Here is some basic information for those folks thinking about going natural. I learned all of this through months of researching because I wanted to make sure I was well informed before I went natural. I hope this is helpful 🙂
Ok, because most African American females have been relaxing (perming) their hair for most of their life, a lot of us accept that process as something that must be done. Many of us, especially me, did not know how damaging it is to our hair. The main ingredient in relaxers is calcium hydroxide (lye) or sodium hydroxide (no-lye). Lye based relaxers are mostly used in professional salons and are not for sale for the common consumer. No-lye relaxers are your African Pride, Dark and Lovely and Just for Me relaxer kits that are found in drug stores and beauty supply stores. Supposedly lye is less drying for your hair but it is also harsher on your scalp. Most natural African American hair textures are tightly coiled curls (i.e. naps). Relaxers are designed to chemically straighten out that curl. What they essentially do is break down the matrix of your hair and dissolve the bonds that naturally hold your curl together. When you do that, you strip away the outer protective layer of your hair thus leaving it prone to breakage and vulnerable to dryness. This is why there are rows upon rows of hair grease, oil, etc to supposedly supply moisture to the hair. Most of these products are garbage but I will get to that later. So basically, relaxers “destroy” the hair to make it straight. Just some food for thought to let you know how damaging relaxers are: when a relaxer is put in your hair, the person putting it in will most likely be wearing plastic gloves. Why is that? Because when the relaxer touches the skin it can cause chemical burns. If that is so, we are basically putting a chemical that we don’t want to touch the skin on our hands to touch the skin on our scalp. Does that make any sense?
Most of us (or at least I have) have been told to not wash our hair everyday because it will dry your hair out. The reason is because about 95% of commercial shampoos contain chemicals called sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate or ammonium lauryl sulfate. If you go look at your bottle of drug store shampoo it will usually be the first or second ingredient. These chemicals are very harsh detergents they are found products from laundry detergent to other household products. They are extremely drying to the hair. I believe I read somewhere that the only reason conditioner was invented was to replenish the moisture in the hair lost when it was shampooed. Okay, so just to clear something up. Every persons hair needs are different. Some like to wash their hair everyday, some every other day, some once a week. Water is moisture and moisture is good for the hair, so do not be afraid to wet it everyday. If you use a shampoo that is free of sulfates, dyes, fragrance and other harsh chemicals, your hair should not dry out. When I had a twa I personally shampooed once a week with a sulfate free shampoo and then co-washed my hair with conditioner every other day. It made my hair so soft. Now that my hair is longer and I wear protective styles often, I shampoo every week or every other week depending on how dirty my hair is, and co-wash in between.
Mineral Oil, Petroletum, Petroleum
Hair grease, Vaseline, hair lotion, oils. This is what is found in a majority of Black hair care products. These ingredients are very cheap and do nothing for the hair. Oils are sealants, meaning they coat the hair. Mineral oil and the other ingredients mentioned wrap around the hair like plastic wrap and prevent moisture from getting inside the hair shaft. They essential do the opposite of what they are advertised to do. They coat the hair and block out moisture, eventually making your hair dry and brittle. So combine mineral oil, petroletum and sulfate based shampoo…your hair will be a mess. Oils should only be used as sealants, after you have put moisture in the hair. So after you put a leave in moisturizing conditioner, put on a light coating of oil to SEAL IT IN. Have you ever noticed that most of the black hair care products just sit on your hair, make it greasy, but it still feels dry? The above explains why. If you go to the beauty supply store and compare a product that has these ingredients in it to a product that does not, the mineral oil free product will usually be more expensive. There is a reason.
Someone once told me that the hair in thie comb, shower and sink that comes out when they do their hair is normal and that there hair still looked fine so it was okay. Let’s clear something up. Hair breakage is not normal. My comb, brush, floor, shower, and sink were always full of hair. Why? Because it was breaking because of all the damage I was doing. This is not normal. Hair is not supposed to break. If the hairs you are seeing vary in length, some are short some are long and you do not see a white bulb at the end, it is breaking and your hair is in trouble. Hair shedding is normal. It is common to shed between 50-100 hairs a day on average. Hairs shed naturally at the end of their cycle. A shed hair should have the white root bulb at the end. I inspect each and every hair that I now see and sure enough it has the white bulb. Right before I went natural, I could fill my fist with all the broken hair from my combs and brushes. Not anymore.
