Embracing your natural hair is a process. No, it’s not just about hair; it actually can be quite a complex personal journey that requires a lot of exploration and self-love. Societally imposed standards of “straight hair” being the most beautiful hairstyle made me hate my natural hair for years. I kept my roots concealed underneath long, wavy extensions because that’s what I thought was “acceptable.” Thankfully, I broke out of that limiting shell of insecurity and am learning to love my natural hair more and more.
There’s never been a better time than now to transition to natural hair. If you’re still perming or relaxing your roots (a harsh chemical treatment that processes your curls and makes them straight), I’m here to let you know you can revitalize your curls. With the right products and a lot of TLC, your curls will revert to their natural state sooner than you think. We called on the top curl connoisseurs in the industry to fill us in on their tried-and-true products for transitioning to natural hair. Keep reading for the only natural-hair transitioning guide you’ll ever need.
Grow Your Hair Out or Go for the Chop
Diane C. Bailey, celebrity stylist and SheaMoisture beauty ambassador, believes there are two important questions to consider. “You have two options: Transition to natural hair, or do the big chop,” says Bailey. "Transitioning to natural hair often takes six to eight months to allow natural hair to grow to obtain some significant length. After that time, I always recommend a cut of the remaining damaged ends. The reason 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.”
Wear Protective Styles Like Cornrows, Braid Extensions, Twist Extensions, or Traditional Weaves
“It’s important to nourish and protect your curls,” says Bailey. “I use the SheaMoisture Jojoba Oil and Ucuuba Butter collection ($10 and up), which is designed for protective styling. SheaMoisture Jojoba Oil & Ucuuba Butter Braid-Up Conditioning Gel ($14) works beautifully for transitioning hair that’s in a protective style, as it’s light, soothing, and hydrating.”
Curly cut specialist and hairstylist Quarita Futrell encourages her clients to have fun with wigs. “I believe it’s super freeing to get rid of lifeless hair,” Futrell notes. “If my clients are not yet ready, then we tend to do in-between styles that exclude heat, such as twist-outs, flat twists, gel twists, and my favorite of all time are natural-wig unit installations.”
Gradually Trim Your Ends
DevaCurl hairstylist Sarrona Clardy doesn’t think a big chop is the route all women should take. “A big chop isn’t always necessary and in some cases may not be the best route to go depending on your level of comfort with shorter hair,” explains Clardy. “Many women take a gradual approach, trimming off their ends over time. This allows you to retain more length. It also gives you time to develop a hair regimen and begin to become comfortable with your natural texture. During this time, you can use protective styling to help manage straight ends. Styling transitioning hair can definitely be a challenge, but patience and understanding are the keys to success."
Carol’s Daughter lead hairstylist Stephanie McLemore also encourages regular hair trims during your transition. “When the chemical bonds in your hair are no longer being broken down with a relaxer, this leaves you with curly roots and chemically relaxed ends, aka your hair strands are now confused,” explains McLemore. “During this process, be sure to provide your hair with lots of moisture, and stay away from excessive heat, especially hot tools like curling irons and flatirons.”
Find Hair Inspiration
Vernon François, celebrity hairstylist and founder of the Vernon François collection, believes doing research and finding inspiration in experimental transitional styles will aid you along the way. “I always recommend doing research on hairstyles that you may like or represent your hair texture at its best,” says François. Pinterest is wonderful for this. Bobby pins are a texture girl’s best friend. Think of them like safety pins, and when in doubt, pin away. Messy buns, high or low, tend to work very well when transitioning. Also, if you’re not opposed to wearing wigs or extensions, then this is a wonderful way to transition fully before the big chop. That way you will have length with your natural texture before cutting off your processed hair.”
Expert Advice for Newly Natural Girls
Go to an Experienced Pro
“Whether you’re doing a big chop or trimming your hair as you grow out your chemical straightener, enlist the help of a hairstylist who’s knowledgeable about going natural,” Clardy notes. “The stylist can advise you on what haircut will make dealing with two different textures easier. If you choose to go the big-chop route, a professional can also tell you how much new growth you’ll have to work with, which will give you an idea of your styling options.”
Futrell also suggests getting advice from a curly hair product expert. “Proper application of products while the hair is soaking wet is also key because it gives you more control over your curls,” she says. “It’s important to understand that your curls have to dry—allow products to settle into your hair, and keep your hands out of your hair during this process. Just let it do its thing.”
Create a Game Plan
“Prepping for your new look before you take the plunge is one of the best things you can do,” says Clardy. “Gather photos of natural styles you love, learn about how to care for your natural curl type, and figure out what products you’ll need. Have those items ready to go so you can dive right into your new daily routine.”
Keep Heat Styling to a Minimum
Instead of relying on heated styling tools to blend your hair textures, which can lead to breakage, try styles like braids that create a consistent texture throughout your lengths.
“...don’t neglect your hair. When you’re wearing your hair in a bun a lot or using a protective styling method with braids or a weave to transition, resist the urge to slack off on haircare,” Clardy advises. “Stick with a consistent washing-and-conditioning schedule to keep your hair well moisturized and healthy.”
