BAA Growth Challenge

01 October 2010

My Advice To Transitioners

I often find myself being asked for advice by friends about transitioning and my routine as a natural, or reading posts on forums asking for advice and not having the motivation to type it all out.

My personal transitioning journey actually started about 4 months after my last relaxer. I usually stretched my relaxers out that long (a habit I picked up going to undergrad away from home --I didn’t trust just ANYBODY with chemicals, or scissors for that matter, near my head-- so I had to wait until I got home on break which was usually about 4 months apart at a time) ,  but when it was time for me to get a relaxer I didn’t really have the money, and I didn’t really feel like going through the pain (my head always itched when it was relaxer time, and so I always scratched, and we all know what happens when you scratch), and my hair was growing wonderfully without it. I’d been thinking about going Natural for a while, but I kept putting it off for arbitrary reasons, so one day in October 2009 I decided to just stop getting relaxers. I called my stylist and told her what I was planning to do and tried to get a little advice, I don’t remember what she told me, but it wasn’t much. I do remember her telling me that she thought I’d only need to go about a year after I told her I wanted to just grow the relaxer all the way out (like my mom did) instead of doing a Big Chop. And thus began my journey.

The first thing I did was start doing some research. I don’t know WHY exactly I decided to do research. Probably because I was excited and since I wasn’t working at the time I had plenty of time and nothing to really fill it with. The first site I found was Nappturality and then I started spending a lot of time on CurlyNikki. I used the message boards on these sites to reach out to other transitioners as well as people who were already natural for advice. I had no idea how to do my hair since I never REALLY styled it before. I’d just flat iron it after I washed and blowdried it every two weeks, then it would just end up in a ponytail or just straight down until it was time to do it again. Knowing what I know now I cringe at that routine. Eventually I got myself together, started co-washing every week and letting my hair airdry in twists, I deep conditioned weekly and mostly kept my hair in protective styles. I also clipped my ends about once a month since I was going to be cutting them all off anyway (when I was relaxed I HATED getting my hair trimmed with a passion, I was focused more on length than hair health. I’m glad I got over that.

So anyway, my advice is fairly simple:

