Especially for women who have spent a lifetime in the salon chair enduring lengthy hair treatments, learning how to manage natural hair will involve a lot of study. Even the New York Times recently reported on the difficulties experienced by African Americans when it comes to reestablishing their natural hair.
The Big Chop or Transitioning
Some women who decide to go natural choose to cut off all the hair that is relaxed, straightened, or chemically altered. This can result in a very short haircut and is often called 'The Big Chop.' Others, however, take it slower and trim off previously relaxed hair in stages. This is referred to as transitioning. There is no right or wrong way - but there are things to keep in mind with both methods. The Big Chop is a drastic change and not all women are comfortable with it. Those who transition, however, should keep in mind that it can be hard to find styles to support two different hair textures. The area where the relaxed hair ends and the natural hair begins may also be weak so extra care is needed when washing, styling and detangling.
There is no one-size-fits all method to taking care of natural hair. However, there are some ways to make basic care easier.
Cleansing: Apply a pre-shampoo oil to keep hair from drying out. Use gentle sulfate-free shampoos or those designed specifically for curly hair. Many women alternate shampooing with water washing or conditioner-washing (also called co-washing). Some women also conditioner wash exclusively. When washing hair, divide the hair into sections and gently wash one section at a time, starting at the scalp.
Moisturizing: Conditioning is essential to natural hair because the oils from the scalp are not administered evenly down the hair because of the twists and curls. In-shower conditioning with a moisturizing formula or a conditioner designed for curly hair should be used after shampooing. Daily leave-in conditioners or hair oils also help maintain moisture. Use a deep conditioner as needed, for most women at least once a month. Be sure to use products that specify they are made for deep conditioning.
Protein Treatments: Protein formulas can add strength, but should not be overused. Women who are transitioning may need more protein, and at-home protein treatments can be used two to three times per month. For hair that does not have much damage, protein once per month can help fortify the hair. Deep protein treatments are usually reserved for very damaged hair that has substantial breakage and should be done at a salon, but not more often than once every six to eight weeks. Alternate protein treatements with deep conditioners to keep hair healthy and balanced.