I’ve been thinking of transitioning from relaxed to natural but don’t want to do the big chop. How do I go about it & what products do I need to use?
It is fantastic that more of us are deciding to ditch the chemicals and return to our natural roots. A lot of women opt to big chop and start growing their hair from scratch, which is what I did; but let’s face it, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of having short hair, in fact many women who big chop will at some point decide to either add extensions or wear wigs because they are so unaccustomed to seeing themselves without long, flowing, straight hair. It may also be because those around them are not used to seeing the new look, but that’s a discussion for another day.
If you have not read the previous ‘Dear ZedHair’ post on big chopping please do so before continuing so that you may gain a better understanding of good practices for natural hair.
I often get asked, ‘can I go natural without cutting my hair?’ the short answer is absolutely not, but this is an advice column so I’ll elaborate. As we all know relaxers permanently alter the structure of our hair, we know this because in order to stay relaxed we need to keep‘re touching’ it. The only way to return to natural hair is to stop re-touching. In essence we all transition to natural hair, even those of us who big chop, the difference is the amount of time we wait before cutting off our relaxed ends.
Long term transitioning is waiting a significant amount of time, usually 6 months to 2 years and beyond, before cutting off ALL of your relaxed ends.
There are some advantages to waiting before completely going natural. You get to keep that much coveted length, you also have a chance to see your natural hair and get a feel for it before making that big decision.
The disadvantages are what make transitioning difficult; styling the hair becomes a challenge because of the difference in texture between your new growth and your relaxed ends, maintenance can be more demanding because the two textures have distinct (sometimes even incompatible) requirements and you are unlikely to have a precise indication of your curl pattern while you still have relaxed ends. That last point is, in my opinion, the most pertinent. Remember that even though you get to see your natural texture or undergrowth you will not be able to fully appreciate it until you cut your ends off. You must be mentally prepared to embrace whatever texture your hair may turn out to be. The significant advantage big chopping has over transitioning is that you learn to deal with your hair while it is still short so that by the time its longer a basic regimen is second nature to you.
So, we’ve established that transitioning is simply a cessation of re-touching. The real question is, ‘how do I manage the two hair textures?’ .
- Preventing breakage
The point at which your natural texture meets your relaxed hair is fragile; you’ll need to handle with care if you are to prevent breakage. This is a good time to start implementing practices you will continue to use while natural. Get into the habit of not handling dry hair, if you must detangle it is preferable to do it on wet hair that is saturated with conditioner. Start to use a water based moisturiser to help soften the strands and make them more malleable. Develop a consistent deep conditioning regimen.
- Blending the two textures
This is the tough part and will lead to the most frustration. Your ability to find a solution to this problem will be the difference between a successful transition and deciding to re-touch your hair again. This may seem counter intuitive but EASE UP ON THE HEAT. I just had to put that in caps because when you are used to dealing with straight hair the easiest option for blending will appear to be straightening your undergrowth so that it looks like the relaxed hair. Heat can irreparably damage your natural hair texture. Your ultimate aim is to have natural hair; therefore your main goal should be to keep your undergrowth healthy. Choose hair styles that will make your hair curly instead. Think about all those lovely curly afro’s you’ve been admiring, you’ll be able to have those hairstyles too now! Bantu knot outs, twist outs and other curly styles are fantastic for disguising that pesky line of demarcation.
- Protective styling
You may find it tempting to either keep your hair plaited or wear wigs while transitioning. I would advise against hiding your hair away for long periods of time under extensions simply because you will find it completely overwhelming once you undo your hair and are confronted with this thick undergrowth that you have never had to deal with before. Sure, braiding provides a great break from having to continuously style your hair but try to leave gaps in between and remember to wash, conditioning and moisturise your hair even while it is in extensions. As Masuka would say, if you forget about your hair, your hair will forget about you.
- Products & styling tools
I’m not one for telling people exactly which products to use as our hair tends to have its own favourites but I will say this, start incorporating more natural products into your regimen. They are healthy for both your undergrowth and relaxed hair because of the lack of harsh chemicals. Remember that your natural hair requires far more moisture than your relaxed hair and you might want to start spraying that section with water and sealing in the moisture. You will also need a good deep conditioner.
If you haven’t already noticed your undergrowth is much curlier than the ends, it requires gentler handling and will be more likely to get snagged in combs and other styling tools. Try to use your hands to style and de-tangle as much as possible and if you must use a comb look for one with wide teeth.
- Cut your hair often
Most people who transition find it useful to cut their hair quite regularly until they have achieved a length that they feel comfortable with.
I’ve listed practical ways of managing the move from relaxed to natural but the most important aspect of transitioning is your mindset. Why do you want to go natural? Keep that reason in mind and you will be able to accept the challenges as necessary to achieve your goal of healthy natural tresses. All the best with your journey!
Do you have a question about natural hair? Send a ‘Dear ZedHair’ letter to firstname.lastname@example.org