Introduction To Natural Hair: A Complete Guide

Natural hair afro

So you’ve been quarantined for the last few months and you’ve contemplated going natural more than a handful of times but you’re still just not convinced if natural hair is for you.

You may not want to cut all of your hair off or maybe you just don’t know how to even start your journey. Fear not, this guide will answer all of your questions about embarking on your natural hair journey.

Afro natural hair

While you’re home and have some time on your hands, you might as well give it a try. So get ready to take some notes and learn all about the wonderful world of natural hair.

We’re covering everything from understanding your own hair type to styling to debunking those natural hair myths that have kept you from taking the plunge. So let’s jump right in.

Kat Graham's Natural Hair Beauty Routine | Beauty Secrets | Vogue

Key Natural Hair Care Terms Definitions

Let’s start with some key terms definition that you’ll need to know. You may or may not be familiar with some of the terms listed, but it’s important we cover our bases. 

Big chop

The big chop consists of cutting off damaged/chemically treated hair for purposes of starting over/starting a natural hair journey.

Transition

The transition is the act of growing your natural hair without entirely cutting off damaged or chemically treated parts immediately.  Instead, one maintains both textures and regularly trims, eventually cutting once natural texture has retained some length.

Curly Girl Method

The  Curly Girl Method is the approach of caring for curly hair that doesn’t use silicones, often discourages the use of shampoo, and suggests co-washing instead.

Wash and go

The Wash and go consists of styling your curls natural hair pattern usually with a leave-in, and a styler.

Twist/braid out

The twist/braid out is the style in which you braid or twist your hair and unravel once dry for a defined curl. 

Co-Washing

Co-Washing is the act of cleansing hair with conditioner instead of shampoo - it is part of the Curly Girl Method and is used by Naturalistas between wash days to retain moisture.

Pre-poo

Pre-poo is the process of detangling and providing moisture to the hair prior to washing - it helps to prevent breakage and reduce time washing.

LCO Method

The LCO Method is a rule for remembering the order in which you apply hair products. LCO stands for:

  1. Leave-In
  2. Cream
  3. Oil

It can also be referred to as the LOC method.

Silicones

Silicones are types of ingredients used in products that coat the hair shaft but can make the hair appear shiny and more manageable temporarily - the should only be used in stylers and always removed with a sulfate shampoo to prevent product buildup.

Slip

Slip is a word to describe how slippery a product makes your hair for purposes of detangling and styling.

Refresh

To Refresh consists of restoring an older hairstyle to extend the length of wear.

Pineapple

A pineapple is a high ponytail where the band is only wrapped once to allow curls to sit up without destroying curl pattern.

Finger coil

The finger coil is a style where you twirl your curls individually around your finger tightly to enhance curl definition.

Leave in

Leave in is a conditioner that you leave in your hair for moisture and styling purposes.

Bantu knot

Bantu knot consists of winding the hair into tight coils as a means of a style or to take down like a twist or braid out.

Protective style

A protective style is a style that you keep for an extended period of time that requires little to no manipulation.

Shrinkage

Shrinkage is the decreasing length that occurs as your hair dries

What is your natural hair type?

Natural hair types explained in detail 4C 4B & 4A hair chart

Now that you’ve got some of these keywords down, let’s get started with understanding YOUR hair. After all, this is your journey. So yes, all those videos you’ve watched on youtube may have been helpful, but they are not fully going to help you with understanding your own hair.

Our hair is just as unique as a fingerprint, but there are some general concepts that are important for you to know about your hair type so you can make the best choices when it comes to caring for your natural hair whether you have big chopped or you are transitioning. 

Natural hair style

 

The natural hair porosity

Hair porosity 101 & 3 easy hair porosity tests

First and probably the most important is your hair porosity. Which just means how well your hair absorbs and retains water. If you have low porosity hair, your hair shaft takes longer to open therefore takes longer to absorb product and moisture, but retains it longer.

Alternatively, high porosity hair means that your hair becomes saturated quickly, but also loses moisture quickly too. This is an important factor when it comes to selecting products and your overall regimen.

High porosity hair will need a little more attention when it comes to maintaining moisture,  whereas low porosity hair will need to incorporate heat into the deep conditioning process to help the hair shaft open and stay open while conditioning in order for moisture to penetrate the shaft.

We’ll go more into this when we discuss regimens. If you want to know what your hair porosity is, you can do a quick water test. Pluck a strand of clean hair from your head and place it in a glass of water.

If the strand sinks it is high porosity, if it floats, it is low porosity hair. If it sits somewhere in the middle, then you have normal porosity. 

