Welcome to the latest instalment of The Newly Natural Diaries! Except… you don’t have to be newly natural for this. Plenty of us are natural for years without actually knowing what’s going on!
So you have this hair. It’s supposedly the same hair you see gracing the head of Lupita Nyongo, or Amandla Steignberg, or Maria Borges, or whoever.
Except… Why is it not as awesome as theirs?!
Well, primarily because they are rich and famous with celebrity hair-stylists on hand and access to the best products and techniques. But we’ll gloss over that, and get to the issue at the heart of today’s post: they know exactly what their hair needs, and you don’t. Yet.
It’s okay to be clueless! It’s also okay to be doing your best, sticking with things you think your hair likes, but essentially flying blind.
If you’re not sure of how to take care of your natural hair, don’t worry! I’ve got you covered. Welcome to Natural Hair Care: The Basics. Take notes, my friends!
Identify your Hair Type
You probably know a bit about curl pattern, though you may not be too sure about yours. You might not know as much about hair thickness, density and porosity, but all of these things are super important in figuring out what your hair needs. Before you go any farther, identify your hair type with this post. That way, when searching out products or reading reviews, you can look out for terms like ‘high porosity’ and ‘fine hair’.
The Importance of Moisture
Now you’re in the know about your hair type, it’s time to address the reason why textured hair seems so much more difficult to take care of than straight hair.
We all produce natural oils that travel from our scalp down our hair shaft to moisturise our hair—or at least, that’s the plan. But this works better for some hair types than others.
The more bends or twists in the hair shaft, the harder it is for our natural oils to make it all the way down. This is why curly, coily and kinky hair is naturally drier than straight or wavy hair. The more bends or kinks in your hair, the harder it is for your natural oils to keep things ship-shape.
For that reason, we have to add our own moisture to the hair. Once you get the hang of this basic principle, you’ll realise that your hair isn’t actually that difficult to take care of!
Of course, adding moisture isn’t the only task; you have to ensure that your hair retains that moisture too. If your hair isn’t properly moisturised it will break, become more difficult to manage, and it won’t look too hot either!
Your hair will flourish once you figure out how to treat it right, and repeat that treatment consistently. This is known as a regimen, and a huge part of your regimen is wash day.
The products you style your hair with are important, but if you’re washing your hair wrong, no product in the world will fix your breakage, frizz or general ashiness. You have been warned.
I’ll be dedicating a whole post to wash day soon, but for now, here are the basics:
The aim is to give your hair moisture, so first of all you want to be careful with your shampoo. The chemicals that cleanse our scalp can be extremely drying to our hair, stripping it of moisture—which is NOT what we want. There are a few ways to deal with this.
Firstly, you can buy a sulfate-free shampoo. These shampoos cleanse your scalp and hair without harsh, stripping chemicals; my favourite is the one by III Sisters of Nature.
Secondly, you can minimise the amount you shampoo. Some people limit shampooing to once every two weeks or even once a month. You definitely shouldn’t shampoo more than once a week.
In the meantime, you can ‘co-wash’ your hair—aka conditioner wash. Some people use conditioner to clean their scalp, but there are specially formulated cleansing co-washes available too.
Another way is to use alternative cleansers, such as mixing Apple Cider Vinegar with Bentonite clay to make a gentle, natural shampoo. Test each option out and see what works for you!
The next part of wash day is conditioning. You need a conditioner that will nourish and moisturise your hair; look out for any formulated for ‘dry’ hair.
There are conditioners out there to suit all your hair’s needs, as well as any budget. I did a list of holy grail and tragic fail conditioners here which might help you out.
Finally, you need to deep condition. The key to hair health, moisture, and length retention is deep conditioning every week!
Look for a moisturising deep conditioner that is thick and creamy enough to really penetrate your hair shaft. My favourites are Shea Moisture’s masques and Dr Miracle’s INSERT NAME.
You can intensify the effect of your DC by covering it with a plastic cap and applying gentle heat. This opens the hair cuticles to allow the moisture to enter. To seal in that moisture, rinse the DC out with cool or cold water to close the cuticles up again.
How to Moisturise and Seal
So you know your hair type; you know you’re on a moisture mission; your hair is freshly washed and looking luscious. What now?
