Going natural is an exciting thing. You do the big chop, or begin growing out your relaxer and imagine how awesome your new hair is going to be. But there are many pitfalls that can keep you from a happy, healthy hair journey. Three BGLH writers share the worst mistakes they made along their natural hair journey
1. Focusing mainly on hair texture.
Since childhood, I thought my hair was “tough,” meaning coarse. People joked that you could pull a truck with my thick hair strands. I thought that I needed the heaviest products to be effective. I would’ve never used a thin conditioner or lighter oil, like jojoba. Later, I figured out that my low porosity hair didn’t like heavy products; they’d “sit” on my hair, which isn’t effective. Once I listened to my hair and learned about porosity, I could select products and follow a regimen that allowed my hair to thrive, not suffocate.
2. Participating in too many hair challenges at once
When I first stopped getting relaxers, I was in awe of all of the cool challenges I saw other naturals doing. Deep conditioning, hair growth shakes, vitamins, detangling, conditioner wash and gos, and Ayurveda challenges were all over the hair forums, and they all looked so fun and anything good for my hair couldn’t be bad, right? Maybe not bad, but all at once? Excessive. I think I confused my hair with everything I was doing. Simplifying my regimen allowed me to better determine what works and what doesn’t.
3. Saying yes to every product
I’m a natural hair blogger and vlogger, and when companies first began offering me products for review, I was so flattered that I never turned anything down. However, not all products are created equal and sometimes, my hair would suffer. And while I love to support small businesses, their ingredients don’t always mesh well with my hair or contain ingredients that I don’t like to use, like mineral oil or heavy silicones. Now, I review ingredients before even agreeing to try a product and my flukes are rare. Don’t use anything that your hair doesn’t like, even if it’s free!
After over a decade of wearing my hair natural I can say that I am pretty confident in what works and what doesn’t work for my hair. My confidence in my skills has not come without some mistakes, some of which set me back significantly in my hair journey. Still, I wouldn’t change those experiences because those mistakes have enabled me to better help others as they maneuver the hills and valleys of natural hair care.
4. Not changing my relaxed hair routine
One of the worst things I did after my big chop in the fall of 2004 was deciding to treat my natural hair like my relaxed hair. Using the same tools, similar products and techniques only led to breakage and stunted growth. For example, I thought I could comb my tightly coiled hair without moisturizing the way I could comb my bone straight relaxed hair. Moreover, when my hair was tangled and matted I raked the comb through my hair, rather than gently and carefully combing from the ends to the roots of my hair. Such mistakes caused my ends to break, which meant that no matter how much my hair grew I was unable to retain any length. Now, I’m not saying that there will be no similarities between how you care for your natural hair and your relaxed hair. However, there should be some key changes in how you comb and detangle your hair and, if you’re used to washing your hair unsectioned as I was when relaxed, your washing regimen should change as well. Consider how different your straightened hair is from your naturally curly hair. It stands to reason that your weekly hair care routine should be different as well.
5. Underestimating heat and doing ‘flat iron retouching’
Most of my hair setbacks have resulted from small mistakes that led to significant damage over a period of time. However, one particular mistake led to pretty dramatic damage almost instantly. Excited to use my first professional grade flat iron, I straightened my hair one hot and steamy July. Of course a few hours outside caused my hair to revert in some areas, so I would touch up my hair every day with the flat iron set on 450 degrees. Needless to say that when I washed my hair at the end of the week my hair was permanently damaged in some areas. Over the course of the next year and a half I wore protective styles and slowly trimmed my hair until I removed the damaged ends. From that experience I learned that its best to err on the side of caution and “under-straighten” your hair by using a lower heat setting rather than risk irreparable damage.
6. Fixing it when it ain’t broke
After digging my way out of the abyss of heat damage and getting the hang of my hair routine I began to see improvements in my hair’s health. No longer was my hair stuck at one length and I saw regular and consistent length retention. So, what did I decide to do in 2011? I changed what had been working so well. There’s nothing wrong with trying a new shampoo or style but if you know your hair routine works then it is unwise to change the fundamentals of your hair routine. In my case I stopped wearing protective styles during colder month and, while I didn’t experience breakage, my length retention plateaued. If I was only trying to maintain my length then my change in routine wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. However, because I was still actively trying to grow my hair from arm pit length to mid back length changing my proven length retention routine ultimately slowed down my progress.
7. Flat ironing my hair on high heat
About a year or so after I went natural, I decided that it would be a good idea to check my growth by flat ironing my hair. Because my hair was natural and a completely different texture than my relaxed hair, I thought that in order for my hair to get straight, I needed to straighten it at the highest heat setting on the flat iron. This clearly was not a good idea. After it was all said and done, I had straight, burned hair. I ended up snipping off heat damage and doing a lot of protein treatments over the next several months. I learned a valuable lesson – high heat is not necessary and you don’t need to straighten your hair to check for growth.
8. Prioritizing curl defining products over moisturizers leading to severe lack of moisture
If you’ve been following my posts for a while, then you know that my hair is extremely dry. When I had a TWA, I thought that lots of products that claim to produce curls was the best thing for my hair. I would pile on curly, twirly, wavey, coily, creams and gels, but not a drop of moisture. The more a product claimed to enhance curls, the better – is what my mind told me. I did this on top of washing my hair daily. Needless to say that my hair would look fine after it was just washed and product was applied, but looked dry and hard at the end of the day. I learned that I was stripping my hair and depriving it of something it craved – moisture. I changed my regimen when I realized that it wasn’t my hair that was causing me grief, but I was mistreating my hair and it was simply reacting.
9. Comparing hair journeys
This has to be the biggest mistake that I’ve ever made during my natural hair journey. I initially went natural because I was tired of having relaxers burn my scalp and cause sores. However, after I went natural, I started following other’s natural hair journey and compared their journeys to my own. Why wasn’t my hair growing like her hair if we’ve been natural just as long? Why is my texture different from hers? Why can’t my hair do that? These are the questions that I would ask myself often. This was a major mistake. You can’t compare your hair journey to anyone else’s journey. There are too many variables when it comes to hair to try and compare. You may think your hair isn’t growing because it’s not the same length as someone else’s who has been natural just as long, but their hair may just be giving off the illusion that its longer because of their texture. My hair draws up and grows up and out, while someone else’s hair may grow down and hang. Those two very different heads of hair may be close to the same length when straightened. Your hair is your own and it’s unique to you. One I accepted that, my hair loved me for it.
What are some of the mistakes you’ve made along your natural hair journey?