The Key to Every Journey…The Ability to Adjust

Transitioning from relaxed to natural hair is no different.

I’ve been exposed to great advice along my hair journey so far. You can check out the blog roll to the left for links to a few of my favorites. The best advice I’ve received thus far is that you have to get to know your hair in it’s natural state.

Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. There are so many products, so many regimens, so much advice out there, but it will not benefit you one bit if you don’t understand what your hair needs and how your hair will react. When I first began my hair journey, I blindly followed several bloggers’ regimens, and I used whatever products they happened to mention. Don’t get me wrong, these were great regimens and great products. But it was great for them. I could follow their advice to the smallest detail and still not get the positive results because my hair required something different. Side note: this is why I really appreciate those who tell why they use the regimen they use, or why they chose the products they chose. This way, I can assess whether or not it will help me in my journey.

Now that I understand how important it is to know my hair’s needs, I’m realizing that these needs change, and they change often. What worked for me when I was 3 months in does not work for me now that I’m a little over 5 months in (yay!). And boy is this frustrating (LOL). I feel like every month I’m starting at square one with certain parts of my regimen. But hopefully my frustrations are another woman’s revelations! Below is a quick summary of my transition, and how I’ve had to adjust. I hope it helps! ūüôā

Months 1-2:

My new growth was pretty much non-existent (I was used to dealing with an inch of new growth from stretching my relaxers to 3-4 months) so during the first couple of months after my last relaxer I was washing three times a week (one time with shampoo, the other two times were conditioner washes). I work out 3 times/week and would wash after each workout since it it was nothing to detangle and throw it into a bun or roller set. I kept a wrapped look (without wrapping) using the Pin Curl method.

Roller-set that failed in the humidity of St. Louis!

I can’t quite recall the products I used during this time because I experimented with so many! I believe KeraCare Moisturizing Shampoo and Conditioner were my go-tos. There was no real rhyme or reason for choosing KeraCare. They were a trusted brand for me when my hair was relaxed. I also used a castor oil, grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil mix (I read a random article on essential/carrier oils and got excited, LOL) to seal my hair after using Silk Elements Leave-In. Silk Elements has always left my hair feeling moisturized and soft, so this one is still on my shelf!

Months 3-4:

I still washed after each workout so 3 times/week (again, I was only washing with shampoo one time/week, the other two times were with conditioner only). Detangling became a headache so I started washing my hair in four sections. I detangled before I shampooed in the shower (with lots of conditioner and water running over my hair!).

I had to get more creative with styling since I chose not to use direct heat like flat irons or pressing combs. My rollers sets and pin curls weren’t working anymore sitting on 2 inches of new growth, so I had to switch up my styles and go a little curlier. I began doing Bantu Knot-Outs using Curlformers (to get amazing spirals!).

Bantu Knot-Out

My products shifted only slightly as I felt like my new growth felt very dry. I started looking for products geared toward natural hair (no more sulfates!). By month 4 I was using Shea Moisture products (the shampoo, conditioner, and deep conditioning mask). I used the Shea Moisture Curl and Style Milk as a moisturizer and sealed with KeraCare Essential Oils. I guess I couldn’t completely let go of KeraCare, plus I was getting tired of making my own oil concoction. I also bought a relatively cheap conditioner to use just for detangling. For this, I chose Suave Professionals Almond & Shea Butter. It gave my hair the slip it needed.

Months 5-6:

Well, here I am today. I’ve stopped washing 3 times/week because detangling is getting more difficult. I’m washing/conditioner-washing twice a week now. And I’ve gone from detangling/washing in 4 sections, to 8 sections, then to 10 sections (LOL). About a month ago, I actually cut a nice amount of relaxed hair off since my relaxed hair was getting the most tangled. That helped for a moment, but I feel like my detangling time is increasing again.

