The natural hair world is not an easy world to navigate. Because more and more people are going natural, there’s more and more information out there about natural hair. It’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed with all the blogs and tutorials. So we’ve created this overview of natural hair for those who are just starting out or for those who need a reminder of basic natural hair principles.
Understanding a little bit about the science of hair helps to understand how best to take care of it.
For more about the basic science of hair, read this Curly Nikki article.
Over and over again you’ll hear that no two heads are alike and it’s true, which is why it’s important to understand your own hair and hair needs. Before creating a hair routine, take the time to understand your hair’s texture and porosity. There are several hair classification systems out there. The most popular one is the Andre Walker Texture Typing System made popular by Naturally Curly, although more people are staying away from classifications altogether as they might be too narrow and not account for the nuances of hair or the fact that it’s possible to have varying textures on one head. Curl pattern, porosity, density, width, length are all elements the Texture Typing system, as can be seen here. But we believe that texture (width) and porosity are two key areas to focus on.
Texture is determined by the diameter of a hair strand: fine = small; coarse = large, normal = medium. Here are some key notes about the various types of hair:
Per Naturally Curly, to find your hair width, take piece of your hair from a brush or comb and hold it up to the light. If the hair is very wide and easily visible, then you have coarse hair. If it’s so thin that you can hardly see it, you have fine hair. If your hair appears neither thin nor coarse, you have medium width hair.
Porosity refers to your hair’s ability to absorb moisture. There are three general classifications:
Per Naturally Curly, to determine your own hair’s porosity, grasp a hair strand firmly between your fingers. Slide the thumb and index finger of your other hand from end to scalp (opposite direction as for texture test). If your fingers “catch” going up the strand, or feel like they are ruffling up the hair strand, your hair is overly porous. If it is smooth, you have normal porosity. If your fingers move very fast up the hair strand and it feels exceptionally slick, you have low porosity.
Once you have a sense of your hair needs, you can then start to create a regimen that meets those needs. Natural Hair Community goes into extensive detail about formulating a routine. But below are the basics.
Washing hair should be a part of any hair routine regardless of texture. Healthy hair is clean hair. The frequency of each wash, however, will vary from person to person. Every two weeks seems to be the most common frequency among naturals but it really depends on how dry or moisturized your hair is and how much product your using. There are few aspects to washing natural hair that are different from washing straight hair. Depending on your routine, washing natural hair can be pretty involved, with some naturals spending a whole day washing their hair.
The dry, squeaky feeling hair can have after washing is a common concern among naturals. But the solution is simple — pre-pooing with a penetrating oil (like coconut oil). Plus, it can help with pre-wash detangling. Try a quick 20 minute pre-poo before your next detangle and wash. Not only will your hair feel softer after washing, you’ll also see a reduction in breakage and shedding that occurs during detangling and washing.
Detangling hair is something people with straight or relaxed hair needn’t worry about as much but curly hair has an increased tendency to tangle, knot or matt, so detangling your hair and removing shed hairs is important. Detangle your hair prior to styling or washing it. There are several detangling methods out there but Kinky Coily Curly Me has a great 10 minute method.
Dry hair is a common feature of natural hair because it’s often porous and thus releases moisture. Adding and retaining moisture can be done by conditioning your hair each time you wash it (as mentioned earlier), spritzing your hair with water on up to a daily basis, or adding oils to your hair when needed. As mentioned, water is the ultimate moisturizer but it evaporates easily, which is why many naturals seal or use oils on their hair. When looking for moisturizing hair products, look for products whose primary ingredient is water. (The earlier an ingredient appears on an ingredient list, the more of that ingredient there is in a product). Also, sleep with a satin cap or on a satin pillow case at night to avoid loosing moisture to cotton materials.
Coarse, strong hair with lots of protein tends to be brittle and thus break easily. This is a largely why retaining length is difficult. As a natural who likely wants long hair, you can prevent or reduce breakage by treating your hair delicately (especially when washing and conditioning), employing protective/low-manipulation styles, detangling and avoiding heat.
You’ll here a lot about protective styling. According to Natural Hair Community, a protective style is a style that requires little manipulation, protects the ends of the hair by keeping them tucked away and allows regular moisturizing. Common styles like twists, coils, flat twists and cornrows can all be converted to protective styles by tucking or hiding the ends.
Buns and bantu knots are common protective styles but, wigs and weaves are also used for protective styling. Check out these three natural hair vloggers that use wigs and weaves to protect their hair (and to also just switch up their look).
This is another element that should be a part of any hair regimen regardless of texture. As mentioned, because hair is a dead fiber, the real way to get rid of damaged hair or split ends is to cut them off or grow them out. Trim your hair regularly to keep it healthy. If you’re worried about losing length, try the “Search and Destroy” method, which allows you to specifically trim only the trouble areas. Learn more about the Search and Destroy method here.
Here’s a good video on trimming natural hair.
Again your hair routine should be tailored to your needs and should be something that evolves over time as you get to know your hair and understand how your hair responds to different products. But here are a few sample regimens.
Does having natural hair mean you can’t ever straighten your hair? The answer to this really depends on your reasons for going natural. A definition of natural hair we like is natural hair is relaxer-free hair. There are lots of naturals who straighten their hair using non-relaxer methods i.e. blow outs, or flat-ironing. If you went natural because you want to grow your hair, straightening your hair with heat is not advised as heat can result in brittle hair that breaks. It can also change your hair texture. If you went natural because you want to embrace your curls, you may have no interest in straightening your hair at all. If you’re natural and want to switch up your look, straightening your occasionally won’t do much damage if you do it the right way.
Alicia James of Easy Natural Hair has a great video on blow drying her natural hair.
Here are some good posts on straightening natural hair:
Below are three must-have tools for any natural.