There is a debate going on about whether or not people who texturize their hair are natural. I will not get into all that because it does spark heated discussions so I will just give the facts. Texturizers are just mild relaxers. They essentially do that same thing, loosen the natural curl. Hardcore naturals believe that if you alter your hair in any form away from its natural state, then you are not natural. I.e. if you chemically loosen your curl with a texturizer then you can’t call yourself natural. Others believe that a little texturizers won’t hurt, they still have curly hair, it’s just a little loose. There are tons of boards on which the texturizer debate occurs but I’ll let you decide what you feel. You will notice that when your hair grows out, your roots will be a different texture from the ends that are texturized, therefore, you will have to go get the roots touched up every few weeks just like a relaxer. Many hardcore naturals ask, if you have to keep going back to the salon to get a touch up, then what is the point of being natural?
If you are like me and you are tired of what many naturals call the “white creamy crack” (because you have to keep coming back for more), you will probably look for alternate ways for caring for your hair. I know that when I sat down and thought about it, I knew I would save so much time, energy, and money if I went natural. Not to mention I personally felt my hair would be much healthier chemical free. So for me that means, no dyes, no lyes and no heat. Yes, that is right ladies and gents. I will never put a hair curler, flat iron or hair dryer to my hair again. Or at least that is my goal. I have tiny spiral curls that I never new I had and I love them!
There are basically two ways to go natural. To grow it out or “transition” into natural hair. Or cut off the relaxed ends. Once hair is relaxed, it is permanently straight and there is no reverting back. Cutting the straight hair off is called doing the big chop. My plan was to transition for a year so that I could have a good amount of length before I cut my hair, but due to some mishaps I became frustrated and just decided to go through with it. Mind you, you have to be mentally prepared for it. My boyfriend and good friend Andrea Nelson were extremely supportive (shout out to those two!) about my decision. Drea went natural a long time before me so I asked her tons of questions. It is important to have positive support and to be sure of your decision. Having natural hair is RADICALLY different from relaxed hair. They two do not look, act or feel the same in any capacity. You essentially have to learn how to take care of your hair all over again. For me it is very, very new and I am in the process of learning what products and techniques are harmful vs. beneficial for my hair.
If I had to give advice I would say if you want to go natural, go ahead and cut it off. Many females are attached to their long hair and are afraid of it being short. I never thought I would like my hair this short, but I was shocked at how much I loved it. I can walk in the rain without worrying about my hair, I can sweat without worrying about “sweating out” my perm, I can swim in a pool, take a shower without a cap, and let my boyfriend play in my hair. I love it. Not to mention I don’t have to pay 60-90 dollars every 10 weeks for a relaxer.
If you want to transition from relaxed to natural hair there are some things you should know. Remember how your hair stylist told you that if you don’t come back for a touch up every 4-10 weeks you hair would break off? There is truth to that. As I mentioned before, relaxed hair vs. natural hair textures are completely opposite. If you hair has grown out, the point at which they meet is called the line of demarcation. This point in the hair shaft is very, very weak. So weak that it is extremely prone to breakage. If you put up straight thin, weak, damaged hair up against curly, thick, strong natural hair what do you think is going to happen? The relaxed part is going to snap and break. Therefore if you want to transition you have to be extremely gentle with your hair and wear protective styles that do not require much manipulation. Examples include braids, twists, rod sets, roller sets and cornrows. These do a good job at hiding the two textures. Some wear wigs, weaves and ponytails. I experimented with wigs and ponytails. Try to keep it as moisturized as possible. As I mentioned before, if the hair is dry it is even more prone to breakage.
All the information I have stated, I found out through months of research. I research everything I do whether it be tattoos, piercings or dramatic changes to my hair. Like my friend Drea says, Google is your best friend. Not sure about a product or ingredient, Google search it. You will find out some pretty interesting things. Also, Nappturality.com is a good site for naturals and transitioners as well. Youtube is a god send. Type in “transitioning to natural hair” and you will find hundreds of videos to help you.