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How to Trim Transitioning Hair

Avatar • Dec 19, 2013

There is tons of information out there about how to tell when your natural hair needs a trim. Tapering ends. Rough ends. Breaking ends. Splitting ends. Ends that won’t stay twisted or braided (that unravel).

The truth is, for a transitioner, all of that is a part of the daily deal. By virtue of transitioning from damaged hair, transitioner hair is tapered significantly from the newly grown natural hair. Because the hair is damaged by relaxer or heat, they are likely dry, and can be rough. And of course, there is the ever-present breakage, and not the slightest chance that a twist or braid will hold up without something holding it together.

Well, why not just cut it all off then?

I’m sure some of you are thinking that very thing right now. The truth is, not everyone wants to just big chop. I certainly didn’t. In fact, I transitioned for 21 long and arduous months. It wasn’t always pretty, there were more boring days than glam, but I don’t regret the decision one bit. The payoff was worth the sacrifice, for me.

But back to the topic at hand. There is a wealth of information on trimming natural hair, and very little for transitioners. The first step to getting a handle on trimming transitoner hair is understanding the signs of needing a trim:

  • split ends: Regardless of whether you’re transitioning or natural, split ends are never good.
  • lone ends”: This is the transitioner equivalent to tapering ends. Naturally, all hair experiences some tapering as it ages, this is a cumulative sign of aging, worn cuticles, breakage, and a general weathering of the hair. For transitioners, this often leads to what I like to call lone ends. Hair is tapered, but in an extreme sense — to the point of only a few hairs in an area reaching a certain length while the others fall behind. In other words, your tapered ends are tapering themselves.
  • super tangled ends: Transitioner detangling is notoriously difficult. The damaged ends (and lifted cuticles) often find themselves ensnared, making raking fingers or combs through a complete challenge. If you notice that your detangling sessions are now more difficult than ususal, it is a sign that a trim is in order.
  • How Often Should Transitioners Trim?
    Inside of your first year of transitioning, barring any major incidences of breakage or hair fall that would suggest a more immediate need, trimming every 3–4 months is sufficient. Of course every head of hair is different, and you should always assess your own hair and hair goals to determine what trimming schedule best suits your needs. If you are looking to get rid of more hair sooner, trim more frequently. If you are more inclined to hold on to length, opt for less frequency.

    Long-term transitioners (1 year plus) often find themselves being a little more vigilant about trims, and doing them more frequently. This is because of the one-two-three punch of ends being weathered, damaged, and well, holding on to them past their prime. They tend to wear out, break, and split more often. After about a year and 3 months of transitioning, I found myself trimming away at some ends almost every 2 or 3 weeks. In between trims, I did mini search and destroy missions. Part of this was my ends needing more trimming, because they were breaking more rapidly. The other part was sheer impatience — I was able to see more of my natural hair texture, so I got anxious. Especially when I began wearing wash and go styles.  As I said previously, be sure to assess your own hair and hair goals to determine what trim schedule works for you.

    How Much To Cut?
    This is also another one of those things that depends upon your hair’s needs, and your own goals. It also depends on how comfortable you are individually with cutting your own hair. Some transitioners start of small, snipping away half an inch or less of hair. This is totally fine. With my less-frequent trims during my first year, I never cut more than an inch of hair at a time. My post 1‑year trims were all around half an inch.

    There is also the issue of the mini-chop. There are many transitioners who grow impatient and frustrated with their hair, and in an effort to rid themselves of more damage, they chop three or more inches of hair. While this can be incredibly beneficial, I do not advocate doing self mini-chops for a number of reasons. One, it is incredibly difficult to mini-chop accurately — meaning there is an increased likelihood that your cutting will not be consistent, and you will end up with unevenly cut hair. If it is not in your budget to seek a professional for a cut, at least have a trusted friend or family member help you out — especially at the back of the head and in the crown.

    How To Cut:
    Now that you’ve determined that you need a cut, and know how much to cut, there is the little matter of how to cut. Many naturals show how they trim their hair to create certain shapes and styles, and this works for them. Trimming transitioning ends is different, because more than style and shape, it is about getting rid of damage in a progressive sense. To trim your hair, you’ll need 4 things:

  • Sharp cutting shears. Do not use regular office/paper scissors. You’ll just cause more split ends. Same thing with old/dull shears.
  • Dry or damp hair. Don’t cut your hair while soaking wet. When our hair is wet, it is more weighed down and elongated. There is a lot of potential to underestimate how much you’ve cut, and when it shrinks up, you’ve got much shorter hair than you anticipated. This has happened to me a few times.
  • Hair styled how you normally wear it. If you wear your hair stretched, make sure it is stretched before you trim. If you wear wash and go styles, make sure your wash and go is styled and mostly dry. The idea here is to trim your hair according to how you will achieve the best results. Regardless of your style, make sure hair is detangled as much as possible.
  • A mirror. But you knew that!
  • Ready? Let’s trim!

  • Method 1: In a small section, take your hair and place it between your index and middle fingers, forming a V. Close the V, and at a 90-degree angle, gently smooth your fingers outward along the length of your hair, stopping just before where you would like to trim the ends. Snip the ends from the bottom up. Repeat this process throughout your head, stopping frequently to ensure that you are not cutting unevenly.
  • Method 2: Separate your hair into a number of small or medium sized loose twists. At the end of each twist, snip away the pieces of hair that are left hanging with nothing to twist around. This method does not guarantee the most even trim, but it will certainly rid you of the most damaged hair.
  • Method 3: If you don’t trust yourself with methods 1 or 2, the 3rd way is to incorporate scrunchies. Use several ouchless scrunchies to create multiple ponytails across your head. Gently slide each scrunchie down to the point where you would like to trim. By double-checking all the scrunchie end points before cutting, you can practically guarantee yourself an even cut that won’t be lopsided.
  • Of course, you can always use the search and destroy method. Whatever way you choose to trim your transitioning tresses, just be assured that you are one step closer to all natural hair!

