Year 3 of being natural was a big year for my hair and me. It began on a relatively slow note because I really wasn’t doing much with it. My conclusion at the end of year 2 of being natural (Part 4 of my hair journey in April of 2012), was that I was learning rapidly. However, I had no idea how much more I had to learn (and still do).
My hair grew in in Year 3. It grew a lot. The main reason for this was that it was in a protective style 97% of the time. I had it in two strand twists mostly and only braided it in cornrows or with extensions when I would be heading into exam time, which was four times in the year. From the last installment in my natural hair journey, I had Senegalese twists for about 5 weeks in May/June 2012. I used my usual braid regimen and did not experience any negative effects from this style. I braided my own hair in small cornrows for about 3 weeks in July 2012. This was extremely painful because I tried and failed to convince the braider to be gentle.
Up to this time, I had been going to the gym several times a week for about 9 months and therefore used to wash or rinse my hair twice a week. This meant that not only was my hair in a protective style, I was also moisturising and sealing my hair more regularly, which is really good for the hair. This 9-month period is what I attribute to the rapid growth. My hair was out of the way and I had eliminated potential dryness because of the frequent moisturising and sealing. In August 2012, I noticed how much my hair had grown and decided my hair was due for a length check. Around about this time, I also stopped ‘gyming’. This is significant because of what I have just written about the benefits of regularly moisturising and sealing. You can read about my length check here. This was an AMAZING experience and I felt fabulous. I encourage you to read about my length check to put the whole experience into perspective as well as read about the related flat iron experience here.
In September (a few days after the length check), I went for school again and braided tiny cornrows. I told the braider that I didn’t want any extensions or wool added to my hair and although she complained, she seemingly accepted what I said. The idea was to only have extensions for the ends. The style looked fabulous. The compliments were endless. But the style was tedious as it was pulled so tightly that I scratched endlessly. I forgot to carry my spritz with me and so had to buy a natural hair braid spray from the store. NB: I am doing a Masters degree in South Africa, so I have to travel to Johannesburg quarterly for residential school. I actually ended up with a sore that bled from the scratching I did. I tried all manner of things to soothe my scalp and in the end aloe vera juice and tea tree oil did it.
I only found out when undoing my hair that they had braided sewing thread with my own hair beginning from the hairline, which resulted in all the hair in the front being ripped out as it was obviously intertwined with the cotton in such a way that made it impossible to unwind. I was livid. But it was too late. I went to take down my hair at the salon so I had a witness to the fact that there was a line about 1/8 of an inch wide between my baby hair and the rest of the hair which was completely bare. This is a crossroads for many people. For most, they would look at the hairline and see that there was enough baby hair that the hair loss was barely noticeable. But I know that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And ignoring and shrugging off that hair loss was step one to not loving my hair and by extension not loving myself. This experience was so frustrating because it came right after the length check that showed how much my hair had grown. It’s like all my good work was undone in two weeks. That hairstyle? Never again! Also, I will never go to an unfamiliar salon where I cannot be certain that people that I am paying with my own money are following MY instructions. The audacity!
In December 2012, I did the fake dreads and kept them in for 9 weeks. This was a fantastic style, but I would not do it again because I think that it left the ends of my hair too exposed. The advantage of braids or twists is that your hair is braided or twisted right to the end. With the fake dreads, my hair was braided for about 2 inches and then just left free inside the dread. Because of the thickness of the extension, it was very difficult to adequately moisturise my own hair inside. I am grateful for my braid regimen which involved weekly washing, moisturising and sealing with castor oil (because it is heavier than my usual coconut oil), followed by daily spritzing. I think this regimen saved my hair. Had I opted for dry shampoo or an ACV rinse, I do not think my hair would have survived as well as it did. For me, this explains the importance of your braid regimen. This is why I repeatedly say, it is not braiding or weaving which is bad for the hair per se, it is the way you braid or weave and the way you your look after your own hair (or don’t) while it is braided or weaved. When I took down the fake dreads, I oil rinsed to ease the detangling. The amount of hair loss was huge. This was for 3 reasons:
- The body sheds 50-100 hairs a day, so 9 weeks of shedding will amount to a lot of hair
- I think the sections of my own hair were too small to carry the weight of such a heavy extension and as such this contributed to hair loss because of the style itself. This is different from normal shedding in No. 1.
