BY ALTHEA
A. FUNG AND BRITTANY BROLLEY
Natural hair has gained
popularity in the black community in recent years. For decades, many black
women looked to harsh chemicals to straighten their hair. But these
days, an increasing number of black women are omitting the chemicals in favor
of a more natural approach to hair care. A 2018 report from
Mintel revealed that black women are “most likely to wear their hair
natural.” According to the data, a whopping 40 percent of these women have
turned to both chemical-free and no-heat styling, while an additional 33
percent of black women still prefer heat-styling, but have cut out all
chemicals.
Although the natural hair
trend has certainly taken off, donning natural hair is more complicated than it
sounds. On top of that, many women who’ve decided to embrace natural hair face
daily discrimination and emotional strife. The chief issue in the natural hair
movement, as it turns out, is that relatively few people understand all there
is to know about natural hair. If you’ve ever wondered about natural hair or
are considering taking the plunge, here are a few things you should know.
What
going natural really means

To truly understand black hair
care — natural or otherwise — it’s important to get up to speed with some of
the terminology. After all, the world of black hair care has a language
all its own.
First, we have to talk perms.
Used interchangeably, relaxers and perms can mean the same thing. but you won’t
want to confuse this kind of perm with the one that curls straight hair.
Instead, a relaxer — or perm — is a chemical solution that’s applied
to extremely curly, coiled hair to make it lay straight. Though these products
are less harsh than they used to be, they can still do damage to both your
scalp and your hair.
Another term you’ll hear often
(especially throughout this article) is “natural.” To be or to go
natural is somewhat of a less concrete idea. In general, being
natural means you don’t use any chemicals to alter the texture or natural
curl pattern of your hair. That means no relaxers, no perms to curl naturally
straight hair, and no texturizers to loosen tight curls. Because hair dye also
contains chemicals, some women choose not to dye their hair.
The
big chop

So, you’ve decided you want to
go natural. First though, you’ll need to decide how you’ll be making this
transition. Many women opt for what’s called “the big chop” — and
it’s exactly what it sounds like. The big chop requires chopping off most,
if not all, of your hair.
Relaxers, perms, and
texturizers damage and weaken the hair shaft, and this is something that
could be irreversible. Because chemically-treated hair will retain its
altered appearance, many women choose to chop it all off instead of growing it
out. This will help you avoid a mix of natural roots and frayed, relaxed ends.
But choosing to part ways with your hair is a big deal.
Hair has long been used
throughout history to indicate a woman’s health status and social
position. Long hair has even been associated
with youthfulness. Chopping off your hair, even while knowing it will
likely grow back healthier and stronger, can cause you some serious grief.
It’s not an easy decision.
The
transition

If the big chop intimidates
you, you should know it is not mandatory for a successful transition.
Instead, some women choose to wear their hair in a protective hairstyle
while transitioning to natural hair. Protective styles are as they sound —
hairstyles that protect hair from damage. Protective styles can
range from wigs to full-head weaves with the natural hair tucked away to
wearing box braids or twists.
These kinds of protective
hairstyles are helpful because they work to decrease tangling, shedding, and
even breakage. They also protect your hair against you. When wearing a
protective style, you drastically reduce your odds of engaging in
some seriously bad habits, as noted by NaturAll Club. You know, like over-combing,
over-styling, or damaging your hair with heat. While protective hairstyles may
sound pretty amazing, you have to remember they aren’t completely
maintenance-free. NaturAll Club recommends still allowing your hair to
“breathe” while in a protective style. It’s also imperative to avoid
letting too much dirt and/or grease from building up.
Protective
styles don’t guarantee hair growth

As great as protective styles
may be, they don’t exactly come with a hair growth guarantee. Stephanie J.
McLemore, a hairstylist for Carol’s Daughter, told HelloGiggles that these
styles encourage hair growth because your hair is “put away and left
alone.” But simply fashioning your hair into a protective style alone
isn’t enough to make your hair grow. The expert advised oiling your hair and
scalp in an effort to “keep your follicles healthy.”
Above all else, though, you
need to be prudent about which style you choose. “The most important thing
to remember is that tension is bad for the hair and scalp, so please have your
stylist ease up on the pulling while applying braids,” she cautioned. A
protective style is only protective when, well, it protects. If your hair is
feeling the effects of tension, you’re better off taking your hair out of the
seemingly “protective” style.
Learning
your type

