HAIR CARE PRIMER
So you’ve decided to go natural, now what? Well, every head of hair is different so you’ll need to begin the journey of listening to your hair and feeding it what it likes so it can thrive. Before we get into some preliminary hair care tips there’s something you’ll need to realise about going natural...
You’ll need to change your mind.
What I mean is that not only do we need to transition from having chemically treated hair to natural hair but we also need to go through a mental transition. Your old ideas and myths about natural hair will need to be put aside.
I believe that false ideas and wrong expectations about what natural hair ‘should’ be are the cause of so many issues and fears surrounding natural hair care.
There also needs to be a growing love and appreciation of the characteristics of your hair. Let me repeat. YOUR hair. It’s so easy to get caught up in looking at naturals that have a different texture to your own and maybe their hair does this, or that or the other.
Then you come to your hair and… it so DOES NOT want to do that. You become frustrated, and wonder why this natural hair stuff isn’t working out. Re-assess your expectations (and take a good look at the inspiration page:). Find at least 3 styles that you would like to try on your hair texture and have a go.
No one can force you to embrace your hair texture.
That has to come from within. So dig deep and perhaps create a list of the benefits of having coily hair...you might just amaze yourself.
Ok. That said, lets go on to look at a few key points.
The Five P's
I like to break down natural hair care into The Five P’s. These are the main aspects in hair care that need to be considered. There are many more but these are a good place to start.
They are: Porosity, Ph, Products, Practice and Patience.
Does you hair accept water easily or not? This is a crucial element to know. Porosity simply means our hair's ability to absorb water.
High porosity hair easily absorbs and loses moisture while low porosity hair is the opposite, It doesn’t easily absorb and lose moisture. Generally speaking having medium porosity is a preferable.
A simple test can be done in order to establish what kind of porosity your hair has. Take a clean strand of hair, free from any products, oils or butters (It's best to take a strand straight after washing your hair). Gently place the hair strand in a glass of tap water and leave it for 3-5 mins. Check the strand and observe whether it is still floating on top, hovering in the middle or resting on the bottom.
If it is resting on the top of the water it's highly probable that you have high porosity hair.
If it is hovering in the middle or just below the top then you most probably have medium porosity hair.
If it has sunken to the bottom then you probably have high porosity hair.
Please repeat the test several times with hairs from different parts of your head to ensure you have a better idea of your overall porosity.
Our hair is mainly water and protein. The moisture (water) /protein balance is not 50/50 but more like 20% (moisture) and 80% Protein, or even 10% Moisture and 90% protein. Everyday we trade the moisture within our hair strands with the environment. If you have high porosity hair then you will lose moisture rapidly after applying it and will therefore need to address these issues by considering the products you use on your hair, how frequently you use them, how and when you deep condition and whether the use of elements like heat and dyes will be further detrimental to the health of your hair.
Likewise someone with low porosity hair will have their own set of considerations about their hair regime and the products they use.
So as a first step - Establish your hair's porosity level.
Mmm now we'll need to get into little science here...but trust me, it will be useful and not overly in-depth so stick with me!
The Ph is a figure expressing the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. Anything between 0 and 6.9 is acidic, 7 is neutral, and anything between 7.1 and 14 is alkaline. Human hair and sebum (a natural oil excreted from our scalps) has a ph balance of between 4.5 and 5.5. This slight acidity prevents the growth fungi and bacteria and helps keep the cuticle (outer layer of the hair strand) closed.
When the cuticles are laying flat moisture retention is improved and the internal parts of the hair (such as the cortex) are better protected.
When considering our natural hair regime we need to ask whether the products and techniques we're using are opening and closing our cuticles properly and at the right time. This all feeds into porosity too. For instance if you've established your porosity level and you know it is low then you'll probably focus on getting your cuticles to open properly when you wash your hair so you can receive as much moisture as possible.
In addition to this you'll also need to ensure your cuticles are closed after washing or deep conditioning your hair. Again, the ph of the product you're going to use on your hair after washing it will make a big difference as to whether it will help your cuticles to close or not. Products with a ph figure close to our hair's will encourage the cuticles to close and retain moisture within the strand.
