A beginner's rough guide to natural hair
The bi community has a large number of PoC (people of colour) amongst its ranks and so it follows that I am only one of many bi dark skinned feminine PoC trying to figure all this out. I love fashion and beauty stuff, but too often find it geared at cishet thin white people. Being a fat black woman with seriously limited funds, I have to work that much harder to look at cute as I do. So, here I am starting a regular(ish) column with tips, guides and lists for other darker skinned, larger sized feminine bi people with none of the heteronormativity, fatphobia and transphobia that can make the fashion and beauty industry so very hostile. So here's the first piece from Celebrating Your Vanity, a guide to natural hair.
So you've decided to stop relaxing your hair, or you've stopped getting weaves, or you've decided to stop straightening your hair twice a week, or you've had very short hair all your life and now want to grow it out. But you have no idea where to start. There's a ton of information out there but a lot of it is conflicting and not all of it is useful. So here's some tips and info about how to get started as a natural.
For those of you with relaxed or even severely damaged hair, you want to decide whether to transition or big chop. Transitioning is when you grow out your natural hair and gradually trim off the damaged sections, dealing with both textures at once. Big chopping is when you just chop off your damaged ends and just grow your hair out that way. There are pros and cons to each method, but that's an article in of itself so let's move on.
So now you're ready to start taking care of your hair. The very first thing you need to do is make sure that you're eating as healthily as is feasible for you and that you're drinking plenty of water. Poor diet and dehydration will reflect in your hair, skin and nails.
Now we have that out the way, the next thing you need to do is figure out what your hair type is. Natural hair is massively diverse. There's tons of stuff to consider: length, hair porosity, hair density, strand thickness and, of course, your curl pattern (2/3/4 a/b/c). Here's a decent guide to get you started but don't worry if you're confused/not sure. Part of the natural hair journey is getting to know your hair, what it likes and doesn't like (for example, mine is a fussy little diva that loves thick butters and hates pretty much anything ever made by ORS, African Pride and Dark and Lovely). But once you know a bit about what your hair is like, you can start building a regimen.
Your regimen will depend on your hair type, but at its most basic you want to balance cleansing with moisture and protein. Natural hair, being as curly as it is, can very quickly get dry, brittle and weak. Creating a regimen is a difficult and complex process and it is possible to write a book on the subject. At it's most basic, you're going to want to add moisture several times a week (my dense, coarse, 4b/c hair needs moisture daily), cleanse at least once a week (I co-wash - wash using a conditioner - twice a week, and shampoo every fortnight) and add protein at least once a month (I do a protein treatment every time I shampoo). Finding the right combination of the right products is absolutely essential and can take a long time. If, like me, you're vegan, have fussy hair or just like making things, you may well want to make your own products, but that can be expensive. But here are some things every natural will need:
- A spray bottle - damp hair is manageable hair
- A satin scarf/bonnet/pillowcase - satin helps retain moisture and prevent unwanted frizz/damage
- A wide tooth comb - don't even think about detangling with a fine tooth comb, it'll cause some serious damage
- A good cleanser - you want one that is strong enough to strip away product build-up, excess oil and dead skin but still gentle and moisturising enough not to completely strip all the moisture out of your hair (I use African Black Soap)
- A good conditioner - once you find the perfect conditioner, you can use it to co-wash, condition and (with a couple extra ingredients) deep-condition. (I generally make my own)
- A good moisturiser - this can be a leave-in conditioner or moisturising crème, depending on what you hair needs (I love the shea moisture coconut and hibiscus curl enhancing crème, but it's pretty expensive to get hold of here in the UK)
- The right oils - coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, castor oil, there are dozens. But once you have the right combination, it'll be great for sealing in vital moisture.
- A good styler - this can be a styling crème or gel. But to make your styles last, you want something that's going to provide hold without being too drying
Once you know your hair and have a regimen started, you can play around with styles. What styles you can accomplish will depend on your hair type. If you have hair like Yaya DaCosta, it's never going to look like Tracie Ellis Ross and that's okay. The trick to having fun with your hair is understanding its abilities and limitations and learning to love those. Also practice; it took me about six months to accomplish a braid out I actually liked. One massive tip that absolutely cannot be ignored is: be careful how much heat you use. As awesome as blow dryers, curling irons and straighteners are (my blow dryer and I are pretty much best friends) natural hair, especially kinkier hair textures, can be very sensitive to heat damage.
Finally, remember that you're going to mess up. Repeatedly. Sometimes catastrophically. That's okay. Each time you'll mess up you'll learn something new. This is a journey and, over the past few years, it's been one that I have greatly enjoyed. Be patient with yourself and your hair. Trust me, it'll be worth it.
Here are some resources if you want more information (CW: all of these contain gendered language/imagery)
Second generation British-Nigerian fat agender person. Style enthusiast, decent baker and lazy poet.
Find me on instagram @mazisahedgehog