Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of e‑mails and questions about tips, advice, product recommendations, and secrets for successfully transitioning to natural hair. Once you’ve made up your mind to go natural, it’s pretty easy to become obsessed. And with a plethora of blogs, websites, YouTube videos, Instagrams, Pintrests, Facebook pages and Google Plusses, the world of natural hair is never more than a few clicks away. Before your eyes glaze over, or you find yourself caught in the whirlwind frenzy of products. pH balancing, porosity, and parabens, take a second and breathe. Transitioning may be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
FYI: I’m not there yet! June marks 16 months in the struggle (lol) for me.…and I’ve got at least 3 more to go before I’m done. While I haven’t reached the promised land yet, I have definitely had my share of stumbles and successes. Keep reading to get a general idea of what I went through my first year of transitioning, as well as some do’s and don’ts to help encourage and keep you on track. Every transition isn’t the same, but hopefully there are some tidibits in here to help you along the way!
1 — 3 Months: Excited and Gullible
The first three months of my transition, I was doe-eyed…to say the least. I spent a LOT of time oogling over the likes of Hey Fran Hey, Naptural85, and Mahogany Curls — longing for the day my tresses would hover in their territory. I also found myself obsessed with what I later found to be the biggest waste of money for a transitioner — styling products. Even though I knew and accepted that my hair was heat damaged, I held out hope that some miracle potion would deliver rejuvenated curls as promised on the label. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
DO: If you’re just beginning your transition, commit the first three months to developing good haircare habits — they’ll carry you further in the long run. If you don’t already, sleep with a satin (or silk, if you’re fancy!) scarf, bonnet, or pillowcase. Learn how to properly moisturize and seal hair. In the first three months, practices like finger detangling aren’t vital, because most of your hair will still be straight (whether heat damaged or relaxed), and fairly easy to comb through. Months 1 — 3 is also a perfect time to clean house in terms of products. If you’re transitioning from a relaxer and you still have some creamy crack stashed somewhere, throw it out or give it away. Or, if you just so happen to have the receipt, return it. For those transitioning from heat damage, store the irons out of sight, or put them in someone else’s care. If you’re giving up sulfates, silicones, mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, etc., chuck those products as well.
DON’T: Waste money or time trying to “get your curl back”. It’s not coming back. More than likely, it left the building a LONG time ago and you were too busy flat ironing or relaxing to notice. The first three months is also not the time to buy into hair typing (if ever at all). It’s much too early in the game to decipher how your natural hair will behave, and hopping on the typing bandwagon (among others) will serve you absolutely no purpose. Also, avoid immediately slapping your hair into box braids or Havana twists. With only a small amount of new growth, your hair is highly susceptible to breakage from the stress and weight of added hair at this point. Save those styles for later on down the line.
4 — 6 Months: Why Did I Do This, Again?
After the first leg of my transition was down, I found myself excited when I straightened my hair for the first time. It was longer, stronger, and thicker than what I started with. That alone kept me encouraged through month 4, and into 5. Then I hit a wall. My go-to styles were no longer working. My banana clips (God, I loved me some banana clips) wouldn’t stay closed to save my life, and I couldn’t fake the funk with my pseudo wash n’ go anymore. I was frustrated. I had doubts. Everything I was learning seemed for naught. My hair was driving me crazy.
DO: When you hit a wall in your transition, change something up. This is the perfect time to start experimenting with transitioner styles that blend textures, finger detangling, protective styling, and maybe even a new product or two. This is also the right time to start paying extra attention to the line of demarcation between your new and old hair. Gentle handling, regular deep conditioning, and protective styling combined with those moisturizing and sealing techniques you learned early on will help minimize breakage. Lastly, find the best detangling products and method for you. Get a handle on it now, because as any naturalista would tell you, you’re gonna need it in the future. Like next week.
DON’T: Give up and go back to what you were doing out of frustration. It’s ok to use heat seldomly (once every 3 months or so), but don’t start flat ironing on a weekly basis because you hate the way your hair looks right now. It will only lead to more damage.
7 — 9 Months: That Awkward Moment…
For me, months 7, 8, and 9 were just plain awkward. Although I was loving my hair and digging my new growth, I found myself in an unflattering in-between stage, reminiscent of wearing a training bra. Too much to not need anything, not enough for the real deal. I found myself wanting out of this stage ASAP. I buckled down on my vitamins, scalp massages, and even subjected myself to some totally unflattering hairstyles in the name of growth progress.
DO: This is the perfect time to adopt washing your hair in sections, to prevent re-tangling during the cleansing process. Continue to be diligent. Your hard work is going to pay off. Keep detangling gently, cleansing regularly, deep conditioning, moisturizing and sealing. If you’re into building a regimen, then create one at this point that works for you. If not, you can always go ahead and with listening to your hair and acting accordingly.To help keep your mind off of the starkly different textures, find a few staple styles that are great for blending — like satin strip braidouts, straw sets, twist and curls, flexi rods, bantu knot-outs, or Curlformer sets. Master these staple styles, and make them your go-to when you get tired of buns, updos, or just looking at partially textured, partially straight hair.
