in products are applied ½ inch to 1 inch away from my scalp, to the hair, and scalp treatments are only applied after washing, and after that if only very dry. The skin on your scalp is like the skin on your face. You wouldn’t apply moisturizer to an unwashed face, would you? Give your scalp the room it needs, and it will reward you.
6) **Bonus Tip**Moisture, Moisture, Moisture! I’d be doing you a disservice if I did not mention this. The enemy of natural hair is lack of moisture. Moisture can be stripped by sun exposure, dry/cold air, or clothing (my hair goes past my shoulders, and yes, that cotton sweater will suck the life out of your ends). To keep split ends, frizz and er… management issues at bay (because your hair will fight you) find a good daily moisture routine and stick to it.
So that’s it! While I could write about it all day, I chose to highlight the things that gave me the most challenge at the beginning of my hair journey. So naturalistas, what have you found to be your biggest challenge in your natural journey? Did you experience a backlash from your friends or family? And finally, what is your number one hair tip?