Ask Afrobella: Natural Hair. Start Here!

I think I can guess what a few of you made as a new year’s resolution this year – to go natural!

Just within the past few weeks, I’ve gotten several messages from new naturals who are seeking guidance and advice. Please allow me to be your guide and answer some of your questions! Welcome to Team Natural!

Question #1 comes from my friend Scott Hanselman, via Twitter.

Just so you know, Scott was one of the most informative speakers at the last Blogging While Brown, and his presentation How To Make Your Blog Suck Less continues to inspire me! Scott’s question reminded me that I completely forgot to share one of my 2010 accomplishments with you on the blog! Last year I wrote an article on transitioning for Essence Magazine’s special Hot Hair Issue, and I interviewed some of the best hairstylists in the natural hair biz. The issues is no longer on news stands, so I scanned it for you. Click here to open the PDF and read Essence Hot Hair Natural Hair Transitioning Tips by Afrobella!

The Essence piece offers quite a bit of information for newly natural bellas who want to try to maintain length as they transition. But if you make the decision to just go for it and do the big chop, you’re dealing with new growth right away and that brings different challenges to your transition to natural hair. You won’t have to deal with figuring out two different textures of hair, instead you gotta figure out how to work your new, short look, and what products your natural hair will need.

Now’s a good time to offer my traditional disclaimer – I AM NOT A HAIRDRESSER. All I can do is speak on what I’ve seen and what I know. So from my experience, here are the steps I’d recommend for a brand new natural bella, to maintain her hair after doing the Big Chop.

1 – Learn how to keep it clean.

Maybe when you relaxed your hair, you adhered to hair myths that don’t apply to curly or afro-textured hair. Adages like shampoo two-to-three times a week, and brush your hair 100 times a day. That kind of behavior will most likely make your natural hair dry, frizzy and quite unhappy. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again – treat your hair like you would a fine silk kimono, or your grandmother’s antique wedding dress. Recognize that it needs a gentle touch and deserves special TLC. You’ll discover that you need to shampoo once a week at most – sometimes I go 10 to 12 days without shampoo. You’ll discover that generic drugstore shampoos may not cut it for your hair – I recommend you check out a cleansing cream. I like Devacurl No-Poo and Curls Cleansing Cream – you can browse and buy a great selection of shampoos and no-poos at Curlmart. If you’ve been using heavy hair products laden with bad-for-you ingredients like mineral oil and petrolatum, you have scalp buildup and your hair looks dull and lifeless, try a clarifying shampoo (I like Hair Rules Aloe Grapefruit purifying shampoo ) once a month.

2 – Learn to conditioner wash, and give your hair regular deep conditioning treatments.

Natural hair is so often derided as being “coarse” but you might be really surprised – your hair’s texture can also be fragile, dry, delicate, and softer than you may assume. Most naturals adhere to a no poo regimen, and instead do regular conditioner washes. If you plan on wearing your hair in a loose, detangled style, conditioner is your BFF. Motown Girl explains it all better than I can, so please click here and read this for more info!

3 – Figure out what products your hair will respond to.

This is where the term “product junkie” starts coming up. First things first, don’t get overwhelmed. I broke it all down on Vogue Black – typical natural afro-textured hair styling products can be divided into four basic categories. You got your oils, you got your creams, you got your gels and you got your butters. Your hair may respond to one category of products more during one season versus another – in general, my hair loves gels, oils and light creams in the summer, and cries out for butters, heavy oils and dense creams in the winter. If you want to start experimenting with all natural products right away, go to your nearest Whole Foods and start with some raw shea butter, castor oil, aloe vera gel and virgin coconut oil. For a wider variety of products specifically targeted to our hair styling needs, check out Black Girl With Long Hair’s Marketplace, which is a new, great resource for naturalistas looking for products made for our tresses!

4 – Be strong. Also, be bold with your style.

OK, let’s be real. Not everyone’s transition to natural hair is an experience sprinkled with fairy dust. You might be facing resistance from your family and friends, guys you know may feel the need to say outrageously offensive things to you, people in general can be ignorant. All of these things have happened to me. And if you’re sensitive like me, all of that judgment can color your self esteem. In a culture where long hair is celebrated as the gold standard of beauty, people really will try to make you feel some kinda way when you chop all your hair off. So my advice is, hold your head high and BE CONFIDENT in your beauty. For me, when my hair was at its shortest, I found confidence boosts in makeup and hair accessories. When your hair’s short and sassy, you can show off a bold hairclip like nobody else can. A stunning hair flower or feathered headband won’t get lost in a mass of coils. So rock those big earrings, work a bangin’ headband, wear bold eye makeup, go forth and be FIERCE. (A little Grace Jones always helps in this department!)

