I am cutting my dreadlocks and going with an Afro. I had locks for so long that I have absolutely no idea what to do with ‘virgin hair’. What are your 5 top tips for me to follow?
This is a big step. It’s not always acknowledged, but dreadlocks are simply another form of natural hair and many of the same principles of healthy hair practices apply. The main difference is that now you will also have to focus on minimising breakage and damage to your strands.
You probably expect to get a list of products or techniques for dealing with natural hair and you may be disappointed that these top tips are not prescriptive enough. Take some time to look through the archives, read our ‘Spotlight’ features and you will soon start to get a clear idea of the kinds of techniques, tools and products that people with healthy natural hair use.
These 5 top tips are all about altering your mindset, adopting a holistic, scientific approach to hair care and understanding that because, by and large, salons are not well versed in natural hair care you will have to take on the responsibility of ensuring your hair is healthy.
With that in mind, here are my 5 top tips:
1) KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE
Set goals and have some understanding of what healthy hair means to you. Do you want your hair to be as long as possible or would you be just as happy with short, healthy tresses? Do you want to be able to have as much fun as you want with your hair or is it more important that you prove the naysayers wrong with hair that would be the envy of any YouTube natural hair guru? Some people have very specific goals such as achieving Bra Strap Length by year three, others are happy that their hair is far more manageable after employing healthy practices. The goals that you set for your hair will inform every decision you make from here on in. If you decide that you want to retain as much length as possible then you may follow a strict protective style routine but if all you want is to have fun, then you can dye your hair all colours of the rainbow and accept that it is likely to be susceptible to dryness and need closer attention.
2) ASK WHY
You have probably been bombarded with a plethora of advice on products and techniques since deciding to cut your hair. There is so much information on the internet and it can be difficult to decide on the right course of action. One fail safe way of ensuring you don’t waste money, time and energy on the wrong products and techniques for you is to ask why. Why is a particular product being recommended to you? What does it have or do that others do not and why is it likely to be useful to you? There is no easy way around this one, you have to do the research; be far more proactive than you are probably accustomed to. If for instance someone tells you to use Grape Seed Oil ask them what properties it has. Are those properties that you think your hair needs based on the goals that you’ve set?
3) CHOOSE THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS
Note that this tip is not necessarily about which specific products you should use. Giving advice on hair is a constant battle because while I’m trying to enable people to make the right choices they want me to make the choices for them. Yes, we both have natural hair but that doesn’t mean we have the same kind of hair. Your hair might be thicker, more dense and able to absorb product or moisture easily. You will therefore require different types of products to me. There is no quick fix to finding the right products; you have to become acquainted with ingredients lists.
There are two broad categories of ingredients you will need to consider; those that have a similar effect on all natural hair and those that work differently for specific hair types.
When reading the ingredients list the first 5 ingredients are generally the ones you want to focus on unless the list is written in alphabetical order. Allow me to illustrate.
These are the ingredients for TRESemme ‘Luxurious Moisture’ Shampoo.
Water (aqua), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Polyquaternium 39, Quaternium 22, Polyquaternium 10, Panthenol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis Fruit Extract (Sweet Almond), Corylus Avellana Leaf Extract (Hazel), Helianthus Annuus Extract (Sunflower), Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Epilobium Angustifolium Extract, Foeniculum Vulgare Fruit Extract (Fennel), Citric Acid, DMDM Hydantoin, Tetrasodium EDTA, Ammonium Chloride, Propylene Glycol, Butylene Glycol, Fragrance (parfum)
The claim is that; ‘TRESemme Vitamin E Moisture Rich Shampoo is uniquely formulated with natural extracts of sunflower, hazelnut and almond, rich in Vitamin E’.Your expectation is likely to be that this shampoo will moisturise your hair and add ‘natural’ ingredients that are bound to be nourishing.
Water is the first ingredient. We have no qualms with that.
The next ingredient is Sodium Laureth Sulfate, a short investigation will reveal that this ingredient is a lather producing surfactant found in many shampoos. It is a degreaser and is often contained in laundry and dishwashing products. Sound a bit harsh? That’s because it is. Without going into too much detail Sodium Laureth Sulphate will de-grease your hair the same way it does the dishes. It strips the hair of its natural oils and can therefore be extremely drying. Natural hair needs moisture and washing your hair with shampoos such as this that contain sulphates can be counterproductive. There are situations when you might opt for a shampoo with sulphates and that’s part of why it’s important to choose the right ingredient for your own purposes.
Cocamidopropyl Betaine is also a milder surfactant than Sodium Laureth Sulphate, there are some claims that it has moisturising properties.
Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein catches my eye because I know that protein can help strengthen the hair. I also know that some hair types, like mine don’t react well to too much protein. This very mild protein means that the shampoo probably has some conditioning properties too.
Polyquaternium 39 makes hair feel softer and adds sheen to dry hair. There are no indications as to whether this chemical is actually moisturising or just appears to be.
There is no sunflower, hazelnut or almond within the first 6 ingredients so we know that although they are included they are not in large quantities.
Looking down the list you notice Panthenol. This is an ingredient that has been touted for its properties as a humectant which means it helps to draw moisture into the hair, this is especially useful if you have hair that does not absorb product or moisture easily. It could also help to mend damaged hair and is found in may hair strengthening products.
So based on this analysis will this shampoo do what it says on the box? Well, it may have some moisturising and conditioning properties from the Wheat Protein and Panthenol, but these have to be weighed up against the propensity for Sodium Laureth Sulphate to strip the hair.
You’ll notice that although many products are touted as ‘natural’ they really aren’t and it’s up to you not to get drawn in by the marketing. In fact it’s probably easier to just mix your own natural ingredients, but that’s a subject for another day.
4) USE THE RIGHT TECHNIQUE
We’ve discussed the merits of product versus technique before. In essence no matter how amazing the products or ingredients you choose are if you don’t follow the right technique you will not end up with healthy hair. Technique includes order of application of products from clarifying to sealing, use of tools and how you manipulate the hair. As with choosing ingredients, technique can depend on hair type and goals. Some natural haired ladies choose to de-tangle on dry hair while others do so on hair saturated with conditioner. Some ladies use only their fingers to de-tangle their hair for maximum retention while others couldn’t fathom having to spend that much time on their hair and use a comb instead. There are of course some general principles, such as washing the hair in sections when it is longer and sealing in any moisture with an oil or butter, that apply to all of us.
5) BE FLEXIBLE or LISTEN TO YOUR HAIR
Bare with me, I’m not going all new age on you. The preceding 4 tips will not be of any use if you do not listen to and understand YOUR hair. Let’s face it; you won’t immediately know which products or ingredients to use. You’ll have some idea based on recommendation and research but until you have actually tried these suggestions on your own hair you won’t know what works. It is important to remain flexible about your hair needs; not only do they differ between individuals, they also change over time. A product or technique that may have worked in the first year of being natural may suddenly stop responding in the second. As your hair grows it may need more moisture. The weather and hormones may also affect your hair. You could walk out the door in the morning with a beautifully defined twist out and return with a shaggy afro and a myriad of factors could be to blame; the weather, your styling products, the technique even your hair type. The trick is to be flexible and adapt to what your hair needs. It may take a lot of trial and error but when you finally get it, it’s extremely rewarding.
There is one tip I haven’t mentioned but it is by far the most important LOVE YOUR HAIR. If you love your hair and accept the way it grows from root to tip all of this care and maintenance will not feel like such a huge task, you will do whatever it takes to keep it healthy, strong and manageable.
All the best with your journey!
Do you have a question about natural hair care? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org