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10 Critical Lessons I Learned During My 2-Year Transition to Natural Hair

Photo Dec 01, 7 54 41 PM

Although 2012 and 2013 seem like so long ago, I am still amazed at the fact that to date, I have spent more time as a transitioner than I have with completely natural hair. I transitioned for nearly 2 years (21 months), and chopped the rest of my heat damaged ends in December of 2013. Along the route to December 2013, I learned many valuable lessons about long-term transitioning and handling my hair. Some lessons came on the heels of mistakes, others were just learned as my transition progressed. These aren’t hard and fast rules, and since every transition is different, not all of the lessons may apply to you. Just take what you need ūüôā

1. Wash n’ Go’s Are NOT the Devil.

Go to any blog or natural hair website or talk to many naturalistas, and they’ll convince you that protective styling is the way to go, and wash n’ go’s are the devil. Wash n go’s are generally regarded as cute and fun, but prone to cause major tangles, breakage, single strand knots, split ends, recessions, global warming and stunt growth.

While it is true that a wash n’ go *can* cause the aforementioned problems (minus the two obvious ones, lol), it is not a hard and fast rule or fact. Each head of hair operates differently and the techniques and products used do make a difference. I find that if I use a product with a stronger hold for curls (and scrunch out the crunch if necessary), my hair tends to be less prone to tangling as the curls are clumped together. If I moisturize and seal properly before applying styling product, I don’t have to worry about dryness. Since¬†I (try to) keep my hands out of my hair, breakage doesn’t really happen. Single strand knots, I figure are a way of life. I have a few, but they don’t bother me…at least not enough to stop wearing wash n’ go’s.

Even though I rocked wash and go’s during the later stages of my transition, it didn’t hamper my length retention efforts. Besides, I consider it a low manipulation style – not a lot of twisting, knotting, braiding, and curling involved, and it can be left alone for up to 5 days without manipulation. Sounds like a win-win to me. Don’t believe the hype! [Christina’s Choice 2014 Curl Definers]

2. Your Go-To Products & Routine Are Subject to Change

I think anyone who doesn’t make changes to their regimen is crazy. You don’t have to go all product junkie crazy, but there are always new ingredients, formulations and breakthroughs to try out – especially as you transition. Sometimes, a product may work fabulously for a certain amount of time, but then your new growth punks it into not working anymore. Perhaps you might decide to give up cones and¬†embrace more natural products.

Whatever the rationale is, accept that your hair, along with your product preferences will change. I thought As I Am Smoothing Gel was the best thing since sliced bread (it still is a great gel), until I met Obia Natural Hair Care Curl Enhancing Custard. I still don’t see how I made¬†it so many months¬†without the Q-Redew. On the regimen side, I found myself trying to extend the time between washes, for the sake of minimizing breakage and shedding. What a bust. For about 10 or 11 months, that worked alright. But I eventually realized that I ended up spending more time detangling than I needed to, if I had just washed my hair mid-week instead of willing it to wait. The bottom line here¬†is, be open to change.

3. Learn How to Handle Multiple Textures

When transitioners think of multiple textures, it is often in the dichotomy of relaxed and natural or heat damaged and natural. This frame of mind is totally fine within the first 7 – 9 months of transitioning. After that, it’s time to look at the bigger picture. You’re not going to have damaged/relaxed hair forever, so in the later stages of your transition, it would behoove you to begin understanding exactly which textures and types of curl patterns you have. This does not mean you have to step into the typing system, unless you want to. All it really requires is a fundamental understanding of your texture(s). If you’re blessed enough to have one uniform texture across your head, then you can skip this step. But for us multi-textured folks, this is especially critical for handling, detangling, styling and more. For example, here’s a regional breakdown of my hair.

  • Back: Longer, looser curls (more wavy on left)
  • Sides: Fine hair, of similar texture to the back, but slightly more curly
  • Crown: Most coarse , incredibly shrinkage prone, most difficult to define
  • Front/Center: Highly textured with deep waves, and incredibly shrinkage-prone.

Understanding the “zones” of my hair helps me when it comes to detangling, handling and styling my hair. When I detangle, I know that the back half of my hair is going to be a breeze – 10 minutes flat (if that). The front half will require more time, patience, product, and delicate movement of my fingers or Q-Redew. I also know that when I rock a wash n’ go, to prevent super-mullet syndrome, I need to twist/tuck and pin the front/center and the sides (somewhat) to stretch them as they dry, so they frame my face better. [Understanding Your True Texture]

4. Breakage is Unavoidable

Breakage will happen. Accept it. No matter how gentle you are, no matter how long you take to detangle, no matter how carefully you unravel your twists, breakage will occur. Now, some breakage is preventable and caused largely due to carelessness, rushing, rough handling and sticking with methods and products that don’t work for your hair. However,¬†there will be *some* breakage and there is nothing you can do¬†about it unless you choose to¬†live in a bubble, in the dark and never, ever touch your hair.

Click here for some of my tested and true gentle hair handling techniques to prevent breakage.

5. Cheaper Isn’t Always Better…but Neither Is Super Expensive

I’m the queen of the discount, especially when it comes to two things: hair products and workout clothes. I NEVER EVER pay full price for either. I live by the mantra of the 3 C’s: Coupon, (price) Cut, and Clearance. If it doesn’t have a coupon, isn’t on sale (and it needs to be a GOOD sale) or on clearance, I better have a DARN good rationale for needing it. I say all that to say, I hate spending more than $12 on a hair product. BUT – one thing this small business spotlight has taught me is that sometimes spending the extra money is worth it. For example, my transitioning go-to-where-have-you-been-all-my-life wash n’ go curl definers (Obia Curl Enhancing Custard and Soultanicals Curl Blaze Hair Glaze) are $15 and $13, respectively. I’ll shell out that dough, because the products do what they say they’ll do with no fuss, and the ingredients are top of the toppiest of notch.

