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Natural Hair 101 | Assessing Your Hair

Photo Credit: Glenford Nunez via Glenford Nunez Photography


These next few segments of the Natural Hair 101 series is inspired by a series Krystal K. of The Feisty House did on her blog called ABC's of Natural Hair. She has really helpful info on assessing natural hair that some naturals don't necessarily think about. They have issues with things like breakage, dryness, and length retention with no real reason why their hair is behaving the way it is. 

You can check out Krystal's series here:



It's important to assess your hair to figure out what your hair needs and what products to use to meet those needs. I've been natural going on three years now, and it has definitely been no easy feat figuring out my hair and how to care for it. While my hair is at the longest its ever been since I was a little girl, my biggest issue over this past year has been breakage! I'm still dealing with it, but with a few changes in my regimen, I'm noticing a lot less breakage in my hair. I'm just now starting to figure out my hair, what works, what to change/eliminate, and how to better care for it.

Everyone's hair is different. When I went natural, I only used products based on word of mouth, which led to my product junky-ism because I wanted to try EVERYTHING (I've gone to product junky rehab, so I haven't been buying anything new lately. I still have a closet full of products which I'm trying to just use up.) It was only towards the end of 2013 when I started learning about things like pH balance and hair porosity. Uh, HELLO?!?!? Where have I been for my first two years of being natural?? I mean, I knew the basics, like no sulfates, no silicones (which, by the way, is debatable because like I said, every head is different…silicones may work for one head while it may not for the other), deep condition, etc… Not that these things aren't important, BUT, things like pH balance and hair porosity, and hair texture are equally (if not more) important as well, don’t you think? I think so. I mean, how can you truly know what products to use without really knowing your hair, assessing the qualities of it as well as any damage it my have? 

For example: moisturizing and sealing is crucial when it comes to natural hair care. One sealant that naturals have fallen head over heels with is Shea Butter. However, Shea Butter may not be ideal for naturals with thin, fine strands, as it can weigh the hair down. So, what’s my point? You may go out and buy some Shea Butter because you saw how well it works for some naturals, but let's say it doesn't work out like you expected. I mean, you've heard such great things about it, so it should work, right? Shea Butter is ideal for naturals with thicker, coarser hair because their strands can take it. But, if you’re a natural with a finer texture, Shea Butter may weigh your strands down. You may have to try using just a little at a time, or just eliminating it from your regimen and trying something else. Do you see why things like knowing your hair texture is important now? Knowing things like your hair texture, porosity, whether you're protein sensitive or not, is important because when you know these things about your hair, you'll be able to make better choices when buying hair products instead of choosing what looks good, what’s new, or what other naturals are trying (which is a mistake I think some natural make). Okay, enough of my rambling already...on to the assessment!
Products 

What are some of the products you're currently using in your hair regimen? It's important to assess the products you are using because the products you are using may be attributed to any damage you see in your hair. The key to keeping your hair healthy and length retention is moisture and a protein-moisture balance. Natural hair is more susceptible to dryness because the natural sebum that our scalp produces cannot travel down the curves and bends of our hair, so it's important that we moisturize our hair on a daily basis to prevent breakage. Some ingredients to steer clear from that causes dryness, leading to breakage, are:
  • Amonium and sodium laurel/ laureth sulfate: this is a detergent found in most shampoos used for its cleansing and foaming properties. Sulfates strips your hair of its natural oils giving it that squeaky clean feeling and leaving it feeling dry and brittle. 
  • Lanolin, petroleum, and mineral oil: these ingredients are often found in products geared towards "Black hair." They offer no moisturizing properties at all, simply coating the hair, which prevents moisture from getting into the hair. They don't penetrate the hair shaft or the scalp. They just sit on top of it, causing product build up. For an alternative, try natural oils, like jojoba oil, olive oil, coconut oil, etc...  
  • Alcohol: Now, I know how you ladies like to slick down those edges with some gel. But, certain gels contain alcohol, which, can be drying to the hair. Alcohols like ethyl alcohol or isopryl alcohol (you know, the one you use for scrapes and burns), act as solvents, dissolving any moisture from your skin and hair. Not all alcohols are bad though. Cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol are what you call long chain fatty alcohols, serving as a moisturizing agent. If you're using a gel or any product that contains alcohols that dry your hair, switch it up!
  • Silicones: This one is debatable. Silicones really aren't as bad as people make them out to be. In all honesty, it really depends on the person and their hair! Silicones typically found in conditioners, and it's what provides great slip when it comes to detangling. They're usually hard to pronounce, but anything ending in "cone," "col," "conol," or "zane" is probably a silicone. The problem with siliciones for some people is that it tends to cause build up, especially since the silicones found in condtioners, like dimethicone, are not water soluble. There are some water soluble silicones, like stearoxy dimethicone. Now, some people experience build up when using products that contain silicones, and the simple solution is to clarify your hair. If you have build up on your hair, it's harder for any moisture to penetrate the hair shaft. If silicones work for your hair, carry on!
  • Parabens: Parabens are waxes used in products to act as a preservative. They act as anti-microbials and anti-fungals. That's all fine and dandy because they prevent fungus and bacteria from growing on your hair and scalp, BUT, the fact that they are waxes says enough. Water can't penetrate through wax, so moisture can't get to your hair.
Protection and Styling
How you protect and style your hair is important. Natural hair is delicate and very susceptible to breakage, so it's important to make sure you treat it with care if you want it to remain healthy.
  • Protective styling is so important! I was one of those naturals who thought I didn't need to wear protective styles, and because of it, I experienced breakage and didn't retain any length. My hair is very fine, so wearing it out and manipulating it every day isn't ideal for me. Since I have such a busy life with school, work, wedding planning, and more, I have no choice but to wear my hair in a protective style because I don't have the time to twist up my hair every night.
  • Finger detangling will be your best friend! Yes, it takes longer, but your fingers will cause less damage to your hair than your comb will. If you absolutely have to use a comb, try finger detangling as much as possible first so all the major knots and tangles are out, and then run your comb through once or twice.
  • Satin scarf/bonnet/pillowcase will keep your hair from drying out. It doesn't suck up moisture like a cotton pillow or scarf would.
  • Try using a t-shirt to dry your hair instead of a towel. Not only will your hair be less-frizzy, but there will be less damage. Wet hair is even more susceptible to damage, so drying and rubbing your hair with a towel causes damage to your cuticles.
I hope this was helpful for you ladies! Next time, we'll talk about what you need to build your regimen.

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