The whole concept of #ThrowbackThursday (#TBT) on Instagram is a trip. Every week I find myself digging in the proverbial crates for an old photo of myself that nobody’s ever seen before. Every week I come face to face with an old hairstyle I barely recognize anymore. Every week, you get to see a flashback of someone’s life, juxtaposed with the person they’ve become today.

Lately I’ve been looking at my photos from college and wondering to myself…what the heck was happening with MY HAIR? I mean. Lawdamercy.

Natural Hair In College Afrobella

College was the first time I was left alone to deal with my hair and figure out a beauty and personal care regimen that made sense for me. It was the first time that I had to go to a store, stand there and figure out what to buy to try to maintain my own look. It was kinda scary. I remember deciding right there in the drugstore aisle, that kiddie relaxer would be somehow gentler for my hair than regular. I remember reading all the descriptions of Pantene and Herbal Essences varieties and trying my best to pick whatever would be the best choice for my hair texture. And even if it wasn’t, I used the whole bottle because in college you have no money to just be buying products and not using them like that.

On my way back from New Orleans, I sat next to an awesome lady who had just dropped her baby girl off at Tulane. She was telling her her daughter’s new concerns and challenges, dealing with her hair for the first time. It took me right back to that feeling of standing there in the aisle at Eckerd CVS, not knowing what to do.

So my college bellas, this post is for YOU. Here’s what I learned in 4 years, condensed into a post that I hope will help you figure out this natural hair journey so many of you are embarking upon. Now’s the time to do it!

Things I Wish I Knew About Natural Hair When I Was In College

1 – I wish I knew that my hair would look beautiful in its natural state. I went into college on that steady relaxer habit. The first time I had to relax my hair myself, I learned SO much about this process I was paying a stylist for every six weeks of my life since the age of six. Having to put on the little gloves that come in the box led me to really ask myself – what are you actually putting on your hair, and why are you doing it? If I had to do it over again, I’d have gone natural earlier. Before I wound up basically damaging the hair in the middle of my head beyond repair. Yep. That happened to me in college. Sometimes the friend in your dorm who you think totally knows all about hair, knows just as little as you do.

2 – I wish I knew to shampoo less. Back in the day, I got my beauty advice from magazines. Magazines that would offer awesome hair tips and product recommendations that were never intended for my hair type or texture. So I believed silly things, like I should brush my hair 100 and wash my hair every day or every other day, without considering that maybe these hair tips weren’t intended for people of every hair type. My hair responds best if I use shampoo every 7 to 10 days, and do conditioner washing more regularly, to keep my situation detangled and clean. I didn’t know about the no-poo method, or that there were cleansing creams and oils instead of harsh shampoos, that might have worked better for my hair cleaning needs. Instead I was buying whatever I saw on a television or magazine ad with no knowledge or awareness of ingredients.  I needed to shampoo less and conditioner (DEEP conditioner) more.

3 – I wish I knew what kind of styling products to use. The collection of styling products I have now would blow college Patrice’s MIND. Back then it was shampoo, conditioner, and maybe some kind of styling pomade or gel. Nothing that I felt made a difference or truly WORKED for my hair texture. I had no idea what my hair needed, is why. And now, college bellas you have it SO GOOD. Your drugstore beauty and hair aisles are overflowing with products that’ll work for your hair’s needs. You’ve got blogs and YouTube channels and Tumblr to guide you on what might work for you. So much of the work has already been done. With a little research, you can figure out the rest.

4 – I wish I’d had more friends with natural hair

From what I’m hearing, college campuses everywhere have changed completely in this regard. When I went into college everyone had relaxed hair and there was this expectation of maintenance. Back in those days, I relaxed my hair, and I relaxed my friends’ hair – girls AND guys. Well, one guy. And he went natural before I did! Friends from my dorm would take turns relaxing each other’s hair and then going to the shared bathroom to rinse it all out. The only “natural” haired role models I had, were celebrities who it turned out, most of the time were rocking weaves or wigs to get those perfect curls. Now EVERYTHING is different. I have SO many friends with natural hair. I can ask a team of women in real life or online, what products work for them or what styles I should try next. Having that natural hair tribe has been essential for me. Maybe if I knew more natural haired friends in college I would’ve had the courage to quit the creamy crack earlier.

