The natural hair movement has come a long way. From our products being kept strictly on the "ethnic" haircare aisle in the store (often in the back and hard to find, mind you) to natural hair YouTubers formulating their own products and making lots of money in the process, it's safe to say that natural hair is definitely not a trend and is here to stay.
But caring for natural hair? That's a whole different subject entirely. Natural hair does require a certain level of maintenance to keep it healthy and flourishing, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn't have to be hard or time consuming. Below, we've contacted natural hair experts to give us their top tips on how to bring out the best in your natural hair.
Use Gentle Curling Methods
The tools that make our lives so much easier can also quickly damage your hair when misused. That daily "bump" with your trusty curling iron can slowly but surely fry your ends. Even one time that's too hot can damage your hair, so take it easy. Try gentler methods for providing curl and volume to your tresses, such as wrapping at night or satin-covered rollers. The occasional pass with a thermal styling tool should be safe, but always use a heat protectant as a barrier between a hot iron and your hair.
Good Heat Protectants to Try
Bleach With Caution
When it comes to Black hair, you need to ask yourself if you want healthy locks or to be a platinum blonde—because you usually can't have both. Natural hair can sometimes withstand this extreme lightening, but not without heavy and frequent conditioning. If you wear yours relaxed, choose another color; preferably one that doesn't lift your natural shade more than three levels.
Thompson and Wilson told me, "When you bleach or color your hair it becomes very fragile and needs to be moisturized and treated with a deep conditioning treatment. We highly recommend the Revival Deep Conditioning Treatment ($35) to replenish, moisturize, and restore your hair without weighing it down. For an even deeper hydration, we recommend sitting under a hooded dryer or a hood steamer for about 30 minutes."
Practice Patience with Growing Out Relaxers
If you're a budding naturalista who wants to grow out your relaxer, you're going to have to be patient. If you use mayonnaise to try and strip a relaxer from your hair, you're not doing permanent damage, but you're not doing anything else either. But if you use dish detergent, harsh shampoos or products that promise to strip chemicals, you're definitely harming your hair. Relaxers are permanent—they change the chemical structure of your hair. Think about it like cooking an egg. Just like you can't uncook an egg, nothing will strip a relaxer.
Invest in the Right Products
Heavy, petroleum-laden products are not good for your hair and should be avoided at all costs. At best, these products may not allow necessary hydration to enter your hair shaft, and at worst, they might cause significant build up and damage to your scalp. Bennu told us, "Water is your friend. Highly textured hair loves hydration. The ‘Juices’ ($14) herbal hydrating tonics are perfect to soften and hydrate. Layer a water-based leave-in with a light application of an oil-based sealing product."
Thompson and Wilson added, "A simple yet effective regimen includes products like the Healthy Hair Care System Starter Kit. It's designed for women with all types of textures to achieve healthy, natural hair growth. This kit has five steps that walk you through properly treating and stimulating your scalp for optimal health. Each kit includes a TLC Comb-Out Treatment to help prevent breakage when detangling, the Renewing Shampoo and Conditioner that gives an intense scalp and hair cleanse to restore moisture, the Revival Deep Treatment to promote growth, elasticity, strength and hydration, and the True Essence Oil, which stimulates follicles to promote growth in thinning areas and bald spots."
Take Care of Your Ends
Taking care of your ends is very important when you're transitioning. Dellinger gave us a three-step plan to protecting your ends.
- Trim Your Ends - Dellinger told us, "Obviously [trimming your ends] will change your bottom line at the end of the year, but a strong baseline will help you retain growth. Weak ends can accelerate breakage. See a professional to get a custom recommendation for how much to trim, but generally, healthy hair can maintain a routine of trimming roughly 3/4 inch, every 4 months, or more for damaged hair in need of repair."
- Oil Your Ends - "Protective oils can serve as a barrier around the hair shaft. This provides a layer of protection from environmental and tactical styling damage and preserves previously moisturized strands. Be sure to oil the ends after applying a hydrating moisturizer to your strands," says Dellinger.
- Conceal Your Ends - And finally, she recommends, "Cover those ends in a basic protective style. The key is for the ends to be concealed, not revealed. Hide, put them away, and opt to wear these types of styles more often than not."
Avoid Not Shampoing Often Enough
Unless you walk around wearing a hat all day long, your hair is subject to dust, dirty air, grime, and pollution. While you shouldn't wash your hair every day, it needs to see some water more often than not. Not shampooing and letting dirt build up will not grow your hair. At least once a week is a good schedule to follow for shampooing but consider your lifestyle, too. If you exercise frequently, you may need to incorporate co-washes into your regimen.
Thompson and Wilson add, "Co-washes are good, however they should not be done back to back. Co-washes should only be done in between your main wash. If done back to back, this can cause build up in your scalp. It’s important to wash your hair every 2-3 weeks to detox and remove all buildup off your scalp so that it can breathe."
Steer Clear of Tight Ponytails and Buns
A hairstyle shouldn't hurt, and if yours does, or causes tiny bumps to develop at your hairline, (although hopefully it doesn't,) it's too tight. Too many people have painful hairdos that aren't necessary. Instead, focus on protective styles that won't damage your edges. Bennu says, "Low-manipulation styles are great ways to avoid breakage and increase length retention."
Dellinger adds, "Protective styling is the best type of styling when on a hair growth plan. Enjoy the #bunlife or use protective style updos with twists and loose braids. You can also style your hair in long-term extension styles. No matter what style you choose, make sure the tension is minimal, your scalp can breathe, and that you do not leave your hair styled beyond the expiration date."
Stop Overprocessing Your Hair
By now, you probably know not to apply relaxer to previously processed hair, but with so many people applying chemicals at home, it's still easy to make this mistake. Add permanent color to straightened hair and you often have a recipe for maximum breakage. To avoid this issue, it's best to see a stylist for relaxer and color applications.
Put a Stop to Rough Detangling Sessions
All hair gets tangled at some point, but it's how you handle it that determines whether you retain your hair or whether you pull it out. Instead of yanking at tangles, work through them with your fingers first, and then with a wide-tooth comb. If you're in a hurry, save your untangling for when you're not—it's when we're in a rush that we most often pull roughly, instead of working through gently. "To detangle your hair we recommend using our TLC Comb-out Treatment ($30) with a wide toothed comb to help detangle and smooth out your strands with less stress. This will also help prevent breakage," say Thompson and Wilson.
Cut Off Split Ends
Ladies who are trying to grow longer locks often have a hard time with this one, but cutting away split ends is essential for healthy hair. Would you rather have a lengthy mane with thin, see-through sections where it's broken off? Or would you rather start off shorter, but with strong, thick locks? Unfortunately, some people choose the first option and walk around with blatantly unhealthy hair. Split ends don't fix themselves—you have to trim them away as needed to prevent the the split from traveling further up the hair shaft and splitting the hair even more.
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Khumalo NP, Stone J, Gumedze F, McGrath E, Ngwanya MR, de Berker D. 'Relaxers' damage hair: evidence from amino acid analysis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010;62(3):402-408. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2009.04.061
Cleveland Clinic. Is there any way to make your hair grow faster? Updated February 27, 2020.