My Natural Hair Journey
Uhhm…which one? My natural hair journey cannot be summarized to just one. I have ventured on this journey at least 3 times. Needless to say I have hit a dead end once or twice. You would think that maintaining natural hair should be easy, well, because it is natural. Contrary to this, the reason as to why many African women opt for relaxers is because natural hair care is not easy or cheap.
As a ‘naturalista’, I did quite a number of mistakes; most of which I did not know were mistakes. Over time, and through failures, of course, I have discovered that to successfully keep up with healthy natural hair, you have to educate yourself, learn and listen to your hair. Most importantly, this journey is about being extra kind to your kinks.
With that, I line up 12 common mistakes naturals do that end up doing more harm than good. I made some of these mistakes, so you don’t have to.
12 Natural Hair Mistakes and Their Solutions
Comparing your hair to other naturals
If you are going to stick to anything from this post, let this be at the top of your list. Your natural hair, just like everything else, is unique to you alone. Just because your hair is not growing at the same rate as someone else’s, or your curl pattern is different, should not be a reason to worry.
Take time to study and learn your hair. Familiarize yourself with your hair type, texture, density, shape and porosity. After this, stick to hair care routines that are compatible with your specific hair. Additionally, try as much as you can not to focus too much on length. Healthy hair is more important. And after all, it’s hair, it was meant to grow, so it will.
Trusting your hair to someone not properly equipped
Not every hair stylist out there is equipped to care for natural hair. But best believe every stylist has hair advice for you. Most naturals get their hair ruined in hair salons more than from their personal faults.
It is okay to ask and ascertain that someone knows how to care for your kind of hair. And it is also okay to talk someone through dealing with your kinks (although I should probably also say that most stylists do not appreciate this). Alternatively, to avoid all the hassle you could learn to take care of your own hair and go by your own rules, which is quite easy.
Not knowing your hair’s porosity
In simple terms, hair porosity refers to your hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. Knowing your hair porosity is important as it will guide you through deciding which products to use and how to apply them, to ensure that your hair gets the most out of them. When you do not know your hair porosity, you could be using the wrong products that are doing nothing for your hair.
N/B; People with the same hair type (e.g. 4C) may have different porosities, ergo need different products.
There are simple ways to determine your hair porosity;
The float test; this is a method of knowing your hair porosity, where you take strands from different parts of your hair and drop them in a container of water. Allow them to sit for 2-4 minutes. If the strands float, you have low porosity. If they stay at the middle, you have normal porosity, and if they sink to the bottom you have high porosity.
The slide test; simply hold up a strand of hair and slide your fingers through it, towards the direction of your scalp. If you feel little bumps along the way, it means that you have high porosity due to a lifted cuticle. If your fingers slide smoothly, it means you have low porosity.
Low porosity hair does not take in moisture easily, but when it does, it also does not lose it easily. For low porosity hair, liquid-based products and those with humectants are recommended, as these won’t sit on your hair thus leaving it greasy or oily.
Using oil to moisturize
Many people use oil to moisturize their hair, which is a mistake. The purpose of oil it to seal in moisture, which comes from water and moisturizers.
Oil = Sealant Water = Moisturizer
Moisturizing your hair makes it flexible enough to allow manipulation, which reduces breakage and ensures length is retained. It is therefore important to moisturize even when you are wearing a protective style. Oil on the other hand not only increases shine in your hair, but also locks in added moisture.
Conditioning is a very important step in natural hair care. Conditioners not only ease the detangling process, but also nourish and protect the hair against heat damage and pollution. Improper conditioning, however, may be the reason why your hair is not thriving, and instead making a turn for the worst. Improper conditioning may be using the wrong type, applying it wrongly, or over-conditioning.
Start by getting a conditioner that is right for your hair type, holding all factors into consideration. Apply conditioner throughout your hair, stressing on the ends and or the most damaged sections more, to avoid over-conditioning the scalp. For natural hair, deep conditioning works best; give the conditioner enough time to allow absorption. To reap maximum benefits, do not apply conditioner on soaking wet water, as it won’t be able to penetrate properly. Rinse off conditioner with cold water, to allow moisture retention.