I felt like the Bantu Knot-Outs were leaving my hair more tangled than usual. And the Curlformers were great, but they take a lot of time. I still do them from time to time, but my current go-to style is a simple Flat Twist-Out (once I learned how to do them!). I’m able to just wake up, take them down and pull it back so it looks like a big curly bun.

side view
Flat Twist & Curl pulled back with pins

side view

I still use Shea Moisture products, but it’s really only the Moisture Retention Shampoo and the Curl & Style Milk or the Curl Enhancing Smoothie (whichever my Walgreens has at the time). When I need a nice deep conditioning I go to (you guessed it!) KeraCare Humecto Conditioner. It has left my hair softer than the Shea Moisture Deep Conditioner Mask. I’ve added Cantu Shea Butter to my product line as a moisturizer because I heard this is good for a light protein, and I think my hair needs more protein in my regimen since I still have a lot of relaxed ends. For a similar reason, I use Aphogee 2-minute Reconstructor once a week. Sometimes after a wash/conditioner-wash, I spray with Chi Keratin Mist. When I used to get relaxers, my stylist used this so I guess it’s another product I couldn’t let go of (but I probably should). I’m actually not sure that it does anything (this may not make the month 7-8 cut). *Side note on protein vs. moisture: Ever since I introduced more protein to my regimen my hair isn’t as limp. My curls bounce back better, so I do think I’m heading in the right direction with protein (I don’t decrease moisture, I just increase protein).

Back to month 5-6 products. I seal with Hot Six oil for no reason in particular. It comes in a larger bottle than KeraCare Essentials and I like the ingredient line (first five ingredients are oils I approve of). Lastly, I heard so many great reviews about Herbal Essence Hello Hydration and had to give it a try and I love it! (I got tired of the smell of the Suave Professionals Almond & Shea conditioner, I’m really not sure what happened there lol). Herbal Essence provides the same slip as Suave Professionals, but I like the smell better (trivial, I know :)).

So there you have it. I’m sure you’ve noticed my product list has grown quite a bit lately. There are a few products that I am sure I can retire right now. As I get more new growth, I’m not sure I will need as much protein in my regimen, but I’m waiting to see how my hair responds.

Feel free to share your regimen and/or what adjustments you’ve had to make to transition with your hair!

~TS

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Top 5 Frustrations of a Transition (so far) & How I Get Through

It’s time to vent! I have a lot to learn about my natural hair. Transitioning from relaxed to natural has been an exciting process, but I would be lying if I said it were easy or even all fun. I’ve worn my hair relaxed since I can remember, so it came as no shock when a year ago I found out I had no clue how to care for and handle my natural hair. So I started (and still am) reading books, watching YouTube tutorials, following a lot of great blogs, and just experimenting. And believe me, I have had some rough patches (if my boyfriend were here to attest, he would :)). Yet, one of the major factors that keeps me going is knowing that other transitioners are going through, or have gone through, similar situations. It makes me feel less like I’m alone on this journey, and the success stories show me that I too can get through it. So, below are my top 5 frustrations. Hopefully, I can encourage someone or someone can encourage me, haha. Enjoy!

# 5: Moisture/protein balance

For those who haven’t read The Science of Black Hair¬†by Audrey Sivasothy, you’re missing out. In a nutshell, it breaks down the structure of a hair fiber describing what it’s made up of, how it grows, and what it needs to be healthy. When you understand the make-up of a hair fiber, you can then better understand how certain actions affect the hair shaft (which the book also does a great job of illustrating). One of the points in the book is that it is imperative that a healthy hair care regimen include the right moisture-protein balance. I’ve read it. I understand it (theoretically at least), but I can’t for the life of me get it right! I’m beginning to think it’s because my relaxed texture needs more protein from all the years of relaxing and flat ironing, etc. However, my new growth (which is stronger than my relaxed ends since it has not been exposed to nearly as much damage and manipulation) craves more moisture. In an effort to please both textures, I’m finding that I have days of really limp hair (lacking protein) and days of tougher hair (lacking moisture). On the bright side, I’m happy I can tell when my hair needs one versus the other, and I do believe that with time I can more accurately read my hair’s needs and find the products that are the best fit.

# 4: It’s difficult to see progress

I love following blogs and hearing/seeing success stories. A lot of the stories are women documenting their journey since their big chop. It’s incredible the healthy length people achieve in just over a year. I love it! But I’m not big chopping. PC Disclaimer: There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact I agree that it’s the healthier way to go natural, but I actually like this process of slowly getting to know my hair, and mentally preparing for what a natural head of hair demands. It’s just a personal choice. Back to my frustration, Since I’m not big chopping, it looks like there’s not much change happening¬†on top of my head. If I didn’t take pictures, I’d probably think I had the same length compared to five months ago! It’s easy to get discouraged. I’ve never had the desire to get another relaxer, but I often have the desire to chop it all off! But for those who do not want to big chop, two things have helped in this area. The first is hearing other success stories. I’ve mentioned it before, but Tara’s Transition Story encouraged me at a time when I was ready to have that conversation with my boyfriend (it’s time to chop!). Until then, everyone I had read about could no longer take the two textures, and preferred the teeny weeny afros (TWAs). But I read her story, and she transitioned the entire way. I knew I could do it too! What also helps is taking a lot of pictures, getting my mind off of my hair (length at least), then coming back a few months later to see progress.