    Ladies, how did you handle trims during your transition?

    For more transitioning and natural hair tips from Christina, check out her blog, The Mane Objective. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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    About Christina Patrice

    Born, raised, and living in Los Angeles, Christina is BGLH's resident transitioning expert and product junkie. In addition to loving all things hair, she is a fitness novice and advocate of wearing sandals year-round. For more information on transitioning, natural hair, and her own hair journey, visit maneobjective.com. Or, if you like pictures follow Christina on Instagram @maneobjective.

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    reese
    reese
    6 years ago

    Good article. I try not to trim my own hair but the twists and scrunchy method seem like good methods to use if I ever need to self trim. Thanks!

    Rachel
    Rachel
    6 years ago

    I trim my own hair, i do the twist and trim method

    tina
    tina
    6 years ago

    People who transition aren’t secure enough to be natural

    Caray
    Caray
    6 years ago
    Reply to  tina

    I transitioned for 20 months because I did not want short hair.…PLAIN & SIMPLE!! It had nothing to do with no being insecure it was all doing what I wanted with my hair and that was to let the relaxer grow out versus cutting it out!

    CaribbeanGirl
    CaribbeanGirl
    6 years ago
    Reply to  tina

    Tina your statement makes little sense. I transitioned for over 2 yrs it is a very challenging process n u have to have a lot of willpower not to relax your hair when it gets frustrating. The person who BCed stopped relaxing just like the person who’s transitioning.….So plz think before you post, why bring down each other when we should be supporting one another. Everyone does things differently.

    TCole
    TCole
    6 years ago

    I wouldn’t say they aren’t secure enough to be natural, but may just be a little insecure or unwilling to take a big risk. My curl pattern was done, I mean nearly straight. I had no patience to transition. And I actually loved my BC and TWA. I’ve have tried to convince others to just BC but with little success. To me it’s so much easier that way.

    melodie
    melodie
    6 years ago
    Reply to  TCole

    What is TWA?

    Ebony Beauty
    Ebony Beauty
    6 years ago
    Reply to  melodie

    TWA stands for teen weeny afro.

    Ebony Beauty
    Ebony Beauty
    6 years ago
    Reply to  Ebony Beauty

    *teeny

    Annmarie
    Annmarie
    6 years ago

    Completely disagree with above poster Tina. I’m currently long term transitioning (16 months) and I’m also applying to medical school, which is notoriously conservative. I’m not going to chop to a radically shorter length during this process. Nor am I going to be uncomfortable with length or slap a weave on if I chop and need an adjustment period. But as with most natural hair discussions: To each their own.

    GJones
    GJones
    6 years ago

    Some women are more daring than others. When it come cutting or trimming hair. To some it’s just hair and it will grow back. Ok. Find someone (stylist) that will talk to you and then listen to your concerns before any cutting is thought about. Make sure that.you are seeing things eye to eye.GET A GOOD CONSULTATION FIRST AND FOREMOST!!!

    breanne
    breanne
    6 years ago

    The beautician was more afraid of chopping off my hair than I was! I transitioned first (in 2009 until my hair natural hair was collarbone length), and recently did a second big chop (cut off all of my BSL natural hair) to start fresh and remove the harsh dyes, bleaches, and henna I’ve used the past few years.

    And Tina, if transitioners weren’t secure enough to be natural, what are they transitioning to in the first place? Girl, please.

    Angelface1059
    Angelface1059
    6 years ago

    I think this article was pretty good ive been transitioning for almost 4 years in feb. And I definitely believe how ppl trim their ends depends on the person. I use to trim my hair every 6 — 8wks my hair was great bt I wasnt retaining length eventually I stopped trimming so much and learned the best way for me to retain length is by trimming twice a yr using the scrunchie method hopes this helps 🙂

    dera4life
    dera4life
    6 years ago
    Reply to  Angelface1059

    Do you still have relaxed ends after 4 years?

    loverlyone
    loverlyone
    6 years ago

    I follow the Mane Objective on YOU tube and have 2 more months with my transitioning. I appreciate the advice and am looking forward to big chopping soon. I only wish I could have seen Christina’s big chop step-by-step on camera, however I will definitely use the skills she has given when I do. Thanks Christina!

    Tambe!
    Tambe!
    6 years ago

    A statement that alludes to women who do not BC as I secure once again reminds me of our beauty downfall: If all of us are not embracing the same beauty regime, then there is a problem. I transitioned for 18 months–as a person with alopecia the last thing I needed was a patch and no hair to cover it! It is sometimes not just an acceptance of a particular standard of beauty–I admire TWA, buzz cuts as well as longer styles. But to have my alopecia showing during my transition would have been the an insecure move for me.

    Maliboo
    Maliboo
    6 years ago

    I’ve been transitioning for 24 months this February and ive ALWAYS had Bsl hair. I didn’t bc and I barely trim. I started transitioning because I couldn’t find a hair dresser who could manage my fine 3c 4b hair w/o getting frustrated and tearing it out. I just started doing my own hair minus the perm and the rest is history. It sucked in the beginning because my textures were so different but i learned as I went.I NEVER new what my natural hair looked like because my mom started the creamy crack when I was in preK.(crazy I know).… Read more »

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