Taking your hair back to its natural state requires expert guidance to restore everything from the hairline to the scalp’s health. It will take effort, care and patience on your part, but the results will be amazing.
Often, women embarking on their journey to regaining their natural hair are confused about where to start and how to properly care for natural hair. This is because so many of them have relaxed their hair for as long as they can remember.
Until the introduction of hair relaxers in America in the early 20th century, women only had natural hair. The first documented discovery of a relaxer was recorded in 1909, when African American inventor Garrett Augustus Morgan found out by accident that he could relax the curls of kinky hair. This occurred during his attempt to make his sewing machine operate better. He realised that the chemicals applied to improve the machine might be applied to relaxing hair. After testing his cream on a dog’s fur and then on his own head, with successful results, Morgan established the GA Morgan Hair Refining Company and began selling his products. And so, a mega industry was born.
It was only in the late ’70s that the afro and natural kinks became popular again. It took another 20 years for this natural hair movement to fully gain momentum. Now natural hair has become the way to go for African women the world over. In South Africa, about 40% of women – aged between 18 and 35 – are going natural, with more gradually joining the movement. It’s not as widespread as the 70% or so women going natural in the US, but it is growing.
So, why are women going natural? There is no single answer. Women are doing so for different reasons, be it health or their need to follow a perceived trend or to claim back their African roots and sense of African pride. Health reasons appear to be the biggest driver.
A healthy hair and scalp is aligned to healthy self-esteem. Many women have become aware of the toxic effects of chemical relaxers as too much use can result in thinning, hair loss, bald patches and a receding hairline.
Although chemical relaxers are not the only culprits, they’re one of the biggest contributors. Relaxers work to straighten hair by breaking it down. This results in a weaker hair strand that breaks and thins. Combine that with plaits and braids, and you have a recipe for disaster. This is why conditions such as traction alopecia – hair loss that’s caused by pulling on the hair, such as with a tight ponytail or bun – have become so prevalent.
Hair growth is a combination of what happens beneath the scalp and how you take care of the hair that lies on top of the scalp. Unfortunately, treating hair chemically and pulling it too tightly can harm the roots, or hair follicles, that lie beneath the surface. This, in turn, affects what comes to the surface – to your scalp – and what becomes visible to others. Whenever hair struggles to grow and you get bald patches or a receding hairline, it means the hair is damaged.
Don’t ignore the signs. The longer you take to act, the harder it will be to reverse the effects. I receive emails daily from women in distress, asking for help because they are having major hair issues. Change your routine as soon as you notice a change. Give your hair a break and start nourishing your scalp and follicles.
And please leave your children’s hair alone. Their scalps and bodies are still developing. As much as their natural hair can be tough to handle, teach them to care for their hair without chemically treating it. Their hair is beautiful just the way it is.
If you want to take your hair back to its natural state, here are the steps to follow:
WHERE TO START?
If you’re starting from relaxed hair, you have two options: chop it off, or let yourself undergo a transition. Each method has its benefits and disadvantages. Few women are brave enough to cut their relaxed or heat-
damaged hair and start afresh. Most want to ease into the process.
Managing transitioning hair takes effort and patience. You’re dealing with two different hair textures, so take extra care. Where your straight and coily hair meet is your hair’s weakest point, making it prone to breakage. So don’t be alarmed when that hair falls out during the transition.
GIVE YOUR CURLS TLC
Patience is key to managing your journey to natural hair. You’ll need support from a professional stylist. Choose someone with a good understanding of afros and relaxed hair, so they can look after both textures properly. Equally, make the effort to educate yourself about your curl in order to treat it correctly at home.
Your do-it-yourself routine has to include a protein-rich or hydrating conditioner as kinky hair is generally very dry. It needs to be constantly provided with moisture by the products we use.
Treating two curl patterns will be a challenge as the straightened hair grows out. You may be tempted to use texture-altering methods and tools to manage your mane. I urge you not to, as this will change your natural curl pattern and result in the transition process taking even longer.
Putting your hair in Bantu knots is a great no-heat styling method that will help to promote your natural curl pattern while giving your hair a style. You can create the look from damp or dry hair as an overnight stretching technique.
SNIPPING AS PART OF TRANSITIONING
There will come a time during the transition process when you’ll have to trim off the processed hair. It’s
your call to decide at which length you want to do this. It won’t be easy to let go of your length.
But the sooner you do it, the better – especially if your chemically straightened hair was damaged. In that case, the straight strands will need more attention, so rather chop them off and focus on the curls.
Knowing your own hair is crucial. Learn what works for you and what doesn’t. While the basics of natural haircare is the same for everyone, the application of these basics may differ slightly, depending on your individual hair needs and preferences.
1. Moisturise. Water is the best moisturiser. The drier your hair, the more water it needs. Give your hair some moisture daily. A spritz bottle is ideal if rinsing your hair daily is not an option.
2. Oil it. Seal in moisture with an oil of your choice. A little goes a long way. Don’t apply too much as this will cause product build-up, making your hair heavy. This technique keeps moisture in your hair for longer. Some women choose to top up with a cream – doing so depends on whether your hair needs this. 3. Condition. Do this at least once a week. The more you co-wash and condition your hair, the more manageable it will be. When there’s product build-up, wash off the conditioner with shampoo.
4. Detangle. Knots cause breakage. Detangle them using your fingers first, and then use a wide-tooth comb if needed. Work from the tips to the root.
5. Stretch it. Whenever possible, keep your hair stretched. Sleep with twists or amagoda to avoid tangling and knots as these cause breakage. So, depending on how tight your curl pattern is, and how long your hair is, complete shrinkage can mean tangling. The longer your hair, the more problematic this is.
6. Sleep with a satin bonnet. Doing so not only prevents excessive dryness, it also prevents mechanical damage to your hair. You can also invest in a satin pillow.
7. Beware. Watch out for sharp styling tools. Bobby pins that are damaged, metal wig clips with narrow teeth and combs with sharp edges will tag onto the hair, causing breakage.
8. Avoid heat. Just because your friend’s hair can take heat, it doesn’t mean yours will. Not all hair has the same endurance, so be careful. If you do use heat, be sure to use a heat protection product on the hair first.
9. Do low manipulation hairstyles. Avoid styles that tug on hair and require too much handling. Go for gentle, quick and easy styles like twists, goddess braids, Bantu knots and braid-outs.
10. Focus on the hairline. Avoid styles that pull on your hairline. If your stylist pulls your hair, go elsewhere.
11. Persevere. It will be worth it.
Sonto Pooe is the founder and CEO of NativeChild, a natural hair and bodycare brand for African women.