My hair and I have always had a strained relationship. As a child, I would constantly find ways to avoid getting my hair done because it was always such a long, painful process. And though the experience of having my mother rake a comb through my stubborn, tangled curls every few days was painful, nothing could compare to the agony of watching television while she did it and seeing commercials filled with women flaunting their shiny, silky, and—what seemed to be—pain-free hair. It wasn't until my mother started taking me to the hair salon to get my hair blown out that I realized that I, too, could have silky and soft hair just like the girls I saw. I watched with wide, excited eyes as the hairdresser ran the blow dryer and hair straightener through my hair. It was then and there that I decided that the price of heat damage was one I was more than willing to pay to feel beautiful.
Eventually, I fell into a vicious hair cycle of using and abusing hot tools until my hair became brittle and broken. My curly hair used to almost touch my waist, but by the time I was 15, I had chop it all off from straightening it every single day. Straightening my hair became less enjoyable and more like a sad, coping method to deal with my drastic hair change. I believed for a long time that there was no way out of the cycle until I got to my junior year in college and became friends with girls who had made the natural hair plunge and helped support me as I weaned myself off of using heat. I slowly began to embrace my natural hair and eventually began to get some of my old curl pattern back. During that time, I hid behind updos, ponytails, and tight, slicked-back buns to avoid being caught with frizzy, half-curly hair in public. I secretly yearned to be like the girls I saw on Instagram or in my dorm hall, confident and glowing with their fluffy, bouncy curls. I wanted to finally stop hiding. So I enlisted the help of some experts to help me along the way.
"One thing that customers tell me is that they see these girls when they’ve gone through this journey, and they’re like, 'Yeah, but that’s not my hair, my hair is frizzy. Well, that’s not my curl,'" DevaCurl Curl specialist Jessica Fitzpatrick tells me as she styles my hair at their flagship salon inSoHo. "And it’s like, it might not be your exact curl pattern, but you can definitely have damn good hair... like, damn good curly hair. And it becomes so second nature. And a lot of girls are like, 'Well, this takes a lot of time,' and I’m like, 'Well, how much time do you spend in the salon getting it blown out?' Or, 'How much time do you spend in the morning blowing it out or smoothing it out? Or, 'How much time are you frustrated with it?'"
It seems pretty obvious that if you want to make some major changes in your life, you should probably do some research. But where does one start? In order to find the right regimen for your curls, you have to know what type of curls you have. This natural hair chart serves as a great starting point in getting familiar with your hair, but sometimes, the answer is not that simple.
"There are many more hair types, textures, and combinations of type and textures that can’t be captured in a grouping of types," says Bailey. "As a professional stylist, I talk about a client’s hair texture and refer to it in its most definitive terms. I touch and feel the hair to see the varying degrees of density, porosity, and whether the hair is fine, damaged, soft, coarse, wavy, coily, or wiry. Often people have multiples of textures on their head. It’s vital to know how many textures you may have, in order to address the different needs of each hair type and how to effectively care for and style your hair."
For those who may not have the time or money to be seen by a stylist, Bailey recommends using SheaMoisture’s hair recognition tool which can be found on AMillionWaysToShea.com. The online tool provides personalized recommendations to easily match their hair need with a specific product and quickly navigate the vast hair offerings.
We've all been taught that the proper way to wash hair involves lathering, rinsing, and repeating, but it turns out that this one-size-fits-all method isn't the best for those with curly hair. Yes, cleansing your hair/scalp is important, but what people fail to realize is that it's just as important to condition—if not more. By incorporating conditioners, serums, and deep treatments, you actually repair damaged hair and create a frizz-free head of curls.