In the world of natural hair,
texture is of huge importance. Oprah Winfrey’s hairstylist, Andre
Walker, created a revolutionary system to categorize the varying hair
textures. According to his hair typing system, there are four major hair types,
each with its own subcategories.
As Allure highlighted, the
four main categories encompass straight, wavy, curly, and kinky hair patterns.
These four common textures not only vary widely in appearance, but also in the ways
in which they should be cared for. Knowing the texture of your hair is
important because it dictates how often you should clean your hair, what
products to use, and, often times, what styles will work best for you.
Black women may have natural
hair that runs the full spectrum of Andre Walker’s typing system, and, as
hairstylist Vernon François told Allure, you could even have “a
combination of, say, kinky, coily, wavy, and curly.” Still, it’s important
to know just what you’re working with. Anthony Dickey of Hair Rules salon and
brand told the publication that you will have an easier time determining your
type “while your hair is sopping wet.”
Cost
is a factor

You might think wearing your
hair in its natural state to be the most cost-effective hair care option, but
that isn’t exactly true. Natural hair care products are pricey in comparison to
the general hair care products one might buy to maintain relaxed hair.
In an article for Ebony,
writer Kimberly Walker recalled the words she heard others mutter while
attending natural hair events: “You can either pay your electricity bill
or afford to have natural hair.” Yes, maintenance products come with a
hefty price tag. The writer highlighted that a 16-ounce jar of Miss Jessie’s
Buttercream moisturizer retails for $58 while Jane Carter Scalp Nourishing
Serum comes in at $14 per ounce. Similarly Anthony Dickey’s popular Hair Rules
Quench Ultra Rich Conditioner costs a hefty $42. Plus, hair care products with
natural ingredients always have a way of costing more than their harsh
chemical-containing equivalents. Sigh.
Shrinkage
is real, but that’s okay

Achieving natural hair with a
lengthy appearance can be a challenge thanks to shrinkage. This phenomenon
affects all black women with either coily, kinky, or curly hair. Only those
with straight hair are unaffected. According to NaturAllClub, “the tighter
your curls, the more shrinkage you’ll experience because length is lost in
forming the shape of your coils.” Shrinkage may be frustrating when you’re
trying to grow out your hair, but it’s actually a sign of healthy, elastic
hair. And, as the site explained, “You can’t have your curl pattern
without shrinkage, and the only way to eliminate shrinkage is to straighten
your hair.” Since you’re going natural, straightening would undo all your
hard work. 
However, you can reduce
shrinkage without damaging your hair. The site recommends loosely braiding your
hair into sections prior to washing and using a heavier conditioner. When styling,
you can also use a heavier moisturizer to further weigh down — and thus
elongate the look of — your curls.
Caring
for your scalp

Kinky hair is naturally drier
and less oily than straight hair, which may leave you facing a
conundrum. Wash your curly hair too often and you risk drying out your
hair even more. But wash your locks too infrequently and you risk
dandruff. Dermatologist Shari Hicks-Graham explained to Bustle,
saying, “Because people with curly hair tend to wash their hair less
regularly, the oil present at the scalp may accumulate and allow the natural
yeasts to proliferate. This then may lead to dryness, scaling and irritation —
otherwise known as seborrhea or dandruff.”
The doctor recommends using a
gentle sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner on a weekly basis for
added moisture. However, that’s just a guideline. You may find that you have to
wash your hair more frequently than once a week, especially if you are very
active. It’s also a good idea to exfoliate your scalp from time to time.
“Products with anti fungal and anti-inflammatory properties are useful, as
are ingredients for gentle scalp exfoliation,” Hicks-Graham added.
Psychological
warfare

In the fall 2008 issue
of Michigan Feminist Studies, Cheryl Thompson wrote, “For young black
girls, hair is not just something to play with, it is something that is laden
with messages, and it has the power to dictate how others treat you, and in
turn, how you feel about yourself.”
For many black women — with
natural hair or otherwise — hair isn’t just about a crown. It’s a force,
guiding your life and defining who you are. The greatest truth of natural hair
is that no one can understand the depth of feelings — and even changes — that
this kind of hair can evoke. Natural hair can influence the kind of
men that are attracted to you and even shift family
dynamics. Most notably, natural hair can change you. Going
natural may bring up deep-seated issues of insecurity or low
self-esteem. Yet, at the same time, women with natural hair will likely tell
you that it’s incredibly empowering.
Workplace
vulnerability

