HAIR: 5 Tips for New (or Frustrated!) Naturals

I have been natural for almost five years.  In January of 2010 I decided to stop relaxing my hair. The last time I’d seen my natural hair was when I was 12. A full 19 years had passed since my hair had been allowed to just be. I had never considered that I could wear my hair natural.  I always thought it would be too kinky, dry, unruly, unprofessional to wear in public, and never thought I’d be able to swing it at work.  But in 2009, when I relocated to New York, I made two close friends and they both had natural hair that they completely ROCKED! Going natural was a HUGE decision for me. I was one of those women who had a standing appointment with my hairstylist for a relaxer touch-up every six weeks – without fail. But one day, inspired by my natural friends and the other fly naturals I’d encountered in NYC, at my standing appointment, I made the decision to just get a deep conditioning treatment in place of my relaxer.  My stylist was stunned, but she did what I asked.  Seven months later, after struggling with two textures for too long, I went in to the salon for a deep conditioner and chopped my hair off instead.  I’ve been natural ever since.  Looking back on it, I only have one regret: that I didn’t do it sooner.  I LOVE my kinks, curls, and coils (I have about a million textures going on in my hair)!

The natural hair thing is definitely a “journey” and I’ve learned so much along the way.  I have gone from a TWA (teeny-weeny afro) to a huge head of fluffy hair, and people often ask me how I did it.  I have so much to say about this aspect of my life that I could, literally, write a book about it, but – to start – here are a few tips aspiring naturals (or frustrated naturals) might find helpful:

1.    Develop a regimen that works for YOU.

A hair “regimen” is your own personal hair care procedure. The bad news is: when your hair is natural, it requires quite a bit of attention and care.  The good news is: simple is always better than complicated.  When I first went natural, I watched about 200 YouTube videos – tutorials, product reviews, regimen recaps, etc.  I’ll admit that the tutorials were helpful, but in the end, those vids turned me into a product junky.  If I could get back all the money I’ve spent on hair products over the years, I would be a rich woman.  Maybe there are some people who’ve got the discretionary income to drop a couple bills per month on hair products, but I don’t.  And if I’d been paid for all the time I’ve spent on my hair care, I could retire about 30 years early.  There could be some folks who have nothing better to do than sit around and play in their hair, but I do.  So, after A LOT of trial and error, I found a regimen that works for me.  It’s quick, and the products are simple and – best of all – cheap!  You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on your hair for it to look good. Following someone else’s regimen won’t necessarily solve your problems. You’ve just got to figure out your priorities, budget, and hair type and work around it until you find the thing that works for you.

2.    Be gentle.

On the natural hair journey, it’s important to be gentle to both your HAIR and YOURSELF.  If you want healthy hair, you should treat your hair as carefully as you’d treat your favorite silk blouse or most expensive cashmere sweater. Hair is a delicate fiber. If you don’t care for it properly, hair is prone to break, snag, etc., and you’ll have to be extremely careful with it if you want a healthy full head of hair. My advice is to be gentle with it.  Never brush or comb your hair when it’s completely dry. Cover it with something silky or satiny when you sleep.  Protect it when it’s cold outside. These are just a few things to consider when it comes to being gentle with your hair.  If you simply keep your hair protected, you’d be stunned at how much length you will retain and how quickly it will grow.  But the most important thing to remember on this journey is to be gentle with YOURSELF.  Patience is indeed, a virtue.  Your hair WILL grow, but don’t compare your growth to others.  Don’t get frustrated with yourself or your hair.  Your hair is an extension of yourself.  Embrace your hair and, in turn, embrace who YOU are.

3.    Remember that curls don’t come in a jar or bottle.

Once I finally nailed the regimen that works for me, I was stunned by the attention my hair got.  A day didn’t pass without me receiving a compliment from someone about my hair.  When my hair was relaxed and freshly done, I often received compliments on it.  It was so thick, people thought it was a wig!  But those compliments did not compare to what I heard from people about my natural hair.  Once, a woman on the subway turns to me  “I want my hair to look just like THAT,” she says while pointing at my wash and go.  “What did you do to get your hair that way?” she asked me.  I started to explain and she says, “Wait!” and pulls out a notebook.  She wrote down every word I said.  She wanted to know products and techniques.  I started off with this disclaimer: “I will tell you what I did, but I can’t promise your hair will look like this if you do it.”  My wash and go is mostly the result of my natural curls.  The products I use only enhance the curls and coils that I already have.  If you don’t have the same curls and coils, the products I used on my hair will not help you to get them. It took me awhile to understand this, but curls and coils don’t come in a bottle or a jar.  I mentioned before that I watched a TON of YouTube videos when I first went natural.  The reason I became a product junky is because every time I saw a video that made me envious of someone else’s hair texture, I went out and bought those products hoping my hair would turn out similarly.  But it didn’t.  My hair can only do what it was made to do and no potion in a bottle is going to change that.  The sooner you learn your hair’s texture and learn to love it instead of fighting against it, you’ll become a lot less frustrated with your natural hair.

4.    Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!

The key to healthy and beautiful natural hair is moisture.  When my hair was relaxed, I was terrified of water because I didn’t want my hair to revert.  What I’ve discovered since going natural is that my hair absolutely LOVES water.  I mean, it gets happy when the first drop hits it. So what do I do?  I use water-based products every day.  I also mist my hair everyday with a water/coconut oil spritz that I make myself.  My hair soaks it up!  Maybe your hair doesn’t need or want water everyday, but I would strongly suggest at least applying a water-based product to your hair at least a few times per week to quench those thirsty curls.  The more moisturized your hair is, the less likely it is to tangle and break, resulting in optimal length retention.  Moisture also makes your hair look healthier and feel healthier.  Bottom line, dry natural hair is simply no bueno.

5.    Werk it… with confidence!

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, figuring out your natural hair takes a lot of trial and error.  You will try things and they won’t work.  You will try some other things and they’ll be a success.  I promise you will have some bad hair days along the way.  But be gentle with yourself when this happens.  The wonderful thing about natural hair is that it’s a lot easier to play off a bad hair day.  Many times the public will be totally in the dark about your hair “fails”.  Your hair might not turn out the way you pictured it, but nobody else knows that… so just go with it!  You can try wraps, hair jewels, hats, headbands, scarves, chandelier earrings, makeup, etc., and they can all add that extra flair to your hair.  But the most important accessory of all is confidence!  No matter what your hair looks like on any given day, remember you are beautiful… and you better WERK!

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