What Is Natural Hair? A Definition and In-Depth Look

black woman with beautiful natural hair

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Natural hair, by definition, hasn't been altered by chemical straighteners, including relaxers and texturizers. Pressed hair may still be considered natural because once washed, the texture usually returns to its unaltered state (as long as no heat damage has occurred).

Meet the Expert

Pat Grant Williams is a hair educator and Creme of Nature hairstylist.

What Is Natural Hair?

In terms of natural Black hair, there's no one size fits all when it comes to texture and growth patterns, but in general, natural Black hair usually ranges from wavy to kinky-coily, with a wide range of variation between the two. (And yes, some Black people have naturally straight hair as well.) In fact, texture differences exist not only in families, including siblings, but even on the same head of hair. In general, Black hair types tend to be:

  • Drier to the touch than other hair textures
  • Extremely difficult to over-condition
  • Fragile

Natural hair can look strong, but this is a very delicate texture and needs to be handled as such. This means frequent conditioning and moisturizing and as little direct heat as possible to maintain optimum health.

beautiful woman with afro

Jimena Roquero / Stocksy

Popular Natural Hair Styles

One of the best aspects of natural hair is being able to enjoy a huge variety of styles. Some of these hairdos mimic chemically straightened locks, but many are unique to having no texture-altering chemicals on your hair. Hairstyles that work especially well with natural textures include:

How to Color Natural Hair?

"It is OK to color natural hair," says hair educator and Creme of Nature hairstylist Pat Grant Williams. "There are three main categories of color, semi-permanent, demi-permanent, and permanent. From semi-permanent to permanent, choose a color that fits your hair care regimen to maintain the integrity of the hair. Semi-permanent colors last six to eight weeks based on a weekly shampoo and conditioner. These colors gently fade away, will not lighten the hair, and are formulated to deposit color."

Grant says these colors can enhance your hair color and give you fun color options from black to vivid shades without damaging the hair. "The semi-permanent colors are mixed with a low volume developer and last up to 12 weeks. These color formulations can give a gentle lift." Since semi-permanent colors can lift your natural hair color, following-up with a weekly deep conditioner is essential.

Pure Honey Hydrating Color Boost Semi-Permanent Vivid Colors.
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Permanent colors last until they grow out or cutaway and can cause damage if the hair isn't properly taken care of which means intensive hair treatments are a must. Grant recommends conditioners that will help to bond the hair after color applications. "After coloring natural hair, stay away from blow dryers and 450 degrees flat irons," she adds. "Allow [the hair] to air dry as often as possible [and] always use a leave-in conditioner."

Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector No 3. Repairing Treatment - - How to Wash Your Hair Less
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Is Texturizing Safe for Natural Hair?

Texturizers are chemicals designed to break down the protein bonds in your hair in order to permanently change the texture. Some products market themselves as "natural texturizers" or claim they can increase the manageability of your hair by application and heat. They usually contain the same active ingredients as relaxers, just in lower amounts. Unfortunately, some natural-haired women report being duped by hairstylists who apply these chemicals under the guise of making a person's hair "more manageable" without fully disclosing what the product contains.

"Texturizing, removing 50 % or less of the natural curl can be safe when done correctly," says Grant. "Texturizing can stretch the natural curl for elongation [and] soften the hair and add more manageability to very curly hair." With all of this in mind, talk with your stylist and ask any questions before moving forward with the process.

Is Heat Styling Safe For Natural Hair?

As a straightening method, thermal styling is preferable to texturizing because ideally, you can wet your tresses and they'll return to their natural state. Some women constantly press their locks, however, and over time, their manes become heat-trained. Heat-trained hair has a different texture than hair that hasn't suffered this "controlled damage," so it's not truly natural, although it may appear that way.

"Heat styling can straighten natural hair after repeated services," says Grant. Blow drying and using a flat iron (450 degrees) Grant says can permanently straighten natural hair when used often, which what many call heat-training. To prevent damage, apply a heat protectant. In addition, to prevent heat damage, Grant has a few suggestions.

For starters, using a leave-in conditioner is non-negotiable. Next, be mindful of how and when you blow-dry your hair. "Do not blow-dry hair that is really wet. Hair is in its weakest state when wet. Always air dry partially before adding the blow dryer." The last few tips you're likely familiar with: turn down the heat of the flat iron, wrap the hair, and sleep on a satin pillowcase.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Gathers RC, Mahan MG. African american women, hair care, and health barriers. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(9):26-29.

  2. Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015;7(1):2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450

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