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The Long Transition To Natural Hair

I have been natural for about 15 months.  When I think back to April of last year, I had no intention of going natural.  Sure, the thought crossed my mind, but I wasn’t very motivated.  My hair loved relaxers.  It looked good, felt great, and I loved the feel of freshly relaxed hair.  Relaxing my hair, for me, became somewhat of a spa experience – where I would schedule nothing, buy my products, and retreat to my bathroom to pamper myself.

But after that last relaxer I thought I noticed a tiny bit of thinning.  Sure, as we age, it is not unusual for our hair to thin out a bit.  But in my 30s seemed a bit early.  Then I couldn’t get my hair to “lay right.”  I really disliked that straight look where when you nod your head the hair just moves stiffly up and down in the back of your head – as if it’s waving at someone.

Long Transition To Natural Hair

Previously a good cut would alleviate this issue…but I’d already tried that, and still the waving board hair persisted.  Typically my next “fix” would be a relaxer.  But this had not worked the previous month, and I was very frustrated with wearing my hair down.

I was already in a “decrease our toxins” mindset.  However I continued with relaxers because I’m not a fanatic, and rationalized that a decrease in household toxins in other areas would still be beneficial.  And the one (or few) toxic indulgences that I enjoyed the most wouldn’t be as harmful (since my overall toxic burden was decreased).  But now that my hair was thinning…AND it didn’t look good…meant that it was time to try a new thing.

So I entered into this transition sorta in the dark.  No plans, no product, no knowledge on how I could pull this off.  Visions of nappy ‘fros flashed in my mind.  Frizzy edges, kinky “bugs” on the edges.  And I paid particular attention to women at the job who had natural hair…and honestly, that only increased my anxiety.  These women were either much younger, and not quite as “professional” as I needed to be and therefore were able to get away wearing their hair in “crazy” styles or little ponytails and such.  OR they just had a head of dry, crunchy, lop-sided nappy hair that looked ungroomed, and out of control.

So I got online.  I found a few blogs and websites that inspired me.  Where the women had very creative (but not “crazy) hair-dos, and their natural hair was kinky coily, but not dry and crunchy.  Nappy hair, to me, meant that it couldn’t be combed.  It was too….nappy.  The women on the blogs had natural African textured hair…that didn’t appear ‘nappy.’  It had bounce, sheen, and was controlled.  This is what I wanted.

There was tons of talk about a big chop.  I was never a huge fan of short hair on a woman.  Not really.  Sure, some women rock wonderful short styles.  And for them, that’s great.  But for me, given the choice, I would choose longer hair.  So I was in no hurry to cut off all of my hair.

But if you were not ready to cut off your relaxed hair, it seemed like you weren’t really “serious” about growing your natural hair.  Everyone had something negative to say about keeping relaxed ends as you grow textured hair.  “It’ll all fall out at the line of demarcation” I was told.  “Eventually you’ll have to cut it short” said someone else.

In all of my uncertainty, one thing I knew for sure:  I was not going to do a big chop before my hair (however much that might be) could be pulled back into a single pony tail.  That way, I had a “go to” style…and could make a bun, a puff, and slick the edges down with globs of gel if necessary…and still look *the same.* Still look “normal” and typical for me.

So I started.   Here is my story.

Month one – it’s time for a retouch.  For the first time in years I’ve missed that 5-6 week mark!  I mistakenly purchased a myriad of products based on online reviews such as:

  • Organix blow dry cream, coconut milk
  • Chi silk infusion
  • Aussie stuff
  • Elasta QP stuff
  • Keracare conditioners
  • Eco gel

When all I needed was

  • Grapeseed oil
  • Shea butter
  • Giovanni Direct leave in
  • Beautiful curls stuff

Hindsight is 20/20.

See, the Elasta stuff is so full of unhealthy ingredients, that I couldn’t tell if my itchy scalp and neck were from this product or the new growth.  But a few days of detoxing off this line of products yielded an itch-free healthy scalp!  So I blame the stuff.

The rest of the stuff just really didn’t make a big impact either way in my hair-care experience.  Detangling was not easier, my hair was not more manageable.  Just a waste of time, money, and added toxins to the routine.

My first routine consisted of daily washing (I washed to I could use a large tooth comb to detangle and pull my hair back into a ponytail in the shower), and a smooth bristle brush (soft brush) to brush the edges back.  I learned rather quickly that if I saturated my hair in grapeseed oil before my shower, and combed my hair out with conditioner in it while in the shower, made detangling much easier.  The shampoo and condition used mattered!  My favorite shampoo was Beautiful Curls, and my favorite conditioner was Island Naturals Aubreys.

After getting out of the shower, with my ponytail in place, I had many flyaways at the crown (not quite long enough, or too coily to stay pulled back).  So I used West African shea butter, (a tiny bit of grapeseed oil for slickness if necessary) and brushed the edges back and tied them down with a doo-rag.  To my amazement, my hair, my edges, and my ponytail all looked very much inconspicuously “normal.”  Not crazy, not wild, not child-like, and not dry and nappy!

This worked for months!  As my hair grew, I trimmed the ends (myself).  I did go to the hair dresser one time in September (5 months out) to get it trimmed/straightened for an event.  I really liked the straightness (I can’t lie), and the increased control my hair seemed to acquire, but I didn’t like how much hair she pulled out…nor did I like her criticism of how “everybody shouldn’t be trying to have natural hair.”

So I have not gone back to a hair dresser since.

But after that, I realized that…I could do what she did!  I could blowdry my OWN hair, and flat iron it….and do it MYSELF.  So, that’s what I did.  It took practice.  I *knew* what to do…but doing it efficiently (detangling, blowdrying, flatironing, styling, maintaining) took a couple/few months of practice.  I would wear my hair straight for about a week (maybe 10 days) a month.  And this continues to this day.

A couple of realizations would have eased my anxiety:

  1. Long transitions are not that big a deal.  Your hair doesn’t fall out, and it is possible to see growth and make progress with two different textures.
  2. Beautiful curls and grapeseed oil make wonderful natural products
  3. Trying down my hair with shea butter makes for a head full of smooth waves!
  4. I can wear my hair straight whenever I want, and my hair won’t all fall out if I do it correctly, AND I’m not a sell-out if I decide I like my hair straight sometimes!
  5. It is possible to keep natural hair moisturized and soft with grapeseed oil, shea butter, Giovanni direct, Beautiful curls, and Aubrys Island natural conditioner.

If you are hoping to have a successful LONG transition, and have a question for me, just ask!