# 3: Low manipulation styling (that still looks good!)

If I could, I would change hair styles no more than once a week (after I’ve washed). Other than that, I wouldn’t touch it. But I can’t do this. The first offender is working out 3 days a week, and going hard! My hair is dripping wet at the end of each session (gross, I know). Point being, I can’t keep a style. And even if I could, who wants to keep sweat in their hair for an entire week (ugh, itch fest). So I wash once a week and conditioner-wash once a week. This is to keep something close to a clean scalp. The second offender is just not being talented enough to do the cute protective styles. No seriously, I just learned how to flat twist less than a month ago (and even now I can only sleep in them, they’re not cute enough to rock outside). So not only am I “washing” my hair twice a week, but I’m styling it almost every other day. I try curlier styles like bantu knot outs and twist outs that require little manipulation, but I often have to re-twist each night because my relaxed ends won’t keep. What’s helping is that with time (and the right moisture-protein balance) I’m finding that my hair can better hold a curl (from twisting and roller-setting). I remember trying a twist out when I first heard about healthy hair regimens. I was maybe 3 month post-relaxer. My relaxed hair was so over-processed you couldn’t tell I had twisted anything! When I began stretching my relaxers, so that there was less relaxer overlap, I found that my healthier hair was thicker and held a curl a lot better. As I go even longer without a relaxer (and fully transition to natural), I’m finding that I have to do less to keep certain styles. Progress.

#2 Knots & Tangles

I remember my first experience with a knot because it was only 7 months ago. I was stretching my relaxer for the first time (before then I was getting relaxers every 6 weeks like clockwork. Horrible, I know.). I had reached 13 weeks I believe, and I was on vacation with my boyfriend. We were going to a water park so I was sure to bring all of my hair necessities. But the problem wasn’t lack of products, it was lack of time. I couldn’t deep condition like I needed to, so detangling was a monster! All I remember is finding an impossible knot, having zero patience, then seeing that knot in the sink. I cried, haha. My boyfriend likes to laugh at this story, and I can too (now), but boy do I hate knots! Cutting out enough time for deep conditions (and detangling), knowing the right products for my hair (thank you Herbal Essence Hello Hydration!), and even wearing styles that are less conducive to tangling have all helped greatly. But little tips like detangling in the shower, with the water running directly on the hair, has helped tons, as well as washing in sections (this was something that I thought would only work for full-naturals, but it has shaved a lot of time off of my wash days). Detangling with your fingers before you wash seemed to work as well, but it added a lot of time. All in all, knots and tangles are still there and still very frustrating, but I am having less of an issue with them, so I know I’m heading in the right direction.

#1 Breakage (cue horror scream)

Breakage is why a lot of women decide to forego the transition and chop it off. I must say, it is very hard to put so much effort into your regimen only to see strand after strand fall into the sink or get caught in the comb. I don’t have much encouragement for this one (which is why it’s my number one frustration), but I will tell what I’ve done lately to at least not stress myself out over it. I first realized that I was paying a lot more attention to my hair overall. The fact that I’m analyzing every single strand could exaggerate the number of hairs that were shedding or breaking. Back during my relaxed days I would have a floor covered in hairs after one styling session, but I never went bald, so I had to ask myself why was I stressing over even fewer hairs? The last straw was when I recently freaked out over what looked like a lot of breakage on my right side. I was like, “That’s it! Transitioning is not for me. I clearly don’t know what I’m doing. I’m making my hair worse!” I wanted to chop it off, again. As I’m sitting there looking at pictures of the thin spot, I start to look at older pictures. I found a picture from 10 months ago and the spot looked worse. It looked more like a bald spot. I look at even older pics, and I see that my sides were even thinner and this was when I was getting my 6-week relaxers. Comparing the older pics to the new one I was freaking out over, I realized my hair wasn’t breaking off, it was growing back in! This is where the gift of time comes in. I have to force myself to trust that I am following (at least) the basics of a healthy hair care regimen. I keep my hair clean and conditioned, and try my best at low manipulation styles. I no longer chemically treat my hair. I don’t use direct heat (flat irons or blow dryers). I finger come except for when I detangle in the shower. I’m really doing the best I can. I have to trust that it is working and let time tell.