The natural hair density

How to know your hair density & why | type 4 natural hair

Another essential part of understanding your hair type is your hair density. How much hair do you have? More strands mean you have higher density. This is not to get confused with your hair strand size, which ranges from fine to thick.

Hair density refers to how many strands you actually have in a square inch.

Understanding your density will help you with styling and manipulating your curls. If you have lower density you may opt for more voluminous styles or choose to avoid heavy products that weigh the hair down. Lastly, what size are those strands?

If your individual hair strand is close to the size of a single strand of sewing thread then you have thick hair and if your hair strands are thinner, then you have fine strands. Again, this is important when it comes to styling and manipulating the hair.

Fine strands are more prone to breakage and tangles, whereas thicker strands may require heavier products to penetrate and keep the hair down. 

The natural hair regimen

Now that we understand our hair, let's move on to your regimen. Your hair type will help you make key decisions when it comes to your hair regimen.

Hair wash day cycles

Typically wash day cycles for Naturalistas run about 5-10 days depending on the style, hair type, and product used.

Depending on what your hair needs, you may find yourself alternating the order in which you do some of these steps, but a typical wash day for a Naturalista looks like this:

  1. Pre-poo/detangle
  2. Shampoo
  3. Condition and detangle
  4. Deep condition
  5. Styling

Hair type determines whether your hair needs to pre-poo, if you have denser and thicker hair, pre-poo/detangling may help save you time during the wash process having your hair prepped.

Most Naturalistas shy away from sulfate shampoos as they can be harsh and drying to the hair stripping its natural oils away, but they do come in handy at removing build-up which can happen over time when using heavy oils and products, or silicones.

How to detangle your hair? Dos and don'ts

Detangle natural hair

Many Naturalistas find themselves using tools like a Denman brush or other detangling/curl defining tools to help detangle their hair and clump their curls together during the wash day process so styling is easier down the road.

Never detangle your hair dry and always use a conditioner or product with good slip to help prevent any tension on your strands. An inexpensive conditioner will do the job so long as it doesn’t have silicones. Products with good slip will help cut your detangling time in half.

Natural hairstylist Felicia Leatherwood created The Detangler Brush, one of the favorites to helps detangle all hair types. The brush is flexible and allows an easy and painless detangling. While other brushes are bonded on all four sides, the detangler brush is only bonded on three sides allowing the bristles to move freely without sticking to the hair.

Felicia Leatherwood The Detangler Brush

The Detangler Brush by Felicia Leatherwood

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Denman Classic Styling Brush

Denman Classic Styling Brush

BUY ON AMAZON

You don’t have to use your favorite or most prized conditioner for detangling since you are just rinsing it right back out. Household drug store brands like Tresemme, Garnier, etc have options under $10. 

Once your hair is detangled, it's time to deep condition. Depending on your hair type your deep conditioning may require the use of a heat cap or other heating agents. This is typically for lower porosities, although all can benefit from using a little heat to deep condition.

If you have high porosity hair, just remember to rinse with cool water to help seal your hair shaft back down before styling so you don’t welcome any more additional frizz. If you have low porosity hair, more than likely you should rinse with warm water so that you don’t completely seal your hair shaft before styling. 

Natural Hair Products

Hair products that make your hair grow faster, longer, and stronger

I bet if you’ve gotten this far and you’re not yet convinced, you are wondering how one even finds the products for their hair when there are so many on the market. Don’t worry we’ve got you covered.

Finding the products for you will take some trial and error but you can cut out some of the discovery process by simply reading the ingredients on your products.

Products with ingredients ending in '-one' are typically silicones and as mentioned, should be shied away from during the wash day and your leave-in if you can help it. Thankfully through the evolution of natural hair, many new products and brands have hit the market, so I promise there are products that exist for you.

Before ruling out a product consider how you applied it and what other products you may have used with it. A quick way to tell if 2 or more products are compatible, is to add a drop of all the products in the palm of your hand.

  • If you rub your hands together and the combination melts away or dissolves into your hand, they are compatible.
  • If they don’t quite rub in and turn into a creamy lotion texture, then know that your hair will likely have a white cast and or flake.
  • If the mixture curdles in your hand when mixing, you know immediately they aren’t compatible and won’t mix well in your hair.

Pay attention to key ingredients like:

  • Glycerin
  • Protein
  • Coconut milk/oil
  • Shea butter

as these are often ingredients that can make or break how a product performs if your hair isn’t a fan. Many fine and low-density Naturalistas typically shy away from protein-heavy products or heavy butters, like shea.

Others find that glycerin, a natural humectant, can make their hair frizzy because it draws in too much moisture. As you explore hair products, take note of how your hair responds and what common ingredients you recognize.

