Over the past decade, Black women have been ditching their relaxers at a seemingly exponential rate and transitioning their hair back to its natural state. Everywhere you turn, you see women unapologetically rocking their coils, afros, curls, and braids up and down the streets—and, honestly, it's been quite refreshing to watch.
Although the overall concept of wearing your hair natural seems simple, the process is one that is actually quite complex to master simply because everyone's hair is different. What may work for one person, may not work the same for someone else. The whole process, quite frankly, can sometimes feel like one big cycle of trial and error. This is no reason to get discouraged, however, because there are quite a few tidbits that can help you get comfortable with the overall technique. And, believe me, once you get into the groove of things, the results you see in your crowning glory will be well worth it.
If you've been recently thinking about transitioning your relaxed hair, or if you're in the process already, you may have found that getting the proper answers isn't always as easy as you'd expect. To gain some clarity on the topic, we reached out to the professionals for help.
Ahead, natural hair expert Mika English answers some of the most common questions about how to safely transition to natural hair.
Meet the Expert
Mika English is a New York-based hairstylist who specializes in natural hair care. She is the creator and owner of the Grew Hair Care System, which is aimed at keeping natural hair healthy and vibrant while promoting rapid hair growth.
You may associate transitioning with leaving relaxers behind, but the method can also involve returning to your natural hair from any texture-altering process. For some, this includes heat damage, or heat training as some women call it. It can also involve leaving texturizers behind, including those sneaky "manageability" products that don't always advertise being chemical-laden. Once you decide you want to return to your all-natural mane, you're ditching any product that may change the natural structure of your hair cuticle. This includes hair color.
The short answer is "no" if you're trying to move to all-natural hair. Unfortunately, some brands market texturizers as if they're natural products, making women believe there are no texture-altering chemicals in the kit. Whenever you see a product claiming to improve manageability or loosen curls, proceed with caution. Chances are, whether it calls itself a texturizer or not, your texture will be affected by the questionable ingredients. Texturizers do contain chemicals and will set you back on your natural journey.
There are no rules about how long your transition should take, so if anyone tells you that you've transitioned too long at eight months, ignore that advice. Some women have more patience than others and will do well as long-term transitioners. Others will get frustrated dealing with different textures and will end up cutting off their straightened hair long before they planned to. Choose a timeline that works for you, but don't be surprised if it changes! You may get fed up with your varying textures one day and just decide to go forward with the big chop (the process where the relaxed hair is completely cut off) sooner than later. Or, you might prolong your transition if a drastic change becomes too much for you.
You might feel limited in the number of hairstyles you can create while transitioning. In the beginning, it won't be as difficult, but as your mane grows and you have more new growth competing with your previously straightened locks, it gets more challenging to find styles that work with both textures.
English recommends wearing braids, twist outs using products such as Paul Mitchell Foaming Pomade ($17), and wigs throughout the process. However, she says that the silk press is one of her favorites because "it keeps the hair on a routine to grow out avoiding the line of demarcation that causes breakage." These protective looks place less stress on your hair, leading to less damage. English adds, "natural hair is stronger than relaxed hair, so if you don’t keep it pressed or protected consistently, it will cause breakage."
You definitely can, but do so with caution. If you decide to press or flat iron your new growth in order to make it blend better with your existing ends, you'll just need to be extra careful. Not only do you want to avoid heat damage, but you also don't want to place too much stress on the place where the chemically altered hair meets your natural tresses. English says she uses CHI Silk Infusion ($30) on clients when silk pressing, but suggests reaching out to a professional for heat styling to prevent damage.
Along with finding hairstyles that work with your transitioning hair, breakage is one of the top concerns for women returning to their natural roots. The area where your previously processed hair meets your new growth, or line of demarcation, is usually the place where breakage is most likely to occur (women who transition from heat damage probably won't have one area that breaks more than another) because it's an especially fragile spot. To avoid as much breakage as possible, English explains that an occasional protein treatment such as Affirm's 5-in-1 Reconstructor ($20) is a must. She says that deep conditioning and professional salon trims are also beneficial when trying to keep your hair in its best shape.
Hopefully, your transition will sail along, but even the most dedicated and routine-keeping individual may have times when the whole process drives her crazy. Having a regimen is key, as are finding products and especially hairstyles that work for you. English suggests using her Grew Hair Care System to promote hair growth, detangle, and combat the product buildup that sometimes comes along with the transitioning process. If you have a favorite stylist who can help you through this phase, put your care in her hands. Likewise, sometimes it helps to put your hair up and out of sight, in the form of a weave, wig, braid, or twist extensions, if you're going through a particularly challenging phase.
It happens. Some women try their hardest to go back to natural hair, but for one reason or another, decide to return to relaxing (or continual straightening with thermal tools). Although natural hair really is for everyone -- because your hair as it grows from your scalp should be acceptable -- not everyone can embrace her texture. If being natural is something you really wanted but you just couldn't figure out how to make it work for you, try not to let anyone make you feel bad about your decision to go back to straightened locks. Besides, you may be able to return to natural hair at some point in the future, when your lifestyle and circumstances are different.
What Challenges Will I Face?
It shouldn't be so hard to return to natural hair, but it can sometimes be quite a challenge. The longer you've had straightened hair, the harder it can sometimes be to figure out how to handle your natural texture. The longer you transition, the more challenges you can expect to face. This is due to having more new growth and figuring out how to avoid major breakage. You may also have to find new hairstyles that work as your tresses grow. No one said transitioning was easy, so as long as you know you'll have times when the going seems tough, you'll be able to have plans in place to deal with those times.
What Should I Avoid While Transitioning to Natural Hair?
Once you know what to do for your transitioning hair and which styles and products are working, is there anything you should avoid? Definitely. English shares that it's best to avoid "too much heat styling, heavy products, and DIY hair coloring." Texture-altering chemicals, obviously, top the list, but you might also want to stay away from people who don't support your decision to return to natural locks (or at least tune them out if you can't cut them off). If you're stuck on using the same products that worked for your relaxed mane, continue with them only if they keep working. The truth is that you'll probably have to ditch some products and find new ones that make the most of your natural texture.
Transitioning to natural hair may not the easiest thing you've done, but if you stick it out, it can be one of the most rewarding!
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