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Twist outs. 4B Hair. The LOC method. These terms, while common lingo for those familiar with caring for natural Afro-textured hair, can be overwhelming for newcomers. Maintaining natural hair, whether as an act of self-love, due to a desire to avoid chemical relaxers, or a combination of the two is wonderful, but many people are unsure of what to do.
For years, Black women were inundated with images that portrayed their hair as unmanageable, undesirable, and incapable of growing. Fortunately, over the past decade, natural hair care has blossomed into a billion-dollar industry as more and more people with curls and coils have begun embracing their hair in its natural state, foregoing relaxers and other chemical treatments. There is now a wealth of information available regarding hair care, products, and styling. However, it can be a lot to navigate, especially when you realize that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. An inability to figure out what works for them personally leaves many women frustrated with their hair.
To keep your sanity and your hair looking beautiful, read on for 10 tips that will help your natural hair thrive.
Like really learn it. Black hair is unique in many ways, with its unique curls and coils, endless styling choices, and ability to defy gravity. All this being said, there is a lot to learn about properly caring for your tresses. One of the most important elements is hair texture, as this will help guide your product choices and styling methods.
Black hair tends to be coily or kinky depending on the tightness and shape of the curl. There are many hair typing systems out there, but the most popular is that of Andre Walker, a celebrity hairstylist known for working with prominent African-Americans like Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry.
According to Walker’s system, the most common textures for Black hair are 3C, 4A, 4B, and 4C. While these textures have their similarities, they all require slightly different care regimens. The higher the number/letter combination, the tighter and less defined the coils become. To determine your hair type, wash your hair and let it air dry free of products. The pattern that you see should mostly match one of the textures below, but keep in mind that it is common to have a mixture of different textures within one head of hair.
3C hair resembles fine, tight corkscrews that are the circumference of a pencil. Product Suggestions: lightweight stylers and gels; avoid heavy oils and creams.
4A hair consists of tight S-shaped curls that are well-defined and visible.
Product Suggestions: Creams, butters, hydrating oils (e.g. coconut, jojoba, avocado).
4B hair consists of Z-shaped coils.
Product suggestions: Co-washing cleansers, heavy creams and sealing oils (e.g. castor oil).
4C hair consists of fluffy strands that lack a defined curl pattern.
Product suggestions: Co-washing cleansers, heavy creams (e.g. shea butter) and sealing oils.
While knowing your hair texture is important, it is also important to know the thickness and porosity of your hair as they inform your styling choices and overall regimen.
Natural hair falls into three categories of thickness: fine, medium, or coarse/thick. Hair thickness is not the same as hair density (i.e. how much hair you have on your head). Instead, it gauges the thickness of each individual hair strand.
In order to determine your hair’s thickness, compare a strand to a piece of thread:
Porosity is important to know when maintaining natural hair because it allows you to figure out how to apply moisture to your hair and which products to use.
Try the “float test” to determine if your hair has high, medium, or low porosity. You will need a strand of hair and a glass of water. Place the strand in the glass. After a few minutes, check to see what has happened to the hair. If your hair sinks to the bottom of the glass, it is high porosity. Medium porosity hair will float in the middle of the glass and low porosity hair will float to the top.
Seriously. Forget everything you’ve heard about keeping your hair as far from H20 as possible. Water is key to maintaining healthy natural hair. Not only should you drink your recommended eight glasses daily, but you should also consistently use water ON your hair.
When detangling, water is a must. Due to the unique coiled structure of natural hair, it is very prone to tangles and knots. People will often attempt to comb through hair that is dry and knotted, increasing not only their frustration but also the tangles. This is a recipe for disaster and should be avoided. You should always detangle hair that is at least damp, because it allows the hair to soften and gently separate without further tangling or breaking. This lubricant will considerably shorten detangling sessions and ensure that you keep as much hair as possible.
Begin by wetting your hair. Some people find it beneficial to stand under the showerhead as they detangle, as the constant stream of water simplifies the process. Apply a generous amount of conditioner to your strands. Allow it to sit for a few minutes so that your hair can absorb the products. This will provide what is known as “slip”, as it helps your fingers and/or comb glide through your tresses.