5 – Figure out if you want to let your fro grow, or keep it cropped.

Now that you’ve cut your hair off, the choice is yours! Many women feel that it’s just easier to keep it super short, and keep their hair trimmed in a TWA. Some women grow it out and wear it loose and large like I do. You can rock twists or cornrows or a frohawk or roller set styles. You could decide that a loose natural isn’t for you, and start to loc your hair. And you know what? I know many many natural women who also reserve the right to rock a wig when they choose to, or blow their hair straight if they feel like it. It’s entirely your perogative. To me, natural hair is freedom. You now know the truest texture of your hair, and now you can do with it what you will. A big chop gives you a blank canvas to start fresh, and know what you’re working with. I say enjoy the journey every step of the way, and learn to love your natural hair!

6 – Familiarize yourself with the natural hair community and know that there is support to be found online.

I meet so many natural haired women who are older, who tell me that they admire the courage of the younger generation, and nobody had the information on going natural back in their day. So I really gotta say – without the internet, I don’t think natural hair would have the popularity it has today. We are changing the game. With every blog, Fokti, YouTube video and forum, women around the world are spreading information, reviewing products, sharing photos, and inspiring each other to embrace their natural beauty and learn to love their hair texture as it grows. So if you’re lacking in support in your everyday life, familiarize yourself with the natural hair community online and draw strength and inspiration from there. Join Twitter and use the hashtag #naturalhair to introduce yourself. Look on Facebook for natural hair groups. Read natural hair sites. Check out Tumblr blogs for photographic inspiration. Get on YouTube and you’ll find a video addressing every natural hair concern you can dream of. If you ever have a moment of doubt or uncertainity, know that there’s someone online with the information you need. Things are WAY better now than they used to be, in that regard. Know that you are not alone!

If you need more inspiration, check out my post titled What’s Your Best Natural Hair Advice. There’s lots of gathered wisdom and insight in there.

I hope I answered most of your new natural hair questions here, and if I didn’t, I have a friend who can!

This Sunday, celebrity stylist and natural hair specialist Felicia Leatherwood – creator of the Loving Your Hair With Natural Care Workshop, will lead a webinar on what to do with your hair after you’ve done the Big Chop. “I’m really excited about talking to the women about their Big Chop choice and what the best products are for them to use also how many ways to style a Big Chop! All of this and more will be addressed this Sunday 9 am PST, 11 am CST, 12 pm EST – The Live Stream is $25 and the women can ask any question they may have about their hair!” she says.

Click here to register!

Welcome to the wonderful world of natural hair!

Bellas – if you’ve been natural for a while, what’s your best advice for someone just starting out?

Thanks to Renisha James for letting me use her photo!

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Comments

  1. I love this post. Congratulations to all the newly naturals out there. I wish I had known about the support network online before (or when) I did my big chop. You can learn so much for other people’s experiences. That being said, it’s trial and error too. Document your journey (via photos, a journal) so that you can look back and see your progress. I love seeing how much my hair and spirit have grown together!

    Cost does NOT always equal quality. Do your research about product ingredients, and what works best for YOUR hair.

    Welcome to the team! :)

  2. YES! Thanks!

  3. Hi Bella,

    Great post as usual. I’m a long-term, long-haired natural and I’ve found that my hair thrives best with regular shampooing. I wash my hair at least twice a week. If I were to go 10-12 days without shampooing, my hair would be most unhappy. Since I’ve increased the frequency of washing, I have no issues with tangling or dryness anymore. I use a very gentle shampoo and my scalp and hair love it. Just wanted to offer an alternative point of view.

  4. Co-signing with Winnie.

    As a transitioner since May 2010, I often find that the advice offered is generally a guideline. One has to experiment, and, subsequently, undergo much trial and error, to discover what is best for one’s hair. That said, I appreciate the post, Bella, and the links. :)

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Hi-
    I am an Afro-Latina and I have semi-curly hair that frizzes all the time. I have shorter hair (shoulder length) and it’s very thin. I’ve tried conventional curl products by Fructis Garnier, Tresemme and other store brands but they eventually dry out my hair, leave it crunchy and don’t define my curls. I would love to embrace my curls but most of the time, I just pull it in a bun. What products would you recommend trying?
    Thank you!

