By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair
Last week we discussed the importance of looking at protective styling from a holistic standpoint. (A holistic protective styling regimen is one where protective measures are instituted throughout the entire regimen from cleansing to conditioning and general handling.) Actual hair styling is just a bullet point in a holistic protective styling regimen. When all of the pieces of protection (styling and otherwise) are combined and applied, length retention is maximized in the shortest time.
Now, as I mentioned before, this is the optimal scenario.
But because protective styling is so multifaceted, success can still be had when following only a majority of the components and leaving a few select others out. The premise is that following other protective elements religiously can buy you leeway for others—within reason and moderation of course. You can’t be protective everywhere in your regimen, but fire up your flat iron every day. (Sorry, lol.) But you could for example, color treat your hair or press it for a style change and still go on to have a gorgeous mane. You have to determine an appropriate balance of the “bad stuff” for your regimen and your situation.
Here are 7 great tips for building more protection into your hair care regimen:
1. Work & Handle Hair Slowly!
Short, quick bursts of combing activity stress hair fibers and can lead to breakage of even strong, healthy fibers. Any elastic material (hair included) can be broken with the right stress and force at the right angle of contact. Give your hair a chance to maneuver into position when you are detangling or simply arranging your hair. If you meet a tangle, carefully dislodge individual strands one at a time. Avoid tightening or breaking through your tangles by understanding where the tangle originates and how the strands are physically intertwined. Then simply “reverse engineer” your tangles and unintentional locs.
2. Have a Love Affair With Conditioner
Conditioners are perhaps the most important product in any hair care regimen. A good conditioner can make up for a multitude of hair sins— it’s not a permanent fix or panacea, of course, but the right conditioner at the right time can make a huge difference. If nothing else happens in your regimen, your conditioning should be a regular ritual. Aim to condition your hair no less than every 7–10 days. Some more resilient strands may require less conditioning. Whatever your regimen strategy, be sure to get your deep conditioning in like clockwork.
3. Go Seamless
Avoid styling tools and hair ornaments with inner seams. These are the lines that are created during the natural manufacturing process of hair tools, especially combs. These lines simply indicate that the tool was mass produced from a mold. You can pick up a seamless comb from places like HairSense.com and Tenderheaded.com Use larger styling tools (wide-toothed combs) when possible and work down to smaller tools if a smoother look is needed. Finally, try to incorporate fingerstyling into your routine whenever possible. The “no seams” rule also follows for fingernails as well; ensure that your nails and hands are not snagging your hair. Keep a fingernail clipper or file in your bathroom or styling location to quickly remedy any problem hang nails that pop up. Remove hand or neck jewelry that interferes with styling.
4. Cleanse Your Hair Protectively
Cleansing time is a great opportunity to build protection into your regimen. Carefully detangle your hair prior to washing— and wash and work in sections whenever possible. If your hair is too short to realistically accommodate working in sections, simply keep your hair oriented downward so that hair and product flows along the natural orientation of the cuticle. Keeping your hair organized in this manner will reduce the opportunity for tangling and unnecessary breakage.
When you are cleansing your hair, ensure that your water is not too hot or too hard (mineral heavy). Hot water is very damaging to our hair, and if your hair is color-treated, it will also fade your color quickly. Hard water is equally problematic for black hair because it can leave invisible, drying films on the hair. Finally, stick to sulfate free products whenever possible to avoid stripping the hair during the cleansing process.
5. Color Your Hair Protectively
If coloring is your thing, commit to only coloring your hair no more than 3 shades lighter or darker than your natural color range. For the safest color changes, stick with rinses, semi-permanents and deposit-only colors. These colors will not damage the cuticle or cause structural changes within the cortex. If you prefer more adventurous coloring, have it done professionally and ensure that you maintain a proper protein/moisture balance for your hair. Although maintaining this balance is important for all hair types and conditions, it is absolutely essential for those with relaxed and/or color treated hair. Learning to pick up on signs of too much usage of either component is vital to breakage reduction and control.
6. Use Heat Protectively
Using heat protectively is simply a combination of using heat sparingly and using it under the proper conditions. Rapid heating is what causes damage to hair fibers. If you can slow the rate of heat transfer to your hair, you will cause less damage to your tresses. We can slow down heat transfer to our hair in two ways: (1) by having an appropriate moisture buffer inside the hair fiber, and (2) by having an adequate layer of a low conductivity lubricant (silicone or oil) outside of the fiber. To achieve the best heat protection—only use heat on hair that has been deep conditioned within the previous 24 hours, and always use a thermal barrier (heat protectant) to regulate heat transfer to your hair. Using indirect heat sources like hooded dryers is another way to control the flow of heat to your tresses.
7. Reduce Chemical Use
If your hair is chemically treated, stretching out the length of time between your touch up applications will help build more protection into your hair care regimen. While this technique will not undo any damage you incur from these processes, it can still improve the overall condition of your hair when compared to chemically treating on a more rigorous schedule. In The Science of Black Hair book, we discuss how relaxer deferment in particular can reduce overall chemical exposure, instances of overlapping, and the creation of stress points along the fiber. With hair coloring, you simply want to avoid taking multiple spins around the color wheel—especially if the colors you are selecting are several shades outside of your natural color range.
And that’s it! Wherever you can build in protection, you’ll give yourself freedom in other places in your regimen.
Ladies, do you apply any of these tips? How do they work for your hair?
Audrey Sivasothy is a Houston-based freelance writer, health scientist and author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care (available on Amazon.com & Barnes&Noble.com).