5 – I wish I knew that learning to love my hair was the cornerstone of it all

Truth is, I spent too much of my college years hating my hair and wishing it wasn’t the way it was, instead of trying to understand what it was trying to tell me. I treated my roots as something to be blasted into submission with chemicals. I damaged my hair beyond repair with relaxer and hair dye. And then when I had to cut it almost all off and start from scratch, I had no choice but to get familiar with it. That’s when I started to appreciate my hair. When my roots got puffy, I was just happy that my hair was GROWING again. And then I realized, like a plant, it needed moisture and care and nurturing. I didn’t always like how it looked, and I still struggle to achieve more than a cute wash and go. But learning to love my hair in a genuine, holistic way was the ultimate difference maker for me. From the minute I stopped cursing it and judging it and comparing it to others and thinking it was “bad,” was when I started appreciating my hair and giving it the love that it needed and deserved.  That’s when it all started clicking into place.

College bellas, I’m here for you. Let me know if you need specific questions answered in a post! I’m bringing back my Ask Afrobella series, finally Smile

What do you wish you knew about your hair when you were in college?


NV says:
September 9, 2013, 1:09 pm
I went overseas and for five months with braids and near the end had TONS of new growth. The moment I stepped foot on US soil I got my hair relaxed and noticed how nice and healthy it was when I hadn't used chemicals or messed with it for five months. Of course, that didn't last long! I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have chopped off the relaxed ends and kept it moving. But I didn't know one natural in the Midwest in the 90s.
Farah says:
September 9, 2013, 3:57 pm
I'm Jewish with thick frizzy hair and could repeat word for word what you write here. In fact my breakthru was when I a) started using African American hair care products, b) got a lecture about damaging my hair from a Jamaican friend and c) read a wonderful book about natural care (not word for word useful but totally inspiring). What I'd tell me at 18 is "for god's sake don't try to get a hair cut in a city where there are five Jews and five Black people".
Suzette Willis says:
September 9, 2013, 4:14 pm
I've always liked my natural hair
LaNeshe says:
September 10, 2013, 3:43 pm
I wish I knew that natural hair was an option! That may sound strange, but so many women grow up getting a relaxer from such a young age that it never occurs to them that they don't HAVE to get a relaxer. This was especially true years ago before natural hair became more mainstream for people of all hair patterns.
Girl...get a life says:
September 11, 2013, 2:00 pm
I went natural at 16, so I didn't have any real hair struggles in college - I just had issues finding someone to cut my hair. I do wish, however, that I had been more knowledgeable about hair color application. I did a lot of color experimenting in college and ended up with some bad box color. SM.
Aminah says:
September 11, 2013, 3:08 pm
I did the big chop my sophomore year in college. Growing up I was never allowed to get hair cut, except for end clipping maintenance. After breaking up with the then love of my life (who I think was more in love with my hair than I was), I went to Nashville barber shop, got lectured by a 60 something year old Black for 30 minutes about my hair being my crown & glory. Ultimately he refused to cut it but a younger man stepped in and did the deed. I've been natural ever since and haven't looked back. My family was shocked when I came home with a lined up caesar instead of the processed hair that hung down my back. I would tell my 18 year old self to never make hair decisions after a breakup. I love being natural but that cut was not a good look for me.
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September 16, 2013, 6:35 am
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Janet says:
November 26, 2013, 12:11 pm
I have strongly suffered from seasonal hair loss. Did not want to go to the doctors, tried different shampoos, conditioners, misc hair nutrition products – with almost no results whatsoever. Then, I’ve read on the hair support forum that there could be a lot of internal reasons for hair loss, and the basic nutrition has to be done from inside out. I started to take vitamins and supplements. Recently, I’ve read about Hair Gain Formula by Military Grade and tried also this supplement product. I’ve been taking it from September and fortunate for me I no longer have seasonal hair loss. I am happy I don’t have to take dozens of pills - all necessary vitamins are contained in this supplement. And it really works! Will definitely take it until spring at least, to check the second ‘dangerous’ season.
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July 26, 2014, 4:42 am
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CurlyInCollege says:
June 25, 2015, 4:34 pm
My advice is to make sure you join (or start!) a natural hair student organization on your campus. That way you can share information and get the lowdown on how to care for your hair in a new environment. Check out CurlyInCollege Campus Chapters for help with this -