On the other side of that coin, there are the products that cost an arm, leg plus first and last month’s rent to purchase but aren’t worth their weight in product. For example, Miss Jessie’s Super Sweetback Treatment. It costs about $50 for a 16oz jar and it just works…okay. Is it a good deep conditioner? Yes. Is it the best deep conditioner ever? No. Is it worth a tank of gas? Absolutely not. With that being said, practice ingredient discretion and set boundaries for yourself.

6. Only Wash Your Hair When You Have the Time AND Energy.

…unless you want to lose your hair. More times than a few, I found myself in situations where I was short on time, energy and/or patience, but my hair was chock full o’ buildup and needed a wash. Let me be an example of what not to do. In an attempt to save my hair from being a disaster area, more than a few times I forged ahead with wash day even though I should have put it off. The end result: I always lost more hair, caused more breakage, and ended up with a shoddy style.

When you’re short on time, energy or patience, rushing causes more harsh and forceful movements in everything from detangling to cleansing and styling. I also realized that my styles always sucked after a rushed wash day, because I would apply products and move through my hair so haphazardly.

The lesson here: only deal with your hair when you have the time. A bun for an extra day or two won’t kill you — and will cause a lot less trauma than the alternative.

7. Giving in is Okay

When I first embarked on my natural hair journey aka no heat challenge, I had zero concern for a texture, curls or anything. I was really just about that life of getting my rapidly thinning, weak and damaged hair back to health. Along the way, I began learning more about natural hair and eventually decided a full-out textured mane was my goal. Even though I was in pursuit of my curls, I still wanted to be able to rock straight hair sometimes (because straight hair was all I had known in my teenage and adult life). With the proper tools and safety precautions, I was able to cave in a little and show off straight hair every 3-4 months. The transitioning process can be a shock and giving in to your desire for straight hair every once in a while can help give you what you need to forge ahead.

8. Don’t Neglect Your Edges

Many transitioners do heavy rounds of protective styling to help ease the transitioning process and facilitate more length retention. In pursuit of your hair goals, just don’t forget about your edges. Fall back on too-tight styles and updos that tug at your hairline. The last thing you want after all the work of transitioning is a thick, luscious mane with thinning edges hanging on for dear life. [All About Edges]

9. Steer Clear of Bandwagons

I’ve talked in more depth here about bandwagons transitioners should steer clear of¬†and that rings true now more than ever. Every few months, a new bandwagon, method or natural hair “clique” pops up. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with any of them (theoretically), it’s just that some practices/bandwagons aren’t meant for ladies that are transitioning — and the truth is, they can do more harm than good.

Getting caught up in haircare trends can happen almost too easily if you’re not careful — especially, when you’re in that transitioning stage and soaking in natural hair information like a sponge. My best advice? Get yourself a great information filter. Learn how to distinguish between solid information and natural hair folklore.

10. Transition On Your Own Timeline

Whenever I see a picture of transitioning hair on social media, almost as if on cue, at least one comment brazenly suggests that “you need to go’n and just cut that off”. Transitioning to natural hair is frustrating enough, even without all the additional chop commentary. Whether you’re 2 weeks or 18 months into your transition, chop only when you’re comfortable. The journey to natural hair is about you — what you like, what you’re comfortable with, and what makes you happy. Don’t let anyone pressure you into anything you’re not ready for yet.

What lessons did you learn during your transition?


To learn more about my 21 month transition to natural hair, click here!

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7 years ago

For me, wash and gos are a no, no. I’ve tried so many times with so many products, and its a big fat NO! I My scalp doesn’t like moisture on it for too long and with my schedule there isn’t enough time to use a blow dryer with diffuser it takes 30 min. Just to get it to dry. I prefer protective styling that is what got my hair to grow. And I transitioned too. For textures I had all 3! The struggle was REAL! I wasn’t sure how to work with it, but I tried to understand my… Read more »

7 years ago

14 months post here. I don’t know how long I’m going to go, but I do want some length before or IF I ever decide to chop off my relaxed ends. I’m not even completely committed to having 100% natural hair, but I’m so curious as to what my natural hair even looks like, that I plan to keep on going…

Annie O
Annie O
7 years ago

i can do no wrong with my hair its been 14 months no heat for my tresses i wash weekly and deep condition with bantu knot outs and it is going well so far. the only thing i dislike is the look of my relax ends after 4 days but its work in progress that is how i am learning on how to style it. i do have to keep it moisturized which my hair loves. am not planning the BC at anytime soon for no one. you do have naysayers at time but i just ignored them what do… Read more »

Jasmine Jones
Jasmine Jones
7 years ago

During my hair journey I learned that I need to deep condition my hair weekly. Without a deep condition my hair looks absolutely atrocious and it is not a good look to walk around looking like a wild animal all because I wanted to be lazy on wash day.

7 years ago

A year since I transitioned and it’s been a learning process getting to know my texture intimately. I wash weekly but before that, use the Hair Therapy wrap on oiled hair (Avocado, Olive, Castor) for 30 mins, finger detangle lightly, wash, DC, finger detangle, rinse, blot, leave-in whilst finger-detangling…my hair is always thirsty so coconut or jojoba oils for me. Air-dry then bantu knot-outs for the week. I might cut my relaxed ends by the end of the year if they’re less than an inch.

5 years ago

#6! I need all of the time and energy.

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