By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom
Many times people identify problems with their hair but often these ‘problems’ are actually part of the normal behaviour of hair. Have you ever found yourself saying things like:
1.My hair breaks easily or my hair is fragile
2. My hair takes forever to detangle
3. My hair is super dry
As a material scientist, I can tell you that many materials (and hair is a material) have predictable behaviour. In order to have a happy and successful relationship with your hair, it is important to accept the normal behaviour of your hair and learn how to live with it or manage it. Changing the way you speak about your hair to a positive doable action is a lesson that I have embraced. Here are some substitution drills
1. ‘My hair is weak and breaks easily’ vs ’ I have to handle my hair gently or it will break’
Your hair will not break if you leave it alone, it is not inherently weak or fragile. Breakage only starts when an external force is applied (i.e detangling, styling, heat treating, colour treating etc). The smaller the curl, the finer your hair and the greater number of kinks in your hair, the easier it will be to break when stretched, separated and combed. This is just a fact and is not something you can change as all these properties are predetermined by your genetics. The only thing that you can change is external and controlled by you, for example
- The amount of force that you use to comb your hair (being patient, working in sections, using the right tools)
- The way that you comb your hair (choosing to finger detangle, using conditioner to detangle if it suits you)
- The number of times that you handle your hair free (the more time you spend in a protective style, the less the number of times you need to comb)
- Using hair products to soften and strengthen hair prior to combing (hair conditioner softens hair and makes it easier to comb, humectants such as glycerin can strengthen natural hair which is unbleached)
The amount of breakage you experience is greatly controlled by you. You can minimise and in some cases eliminate breakage completely simply by realising that it is you in control. You are the one applying the force to your hair that causes breakage.
2. ‘My hair takes forever to detangle’ vs ‘I need to plan for the time it takes to detangle hair’
Some people can easily detangle hair in half an hour or less. For short hair, loose curls or thin/low density hair, it is just a matter of washing, applying conditioner, waiting for a few minutes and then detangling with a wide tooth comb. However, this routine is not suitable or possible for everyone. In general we all want to spend less time detangling but there is a choice to be made for some of us. If your hair has a high level of shrinkage, it may be of benefit to detangle your hair dry or semi dry. In this case you have to plan for 1–3 hours to finish the job. If your natural hair is particularly thick or long then you will more than likely need more than half an hour to comb it if you do not wish to break it.
The advice I would give is that if you know that you need 1 hour or more to detangle your hair, plan for it in advance. Your shrinkage level and curl type is not going to change so more than likely you will always need that extra time. This is what you can do
- When wearing free hair, use styles that prevent individual hair strands from meshing to decrease detangling time (for example wearing a twist out or braid out where the hair is clumped up by the style or by tucking in the ends so they do not interact and knot)
- Simply do not do your hair if you are tired or pressed for time. Plan in advance and give yourself more time than you need.
- Skip a few detangling sessions by using complete protective styles that do not need to be undone for 2–4 weeks at a time (e.g twists and braids)
3. ‘My hair is super dry’ vs ‘I need to actively maintain moisture’
It is actually normal for natural hair to feel dry. Sometimes it feels dry even when it is not actually dry and this in part because of the texture of hair and how it changes in response to wetting and drying. Your hair’s behaviour at low, mid or high levels of moisture is very predictable. You cannot change it but you can work with it, for example:
- Control shrinkage of your hair. If your hair is the type that shrinks when wet and shrinks even further when drying free, you may end up with hair that feels dry and crunchy (some naturals refer to it as ‘brillo pad’ hair ). This is a case where texture changes are confused for lack of moisture. If you braided, twisted, banded or roller set the hair as it dried, it would not feel as dry and crunchy when fully dry because you dictate the final texture.
- Understand how weather affects your hair. The level of moisture in your hair is dependent on how dry or wet the air is (humidity). This is more important for styling naturals with naturally clumping curls where frizz can form because of the weather. For other naturals, it is a case of how often to input water or a water based moisturiser or humectants or oil to balance out the external moisture in air and internal moisture in hair.
- Understanding when moisture is critical. In general you can live with dry hair and it will not vastly impact retention of hair growth especially in a fully protective style or if you are doing nothing to it. It is however critical to have moisturised hair when you are manipulating the hair physically — for example when undoing a braided/twisted style, when combing or detangling hair or when manipulating the hair into a different style (e.g from an afro to a bun). At these points, remember that your hair needs to be flexible in order not to break — flexible hair is a case of hair being around 80–90% dry and so misting with water is usually helpful.
Ladies, what other problems do we blame on our hair that really stem from our treatment of it?