Women who have made the journey from relaxed to natural hair know that there's a learning curve involved when it comes to styling their tresses. After going natural, many are initially tempted to either follow the same hair care regimen they used on their previously relaxed strands, or subdue their natural texture with harsh cleansing and conditioning products.
Ultimately, both of these approaches damage strands; after all, natural hair is unique, and needs its own unique beautifying system. Once you figure out the basic steps of natural hair care, you will inevitably tailor it to your hair's specific needs; adding products, or eliminating steps as you see fit.
The key to natural hair care is intense moisturization, the kind that you can only get from natural (and, preferably, organic) butters and oils. Different women swear by different ingredients, so you're going to have to indulge your inner product junkie and experiment. But once you find that magical blend of ingredients that works for you, you will know it immediately.
So what is the basic natural hair care regimen? We spell out the most common steps below, but remember to have fun with them. Natural hair does not necessarily mean higher maintenance. You do have the option to embellish these steps as much as you need (or want!) to.
Also known as the "Pre-Shampoo," this step is an important one. Shampoos, by their very nature, cleanse old styling products, dirt and grime from hair. However, they often end up removing natural oils as well.
Though it sounds counter-intuitive, coating your strands with oil before cleansing not only gives you a deep conditioning treatment, but it also provides extra protection that keeps your hair from being over-stripped. The key to this step is choosing the right oil: most women swear by oils that are rich in vegetable-based saturated fat. Coconut, olive and avocado oils are some of the most popular with naturalistas, but don't be afraid to experiment.
Step 1: Divide hair into 4 to 6 different sections.
Step 2: Apply a heavy coating of oil to each section, making sure you distribute it thoroughly so each strand is coated.
Step 3: Put on a plastic cap to lock in heat and keep the oil from dripping. Leave it on for at least 1 hour. Don't be afraid to try sleeping in it!
Step 4: Gently comb out your hair, removing knots and tangles.
Step 5: Wash and condition you hair.
While some people love the squeaky-clean ritual of sudsing up, natural hair should be treated with TLC. Traditional shampoos - the kind you find in a drugstore or most beauty supply outlet - are loaded with harsh chemicals (including drying alcohols, dyes, fragrance, parabens, petrolatum, sodium laurel sulfate and other sulfates). These manmade ingredients are cheap for manufacturers to use. That's why they are so common, but many find that they irritate the scalp and dry out the hair.
Instead, look for shampoos or shampoo bars made specifically to address African American hair concerns (you could also look for those marketed towards "dry/damaged hair," depending on your needs). These shampoos are more hydrating than traditional shampoo, as some vegetable fat is actually retained during the manufacturing process.
The Mud Wash is a new trend that has been making waves in the natural hair community. A great alternative to shampoo bars for women with exceptionally dry hair, many of these mud washes use either rhassoul clay or bentonite clay as its primary ingredient. Bentonite clay, in particular, has been proven to attract impurities, and has a history of being used in the wine industry for cleaning particles that aren't visible to the naked eye.
The process is simple: While cleansing your hair, focus the majority of cleansing product used on the scalp, washing the ends lightly to remove the pre-shampoo oil treatment. If it's easiest, you can focus on washing just one section of pre-shampooed hair at a time. Keep the other sections of hair clipped away from your face to ensure that they stay intact.
The point of conditioning your hair is to create slippage; that is, the quality that makes your hair slippery, and easier to detangle. To achieve the maximum amount of slippage, you will most likely need two different products: a water-based moisturizer that can penetrate hair and deliver hydration to the cortex, and a rich butter- or oil-based sealant that prevents moisture from evaporating out of the strand's cortex.
When shopping for a moisturizer, make sure that "water" is listed as the first or second ingredient on the label. Aloe vera is another important ingredient to look for. A primary ingredient of the sealant itself should be a natural or organic butter (cocoa, coconut, mango and shea butters are especially nourishing) or oil (acai, argan, brazil nut, coconut, jojoba, macadamia nut, olive and passionfruit seed are amongst the most highly sought after natural oils).
Conditioning your hair is a two-step process: moisturize first, then use the sealant to lock in the moisture.
Deep conditioning utilizes heat to lift the cuticle of the hair and delivers nourishing moisture deeply into the strand. This is not a quick process: it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more. Make sure you have enough time set aside.
There are two types of deep conditioning products: moisture-based treatments, to banish dryness, and protein-based treatments that build strength. Both have their strengths, but it's important to note that moisturizing treatments should be done more often than the protein-based treatments. Regardless of which version you choose, be sure that you're selecting a product that does not contain mineral oil, petrolatum or silicone. These are popular ingredients for many manufacturers because they are inexpensive ingredients. However, they can actually end up damaging the hair further.
Applying these products is easy:
Step 1: Divide your hair into 4 sections.
Step 2: Apply enough deep conditioner to ensure that the section is thoroughly covered, then twist the section to keep it out of the way; repeat with each section.
Step 3: Gather all four twists, and pin or clip the bunch at the top of your head.
Step 4: Put on a plastic cap.
Step 5: Apply heat by sitting under a hair, wrapping a warm towel around your head, etc.; keep heat on head for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Step 6: Remove the heat source and allow your hair to cool for 15 minutes.
Step 7: Apply your daily sealant on top of the deep conditioner. Saturate your hair.
Step 8: Rinse with cool or cold water.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT PROPER NUTRITION
Lastly, one of the most important steps to beautiful natural hair comes from within - good nutrition. Focus on nourishing your scalp and hair internally by eating nutrient-dense foods, leafy greens and healthy fats. Keep your body, hair and skin hydrated by drinking plenty of water. It sounds simple, but paying attention to what you put in your body will make a big difference in the results you see in your hair and scalp. As an added bonus, your skin will also thank you.
We hope you've found this information helpful! Remember we are here to help, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.