You should avoid manipulating your hair daily. For curls to pop, many naturals believe that they should perform twist outs or Bantu knots every other night. If your curls are not as tight as the first day, it may be because you are not using enough or the right products. This may also be as a result of not giving the twist outs enough time before unraveling. Every time you touch into your hair, you mess with its natural oils, causing dryness and may also lead to breakage.
To ensure that your curls stay tight longer, use the right products and let the hair dry before unraveling. Also, for brittle hair, try leaving it alone from time to time, and invest in styles that do not require much manipulation.
To reduce the above mistake of everyday hair manipulation, long lasting protective hairstyles are recommended. However, tight hairstyles in the name of protective styling cause more harm than good in the overall state of your hair. Avoid hairstyles that stress your scalp or pull your hairline.
Personally, I quit stressing my hair altogether. I am currently invested in a GOOD wig (for the days when I just want to let my hair relax and or need to look extra professional for the office, without having to jump over hoops with styling my natural hair). A wig is one way to go, or just go for styles that don’t need to be done super tight. Stylists who have specialized on natural hair know the best styles for such hair. You just have to find you the right one.
Shampooing in one bunch
If you are a naturalista, the term ‘wash day’ is not a foreign one to you. If you shampoo your hair in one bunch, then honey you are going about your wash-day all wrong. This method of shampooing is not for us curly babes, as it tends to be quite harsh on your strands. It can also lead to tangles like no one’s business, without mentioning extreme shrinkage (something that we try to minimize as much as we possibly can).
Wash your hair in sections; 2-4 sections are recommended, depending on the length and volume of your hair. To make your work super easy, use duck-billed clips for each section. Make sure to wash your hair in a downward motion, and detangle gently as you go about the process. This helps you retain as much length as possible, and is also quite gentle on your hair.
Using harsh detangling equipment
For naturals, the detangling process is with no doubt one that causes some amount of hair loss. Depending on your detangling technique, you could be losing hair more than the normal amount. This, especially for type 4C hair, should be approached with skill in order to retain length. Detangling equipment, like combs, however do the opposite of this.
To detangle natural hair, if you cannot finger-detangle all through, start with finger detangling and then proceed to a wide-toothed comb. Use water or water-based products to moisten the hair before starting the detangling process. Do not detangle the entire hair all at once; working in small sections works best. Also, start from ends because that is the most fragile part of your hair. Last but not least, do not be in a hurry; take your time and be patient, to make the most out of your detangling.
Sleeping with uncovered hair
This common mistake does not end at just sleeping with your hair uncovered. It stretches to covering your hair with the wrong kind of material. This does not only tangle up your hair, but also strips off its moisture. Needless to say, both of these lead to hair breakage caused by dryness and unnecessary friction.
To protect and keep your hair looking as good in the morning, prioritize covering your hair with a bonnet or a silk scarf every time you lay down. An alternative to these would be investing in satin pillowcases and or sheets.
Using excessive heat
Heat-styling your hair, in the form of flat iron and blow-dryers gradually lead to heat damage. Heat damaged hair is characterized by dry, rigid and brittle hair. Heat damage leads to hair breakage, due to temporary changes to the hydrogen bonds that hold your hair together.
The solution is to ideally stay away from heat altogether, but this may not be feasible to everyone. In that case, always use a heat protectant and or use a leave-in conditioner containing ingredients that reduce water evaporation. Additionally, use the low to minimum heat option on your dryer to further reduce the chances of heat damage.
Cutting without technique
It is easy to give in to the temptation of getting rid of split ends, or yanking out those problematic knots. However, this is not advisable.
This point reminds me of a time I went all Edward scissor-hands on my hair; I wasn’t quite familiar with the correct way to wash my hair, and I did not detangle either. So there I was, rubbing into my hair as if my survival depended on it. Long story short, when I was done, there was at least a million knots up there. Combing through was impossible and painful. So I just grabbed a pair of scissors, and as my eyes filled up with tears, (I did not cry) I cut the knots out. *P.S. the knots were midway through my hair.*
Only cut your hair when it’s necessary. Whenever you decide it’s time for a chop, the first step may be to use quality shears. You shouldn’t just use any pair to trim your hair with. The right ones should be sharp and make sure to cut straight across to avoid split ends. Remember to cut your hair when it’s dry, because doing the cut on wet hair can lead to frayed ends. Also it is advisable to do so in small sections because different parts of your hair may vary. Cutting your hair while it is in small twist outs makes the process easy.