My greatest learning is that it’s a journey. This means you’re going to experience situations that make you jump for joy, and you’ll experience situations that make you doubt the entire process. But patience (and a consistent, healthy hair regimen) is what you help you through. That and sharing your experience and learning from others’. I hope I could be of a little encouragement (or at least offer a laugh). Journey on ūüôā

~TS

“I am not my hair”… Wait. Yes I am!

To many, it’s just an accessory. To others, it’s the most visible illustration of their character, or political beliefs. Then there are a whole host of people that fall in between. I have come to realize that I have shifted on this spectrum of “hair ideology”.

My hair journey began about a year ago with the sole desire to regain my length (and thickness) of shoulder-blade length, relaxed hair. I wanted¬†to wear sleek wraps and full, flowing ponytails. I was conditioned to believe that straight, manageable hair was beautiful, sexy, and lady-like. And it’s not that it isn’t all of those things! It absolutely is, but it is not the only avenue of beauty.

The more I researched and learned about 1. what it means to have healthy hair and 2. what to do to achieve and maintain healthy hair, the¬†more I was exposed to all the damage being done to my hair just to fit one definition of beauty. That wasn’t like me. You see, all of my life I prided myself on being different. I was the girl who was heavy into sports (a bit of a tom-boy). I was the girl who loved jazz, rock, and classical music as well as rap and R&B. I was me. Little make-up, no weave, no tight/revealing clothing, and no extremely high heels (no offense to anyone who likes these things, I’m just describing me!). I loved natural beauty. I felt that in my natural state (which excluded my hair at the time), I was not hiding one ounce of me, and I respected that about myself. So again, being exposed to all the unnatural behaviors I was forcing on my hair, gave me a much needed wake-up call.

But with all of those things that made me different (at least in my town), I still kept it safe. I was the good girl. I always thought about how my actions affected others, and how each decision affected my long-term (yes, even in high school!). I never liked too much attention on me (why am I blogging? haha). No seriously, all of my decisions to be different were more for my own satisfaction. It wasn’t necessarily done for me to stand out from the crowd because I didn’t even want to be noticed in the crowd. Thus, the wraps, the ponytails, the bobs, were all easy styles that didn’t rock the boat.

Now that I’ve decided to transition to natural, I find these two sides of me at odds with each other. It’s not like me to want to alter my appearance for someone else’s definition of beauty. However, with relaxed hair being the norm (although natural hair is growing strong), going fully natural, and wearing styles that people aren’t used to seeing me sport, are challenging my innate desire to fade into the background. But I’m challenging right back.

And that’s when I realized this is more than a journey of hair. It’s¬†a journey to find that girl from high school, I once knew, that didn’t care so much about others’ opinions. It’s a journey to restore a confidence that I let disappear after comparing myself to popular girl after popular girl in undergrad. It’s a journey to let my inner beauty shine. It’s a journey to rediscover what beauty means to me, and rock it!

I am choosing to document my natural hair journey, not because I believe it is the only way to be beautiful neither because it is the only way to healthy hair (it’s not!). But it’s what I choose for me. It’s time for me to be who I decide to be, not others. I am 5 months transitioning and journeying on!

~TS

My Hair Story: A Love-Hate-Love Relationship

My story? I have focused on hair more in the past 12 months, than I have my entire 27 years on this earth. It makes sense though, because up until a year ago, I didn’t have to pay attention. Or so I thought…

In the Beginning…

I’m around 7 or 8 years old, and my mom gives me my first relaxer. It’s painful, but I love how straight and smooth my hair is (and it no longer hurts when she combs my hair). I wanted to look like the “Just For Me” girls. I’m hooked. I don’t know what it means to be natural. All I know is when your hair is “nappy”, it’s time for relaxer. From this moment on (at least as much as I can remember), I’m on a relaxer schedule of around 4-6 weeks, and oblivious to any negative effects.

Freshman year of undergrad, and I am seeing people wear their hair “nappy”, on purpose! These people are the pro-black activists on campus. It is more than a hair style, or even hair health. It’s a statement, a stand against conformity. It’s inspiring, but it doesn’t resonate with me. I keep relaxing.

But since I’m away from home now, I decide to relax my own hair. It’s my first time. I’m terrified. The scene from “What’s Love Got To Do With It” is playing over and over in my head where Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) gets her first relaxer (with a color or something like that) and her hair comes out in handfuls! I am sure to have a timer right next to me so it doesn’t stay on too long (after all that was the only negative impact right?). It turned out great…to my knowledge. I can keep doing this. Maybe I’ll try every 6 weeks or so. I’m in control, for a fraction of the cost of a beauty salon. Count it! My hair stays at chin length…without any trims.

