I Ditched My Straighteners for A Month… This is What Happened.
If you’re anything like me, you may have lived out the entirety of your adult life thus far having masked the natural hair atop your head, for fear that it may be deemed unpresentable, unprofessional or downright wild.
For as long as I can remember my trips to the hairdressers began with the same words "goodness your hair’s thick isn’t it?" And ended with the stylist thinning out my ends to make things more ‘manageable’.
These early experiences, and the consequent need to make myself appear more ‘put together’, ensured that my hair endured the worst heat and product damage, resulting in flat, lifeless-looking locks.
A few weeks into 2019 however, in an attempt to reverse the years of mistreatment to my hair, I decided to challenge my mindset (which had become far more governed by conventional beauty standards than I would’ve liked) by giving up my straighteners for a month.
In just a short few weeks, I discovered that this small habitual shift in giving up a single styling tool, has led to the beginning of an entire transformation in lifestyle and routine. For instance, by opting to embrace my naturally wavy, frizzy hair, I have waved goodbye to a regimen that saw me washing my hair up to four times a week with just about any seemingly decent shampoo I could get my hands on.
I have since learned through doing this experiment, that the all too familiar feeling of day two grease-stricken hair was brought on by a combination of frequent heat styling and by using products that were wrong for my hair type. Such products (those with chemical-heavy ingredients including sulfates, parabens and silicones) strip the hair of its natural moisture and leads to excess oil secretion from the scalp, which now thinks it’s now too dry, panics and produces more oil.
Since adopting a more natural-friendly routine, with products that are kinder to my scalp, I’ve reduced my hair washes to once or twice a week. And no, my hair is not dirty, or unkempt, but quite the opposite, with little to no grease in sight and more body than ever as my waves have more bounce and definition.
In truth, living a natural hair lifestyle can be time consuming. With my very basic 30 minute wash, dry and straighten regime out the window, I now dedicate the best part of one evening a week to maintaining my wavy hair. From deep conditioning to diffusing, the process can last up to 2 hours. And this, to me, is time well spent. Aside from the obvious hair benefits, namely healthy hair which lasts for days, the time spent on my hair is therapeutic and a source of much needed TLC during the week. No wonder self-care is on the rise.
Going heat-appliance and chemical free for the month has taught me a great deal, not only in terms of understanding my hair and what it needs, but also by embracing and enhancing what I already have. If there’s one thing that the last 30 days have left me with, it’s the desire to learn to love my curls rather than trying to torture them into submission.
If you’re looking to start your natural hair journey, here’s 8 things to remember...
What to do When You Sleep
Yes, curls are to be considered even while you sleep, why would we want all our hard work to go to waste anyway? Cotton pillowcases can twist and tangle your hair during the night, this not only damages your hair and follicles, leading to less healthy hair, but it also generates more frizz and can flatten curls. To avoid this, opt for silk or satin pillowcases like the Slip Silk Pillowcase, £79, which helps to reduce friction and preserves your curls.
To double up and ensure that your curls are kept intact until the next morning, use a hair bonnet such as The Sofia, SILKE London Hair Wrap, £50, a wonder product which prevents hair breakage and damage, balances oily roots and dry ends, controls frizz and maintains hairstyles overnight.
Know Your Curl Type
Understanding where you lie on the scale of curly hair types is important if you are to choose the right products for your hair. Andre Walker, Oprah’s hair stylist, created a broad-spectrum hair typing system that classifies various hair textures and breaks each hair type down into four types with three sub categories, A, B or C, which determines the extent of your curl type, with A representing the loosest of curls.
Simply put; straight hair is classified as Type 1 hair, Type 2 hair is defined as wavy, curly hair is deemed Type 3 hair and finally Type 4 is regarded as kinky hair.
On identifying that I sat somewhere on the spectrum between Type 2B- 3A, I opted for lighter products that provided all the nourishment and definition I needed without weighing my hair down. This also means that my post-wash product cocktail mix typically only consists of two or three products, again in an attempt to not overdo it on the styling front.
