Newly Natural? Wading through the products and methods.
When I was contemplating the decision to go natural, I was amazed by the wealth of information that was available online. Knowing that there was so much information and support online was very encouraging and helped me make the decision to big chop (BC). Some of the advice that I took from the hair boards and blogs, was to do my research before the actual chop. I did just that. I stalked Fotki’s, read numerous blog posts and watched countless Youtube videos. Every time I learned something new or about some new method, I did further research on it. Moisturizing. Not shampooing. Protein treatments. Protective styles. Detangling. Stretching. Product reviews. The information is endless and I think I started to get overloaded with it.
When I was ready to BC, I found myself more confused than I was before I even thought about going natural. I was now bald and after all of that research, I had no clue what I should do. A co-worker tried to help me out by writing down what she used and I bought the products only to be confused as to what order to apply them and why I was putting them on my head in the first place. I sprayed some stuff, slathered on some stuff, applied some gel and sprayed some stuff. My hair still looked thirsty and like the same afro it was before I put anything on it at all. I turned back to the internet and Youtube to learn how to apply products and to try to figure out what products I should be using. I wish I had found a guide that broke down what was absolutely crucial and why people were doing what they were doing to their hair. I want to attempt to do a little of that today. This post will be an ongoing one that I plan to update as new techniques and others that I have missed come to mind.
Establish a Routine
Establishing a routine it the most important step I think for a new natural to do. By establishing a routine, you are giving your hair consistency and it is easier to identify problems by process of elimination. Once you find products or methods that work for your hair, stick to them. By constantly looking for the next best thing, you will end up spending more money, time, and energy in the long run. The following are what I would consider the basic steps for any new natural’s routine. Once you have the basics down, you can experiment with adding additional steps. If you don’t nail these, you will stay lost like I did for a couple of months.
This step can be accomplished by using a shampoo (sulfate or non-sulfate) or by co-washing only (washing using conditioner only). Whichever method is chosen, be sure to remove any build-up you may find on your hair or scalp. This can be accomplished by using a clarifying shampoo or an ACV (apple cider vinegar rinse) if you do not use shampoo. Some people may find that they do not need to do anything extra to remove build-up, just be aware of this. The frequency of cleansing will also be up to you and your hair. For me, I have to shampoo (sulfate free) my hair every week. Some people find that they can go two weeks to a month without cleaning. You will have to experiment to find out what will work best for you.
Kinky/Curly hair needs moisture. It is vital to the hair in order to thrive and flourish. There are many conditioners out there that range in price from cheap to expensive. You can also experiment with making your own concoction with baking soda. A lot of naturals will use the conditioning step to detangle their hair. If you only have 1”-2” of hair, you probably do not need to worry about detangling yet. You do, however, still want to condition your hair. Remember that the hair you have now, will become your ends later. Deep Conditioning (DC) is a method of conditioning in which you leave the conditioner on your hair for a longer period of time than you would do in the shower. It is also aided by heat, whether that be from body heat (baggy method), steam, bonnet dryer or a hot towel wrapped around your head. If you co-wash, you essentially are conditioning as you cleanse, but a DC wouldn’t hurt. If you use shampoo, this may be a step you can explore later in addition to your conditioning if you struggle with dry hair. I DC every time I shampoo with a hair steamer.
This is a step that you will do following your cleansing and conditioning, but you may also find that you need to do this every day in between washing and before styling. This is a step where you will add moisture to your hair that you want to stay in your hair (no rinsing out). You can use a leave-in conditioner spray, leave-in conditioner lotion, or just water. It is important to use a water based leave-in, because water is the best moisturizer for your hair.
4. Seal in the Moisture
You want to seal in the moisture that you have added to keep it from escaping and evaporating out of the hair. The best way to do this is to try to close the hair shaft and use an oil or butter. You can help to close the hair shaft by simply, smoothing the hair strands from root to tip. Using oil or a butter as a sealant provides a barrier around the hair shaft. Because oil is not water soluable, the oil makes it hard for the water to evaporate out of the hair shaft.
This is where all of those extra products that you see thousands of reviews on come into play. There are twisting butters, curling creams and styling gels to wade through. All I can do to offer advice on these is to tell you some of the key things that naturals may look for in products and what they may be used for. Most naturals do not like products that make their hair hard, crispy or crunchy. If you are looking to twist your hair for the infamous twist-out look, you want to look for a product that will give you moisture and some hold for better definition. For wash and go styles or styles that require a lot of curl definition, you want to look for a product with a firm hold, typically a gel. Depending on your desired finished style, choose a gel for a firmer hold and a cream or lotion for softer non-crunchy hair. Keep in mind that the more product you use on your hair, the more frequently you will have to cleanse it.
Other processes/methods that are noteworthy are the following:
Strengthening: Protein Treatments & Henna
Common methods to strengthen the hair are protein treatments and henna. Some people find that they must keep a strict balance of protein and moisture. They achieve this with regular protein treatments using store bought products or making home made concoctions with eggs, yogurt and mayonnaise. Some people find that their hair is actually protein sensitive and avoid all products with proteins. Henna provides a way to strengthen the hair, but also has “side effects” of depositing a red color tint to hair and sometimes loosening curls. I have experimented with both. In the very beginning, I tried a couple of home made protein treatments and had success at first, but then my hair revolted and turned into dry straw. Henna was great although messy for the first three times I used it (once a month), but then I experienced curl loosening in my already loose section on the fourth use. I immediately stopped doing the henna treatments. I love red hair and wished that it had been more of a color as opposed to a tint, but I cannot afford for that one section to loosen any further.
If you have any other tips or processes/methods to share with a new natural, feel free to post them below in the comments section.