African American hair can be beautiful, soft and silky when allowed to grow and curl naturally. Chemical relaxers are incredibly harsh and heat styling hair in order to press it flat can lead to a hair nightmare. Stop the destruction! Making the decision to go all natural vs relaxed is not easy, but it is worth the trouble.
In order to get a head full of luscious curls, relaxed hair can either be cut off or allowed to remain in tact. Many women forgo the big chop because they don’t want to lose all of their hair. If being nearly bald is too daunting, transitioning is the answer.
The Transition Time Span
Transitioning takes patience and a fair number of months, and for some women, even years. Count on spending about four years growing out natural hair to waist length, 20 months for bras strap length and 12 months for shoulder length hair. More information is listed below.
Special Concerns – Strength of hair
New growth will be strong, but susceptible to drying. Relaxed ends will be weak, fragile and brittle. The line of demarcation, where the hair switches from relaxed to natural, will be very tangly and fragile. It is highly advisable to use protective hairstyles and stay away from destructive heat styling and hairstyles, which will be discussed below.
Sadly, the afro is not one of the most friendly hairstyles for women who like to maintain strong, healthy hair. Forming an afro requires a lot of combing and shaping. Running a fine toothed comb through African hair is almost a guaranteed to cause major damage. Rockin a fro is fun and ok to do occasionally, but there will be a lot of tangling to deal with. As many know, detangling improperly can lead to breakage, especially when hair is longer than shoulder length. Afros with long hair can be drying, thanks to the ends of hair coming into contact with fabric, skin and other materials that absorb the hair’s essential oils. If styling hair into an afro, beauty and hair geniuses advise using a glycerin based protective product and adding a heavy dose of moisturizer to the ends of hair.
Destructive Hair Tools
Heat styling is one of the best ways to destroy transitioning hair. Youtube’s hottest natural hair experts say that heat styling should not be used, but if it is done, it should not be more often than every six months. Flat irons, blow dryers, curling irons and other heat styling tools should be packed away until a time when the hair is stable, consistent in texture and very healthy and strong. There are many protective updo classes and tutorials available online that will leave hair looking beautiful while maintaining its integrity.
More on Transitioning to Natural Hair on a Timeline
Hair grows at a rate of approximately ½ inch per month. This is an average, not a comprehensive guide. Everyone is different. However, the ½ inch per month rate is a good way to estimate how long it will take to achieve the desired length. Deciding how long the hair should be before removing the straightened ends is difficult, as cutting off a lot of length will change the overall texture and styling capability of the hair. Keep in mind, however, that natural hair will shrink between 50 to 80 percent after cutting and washing. With this in mind, if 8 inches of natural hair is wanted then the number should be closer to 10 and will take approximately 20 months to achieve.
During the transition phase, hair should be treated gently. The less hair is manipulated during growth process, the better. Flat twists, bantu knot outs, or pin ups are low manipulation styles that will keep the dry, straight ends protected from drying and further breakage. Rod sets are wonderful for this period and blend the two textures well.
Braids and Extensions – Good or Bad
Braids and extensions are other ways to keep hair in control while growing out the straightened ends. Just don’t get them done too tight. While braided, hair should also be moisturized by spraying with water and sealing with natural oils and butters. A deep condition is also a good idea.
Product usage is tricky. Everyone’s hair is different. What works for one person may not work for another. It pays to do a little research before choosing products to use during the transition period. Many women have absolutely no idea what their natural hair texture will be. It is a safe bet to assume that hair will be kinky, dry and curly. The textures will probably vary throughout the hair, and will take up to two years to become any consistent texture.
Products for Transitioning
Experiment with different products. Keep in mind that with so many changes happening within the hair shaft, one product may work one month, but not the next month. Be patient and find a few go to products that will work for hair throughout the process of transitioning to natural hair. Products made by the same company usually contain chemicals that work well together, so try to purchase a line of products once it is discovered that they work well for the transitioning individual.
Sulfate free shampoos are non-drying. This is a safe bet for women with weakened and relaxed hair. Deep condition hair with a mask at least once per week. This process may take hours to complete, but is well worth the trouble. Keep hair protected by using glycerin based serums or sprays. Some boutique stores offer transitioning kits, which can be very helpful for some women. When choosing products, be sure that water is one of the first ingredients listed and that they are labeled as moisturizing.
Transitioning to natural hair is time consuming and difficult, but well worth the trouble. Feeling like a strong, beautiful and confident woman while natural is one of the most gratifying emotional states that can be accomplished. Don’t forget to take care of skin, hair and eyelashes before presenting that fierce, natural hair to the world.