The Washing Rules
Curly hair does not need to be washed as frequently as straight hair, and the beauty of Type 2+ hair is that curls thrive off of the natural oils in your hair. Shampooing too often can lead to stretching, stressing and drying out fragile strands, making away with natural curl definition.
This too is made worse by shampoos, conditioners or any other hair products for that matter which are riddled with sulfates, silicones and parabens. These ingredients are often met with gasps amongst natural hair goers and for good reason.
Sulfates, which give shampoo their lather, tend to strip the hair of its natural oils, leaving curls dehydrated and more prone to breakage. As mentioned before, they also have the inverse effect of tricking the scalp into thinking it’s too dry, leading to an overproduction of natural oil and greasy hair.
Silicones are synthetic ingredients made up of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, though widely used for the slip they provide to hair, in reality this ingredient only coats hair strands and acts like a filler. The result? Product build up that leads to hair being weighed down. As a preservative, parabens kill bacteria and fungi, and ensure the longevity of products, however they can also lead to dry, frizzy hair.
On the days that you do wash your hair remember to look for products free of these ingredients, such as the Maui Moisture Thicken & Restore + Bamboo Fiber Shampoo, £5.99, and Conditioner, £5.99. Be liberal with your conditioner and use this time to brush through your hair from bottom to root with a wide tooth comb.
Don’t Towel Dry
Towels create excess frizz through tiny nubs in the fabric which fluff your hair cuticles. They also absorb too much water, which causes tangling and won’t help with styling product application. Instead, opt for a microfibre towel or a simple cotton t-shirt and lightly scrunch dry if desired.
How to Apply Styling Products
In order to get the most out of your styling products, you need to first ensure that your hair is soaking wet or damp at the very least. Start by smoothing your styling product into your hair and then scrunch to the point where you can hear your hair squishing together. Cantu’s Moisturising Curl Activator Cream, £7.99, is an especially effective curl enhancer, which holds curls in a lightweight formula.
Then apply a gel over your hair and scrunch the product in once again to ensure your strands are fully coated. Gels are extremely important in a curly routine for zapping frizz, adding moisture, and maintaining shine and all important definition. Bouclème’s Curl Defining Gel, £15, is a perfect example of a lightweight, yet deeply moisturising product which adds ultimate body and bounce to hair.
Diffusing is Best
Applying heat to the hair is strictly a no-go, but using a diffuser like the BaByliss Curl Dry Hair Dryer with Diffuser, £22.99, on a low speed and cool temperature setting will help your curls to reach new levels. When employing a blow dryer to speed up the drying process in this way, heat damage is practically non-existent, and smooth curls and volume are accentuated.
Refresh Your Curls
If you are lucky enough to be able to go a few days without washing your hair, you will find that on day two, three or four, your curls may have dropped. To counter this, refresh your hair with the Moroccanoil Curl Re-Energizing Spray, £17.85, and scrunch. You’ll quickly find that this reactivating mist refreshes curls to bring back shape and bounce, with instant moisture.
If your curls still seem lackluster, after dampening your with mist, apply a curling lotion such as Redken’s Ringlet Perfecting Lotion (Best for Curl Definition), £17, which provides frizz-free weightless control for defined curls and even helps to form ringlets.
At least once a week, swap your usual conditioner for a deep conditioning mask (or do both if you’re feeling super dry) and use a formula that answers to the needs of your hair. If you are dry opt for a deep conditioning mask rich in nourishing ingredients like shea butter, if your hair is week and damaged, use a product suited to protein reconstruction which features silk amino acids or keratin.
The Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Treatment Masque, £10.99, is a luxuriously rich hair mask with replenishing components like Jamaican Black Castor Oil and certified organic Shea Butter which promotes healthy, fuller hair. As a welcomed weekly treat, I apply this mask and let it sit under a plastic cap for anything between 15-30 minutes, allowing the heat from my scalp work its magic. After washing it out, my hair is left incredibly soft, shiny and rejuvenated. The perfect foundation for any curly hair routine.