Natural Hair Tips For Beginners.

*I originally wrote this piece as a contributor on another blog but I've decided to re - post here*

Going natural can be a liberating, exciting and enjoyable experience as you discover your real texture(s), learn what it likes and doesn't, and explore new ways to wear your hair. As enjoyable as it can be, it can also be a daunting task because let's face it - how many of us were taught how to care for our hair when we were growing up?

A lot of our mothers were frustrated taking care of our hair and it is that feeling of frustration that most of us have associated with our natural hair. The reason most of us got relaxers was to escape the ‘unmanageability’ of our natural hair as the general belief was that the only way we could look pretty and/or manage our hair was if it was relaxed bone straight. Back then having natural hair (or being ‘natchie’) was seen as uncool and even local.

Thankfully, with awareness, information and more ladies rocking their natural tresses and growing it to previously unheard of lengths; more women are beginning to embrace their own hair, discovering that all it takes is patience and learning. 

So with that in mind, I've put together a few things that I believe will help if you've recently become natural, are transitioning, just thinking about the idea or if you need some extra tips to help you on your healthy hair journey.

1,  Water, Conditioner and oils – your new best friends: Our hair thrives in a moisture rich environment.  For some reason, growing up we were taught that water was ‘bad’ for our hair and the less our hair came in contact with water, the better for it!

Nothing could actually be further from the truth – in order to keep it healthy and supple, effective moisturizing is key. Hair that lacks moisture becomes dry which in turn becomes brittle and will eventually snap off. Deep conditioning with a moisturizing deep conditioner at least once a week (and EVERYTIME you shampoo) will help infuse moisture deep into the strands. Incorporating a ‘Moisturizing and sealing’ technique into your regime is also very important in keeping hair moisturized.

This is done by applying a water based moisturizer (the first ingredient of the moisturizer should be water) to the hair and following up with a little oil to ‘seal’ the moisture in the strands.  Also try increasing your water intake as drinking a lot of water feeds your follicles and strands from within. These steps will keep you from having straw like strands. (The only thing really, that should have crunch should be your cereal and not your tresses)

2. Embrace your shrinkage: Natural hair shrinks when it comes in contact with water – no amount of wishing this away will prevent it from happening J Some people’s hair may shrink up to 75% of their actual length giving the impression that it is not as long as it actually is.  A few ways to ‘stretch’ the hair is to twist or single plait the hair while damp, air dry and loosen the twists/plaits (braid outs and twist outs) giving you stretched hair with some curl definition.

3. Try not to jump on every bandwagon that comes along: ‘Have you heard! Pepper grows your hair” “Girl, I heard doing the Green House Effect method will grow my hair by 6 inches!” “Snail Slime will give you perfectly moisturized hair” – You get the idea? Every now and again there will be the latest thing that’s supposedly ‘best’ for your hair; be it a method, a product or an accessory. While it’s good to try out new things in order to find out what works best for you, ease your way into using different products. If your hair starts to react negatively and you’re using too many new things and/or doing different things at the same time, you won’t be able to identify which product/method in particular is causing the problem.

4.  No two heads of hair are the same : It is important to understand this. We tend to compare our hair with others then get frustrated with, condemn and pass judgment on our hair when we believe it’s not growing or looking like someone else’s hair. Each of us is unique in the way we were created – some people grow an inch of hair monthly while others may grow a quarter of an inch. Work with it not against it.

5. Magic growing potions: The most popular question people ask is “ Do you have something that will make my hair grow?” or “My hair is not growing, what can I do?” Thing is, our hair is always growing. Think about it – when you were relaxed, how often did you ‘retouch’ your hair? Probably 4 or more times a year, and the reason you were retouching is because you had ‘new GROWTH’. The challenge most people have is retaining the length they have because if hair is breaking off at the same rate at which it is growing, you won’t see any progress. There is no magic potion that will give you Rapunzel hair in the twinkling of an eye (I know, sucks right?) Even if you use growth aids to help speed up your growth rate and your hair practices don’t help retain length, then you won’t reap the benefits of using that growth aid.

6. Treat your ends with tender loving care: The ends of the hair are the oldest part of the hair strands and are therefore the most fragile, needing to be treated with extra care. Always pay particular attention to the ends of the hair when applying moisturizers and oils. Keep your ends happy and they will keep you happy by not breaking off, thereby helping you retain length.

7. The Sulfate and Silicone balance: Shampoos with sulfates will strip hair of moisture leading to dry and brittle strands. Incorporating a sulfate free, moisturizing shampoo into your regime will help prevent this. Having said this, a lot of great conditioners have silicones in them (any ingredient that ends with ‘cone’ is a silicone. Examples are dimethicone, Trimethicone, Cyclomethicone etc.) and the problem with silicones is that they cannot be washed away with a sulfate free shampoo. For them to be effectively removed they need to be removed with a sulfate shampoo. This is because they coat the hair strands and overtime moisture will not penetrate the strands leading to dry brittle hair that breaks off. The choices are these: replace the conditioner with one without silicones or keep using the conditioner with silicones and use a sulfate shampoo once a month to get rid of build up.

8. A clean scalp is the first step in a good hair regime: To promote healthy hair that grows at its optimum potential, hair must be washed at least once weekly. It doesn’t always have to be with a shampoo as some people find this too drying but you could incorporate something called conditioner washing or ‘co washing’ where a cheap rinse out conditioner is used in place of shampoo. A dirty scalp leads to clogged hair follicles, preventing hair from growing out of these follicles, ultimately leading to thinning hair.

9.  Low manipulation and protective styling: As our strands are curly, they rub against and wrap around one another, getting tangled and breaking off in the process, particularly if there’s constant manipulation of the hair – combing, tugging, pulling, brushing, heat styling. Keeping the hair in styles that prevent the constant manipulation of hair will help retain length as hair is left to thrive without all the harmful friction that can lead to split ends and breakage. A good protective night time routine is to sleep with a satin/silk scarf or cap. Cotton sucks moisture out of the hair and the constant rubbing of our hair strands against our cotton pillowcases causes the hair to dry out and break off from the friction.

10. Patience: More than anything else, fall in love with and be patient with your hair. What you love you will take care of and what you take care of will grow. You won’t grow hair down your back in one month and your hair won’t become soft and supple overnight – but with a consistent, good, hair regimen you will definitely see progress and hair that is beautifully and uniquely yours!

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