Try Protective Styles That Match Your Natural Texture
François says confidence in your decision to go natural is number one. “Secondly, try wigs or extensions that represent your natural hair texture,” François recommends. “This will provide an insight to what your hair will look like natural. Lastly, if you’re going to go for the big chop and are not opposed to coloring, I often advise a pop of color or enhancement will give your look lots of character.”
Give Your Hair Six to Eight Months to Fully Transition
Bailey notes that it’s important to be patient with yourself and your hair. “Give yourself six to eight months to allow your hair to grow out, and go to a stylist for small, gradual trims to remove dry ends,” she advises.
Watch YouTube Videos
“YouTube has thousands of great how-to videos of transitioning-style options. But be careful not to identify with a hair texture that is not like yours. Embrace your specific curl type, and style your hair in looks that work for your texture,” she suggests. It’s also equally important to find hairstyling products that detangle, hydrate, and complement your hair texture.
Invest in Good Products
“Look for products that provide nourishing herbs, oils, and butters. These will leave hair detangled and hydrated while calming the scalp,” says Bailey. When looking for hair products, it’s important to keep in mind that deep conditioning is the key to healthy natural hair: “A weekly, deeply penetrating hair mask that fortifies, revitalizes, and moisturizes curly, coily, and kinky hair is vital to reducing breakage when in transition,” she says. “If you’re transitioning with a protective style or extensions, be sure to moisturize your hair daily, avoid products that flake or leave a residue, and detangle with a gentle leave-in conditioner or leave-in mists. Use a wide-tooth comb to avoid breakage.”
Curly Hair Products the Pros Love
Vernon François: “When transitioning to your natural hair, it’s important to recognize that your new hair products should focus on managing your natural texture as well as caring for your current texture, even if it’s been chemically relaxed, blow-dried, or color-damaged,” François advises. “I recommend my Re~Vamp Shampoo ($30) and Whipped Deep Conditioner ($39). My shampoo is packed with nourishing plant oils, potent active ingredients, and antioxidants that support the keratin in hair to strengthen and deeply condition, leaving strands stronger, smoother, and less frizzy. My conditioner is designed to be impactful for all hair textures and help manage the transition to natural hair. It contains green tea, which neutralizes oxidation reactions and prevents color damage in dyed hair. It also contains jojoba oil, which locks in moisture, deeply nourishes, and conditions. Whether you are wearing your hair wavy, straight, curly, or kinky, keeping your hair hydrated is key for transitioning.”
DevaCurl: Clardy highly recommends DevaCurl’s Buildup Buster ($28), which removes dirt and debris from your hair to absorb much-needed moisture. “Hydrated hair is much more defined, helping the overall look of your hair as you’re transitioning,” says Clardy. She’s also a fan of DevaCurl’s Deep Sea Repair Seaweed Strengthening Mask ($36). “The line of demarcation where the natural hair texture meets the straight hair is very fragile, often leading to excessive breakage. This is a great strengthening mask that will help combat breakage.”
SheaMoisture: Bailey uses several products regularly on her clients with transitioning hair, including SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser ($12) that she recommends as an excellent alternative to shampoos that lather or contain sulfates. “It gently cleanses weak hair, leaving it soft and tangle-free,” Bailey notes. “Also SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Style Milk ($11) works well to smooth the cuticles, hydrate, and moisturize fragile hair without weighing it down. I also love SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie ($8) because it can be applied as a styling cream to wet or dry hair to define curls, reduce frizz, and seal in moisture. For twist-outs and braid-outs, it defines your curls. For tight, coily hair, apply the smoothie directly to the scalp to moisturize coils at the root.”
Carol’s Daughter: McLemore uses Carol’s Daughter Monoi collection and Sacred Tiare collection. “It offers a unique blend of natural products that will help strengthen your strands,” she notes. “Carol’s Daughter Monoi collection has monoi oil and tiare gardenias, which help provide moisture, infuse proteins, and stop shredding. It also gives your hair a protective barrier against damage. The Sacred Tiare collection has shea butter, gardenias, and vitamins to help get rid of split ends.”
The Benefits of Going Natural
It’s healthy for your hair: “Women who have decided to embrace their natural texture and go are celebrating their hair in its most natural state,” says Bailey. “Going natural is just the beginning to living more naturally. When you go natural, you might be more inclined to read the product-label ingredients or become more aware of avoiding synthetic chemicals. You should go natural because you want to live a long healthy life that’ll protect our environment.”
You’ll have the freedom to embrace new styles: “If you find that your hair follicles are weak, you have excessive shedding from chemically processed hair, or you need to rediscover your beautiful natural texture because you have had relaxed hair forever, it's time to start your natural-hair journey,” McLemore says. Futrell also notes that it’s important to embrace the freedom. “Going natural is a freeing transition, and it’s super flexible. It allows you to have the freedom of choice when it comes to styling your hair,” she explains.
“I believe that it does require a little bit of soul-searching that leads to a conscious decision to make a major change,” Clardy adds. “It’s hair, so celebrate the fact that A) you have it and B) you can decide how you want to wear it and just have fun with it. If what you’re doing today isn’t working, you can always try something different. Seize the opportunity to try something new.”
Opening Image: @flammedepigalle
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
Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015;7(1):2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450