Natural hair is notorious for dryness. Unfortunately, people often load their dry hair with lots of oils and creams, thinking that this alone will solve the problem. Instead, their hair often becomes drier and tacky to the touch because the products are unable to penetrate it. Water is key to opening the hair cuticle, so make sure that your hair is damp prior to adding product. A spray bottle is convenient for this purpose and is also great for refreshing old styles. Adding this simple step to your regimen will garner results and will lead to softer, shinier hair over time.
While natural hair looks and feels strong, it is actually the most fragile of all hair types. This is due to many reasons, one of them being the structure of the strands themselves. To avoid breakage and nurture healthy hair, it is critical to handle your hair with care.
One of the most common ways that people damage their natural hair is with harsh styling choices. Tight hairdos can lead to permanent hair loss, especially around the edges and crown. Constant use of heat, especially without proper heat protectant, can lead to breakage and heat damage. Whether you are doing your own hair or it is in the hands of a stylist, make sure that it is being treated with care. Also, opt for protective styles such as braids or twists sometimes to give your hair—and hands—a break.
Another common cause of breakage is improper detangling. You should never use a fine-toothed comb to detangle natural hair. The teeth will become caught in your coils, contributing to more knots and tangles. Instead, use a wide-toothed comb or Denman brush and start detangling from the bottom of the strand, working your way up slowly to the root. An even gentler way of detangling, which is particularly good for fine hair, is to finger detangle. While it is a bit more time-consuming, it allows you to gently ease tangles apart with very little stress to the hair.
A conventional practice that contributes to breakage is sleeping with loose hair on cotton pillowcases. This is very damaging and drying to your hair because of the friction with the cotton. Instead, replace your pillowcases with ones made of satin or silk. This is much gentler on your hair and will help it to retain moisture.
To maintain styles overnight, hair can be pineappled (tied in a high ponytail with a very loose elastic) or braided/twisted. If you would like additional protection, you can cover hair with a satin scarf or bonnet prior to bedtime.
When trying to grow your hair, it seems counterproductive to cut it. However, this is necessary—especially with natural hair, which is prone to dryness and knots. Over time, ends become old and damaged. They easily break, creating a cycle in which hair is growing from the scalp at the same rate that it is breaking from the ends—leading to very slow length retention and progress.
Always use hair shears when trimming your hair, because regular scissors can cause further split ends and damage. By trimming your ends every three to six months, you will be removing damaged strands and making room for new, healthy hair. Signs your hair needs a trim include dry and rough ends as well as difficulty styling and detangling.
Natural hair can be tricky to trim because of shrinkage. It can shrink to 50-80% of its true length, making it difficult to know how much hair you are cutting. For this reason, some naturals choose to stretch their hair—either with heat or through other means—prior to trimming.
If heat makes you nervous, you have a few options. Instead of trimming, you can remove less hair by two-strand twisting your hair in sections and only cutting off the very ends of the twists. This is known as “dusting”. Another method, known as “Search and Destroy”, involves seeking out specific strands that have damaged ends and trim trimming them as they come; while this seems more convenient, in the long run it can be tedious and lead to uneven hair if not done carefully. Whatever method you choose, remember not to sacrifice hair health for length.
Unlike other hair textures, frequent shampoos can strip natural hair of essential oils. This leads to dry, fragile strands that easily break—the absolute opposite of healthy hair. At the same time, it is important to regularly wash your hair to ensure that you are thoroughly cleaning your scalp. Product build up, oils, and other debris can block hair growth and contribute to unhealthy hair.
There are many products available to wash natural hair. Some people use shampoo and/or non-lathering cleansers to clean their hair. If you choose this method, ensure that the shampoo you use is free of drying sulfates. The key is to cleanse your hair without stripping it of necessary oils. You can help avoid this by pre-pooing, or preparing your hair before shampooing.
Guide to Pre-Pooing
There are many different DIY pre-poo masks out there. What you use depends on what your hair needs.
Popular masks include:
To pre-poo, apply a thick coat of the mask to dry hair. Add leftover oil to your fingers and massage it into your scalp. Cover hair with a shower cap or sit under a dryer for about 20 minutes; this allows the mask to further penetrate the shaft. Now your hair is ready to wash!