Style time! Natural hair is super versatile and there are approximately 1939398228 styles available to us naturalistas… but no matter how you style your hair, be it a wash n go, a bun, or a twist out, you need to give your ‘fro moisture—hopefully enough to last til next wash day, or close.
The best way to seal moisture into your hair is the LOC method. LOC stands for:
L—liquid or leave-in
C—cream or styling product
So, the idea is that you moisturise your hair with a leave-in, or any other moisturising product—the key is to check that ‘water’ is the first ingredient. Your hair loves moisture, so water is your friend.
My favourite moisturisers are ORS Curl’s Unleashed’s Mango and Shea Butter Leave-In, Aunt Jackie’s Knot On My Watch, and Shea Moisture’s JBCO Leave-in.
The ‘oil’ part is where we seal that moisture in. Sealing oils include coconut oil, grape seed oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, and oil mixtures like those by Africa’s Best. You cannot skip sealing! If you don’t seal that moisture in, what’s the point?
Next up is your ‘cream’, or other styler—including custards, puddings and gels. Basically a thicker product, potentially with hold, which you can use to achieve the look you want with your moisturised hair. It can also help seal your hair further, which is great for dry, winter months.
Shea Moisture’s Curl Enhancing Smoothie is an amazingly moisturising styler, and some people can even use it with an oil alone to achieve both moisture and style.
Eco Styler gel is also a great choice for this last step, and you can usually buy enormous tubs for under £2—so worth it, and so effective.
Washing and styling your hair can take a while, especially when you’re a beginner. So what you don’t want is to spend all that time achieving an amazing look, only for it to be ruined when you go to sleep.
To maintain your moisture overnight you must keep your hair away from its mortal enemy: cotton. Your soft, innocent cotton pillowcase will STEAL your hard-gained moisture throughout the night, creating dryness and frizz.
Instead, ensure you sleep on silk or satin, which won’t leech away your hair’s moisture or cause any excess frizz. Invest in a satin pillowcase or bonnet or get yourself a silk scarf to wrap your hair in. Your ‘fro will thank you.
If you have a TWA (teeny-weeny Afro) you can wrap your hair for bed and you’re good to go. However, if your hair’s a little longer, or even very long, you’ll need to take care not to smush your style over-night.
An easy way to do this is pineapple-ing. Pile your hair onto the crown of your head and secure with a loose hair tie or crunchy. If your hair is too short for that, create multiple, loose little pineapple puffs around your head. It really helps!
You can also twist your hair at night. This works very well if your hair needs re-moisturising a little more often; spritz with water, coat your hands with a moisturiser, and put your hair into loose, chunky twists.
How to Refresh
No matter how well you treat your hair at bedtime, you’ll still wake up with a bed head. That’s just the price we pay for a good night’s sleep.
But it is possible to refresh and revive your hair each morning without dunking it in water and starting from scratch.
If you like to shower in the morning, take down your hair and allow the steam to do its work while you wash and get ready. With a good shake of your head, you should be good to go!
Another, more intense method is to use a spray bottle of water to spritz your hair’s dry areas. I like to add oil and conditioner to my spray bottle, spritz my hair lightly and then shake my head over the bath like a wet dog. It works, trust me! It also helps make my moisture last.
You’ve probably heard a thousand times that “black hair doesn’t grow”. You might even think it’s true. Spoiler alert: it’s not.
The reason so many black people struggle to grow long hair is not because our hair doesn’t grow, but because many people’s hair breaks off faster than it grows. This is because Afro hair is extremely fragile.
The more bends in the hair shaft the more fragile the hair is. So the kinkier your hair, the more delicate it is. I know we all get told that our hair is tough as old boots, but that could not be more wrong. You have lil baby angel hair, my friend. Treat it right.
In order to maintain hair health and retain your hair’s growth, you need to avoid breakage. The first step is moisture. If your hair is properly moisturised, it will be healthier and stronger.
The second step is to treat your hair gently—especially the ends, which are the oldest part of the hair and therefore the most fragile. Avoid heat, detangle with as much care and patience as possible, and never drag or force styling tools through your hair. Use wide-tooth combs to style instead of brushes or combs with many tiny teeth. Treat your hair like a child that… lives… on your head. You know what I mean.
Aaaaand… that’s all, folks! For now, anyway.
It may look a lot, but once you get your head around what your hair needs, you’ll be away. Good luck!
Now go and moisturise!