Black women who’ve embraced
their natural hair are all to familiar with workplace discrimination. Rachel, a
25-year-old public relations senior account executive, admitted to
Byrdie in 2018 that she’s had to think about how her braids or afro
would be perceived in a professional setting. “For me, and many black
women, rocking my natural tresses is a practice of acceptance, a celebration,”
she explained. “Feeling like I have to compromise that self-acceptance for
the sake of an employer’s comfort just doesn’t quite sit right and plays a huge
role in interview-hair decision.” Ultimately, Rachel opts to pull her hair
back into a protective style and will “find ways to let [her] personal
style” show through upon hire.
Lindsey, a third-year law
student, has faced similarly unfair circumstances. “The hardest thing
about going natural in the workplace is the vulnerability,” she explained.
“The nakedness you feel when someone slowly glances at you, taking in your
hair fully.” The student said she considered straightening her hair
for an interview with a New York City law firm. She added, “But then I had
a thought: After 19 years of school, how is my hairstyle a reflection of
my competence and measure of success?”
“Texture
discrimination” is real

Although hairstylist
Andre Walker likely came up with his hair typing system to help women
identify and properly care for their hair according to its needs, a form of
unintended discrimination has taken root since the system’s creation.
“Women with kinky textured hair, commonly known as type 4, are
experiencing something of a ‘texture discrimination’ as a consequence of this
new natural new beauty standard,” wrote Ebony natural hair writer Trudy
Susan. It is, as the writer pointed out, more common to see women with the
three other hair types in advertisements and media.
Susan further explained,
writing, “So while the recent rebirth and modern day celebration of
natural hair has provided some balance for Black women looking to escape the
media induced pressure to yearn for European imitated straight, long hair, now
there is a new pressure for natural women to yearn for a specific type of
natural hair.” Although all forms and types of natural hair deserve to be
honored and celebrated, that has sadly not been the case.
Wash
day “literally takes a whole day”

When Jasmine Brown embarked on
her natural hair journey, she soon realized just how much was involved with
going au naturel. “I had never understood why some natural hair girls
called it wash day until I went completely natural,” she penned in an
article for The Odyssey. “The wash and style process literally takes a
whole day.”
Brown explained that she now
plans to wash her hair on Saturdays because it means she’ll have the whole day
ahead of her to care for her hair. “Natural hair takes up a lot of time,
especially when you have to wash it and style it,” she explained. Drying
alone can eat up one’s whole day so Brown recommends starting as early as you
possibly can. “I like to start my wash day process around 8 AM so I can at
least sort of have the night to myself,” the writer admitted.
Trust
the process

Women who’ve joined the
natural hair movement will tell you that working with their newfound natural
hair didn’t exactly come naturally. “I initially went natural 10 years ago
as I really wanted an afro,” the founder of The Wig Witch, Gina Knight,
revealed in an interview with Vice. “I was confronted with this head
of hair that I didn’t know, but more than that, because I was adopted by a
white family, it felt like a relearning of my culture, too.”
Musician Hannah Anderson also
revealed her experience with going natural. “The hardest part for me was
when my hair was an inch or two long, in this really weird and awkward
phase,” she opined. “I didn’t want to cut it but I had no idea what
to do with this hair — it kinda stuck up and didn’t have any particular
shape.” Anderson then committed to learning to braid her own hair, which
she ended up enjoying. “I didn’t really know how to work with my hair in
its natural state,” she explained, “so it was a learning process for
sure, one that was very self-directed and included tons of YouTube
videos.”
Anyone
can rock natural hair


After researching the ins and
outs of natural hair, you might think it’s the style for you. Or, you might be
convinced it would never “work” on you personally. However, it’s
never the latter and always the former. Ebony natural hair writer LaParis
Hawkins explained that your natural hair is, by all accounts, the hair texture
with which you were born.
“All Black women have
different preferences as to how we wear our hair,” the writer explained.
That may mean you favor a relaxed style while your sister chooses a perm. You
might love the look of hair extensions or a weave while your friend prefers her
hair au naturel. There are any number of styles to choose from and, as the
writer highlighted, “Let us not forget that it is our choice and decision
to wear our hair the way we want.” She continued, writing, “If you
want to rock your natural hair texture, then do it. It is for you, because it’s
by you. Period.” She’s not wrong.
SOURCE:
THELIST
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.