Caring for your natural hair is quite easy once you know the products and tools you need. If you are ready to learn what these are, please keep on reading.
It is so refreshing to see many women across the globe embracing their natural kinks and curls. Back in 2009 when I went natural, there weren’t as many woman wearing their natural hair as there are now. And, there certainly wasn’t as much information or products available to help me take care of it.
Despite that, good, succinct advice on natural hair care is still scarce. So many people (especially YouTubers) recommend a lot of things that confuse new naturals and make the journey more difficult than it should be.
I hope to change that by providing simple, straightforward advice to help you on your journey. Let’s get started!
Natural Afro Hair: The Basics
Afro Hair Structure
Afro hair is made up of the protein keratin, the same protein that makes up our nails and skin. All hair has three layers:
Medulla: The innermost layer that is usually only present in very thick hair. It has no real function.
Cortex: The middle layer when the medulla is present, or the inner layer when the medulla is absent. It contains melanin, the pigment that gives your hair its colour.
Cuticle: The outermost layer. It protects the interior layers of your hair and helps to lock in moisture. If you look at it under a magnifying glass, it looks overlapping scales, very similar to fish scales. The ‘scales’ in a healthy cuticle lay flat, while those in an unhealthy cuticle are raised.
Typical features of Afro Natural Hair
Afro hair grows out in a coily/curly-fashion unlike Caucasian and Asian hair, which grow straight. This is because our follicles have an elliptical or oval shape, while Caucasians and Asians have follicles with a round shape.
Since our hair grows in kinks and curls, the points where the hair strands bend/twist are very fragile and prone to breakage and damage. Frequent combing, styling and unnecessary manipulation will increase the risk of hair damage and breakage. So it is very important to be careful and gentle when handling your hair.
Our scalps produce sebum (the natural oil that lubricates our hair and skin), just in the same way that Asian and Caucasian scalps do. But, because our hair grows in coils and curls, our sebum finds it difficult to travel down the length of our hair to keep it moisturised. This is the key reason that we have drier hair than other races, and why we have a harder time growing long hair.
To alleviate this, we have to moisturise our hair very frequently. This can be twice a day for some, daily for others or even once a week. It really all depends on current the state your hair is in.
Even though a lot of people complain about shrinkage, it is a sign that your hair is healthy and elastic. Afro hair can shrink anywhere from 10% to 95% of its original length. My own shrinkage is probably around 90%. Despite the fact that I have mid-back length hair when stretched, in its wet state I have a teeny weeny afro – you would think I just did the big chop. LOL!
In humid weather, our hair draws up a lot of moisture from the hair that causes it to shrink. This can also cause the hair to frizz. You must remember that these things are normal. Instead of trying to fight against it, embrace it!
Products and Tools to Build a Hair Care Regimen
The only way to give your hair a good chance of staying healthy and growing to waist or butt length (if that’s your wish) is to take care of it. Most hair care veterans will tell you that products don’t grow your hair, but I think that’s false.
If you cannot keep your hair moisturised, conditioned and soft it will break off drastically and you will never get the long hair you desire. The only way to achieve soft, moisturised hair is to use good hair care products.
If your current hair care products are not doing this for you, I would suggest you throw them out and start looking for better alternatives.
In addition to hair products, you need to invest in good tools that don’t snag your hair and cause it break off.
So what type of hair care products and tools do you need?
You need a shampoo to cleanse your scalp from environmental pollution, residue from products and bacteria. Many commercial/drug store shampoos contain harsh sulphates such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) or ammonium laureate sulfate (ALS).
These sulphates are very drying to our hair so you want to avoid them. To be fair most of them are marketed towards Caucasians and Asians, who need to strip their scalp of sebum. We need that products that clean our scalp, but that do not strip it completely of its natural oils and moisture.
Look for shampoos that contain milder cleaning ingredients like cocoamidopropyl betaine, coco glucoside, lauryl glucoside or decyl glucoside.
Some examples of these include:
Brazen Curls Moisturising Shampoo
Cleansing Conditioner/Conditioning Wash (Co-Wash)
Some people (including myself) prefer to cleanse their with a conditioner. Rinse-out conditioners, popular known as co-wash these days do the job of cleansing, conditioning and moisturising the hair at the same time.
The beauty of co-washing is that you don’t need to worry too much about your hair being stripped, and if you don’t have a lot of time to spend on your hair, you can leave the co-wash in your hair for a few minutes longer for a light deep condition.
Not all conditioners (regardless of what the bottle says) do the job of conditioning and cleansing very well so you will have to shop around to see which one works best for your hair.
On a side note, try to avoid conditioners that contain ingredients like silicones, which can cause build-up on the hair and scalp. There will be more about silicones in a later post.
Some good co-wash conditioners you should look up include:
Brazen Curls Conditioning Co Wash
If you can only afford to buy one type of product for your hair, I will recommend that you make it a deep conditioner. Deep conditioners are an absolute MUST HAVE for every woman with natural hair.
This product is what will play the most part in keeping your hair soft, pliable and easy to work with. Depending on what kind of conditioner you have, it can help strengthen your hair (protein conditioners) or keep it very moisturised (moisturising conditioners).
It is a good idea to have both kinds of conditioners in your product stash, but moisturising conditioners are your best friend because you need them more often! Deep condition your hair with a moisturising conditioner at least fortnightly, but doing it weekly is best for your hair especially if it gets dry quickly.
Depending on your styling practices (such as if you have colour in your hair), you will need to strengthen your hair with a protein conditioner. I would say at least fortnightly if you have colour and monthly to six-weekly if you don’t.
Good moisturising deep conditioners include:
Brazen Curls Moisture Masque
After deep conditioning your your hair, it is good practice to add a leave-in conditioner. This will keep your hair moisturised and soft for longer. Leave-in conditioners are usually suitable to use as a daily moisturiser.
Once again, you need to read the ingredients of your leave-in conditioner to ensure they don’t contain ingredients like silicones and petrolatum that will cause build-up on your hair overtime.
Good leave-in conditioners include:
Brazen Curls Creme Leave-in Conditioner
Moisturisers are great for drawing moisture into the hair. Moisturisers usually have water as the first ingredient, and contain other softening and lubricating ingredients like oils and butters.
A good moisturiser should penetrate your hair shaft, and not just coat it. It also shouldn’t weigh you hair down or make it look dull.
Good moisturisers to look out for include:
Brazen Curls Hair Butter
Once you’ve moisturised your hair, you need to add a sealant to lock in the moisture. Sealants usually do not contain any water in them, so they are made solely of oils and butters.
Although, shea butter doesn’t work well with all hair types, it is one of the best sealants to use. You will have to test it out to see if it works for you. Brazen Curls Sealing Balm is a good alternative. You can also use oils like grapeseed oil, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil or castor oil (very heavy so you only need a minuscule amount) to seal your hair.
Your fingers are the best tool to use for detangling or ‘combing’ your hair because you can control exactly how much force you put through your hair. You may find it a bit weird initially but after doing it a few times, you will get the hang of it.
If you don’t like using your fingers or you haven’t quite mastered it, you should invest in wide-tooth combs or speciality detangling combs. You particularly want to look for seamless wide-tooth combs that will not snag your hair.
I hope this post has taught you a little more about your hair, and about some of the products and tools you need to build a proper hair care regimen. Some of the products I recommended may not work for you, so you may need to keep searching until you find one that does.
Have you used any of these products? If so, what are you thoughts?