By Jc of Black Girl Long Hair
Long natural hair is not something that happens quickly, it will take between 3 to 5 years to have that much desired hair down your back. If you are just starting your journey or if you have made some mistakes and wish to redirect your energy into results, here are some of the small but highly significant steps that will mark that you are on the right path.
1. No pain when handling your hair
As a child I learned to grit my teeth and bear the pain as my hair was combed with a fine toothed comb. My hair also did not gain length and often post combing it was easy to see why – huge hair balls always followed. It still remains very common to hear the word tender-headed especially in salons when in truth hair is being ripped out and hence the reason for the pain. You are making significant progress when you get to a point where you no longer associate pain with the detangling process. Some people do experience a general tenderness (dull ache/soreness) associated with combing and this is related to the fact that they are more sensitive to even gentle tugging, however pain should never be the result of combing.
The less the hair you see on the floor or on your clothes when combing, the better. Ideally you should only see hair in the tool that you use to detangle (so if you are finger combing, shed hair will be unravelled with your fingers or if you are combing with a brush/comb then the shed hair should be trapped with the comb). If you have a good method of combing that suits your hair texture then you will be able to greatly minimise breakage.
3. You are patient
Patience is a big part of handling natural hair. It is required in every aspect from the shorter periods of detangling and styling to the long term period of growth and retention where you have to give your hair enough time in appropriate styles to gain length. The moment when you realise that your hair cannot be hurried, the easier you will find it handle as futile attempts will be eliminated. For example, you can easily style your hair in 5-10 minutes but patience dictates that you must select what works best for your hair. It is easy enough to make a quick bun on dry hair but this will not work when hair is wet for someone with high shrinkage. In that case, it may be easier to place 5-6 twists on wet hair and pin them up into a style. Later when your hair is dry, you can style as you please.
4. You accept that your hair cannot do everything
Natural hair is versatile and in general can be styled in almost any way. However, not all hair can do everything well. Some people can wash their hair every day and it will look perfect. Other people simply cannot do the same as their scalp may become progressively drier or if their hair is longer, daily washing is unsuitable as it increases tangling. Some people can safely heat style their hair but others cannot. If your hair feels brittle or breaks after even a low heat blow dry, you may have to accept heat is not for you. Some people can sit in protective styles for months while others would either get hair unravelling or matting if they attempted to do the same. You have to do what works for you.
You need to experiment with products to find which ones best suit your hair. There does come a point though when you eventually find your favourites. You can purchase other products because you want to try them out but it is out of curiosity and not out of necessity. You know what works for you and for what reason. For example if your hair feels particularly dry, you know which conditioner to pick out of your arsenal and how long to leave it on your hair for best results. If you need to add oil to your hair, you know which one or which combination to use and how often. You know that products will not grow your hair but rather help it to stay in good condition (i.e take care of the cuticle and maintain moisture).
Ladies, how can you tell that your hair is thriving?