There are many naturals searching for the perfect regime and set of products, often turning to other naturals to adopt what appear to be successful routines. However, hair has different requirements depending on how long it is, so it is actually not wise to follow the regime of someone with very long hair when your length is shorter. The skills that you have to maintain your hair at a TWA are different from those you require when it is 5 years old and getting to BSL or longer. Here is my guide to the skill set that you can master at every length:
1. TWA and short hair (3–6 inches)
Skills to learn:
‑Wet hair handling (shrinkage)
‑Dry hair handling
While hair is short it is easily styled as a wash and go giving you the opportunity to see how your hair shrinks, whether it forms curled spirals or not and whether or not it is the type that will progressively get drier when left open. Kinkier and finer hair textures will be more prone to breakage at this stage because hair will generally be in open styles. Gentle handling of hair when wet and dry is a key skill that helps to prevent breakage.
Key Mistake: One skill that you really cannot learn at the short hair phase is detangling. In general, most short hair will be detangled very easily especially if you choose to conditioner comb. You are unlikely at this stage to experience severe tangling or knotting unless you dry comb hair. Never carry on the detangling method of short hair to longer hair stages without reassessing if it really works for the length.
2. The awkward mid length stage (6–9 inches)
Skills to learn:
The time to master detangling is at the mid length stage when hair is long enough to form complex knots and tangles especially during a shampoo and conditioner wash. This will be the stage when you learn whether or not you can wash your hair free or if you need to place it into twists or braids to control it. You will also learn if you prefer to dry detangle prior to washing or wet detangle with conditioner. You will learn too if you need to finger comb exclusively or if you can continue to use your comb or brush.
Styling will also come to the forefront as you will learn whether or not your hair needs protective styling. You will soon learn what styles suit you and which ones work when you need to be fast or when hair is not fully dry.
Key Mistake: The main error that many naturals make at this stage is over use of heat and over stretching hair. At this stage hair will be a nice full shoulder length but shrinkage may make it look exactly the same as a TWA or neck/ear length. This tempts many to straighten hair more often than they did before or be more aggressive when stretching hair out. This can cause cumulative damage that eventually causes breakage and prevents hair getting into the next phase. Damage prevention is therefore a key skill that should be gained at this stage.
3. The long hair stage — APL and longer (10/12 inches and longer)
Skills to learn:
— Product knowledge specifically for cuticle repair (e.g proteins, humectants)
‑Knowing when to trim your hair
Once your hair starts grazing APL, the one fact that you should clutch firmly on to is that your hair is old. It may have much more difficulty maintaining moisture than it did when it was shorter as it probably has fewer cuticle layers. You may find that products that had no real effect previously e.g using hydrolysed protein may now actually be necessary at every wash to give your hair moisture and strength. You may find that you require more intense conditioning sessions (with heat or for longer times) while previously when your hair was short, daily co-washes were enough. You may find that although water and oil was sufficient to moisturise your hair previously, you now require a leave in with humectants to help you.
Key Mistake: The main error of the long hair phase is not wanting to trim hair. Naturally if you have been careful with your hair at the awkward phase, you will have less damage and less need for trims. However if your hair naturally breaks easily or you constantly see split ends, get into a dusting or trimming routine that works for you.
Ladies, what skills did you have to learn to get from one length goal to another?