"Pre-shampoo treatments, deep treatment masks, and leave-in conditioners help promote stronger hair and prevent breakage. I often recommend the SheaMoisture Sacha Inchi Oil Omega 3, 6, 9 Rescue & Repair Co-Wash not as a treatment but as a gentle conditioning cleanser for fragile coily/kinky hair," Bailey says. "Another misconception is the number of times you should be washing your hair. Shampooing black hair frequently can be drying to both the strands and scalp. How often usually depends on several factors, including the overall health of the hair, hair type, texture, and the season. In general, tight coily/kinky hair requires less shampooing. In the summer, you may want to shampoo once per week, while in the winter co-wash or a single shampoo may be done weekly. Co-washing in cooler weather also helps to prevent frizz and breakage."
Cole echoes this sentiment but warns that avoiding shampooing entirely can be more damaging to the overall hair health. "Make sure you are using a cleanser that's strong enough to get the cement at the root. If you don't reach that, that cement can change the structure of your hair," he says. "Sometimes my clients will say they aren't going to wash their hair because it makes them frizzy, then they go to the gym. Well, when you go to the gym, you sweat, and sweat is salt. They think they are going to have great hair, but actually, washing the hair more and conditioning, as well as using a mask once a week, is better. Your hair gets frizzy outside because it's dry and trying to suck up the moisture! The quick fix is to put in oil, but you're creating a barrier, and it's very temporary and does not help the health of your hair."
Going natural means embracing natural products. This means avoid using heat, staying away from synthetic ingredients, and embracing the art of the air dry.
"I always recommend letting the hair dry on its own," says Cole. "If you're going to use a diffuser, leave hair 80 percent dry and let the rest dry on its own. And never brush while hair is wet—you shouldn't really brush coily hair at all. For curly hair with softer texture, brush with softer bristles. Start with the ends and go outward. If you have Z pattern to coily hair, your best bet is to leave it. Wrap your towel around it and let the moisture sink in." He adds, "And if you're going to use heat, make sure it's low heat."
When it comes to shopping for the right products, Bailey advises to avoid ones with petroleum, sulfate, artificial color, or anything that has too many ingredients. "I use several products regularly on my clients with transitioning hair, including SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser, as it’s an excellent alternative to shampoos that lather, as well as contain sulfates. Heavy petroleum and synthetic oils should also be avoided, as they don’t nourish or feed the hair and scalp. I suggest to my clients to use only products with essential oils and/or natural extracts, instead of synthetic fragrances that often contain phthalates, which may have potential health risks."
And for those who want the option of straightening their hair, Fitzpatrick advises that it's best to take the DIY approach. "I also would say if you’re insistent upon wearing it straight and blowing it out, do it yourself," says Fitzpatrick. "You know how much tension you’re applying, compared to what they do at the salon."
Drake once said, "Sometimes it’'s about going there, not getting there. Sometimes it’'s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination." And that's what transitioning to natural hair is all about—the journey.
"Transitioning to natural hair often takes from six to eight months, to allow natural hair to grow to obtain some significant length," Bailey reiterates. "After that time, I always recommend a cut of the remaining damaged ends. The reason why most women opt to do a long transition is because they do not feel comfortable with short textured hair. The 'big chop,' or the removal of chemically treated and often damaged hair, can be a little scary for some women. Transitioning implies taking the 'journey' into self-discovery, a seemingly slower process of getting to know your original hair texture."
"Heat-damaged hair takes a while to get back the elasticity. There's no moisture in your hair, no elasticity to let the keratin expand. When you stop using heat and start using these products, it will start to bring those things back," Cole explains. "You will realize you can start to get the curl a little more than you would have."
When Fitzpatrick finishes me off with a quick trim, she asks me why I decided to go natural. I let out an exasperated sigh and say, "I just got tired of keeping up with it. It's too much to maintain and I know I'm doing more damage every time I use heat." When she's finished, my hair is slightly shorter and definitely wider. I'd never been outside with my natural hair before unless put up in a bun, and a wave of panic sets over me. I look at myself blankly in the mirror. As if reading my mind, she says, "Be patient with yourself. We’re learning something new, we’re learning it’s not just a physical journey within our hair. This is a mental, emotional journey with what we see in the mirror. It takes time."