Second step - be aware of the ph of your products ( you can test them with ph testing papers)
This is a big one. Products are the number one thing people ask about when they’re experiencing difficulties with their hair. Products are important but I want to quickly add that they are not the be all and end all. Let me explain.
Many people believe that there is a miracle product that will make they hair grow. And if this is you then i’m sorry to burst your bubble! (If there is one miracle product that will help you retain length then I would say that it was…water. Yep, that’s it) There isn’t one product that will solve all your hair problems.
Taking care over all the aspects of your regime will enable you to retain length month by month.
So…products, in short go for those with a high moisture content or exceptional moisture retaining properties, aloe vera is one such product. However, plain old H20 is the best moisturiser on earth!. Also remember your hair needs help sealing in that injection of moisture you’ve just given it, so use quality natural oils and butters such as shea butter, coconut oil and olive oil to name a few. These are packed full of the fatty acids and nutrients our hair and scalp crave.
As our hair is subject to the elements and regular manipulation of one kind or another it needs to be fortified. Hair is dead. As soon as it leaves our scalps it needs to be strengthened to ensure the risk of breakage is reduced. Products or ingredients that strengthen and protect the hair strand are what you should seek. I’ve found the most effective to be natural plants such as henna, amla and others which are chemical free and contain an abundance of vitamins and minerals vital for good hair and scalp health.
Always stop and think about how a product might affect your hair and take a very close look at the first 5 or 6 ingredients on the list to really gain a clearer idea of what is actually contained in the products you're applying to your hair and whether they're the best type for promoting healthy hair.
Many products in Afro/Caribbean hair shops contain cheap, nutrient deficient oils such as mineral oil and petroleum which build up on our hair, forming a film of oil which can only be removed by using harsh detergents such as sodium Laurel sulphate, which further dry out the hair.
Silicones, another common ingredient in many hair products, coat the hair shaft giving it slip and making it 'feel' soft. Many of these 'cones' are not water soluble so they can cause build up and prevent moisture from properly entering your strands. Cones can have their place within a regime, for example if a heat protectant is required then it may contain silicones. I would however personally advise a limited use of silicone filled products to ensure you're more able to stay clear of drying cleansing agents and have a clearer idea of what condition your hair is actually in rather than the illusion silicones give.
Third step - Consider your products - read the ingredients list!
Practice does make perfect…that is, if the practices are correct! How you treat your strands is another key factor in whether you will retain length.
- Do you pull and tug on your dry strands with a comb in order to detangle your hair? Then breakage will occur.
- Do you use heat on your hair everyday without a heat protectant? Then breakage is coming your way.
- Do you roughly manipulate your hair everyday? You're more likely to suffer breakage.
Kinky hair is more fragile than other hair types because of it’s shape, the lack of natural sebum coverage and the lower number of protective cuticle layers it has. So it needs to be treated with respect!
Practices that help reduce the amount of breakage are:
- Covering your hair every night with a silk or satin scarf (they can be polyester!) helps stop moisture loss and knots. Cotton loves to absorb water, so protect your hair at night lest you’re robbed of the precious moisture in your strands.
- Washing your hair in chunky twists. A fabulous practice which will go a long way to helping you reduce the number of knots produced during wash time.
- Regular deep conditioning. This is a MUST. Afro textured hair is thirsty. It needs moisture and other nutrients to be carried deep into the shaft in order to remain reinforced, pliable and strong.
Fourth step - How do you treat your hair?
P a t i e n c e. This is not something we’re all very good at in this I-want-it-now culture.
Hair is growing all the time. On average about 1/2 inch a month. Some hair grows faster and some a little slower due to various factors. Retaining length takes time. I typically notice a change in my length every 8 weeks. We need to be consistent once we’ve found a regime. Only then can we can see the benefits.
Stick with your regime for 6 weeks and measure the growth if you like. Taking photos can be helpful, but don’t become obsessed. If you pay close attention to the health of your hair and respond according then growth will follow. Be patient and enjoy your hair at every stage!
Fifth step - Cultivate patience - Remember it's a journey!
So now you’re done reading all of that if you would like to read blog posts about specific areas of hair care choose from the links below.