By Imani of Tribe Called Curl
Ever wish you could jump in a time machine and redo something? Looking back, there are so many things I just want to shake my younger self over, most of which I couldn’t bear to divulge without drinking at least three Bahama Mamas. For right now, let’s just stick to my transitioning to natural hair woes. Like the woman featured in this Clutch Magazine piece, going back to my roots was a rocky road.
I stopped relaxing at a time when all the cool girls wore sleek bobs and wrapped their hair at night. Back in 1990, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing, no goals, nada, except a desire for the long, thick hair I had in kindergarten. (I got my first perm at 5). I blundered my way through 24 long, often painful months of transitioning. When it was over, my natural hair was choppy, uneven and dry as the Sahara. Here are the six things I wish I’d known before transitioning.
1. Natural Hair Takes More Time and Attention
Remember those days of shake and go, hair? Kiss them goodbye, girl. Natural hair is gorgeous and versatile, but getting it down takes more work and effort than just rocking a relaxer. It takes time to get to know your textured hair, what it likes and what makes it pop. Once you’ve mastered a basic regimen, caring for your curls will get much, much easier. It won’t ever be effortless, but at least you don’t have to worry about scalp sores and scabs anymore.
2. Handle With Care
Don’t just expect to run a comb through your hair. Tugging at textured roots is a recipe for disaster. I spent many a day staring clumps of broken strands. Natural hair has to be handled more gently than relaxed strands. Managing curly and straight hair at the same damn time means taking extra special care. Detangling should only be done on wet hair. Use wide-tooth combs and even your fingers to carefully remove tangles and snarls. Comb from the tips, slowly and carefully working your way up the hair shaft for tear free detangling.
Check out our article “Detangling Natural Hair while Transitioning”
3. Schedule Regular Trims
The goal of transitioning is to gradually embrace your natural hair. So while you’re choosing to slowly go natural instead of chopping all the relaxed ends off at once, eventually the straight hair has to go. Trimming it on a regular basis helps keep hair look neat and reinforces your commitment to the process. Aim for a ½ inch or so every month to keep hair the same length, or more if you’re daring. If you don’t cut it out, it will start breaking off.
4. Rock Curly Styles
Transitioning shouldn’t have you making struggle faces when looking in the mirror, or worse, straightening your roots regularly to match your relaxed hair. Stick to full, curly looks like perm rod or flexi rod sets that mask the difference between your two textures. They’ll help you adjust to the look of the new curls cropping up on your head. Best of all, textured sets allow you to skip the stress of daily manipulation. The less you do your hair, the better.
5. Get To Know Your Texture During the Transition
If you’re one of those women who leave haircare entirely up your stylist, take heed. Natural hair involves more of a hands-on approach. As Lurie Davis of Afro State of Mind suggests, do your natural hair homework. Your curls will be completely different from your relaxed ends in terms of its needs and properties. You’ll have to rethink your styling and maintenance strategies. Use this time to get acquainted with your curls. Experiment with different moisturizers, oils and butters. Don’t neglect your relaxed ends though, if length retention is your goal. Try applying a protein treatment on the relaxed part of your hair, while deep conditioning your curls.
Check out our article “To Big Chop or To Not Big Chop?”
6. Don’t Prolong the Inevitable
Few women have the courage or the chutzpah to cut off their hair without first transitioning. I know I certainly didn’t. At the time, I would’ve walked around wearing a paper bag on my head before rocking a Caesar like Solange. But, looking back, I wish that I had cut off the relaxed ends sooner. The longer the transition, the tougher it’s going to be. Going between two textures is harder than learning how to manage one. Try giving yourself a time limit, like six months, a year, or even 18 months. Prepare yourself beforehand, so that you’ll be completely comfortable with your curls when time comes. Being completely natural should be gratifying, but not alarming.