- I kept the extensions in for too long. The longer you keep the hair in, the more you shed hair and leave fewer strands to carry the weight of the hair. With product build up and time, the hair is placed under greater stress because of the weight. Also, extensions dry out over time. This is why you find you need to moisturise more and more as the weeks go by. For example, in weeks 1-4, I could afford to spritz 3 or 4 times a week, but by week 7-8, my hair was so dry, I had to spritz daily without fail. This dryness obviously weakens the hair as it becomes more prone to breakage
So, the lesson learned from the fake dreads applies to any extension style, and for my hair, 9 weeks was too long. I will stick to my 5-6 week maximum time frame in future. The hair loss is just not worth it. And as learned with the small braids in September 2012, hair that is too tight is also not worth it. My hair is an investment and any hairstyle should also be an investment that brings me long term rewards. Compliments today for a style that ruins my hair tomorrow is not worth the opportunity cost.
So, I was in early February 2012 and had just taken down the fake dreads. I experienced considerable hair loss as mentioned above. I made a decision. No extensions for the rest of the year. This means, I will not wear any kind of extensions in my hair until February 2014, making it exactly one year since taking down the fake dreads. I felt this was necessary to give my hairline time to recover. I wanted to go back to what helped my hair to grow so much in the first place – a low manipulation style and frequent washing and conditioning of the hair (also aided by regular gym sessions), followed by regular moisturising and sealing.
Another thing I noticed after taking down the fake dreads is that my ends were raggedy and uneven. They were rough to the touch and quite bushy. While I was due for a trim, I felt the fake dreads had really done a number on my ends. Raggedy and uneven ends lead to more single stand knots and tangles, which leads to more breakage. I made another decision. I was cutting my hair. I told my hairdresser to take 2 to 3 inches off as I wanted to get rid of the weak ends and I wanted to start over with only healthy hair. Length was not the issue, but health and strength of the hair. I will write about this March 2013 length check, and the related flat iron and trim in another post. Suffice to say my hair had grown a lot, but the weak and uneven ends were evident, so they had to go.
In January, I wrote about how I was hoping to develop a more scientific regimen. I had no idea how to go about this. But, as it happens, many things occurred that caused me to really examine my regimen in detail to further know and understand my hair and get to grips with what it really needed. This desire for a regimen came about after I joined a closed natural hair support group on Facebook run by fellow ZedHair contributor Sibongile. The ladies in the Zedian Naturals group inspired me with their knowledge and dedication and commitment to regimens that work because of knowing their hair and what ingredients and products work best for different hair types. Seeing hair styles others were doing and replicating them using more or less the same products and failing is what really forced me to think more deeply about the uniqueness and properties of my own hair as well as my regimen.
Experience is the best teacher and I believe trial and error (so long as it doesn’t result in breakage or hair loss) is ideal for getting to really understand and know your hair. Epic fail after epic fail was frustrating because I just couldn’t understand what was not working. I already knew I had fine hair. This means although I have a lot of hair on my head, the strands themselves are very fine. This is why when I straighten my hair, a ponytail holder must be wrapped five times on order to hold my hair. And yet when I have my massive Afro, you would never know my hair is so fine. Fine hair affects how you style your hair because you will end up with a lot of scalp showing. I learned I have low porosity hair (read about that here). This explained why my hair takes so long to dry and why frizz is such a problem with certain styles. There are so many other things I have learned about my hair and I will talk about that more in a post specifically about my regimen and products, later in the year.
So, as I enter year four of being natural, what are my hair goals:
- To improve my finger detangling technique and reduce on comb usage
- To maintain a regular pre-poo, washing, conditioning and deep conditioning cycle
- To effectively moisturise and seal my hair post-wash and in-between washing
- To do my own hair as often as I can
- To avoid heat as much as possible
- To learn how to flat twist and become good at it
- To mix my own products and use natural ingredients where available
- To drink 2 litres of water a day and maintain a healthy diet with more fruit and vegetables and less animal based protein
- To exercise regularly and get more sleep
- To have more fun with my hair by trying new styles more regularly.
Thank you for your attention!
This post was slightly updated for typos and clarity on Friday, 17th May 2013.