How to Care for Natural African-American Hair

Many African-American women are ditching relaxers and opting for natural hair instead, but many have had relaxed hair since childhood and have no idea what to do with hair that isn’t straight. I was one of those women. Once I grew out my natural hair, I had no idea what do to with it, but after eighteen years I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share. By taking care of natural hair, it can grow long just like straight or relaxed hair.

Learn Your Hair Type

African-American hair comes in a variety of hair textures from kinky, curly, wavy, to almost straight. What works for your friend’s or sister’s hair might not work for you. My hair is very thick, coarse and dry with tiny coils and this type of hair can be the most difficult to manage and it’s important to be gentle so as not to break the hair off.

No Combs

Not using a comb is a radical idea because we’ve been conditioned (no pun intended) to think that we need to comb and brush our hair in order to keep it healthy. Well, combs can easily glide through straight hair, but they get tangled in curly hair, especially hair that is very kinky.

It’s best to use your fingers to untangle your hair because a comb can pull out kinky hair and cause breakage. Constantly breaking off the ends of our hair is what gives the illusion that African-American hair doesn’t grow long. Hair grows from the roots. This is obvious because people with relaxed hair have to get the roots touched up every six weeks. But if you break off the ends of your hair as the roots grow out, you will never see a change in length. Think of putting apples in a basket then taking one out every time you add a new one. The basket is never going to get full. Brushes are the same as combs. I occasionally use a brush to smooth the edges of my hair down, but I never run the brush down the length of my hair. This is a recipe for damage. I only buy boar hair brushes because brushes with plastic bristles will break off hair more easily.

Very kinky hair can be difficult to style because it grows outward instead of downward, but if you don’t want to wear an afro, there are many other options. A braid-out or twist-out is an easy way to achieve loose waves and curls. You need some type of hair product that gives the hair moisture and a bit of hold. I use a moisturizing spray and a styling gel together, but since each person’s hair is different, some people may only need one or the other or a combination of three different things.

For spiral curls, separate hair into small sections. Coat each section with hair product(s) and make two-strand twists all over your head before going to bed. Important: Tie a cloth bandana over your hair while sleeping to protect hair from damage. In the morning, undo each twist and use your fingers to separate and style the curls. Do not comb or brush the curls, this will ruin them. If you want waves and not spiral curls, follow the same process, but braid your hair instead of making twists. (When making braids you may want to twist the ends because they are fragile.) You can do the braid-out every day or every few days depending on the look you are going for.

Hair that is very kinky is usually dry and you don’t want to use products that can make it even drier. Starting with shampoo, use one that is as gentle as possible. I found that baby shampoo actually works well. It doesn’t dry my hair out, it’s inexpensive, and one large bottle lasts for months. I wash my hair once a week since washing kinky hair more often will leave it very dry. Also kinky hair gets tangled easily so the way you wash it is important.

Stand in the shower with your head leaning back. After wetting your whole head use your fingers to make a part down the center and use a metal clip to put one side of your hair up. Wash each side individually with minimal rubbing to keep hair from getting tangled. Afterwards dry hair on low setting then do the braid-out. It might take another day for moisture to fully return to your hair, so it may be a little frizzy the day after you wash it (mine always is).

Some people with kinky hair choose to use a texturizer, which is a mild relaxer that loosens the curl pattern without straightening the hair. Texturizer is applied to the roots every six weeks or so, just like a relaxer and it can make your hair more manageable if it is extremely dry and/coarse. Texturized hair isn’t considered “natural” by purists, but each individual has a right to chose what she wants to do with her hair, politics aside. Once your hair texture is the way you want it, whether 100% natural or lightly processed, you can make ponytails, twists, cornrows, buns, whatever you want. It’s important for African-American women to realize that there is more to natural hair than just afros and dreadlocks.

Here are some dos and don’ts:

Do

Cover your hair with a bandana while sleeping to avoid rubbing hair out.

Use gentle shampoo.

Condition your hair after washing it.

Untangle your hair with your fingers daily. Tangled hair leads to knots and knots lead to breakage.

Use moisturizing styling products.

Have confidence in your new hair.

Don’t

Comb and brush your hair.

Wear tight ponytails which may cause hair to break off and hairline to recede.

Over process your hair. If you use a texturizer, only touch up the roots each time, not the whole head. If you texturize and dye your hair, do each process two weeks apart to avoid damage.

Wash hair too often. Once or twice a week should suffice.

Vigorously scrub your hair when washing it. This can cause tangles.

Listen to people who think natural hair is ugly!