    • Mizani has a line of curl defining creams that work great. I’m also an Afro-latina (never used that term before, it’s cool) My hair is like cotton its very soft but thin and more fluffy than curly, if you know what i mean. Anyway i did the big chop, I shampoo and condition almost every other day and use Mizani’s true texture cream. My hair looks and feels great, its shiny, strong and for the first time in my life i have a very defined curl pattern. (i sound like a commercial lol) best wishes

  6. Hamptonsfnst says:

    @Elizabeth: Have you tried Herbal Essences? I love their conditioners: Hello Hydration, Totally Twisted. Aloe vera gel makes my curls “pop” but I only use that in the summer for my WNGs. Other great brands to try are Mixed Chicks and Curls. These were the first brands I used when I became completely natural.

  7. Great tips! Love you Essence column too, btw.
    Cheers!
    Lola Z

  8. Wow thank you so much for the extra encoragement i just did my big chop jan 8 2011 and i love it i knew for me it was time i love me for me and enjoy my hair and the way God made me and stop thinking i had to have a head full of weave in order to be pretty thank you for your beautiful words lol you made me even more excitied about seeing my natural hair grow big and strong.

  9. I am so glad you are writing about natural hair here. I am going to be posting some info on my blog about it as well. I have been natural now for 7 years. I even had locs for 3 years and I loved them but before moving to Italy last year I chopped them off. Now that I have gone natural, I cannot go back to chemicals and I have gotten most of my friends to tag along as well. So thank you for talking about an alternative way of living to relaxers and weaves. I commend you!

  10. Hey! i love this site and only stumbled upon it recently. I am in the product junkie phase where I am trying to find what works for me. I noticed that the link to Vogue where you break down the products is not landing there. Can you repost?

  11. allnaturall1 says:

    I need help I am a natural female now for 6 1/2 years now. I am at a loss. I need to know what is the best product for me. My hair is very very thich and coarse. I have some curly and straight strands. Some new styles would be great as well. I am stressed and ready to cut and perm pls help.

  12. I am not sure if you would consider my hair natural because although I have never had a perm ever(I am 26 years old) I do press or flat iron my hair. I am looking for some new products for my hair because the stuff I have been using I am not happy with. I am in need some new products that can work well with heat. I do like my wearing my hair was and wear but when I do that its gets dry and too tangled. Any suggestions?

  13. That was MY New Years’ resolution. I made the resolution on January 2 and got the BC done the next day at a hair salon that’s open on Mondays. I was ready!!

    I have a TWA and I was it daily because that’s the only way I can get it to look the way I want it. Maybe when it grows I can go a week without washing it. I do use sulfate-free, and paraben free shampoo though and conditioner. So far my hair hasn’t had any issues.

  14. Mahogany Maverick says:

    I did my big Chop last Friday and it was the most liberating experience…I Love my TWA and plan to keep it cropped through the summer.

  15. Thank you so much for these tips. I am getting ready to do the big chop on April 5th. I have been locing my hair for 7 years, and while going through a divorce, many of locs have fallen out…I can only guess due to stress. I am ready to cut them off and play with my hair for a bit and then start my locing process again….I feel great about my choice to start over….new beginnings….

    Fatima

  16. I just big chopped, like 3 weeks ago, at first i was so depress and lost, everybody was asking why i did it, that i was crazy! im from dominican republic and here we are so pretentious about the hair, my mom got a salon and she relaxed me since i was 5, my hair all this year broke a lot, and i was so tired about it, i will never have long hair, said to myself, 3 year ago i stopped the relaxer but i still blowed out, the hair grow a lot! mid lenth but the curls were so damage, my best friend did the same that i did, that year, but with the difference that they big chooped, now they have a beautiful and wonderful hair, me on the other hand, got this wanna be curls because all the heat damage.

    So one saturday night i said to myself, fuck it! yo can handle this and i chopped all my hair, the next week you know what happen, pain, tears, regrets, i going to a salon near my work a beautiful guy with long locs attend me, i was so embarrassed to show my hair, and he said to me a totally stranger, love you and love your hair, he is gonna love you back, he cut a lil more of my hair, and they he styled and the hair was wonderful.

    Now everyday i feel more comfortable with my hair, i know its short, but its not going to be like that forever.

    i think its better to do the big chop, cause its way to learn and let go.

    i dont know why i didnt do it before.