DON’T: Start curl coveting, or beating yourself up over growth progress. Yes, Mahogany Curls, Naptural85, Hey Fran Hey, and Chime Edwards all have GORGEOUS hair. And if you follow many of their journeys (especially Mahogany Curls and Naptural85), you’ll see that they didn’t get those amazing manes overnight. Everyone’s hair grows at a different rate, so don’t get all up in arms if you only get 1/4 inch of growth per month, instead of 1/2 or 1 inch. Besides, your hair might be growing faster than you know — but you just can’t see it because its all curled and coiled up.
10 — 12 Months: Closer to My Dreams…
Once I got closer to the year mark, I really hit my stride. I had a firm grasp on what worked for my hair, and what didn’t. I could do my favorite styles in my sleep. At this point, I could really see my texture coming through, and I was more committed than ever to seeing this thing to the end.
DO: Get ingredient savvy. Sure, over the past year you’ve learned all about silicones, sulfates, parabens, mineral oils, petrolatum, and other generally “red flag” ingredients. But have you educated yourself on fatty alcohols, humectants, ingredients that penetrate, and those that repair? Now is a great time to get beyond surface level and really understand the products you’re using, or interested in using. Jc of The Natural Haven, The Beauty Brains, and the EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic Database are great resources. You can also get into the DYI trend, if that tickles your fancy. Making your own flaxseed gel, whipped shea butter, oil blends, and more is a great way to save money and use quality ingredients.
DON’T: As you approach or hit the one year mark, try not to fall prey to product junkie-ism. Because you see your hair texture more, you might be more prone to scooping up everything that says curl defining on the bottle — but don’t. Experimenting with a product or two is always fine, but don’t go burning through a wad of cash at this point…or ever.
1 Year + : It’s All Up to You
After you hit the year mark, it’s really whatever you want from your hair. If you’re ready to cut, cut. If you want to keep going, keep going. I’ve personally been transitioning for 16 months, with at least 3 more to go before I consider chopping the rest. Once I got to 15 months, I found myself comfortable rocking wash n’ go styles. I still protectively style, but not as diligently (because I love my hair so much, I want to wear it out like all the time). I’ve become more diligent about the connection between healthy hair and a healthy body. Regular exercise, a cleaner diet, drinking plenty of water, vitamins and supplements are all as important to me as henna treatments, gentle handling, and maintaining moisture. The only major change to my regimen I’ve made is steaming my hair during detangling, pre-pooing and mid-week for moisture…but that’s a story for another time. The bottom line is, after a year all the grueling work is done. Everything pretty much runs like clockwork. Just figure out what you want to do next!
It’s important to remember, there is no set timeline on the following things during your transition to natural hair:
- When to trim your hair. Trim your ends as frequently or infrequently as you wish, according to your level of comfort and the health of your hair.
- When to switch up products. Switch as often as you feel so inclined…or stick to your tried and true staples for as long as you wish. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
- When to do deep treatments. The transitioning process is a great opportunity to learn your hair’s needs. If you feel your hair is weak, limp, and lacks strength, do a protein treatment. If it’s dry, brittle and lacks elasticity, do a deep moisturizing treatment. There’s no timeline on these things. Just take stock of what your hair needs, then do it.
- When to chop. This is perhaps the biggest one. As I become more public with my transitioner progress, I get more and more encouragement and pushes to cut the rest off. With all due respect, when I chop is my decision. The same goes for every other transitioner. Chop when you’re ready…and not a moment sooner.
Lastly, here are some things to avoid at every stage of your transition:
- Texturizers/Silkeners. I don’t care what you read, or what so-and-so said; a texturizer (silkener) is nothing but a perm that you leave on your hair for a shorter amount of time. If you’re looking to truly embrace your natural texture, why fake the funk with a baby perm?
- Too much heat, too often. It has already been shown that heat damage from too high temperatures, too often damage the hair almost as much as a perm. It is perfectly okay to straighten your hair with heat safely on occasion — but straightening to transition from relaxing is a recipe for danger.
- Neglecting hair in covered styles. Box braids, Havana twists, wigs, and weaves are all great ideas for avoiding high manipulation. But don’t forget to actually take care of the hair underneath. It still needs to be detangled, cleansed, and moisturized regularly.
- Ridiculously expensive products. In my humble transitioner opinion, there is no reason to ever spend more than $15 on any given hair product…and that’s cutting it close. More often than not, you’re paying for a name and fancy packaging. Most conditioners and styling products contain similar ingredients, so don’t pay $30 for a 6oz bottle of styling product that you can find a comparable version of elsewhere for $8.
- Negativity. Don’t let folks that don’t have to wear your hair kill your vibe. You’re embracing your natural texture for whatever reasons YOU decided. Not to please anyone else. If anyone (I don’t care if it’s your mama or your BFF) speaks negatively to you about your transition to natural hair, promptly show them the stadium and let them know they can have several seats.
Above all else, remain patient and enjoy your transition!!!
Ladies, can you relate to this timeline? What was your transition like?