The Glory Days…

I wear micro-braids the summer before my junior year. 3 months of not touching my hair (and I mean not touching. I’m talking the same ponytail for three months. It’s pretty disgusting when I look back…3 months and no shampoo, haha SHAME!). But my hair grows like crazy, and is very thick too. From this point on, nothing can stop me. I wouldn’t get length if I were doing something wrong, right?

I’ve graduated. I’m still on my 6-week relaxer schedule, but now I’m getting trims (not sure what spurred this). I frequent SuperCuts and other walk-in salons where I can get a dry-cut for around $10-15, and it takes only 20 minutes. My hair reaches shoulder-blade length, and I’m feeling great.

The Fall…

I enter grad school and although my hair has reached a length I had never seen before, I start to notice (only after looking back at pictures) how limp it is. I can’t hold a curl. All it does is lay flat. I still get trims and it grows right back, but still lays lifeless. And that’s exactly how I describe it to friends and family “something is wrong, it’s lifeless!”. They reply, “your hair is so long and beautiful, you just have damaged ends”.

Rock Bottom…

I graduate from grad school, and I’m ready to start my new life in Madison, WI. Once in Madison, I get really bad dandruff and really itchy scalp. My hair thins out dramatically, and that’s it. I KNOW something is wrong. I just don’t know what to do about it. The only thing I know how¬†to address¬†is my ends, I don’t know how to address¬†thickness, and the other signs of healthy/unhealthy hair. So I walk into a Cost Cutters (similar to SuperCuts) and I say “Cut off all the¬†bad ends. I don’t care how short it is. I just want healthy hair”. She cuts, and I’m actually pleased with the look. It’s a refreshing style after the long, limp mess I had earlier on. So I say I’ll get it trimmed every 6 weeks (after my relaxer), and it’ll grow back just fine. But every 6 weeks she’s trimming the same amount. I wash my hair one night, and it looks SO damaged. My girls back home were on a natural kick (both had big chopped) and they were telling me of all the tips and resources available on the internet. That’s when my world turned around.

The Comeback…

Healthytextures.com was the first time I had heard of a hair regimen, and it saved my life. It was there that I learned I was killing my hair by relaxing every 6 weeks. I was also introduced to heat damage (*throwing out the flat irons*), and lastly I learned the importance of¬†certain products in a healthy hair regimen (e.g. protein vs. moisture balance). I started a regimen that allowed me to stretch my relaxers 12 weeks (talk about some rough patches). At the time I wasn’t even thinking of going natural. I liked having more manageable hair, I just wanted it healthier. After 3 rounds of relaxing every 12 weeks, I gained a lot of my thickness back, and areas that I thought were “dead zones” before had hair sprouting again.

Relaxing every 12 weeks forces you to embrace your curls (at least with my texture), and so I became more comfortable with curlier¬†styles, and began to prefer them to the straighter looks (so did my ever so supportive boyfriend!). I began to research more. KimmayTube¬†(YouTube) gave me the first itch to want to go fully natural. I felt encouraged by her story. And I loved how lively her hair looked (she’d pull a curl down and stretch it her waist and it would bounce right back!). I wanted that! I loved the texture, the versatility, and the fact that it was how my hair was already growing out of my head. This was around the same time I began reading “The Science of Black Hair” by Audrey Sivasothy (a must read!). With everything I learned on Healthytextures.com, this book explained why. It gave me the confidence needed to think, “if I can go 12 weeks and effectively handle my new growth, I can fully transition natural.”


So here I am. 5 months since my last relaxer (Sept. 17, 2011), and I would say going strong, but I’m just going, haha. These past couple of weeks, I have had the desire to chop my hair off almost every day! I was reading on CurlyNikki.com and saw Tara’s Transition Story (See Tara’s Transition Story). She transitioned the entire way, kept her length. I felt inspired, again. By the way, I have nothing against the big chop (I have the utmost respect for those that do!), I’m just finding that the transition (although it may slow my goal) helps me to learn things along the way to better prepare me to handle a full head of natural hair. Just a personal decision.

So this is a journal of my journey ūüôā The good, the bad, and the ugly (warning: there may be¬†a lot of ugly!). I hope you enjoy, are inspired, and share your own.

~TS