  1.  Have fun with your hair. If you aren’t used to styling your hair, like I was when I first started, this is an excellent time to learn how to do new things. I spent a lot of time trying to teach myself how to do various styles. Some I got very good at, others I’m still trying to master to this day, but through the entire process I had a lot of fun learning what my hair could do and learning new skills to keep my hair looking good. My hair looked better from the time I decided to transition than it ever had relaxed if it wasn’t someone else doing my hair.
  2. Treat your hair like it’s already 100% natural. Again, the transition period is an excellent time to learn techniques, learn how to identify different ingredients, and what does and doesn’t work for your hair (and your budget). There isn’t one single thing I used transitioning that I couldn’t use today. Thanks to my limited funds I didn’t have the money to become a TOTAL product junky so I very quickly found some products that worked for me and stuck with them. Taking the time to get your regimen together NOW will save you time and heartache in the future. Even if some of the products aren’t as effective for your hair after you are fully natural, you can switch those out, but you will still have your routine (i.e., Wash every Thursday, Air Dry, Style using. . . , etc). You can really stop here with my advice, but if you want more detail, keep reading :o)
  3. Set a goal. Transitioning isn’t just a physical thing, it’s a mental thing. I had a goal of at least a year before I’d even consider doing a Big Chop (BC). Even when I was in the last 4 months or so and starting to get antsy about seeing my natural hair in all of its relaxed-ends-free glory, I made myself wait a year. I think in making myself wait instead of cutting my hair off on an impulse I gave myself a lot less room to be disappointed. By the time I cut my hair I didn’t care what other people thought, I just knew I was ready and looking forward to the day. If you’re someone who, like me, wasn’t sure about having super short hair and shrinkage and all that good stuff, setting a goal for your long-term transition will help you greatly. If, like me, you did research the entire time, you will start looking forward to getting rid of those relaxed ends no matter how short your hair will be when you reach your goal date. If you join a couple of the Natural Hair Online Communities, you’ll have a huge support system of people ready to encourage you and help you on your way. When you have a goal and you reach it, you will just feel so awesome about your goal and reaching your goal that no one will be able to discourage you from your journey. At least that’s how I felt. In setting that goal for myself I gave myself the time to mentally transition because I knew come the end of May I was cutting my hair, I had time to prepare myself mentally for what that meant. This isn’t to say that some people who cut their hair more on a whim weren’t/aren’t perfectly happy with their hair. I’m just saying if you’re anything like I was, having that goal, that set date, went a long way in helping to mentally transition.
  4. Don’t obsess over ingredients. Just because an ingredient is considered taboo, doesn’t mean it won’t work for your hair. For instance, a lot of people use the Curly Girl method which means no shampoo and no ‘cones in the conditioners you use. I’ve been using cones the entire time, they don’t really hurt my hair. So I’m not going to obsess over finding cone-free products to use because I don’t need to. Also, in a similar fashion, just because something DOES work for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. If you try something on someone else’s recommendation and you don’t like what it does to your hair, stop using it. You aren’t obligated to use a product because it works for your favorite guru.
  5. Stay away from heat. I will admit that for a couple of months after my last relaxer, but before I decided to officially transition, I was following the same routine I had when I was maintaining a relaxed style—wash every 2 weeks, deep condition, blow dry (without any heat protectant might I add) and then flat iron (again without any real heat protectant, I think i did use some Oil Sheen, but that probably only fried my hair). I’m not sure when I got super lazy and stopped with that routine, but I do know that since I decided to go natural, or napptural would probably be more accurate, I haven’t TOUCHED a flat iron, and when I DO blow dry it’s on the lowest setting possible after my hair has air-dried for a few hours. Honestly, I think I’ve used the hair dryer like twice since this time last year.  Heat damage can be just as bad as a relaxer when it comes to your natural hair, and if you are trying to maintain your texture staying AWAY from heat is the best way to avoid heat damage. I did a modified blow-out a couple of weeks ago, and I never put my hair on a setting above warm (on my hooded dryer it’s below medium and right above cool) or the lowest setting on my hand held dryer. I was VERY careful to not put too much heat on my hair. Some people go natural and flat iron their hair every week or two and that works for them, but I don’t do that and my advice is to not do that.
  6. Keep your hair CLEAN. There’s a myth out there, that I think I once believed myself, that your hair grows faster when it’s dirty. That’s not true. Chances are your hair is growing at the same rate regardless, so you may as well keep it “so fresh and so clean.” Whether you do that with a shampoo or through-co-washing is up to you.
    1. in this same vein, I’m going to advise  you to stay away from shampoos with sulfates. This is the ONE ingredient I steadfastly avoid. If you’re like me and you had dry hair/scalp it may have been, at least in part, due to sulfates. Sulfates strip your hair of EVERYTHING, even the good oils that your body produces. You don’t want to strip your hair too much because then it becomes dry and brittle. The ONLY time I use sulfate shampoo is when I’ve tried a new product that I HATED (like Kinky Curly Curling Custard) and wanted to make sure ALL of it was out of my hair, and after I used that sulfate shampoo I did a deep condition for a couple of hours just to be safe. But again, if sulfates don’t hurt you and you like a shampoo that has sulfate in it and it’s working for you, don’t fix what isn’t broken.
  7. Air dry whenever possible. This may be a bit redundant to point #4 (staying away from heat), but I really think air drying helped keep my hair happy and moisturized while I was transitioning AND after I BC’d. If you’re worried about how long it will take for your hair to dry, just try to be light handed when the products. The more product you put on your hair while it’s wet, the longer it will take your hair to dry. It’s best to do your hair when you have enough time FOR it to air dry if you’re going to do this. I know some people sit under a cool dryer for like 30 minutes before going to bed so their hair will be fully dry in the morning, that works too.
  8. Deep Condition regularly. I deep conditioned once a week while I was transitioning (even when I was just co-washing), something I still do to this day. Every time I shampoo my hair I deep condition (even if I am using my sulfate-free shampoo).
  9. Don’t be afraid to trim those raggedy ends. I don’t mean you have to do a BC (unless your ends are split all the way up the line of demarcation), but if you see your ends are looking crazy, don’t be afraid to cut them, they’re going to be gone eventually anyway. As someone who really (REALLY) hated getting her hair trimmed when she was relaxed, I found that trimming my own ends was kind of like therapy for me. At first I had my mom do it, but there were times she didn’t feel like doing it, or I didn’t feel like asking her to do it, so I learned to do it myself. For me the best way to trim my ends was the “dusting” method which is where you twist up your hair and cut off the tips where it feels thin. I wasn’t overly concerned about it being even since I was wearing curly styles and you couldn’t tell if it was even or not. Also, getting over my fear of the shears (LOL) enabled me to do my own BC when the time came which again was very therapeutic to me. I didn’t trust anyone but MYSELF to cut my hair for my BC, and I’m glad I did it myself.
  10. Protective styles are your friends. Your hair is already super fragile near the line of demarcation (where your natural hair meets your relaxed hair), so the less you are doing TO it the less likely it is to break off. When I was transitioning I did a lot of buns (when I’d cut it too short to make them like I liked with my own hair I bought a couple of fake ones and baggied my hair underneath for like a week), twists, twist-outs, bantu-knots, bantu-knot outs, and braid outs. Every style I did could/did last a week. So basically after I washed and DC’d my hair I styled it and that was pretty much all I had to do to it until it was time to wash it again. I think this is why I didn’t have huge problems with breakage and was able to last a year without BC’ing prematurely or getting a relaxer.
  11. Seal the moisture in your hair after you wash it. I did a post on this while I was transitioning, and anytime anyone asked me how I kept my hair moisturized I pointed them to a video by BlackOnyxx77 on YouTube. Basically you seal the moisture in your hair by using a water based leave-in conditioner, followed by an oil, followed by a cream based moisturizer. You did it in that order for very specific reasons. Water is what moisturizes your hair which is why the water-based leave in was first, then the oil would seal that in, and the cream based moisturizer would seal all of it in. I frequently switch out the cream based moisturizer for my Shea Butter mix because that’s what I use to style. When it gets cold again I may use the cream based moisturizer AND whatever Shea Butter mix I’m using to style that week (now I have more than one ~lol~).
  12. BE PATIENT. This is going to be my last little bit of advice. Just be patient with your hair. Don’t obsess over other people’s growth vs your own. Don’t freak out if you can’t get a style the first time you try it. Don’t freak out if you don’t think your hair is growing fast enough. Transitioning can be a tough journey for a lot of people, I think what kept me from freaking out or finding it overly difficult was my (admittedly surprising) patience in dealing with my hair. If you take care of your hair it will grow and it will be healthy and you will BOTH be happy. And if you’re doing like #1 advises and having fun with your hair it will be so much easier to be patient with it.

So there you have it, all of the advice I have to give on transitioning, and actually probably on being Natural/Napptural as well. It’s really all very simple, there’s no magic silver bullet on what you have to do to your hair for it to look good. One of my favorite things about being natural is the fact that no matter how badly I mess up a style I’m trying to do, I can always just throw it in a puff and it looks good (LOL). So if you aren’t natural yet, that’s something to look forward to.