  17. NaturallyCyn says:

    I did the Big Chop on March 18, 2011 and don’t have any regrets. I was so ready to see how I was uniquely formed. I love my nappy/kinky hair. And yes I get ugly looks from my mom but I still smile and say to her “see what you was blessed with”. My husband is now my biggest supporter and be giving me suggestions and ideals. He has even went shopping to buy me some accersories. Even thou I’m a newbie, I have embraced my natural beauty. So ladies have patience and embrace your beauty.

    Bella – I heard about you at the BGLH forum in Chicago. Now I have come across your site/blog. I will be on here often. I wish I had met you for myself.

  18. I have very fine, thin hair and always struggled to style it – nothing seemed to work; perms, hot combs, whatever. After I graduated college I figured enough was enough. I cut all chemical out of my hair December 21, 1984.

    I kept my hair short & natural, wore high top fades a la Larry Blackmon and experimented with color until 1992 when ‘The Wrap’ became popular. I decided to give straight hair another try. Even that proved too much work for me. I cut off my hair again in 1993 after deciding you can’t fight Mother Nature and win (at least I couldn’t). Once more, I wore it short and was even baby butt smooth for about a year.

    In 2000 after my mom died, I became responsible for taking care of my grandmother, who bless her, is still alive today and kickin’ 99 in the behind. I stopped my regular hair cut routine gradually because I didn’t have the time or the will to keep up with the regular maintenance. I started wearing bright scarves and headbands to help control my hair and to keep everything in place. My trims faded from once every 4 weeks to once every 6-8 weeks and finally around 3 times a year.

    About 3 months ago, I went to my stylist of 14 years for one of those 3 times a year. He washed me and blew my hair straight to check my ends. My hair straight was bra strap length. I was totally amazed. No major trimming was necessary and when I wore it to work the next day, most of my co-workers didn’t recognize me.

    Going natural was the best thing I could have done for myself, even if at the time it was not a popular thing to do. I had a job at a bank and the natural was a silent taboo. Probably the only place that accepted it as part of any fashion statement was New York.

    I didn’t let the opinions of family, strangers or straight, long hair lovin’ men faze me and now it’s the big thing to do.

    I’m still trying to find the Holy Grail of hairstyles for me, but I strongly encourage any woman who’s thinking about ‘The Big Chop’ to do it. There’s so much support out there and lots of natural hair care info. I didn’t have that to guide me, but I think I did alright.

    Do you and be naturally happy and happily natural.

  19. ayotola says:

    Hi, I’m a nigerian, i just stumbled on this website and i love what i am seeing. I just got a chop off about 3months ago and my hair is soo thick and coarse it doesnt seem to be growing and i dont want to wear it that way….how do ??? suggest i wear it and product advice please

  20. I started my transition involuntarily, but I began realizing that the relaxed hair and my new growth were clearly different textures. I wanted my hair to stay long, so I had to figure out how to have an appealing transition. My friend introduced me to Nutress Hair products and I was able to get them to one strong, healthy texture. I used the Nutress Stop Break 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner and the leave in conditioner. I also used the Nutress Protein Pack for Extremely Damaged Hair for protein treatments. When I straighten my hair I use(d) the Nutress Foam Wrap for added protection. The combination of great products and reducing the heat exposure to my hair helped me grow my hair out to a comfortable length, and then chopped the relaxer off. Now, I still use the Nutress products to keep my hair healthy and strong. I put the website up for those of you who want to try it out. All of the products are SUPER affordable (all under $10). Happy hair ladies!

  21. I did my BC abt 2 months ago and I love it!!!!! The only problem I had was the dry itchy as scalp and right now I as m doing a olive oil treatment. Abt people liking it I really don’t care as I am me and I always do me especially when it comes to my hair. This really isn’t my first BC. I did one long ago, had it wavy until it grew out. Lately I have had weaves and braids and I got so tired of trying to keep it on point. I have a bad back and so I was not able to really keep it on point. To satisfy myself me I got the BC. Now I am experimenting with all the Natural hair products and I Am loving the Oils and Shea butters.

  22. Fantastic web site. A lot of helpful info here. I’m sending it to some friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And of course, thank you for your sweat!

  23. Do not wash you hair each and every day, when you wash the hair, it is stripped of all-natural oils that are there to moisturize it, you will normally acquire great outcomes if you clean your hair one day and bypass it the following.

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