Some people choose to avoid shampoo altogether, using conditioner to cleanse their hair in a practice known as co-washing (conditioner-only washing). This method is particularly helpful for those who have extremely dry hair. To co-wash, begin by washing your hair and scalp with water and/or diluted apple cider vinegar to remove debris and other buildup. Then apply conditioner along the length of the strands before rinsing the hair.
Oils should be part of every natural’s toolkit. They are extremely important to maintaining healthy natural hair. Depending on the oil, it can be used to moisturize hair and/or seal in existing moisture, depending on the oil type. All oils are not the same, so make sure that you are using them correctly for best results.
Oils that penetrate the hair shaft and hydrate the hair include:
These oils are great for applying after leave-in conditioner and prior to a heavy cream. They are especially good for tighter textures as they add necessary moisture to the hair.
Oils that seal in existing moisture include:
These oils are great for applying after leave-in conditioner on 3C hair and after adding a heavy cream on the tighter textures. They lock in moisture, ensuring that hair stays hydrated for a longer period.
While straighter hair textures have circular or oval-shaped strands, Black hair is elliptical in nature. This makes it more prone to dryness because the natural oils produced by the hair follicles have more difficulty distributing along the coiled length. This means that you need to add more moisture to the hair to prevent breakage and maintain length.
When deciding on a moisturizing regimen, take in consideration the texture, thickness, and porosity of your hair. While one product may work amazingly for a friend, it may leave your hair dry and dull. Once you find the routine that works for you, you should moisturize your hair every day or at least every other day, deep conditioning at least once a week.
Make sure you are wetting your hair prior to moisturizing. You do not have to soak it, even a light mist is fine. Adding product to dry hair is not a good idea, because it will simply sit atop the hair shaft without penetrating it. This will often result in dry hair—no matter how much product you use.
Moisturizing Tips for 3C Hair
For 3C hair, the best method is to add a leave-in to damp curls and seal in the moisture with a light oil prior to using gels and other stylers. Butters and creams are often too heavy for this hair texture, leaving it limp and weighed- down.
Moisturizing Tips for Type 4 Hair
One of the most popular moisturizing techniques for type 4 hair is the LOC (Leave-In, Oil, Cream) method. After dampening hair, generously apply a leave-in conditioner. Then, grab your favorite hydrating oil and use it to coat your strands and scalp. Remember, the more moisturized your hair is, the healthier it will be. Finally, seal the moisture in with a cream or butter. This product will ensure that everything you added to your hair remains there.
While it is important to care for our hair on the outside, it is just as important to nourish it from within. Hair is made of protein and thrives with different nutrients, vitamins, and healthy fats. Eat well and watch your hair shine and flourish.
For a healthy scalp, eat foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, walnuts, flax seeds and avocadoes.
For stronger hair, increase the amount of protein in your diet by eating foods such as poultry and eggs.
To increase your scalp’s production of natural oils—which will help your hair stay hydrated—eat foods rich in vitamins A and C such as green leafy vegetables like spinach and asparagus.
All of this can be time consuming. Pre-pooing, cleansing, conditioning, deep-conditioning, detangling, moisturizing, and styling can leave you exhausted. The best advice is to keep things as simple as possible. Don’t go out and buy a bunch of products or begin a daunting and grueling routine.
Maintaining natural hair takes a lot of trial and error, but practice makes perfect. Take things one step at a time. After determining your hair texture, thickness, and porosity, slowly figure out which methods and products work best for you.
From there, make sure to have fun with your hair. Natural hair is beautiful and incredibly versatile. Its diverse textures allow it to take on many different styles—all on the same head.
If you are looking for a stretched style, rock straightened or blown out tresses (just make sure that you use proper heat techniques and heat protectant).
If you are interested in showing off your unique curls and coils, wear a braid out, twistout, or afro.
If you would like to maintain and grow your hair, try protective styles such as braids, twists, and buns. These styles protect fragile ends, preventing them from breaking and thus contributing to healthier, stronger, and longer hair.
Remember, caring for natural hair is a journey. As your knowledge deepens, you will find new and better ways to maintain your hair. Relax and enjoy the process.