Building your own personal database as you go along your journey will help you navigate the road to success much easier. It also becomes helpful as a reflective tool as your hair changes and progresses.

Styling Natural Hair

The styling process can be the most daunting part in the natural hair community, but with this guide and an understanding of your own hair, you should be able to have a head start at success. This is when learning your hair and understanding all the other topics we discussed above will come in handy. And with some practice, I’m sure you can have your favorite style mastered in no time.

As you see all over the internet, there are so many ways you can style natural hair. This is probably one of the best parts of natural hair, the versatility! You can have kinks, coils, weaves, braids, twists, curls, locs, straight hair, etc.

The possibilities are endless. No matter what style you’re opting for, always start with a leave-in conditioner. This ensures that your hair is moisturized and prepped for whatever style you choose.

Shea Moisture Baobab and Tea Tree Oil Low Porosity Protein-free leave-in conditioner

Shea Moisture Baobab and Tea Tree Oil Low Porosity Protein-free

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The Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration Leave-in Conditioner

The Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & Mafura Oil Intensive Hydration

BUY ON AMAZON

Wash and go’s

Wash and go’s tend to require more time and attention to detail as you mix products for your curly cocktail. When completing a wash and go, don’t forget to keep in mind your porosity.

While some Naturalistas can do their hair after getting out of the shower, others find their hair absorbs more product and is less prone to frizz when they style immediately.

Type 4 hair updated wash n go routine

Twist and Braid Outs

Twist and Braid outs can be done on freshly washed hair, blow-dried or stretched hair, or even on an old wash and go. The biggest component to a successful style so that you retain length and get the most longevity is moisture. If you adequately moisturize and seal your hair prior to styling it can extend the life of a style by days.

The LOC Method or LCO depending on what your hair prefers will help set the foundation for any style. Twists and Braids last longer and hold more moisture when butters are used.

We won’t get into detail about technique, but the more you practice the better your technique will get. If you struggle with this part, consider working with a Natural Hair Consultant who can help guide you to achieve your optimal results. 

Protective Styles

Alternatively, many select protective styling to help maintain their hair with minimal manipulation. If you’re working to retain your length, transitioning, or just not interested in manipulating your hair often, this can be a great option for you.

Protective styles aren’t just braids, a protective style is any style that keeps your hair moisturized and out of the way for an extended period of time.

Bob braids
Bob braids
Jumbo box braids
Jumbo box braids
Stitch Braids With No Rubber Bands
Stitch Braids With No Rubber Bands

While braids are the most common, twists, Bantu knots, faux locs, and even buns can be considered protective. If you’re worried about taking the leap into the natural hair world, protective styling may be the best option for you as you grow out your hair and learn its needs.

Be sure to let your hair breathe between styles and don’t pull the hair too tight as tension will only lead to breakage and damage. If you opt for a bun, try to change the location of your bun, and again, don’t make it too tight. You should still be moisturizing your hair periodically with a protective style. 

Natural Hair Myths

Going Natural has a lot of myths and taboo surrounding the lifestyle choice, but we’re here to bust them all. 

I’m sure one of the first things you heard about going natural was that it was expensive. Natural hair care does not have to be expensive.

As mentioned above, there are many inexpensive and quality hair care brands on the market that cater to all hair types. Being broke is no longer an excuse to not go natural. Brands like Emerge, Maui Moisture,  and Cantu are budget-friendly and made for all air types. 

No natural hair doesn’t have to take forever to care for either. Yes, there is a learning curve as with all new skills, but once you have your routine down, your and your hair will become accustomed and you’ll breeze right through it. Consider caring for your hair part of your self-care routine, an investment in time for your wellness. 

Other myths claiming that natural hair isn’t professional or can’t be worn for those who lead active lifestyles are all false as well. Many states are even enforcing laws that prevent workplace discrimination based on hair, but we’re all still quarantined so not many folks will be seeing your hair in the near future anyway.

Don’t you dare believe that your hair type doesn’t grow either. Although tighter coiled and kinky hair may not require as much manipulation, it certainly can and does grow. It all boils down to how you care for your hair so that you're optimizing your length retention.

There are so many other myths and taboo stories we’ve been told over the years through conditioning, about our natural hair, that are just not true. Don’t let these old fibs hold you back from starting your journey.

The natural hair community is vast and diverse and welcomes all who embrace her with open arms. Don’t allow fear to hold you back, your hair is beautiful just as it grows naturally out of your head. Learning how to care for your natural hair is a process, and almost none regret starting it.

With this guide and patience, you can start your journey equipped with the knowledge and tools ready to take on the Natural Hair world.

Charis Sanford

By: Charis Sanford

Charis Sanford is a writer and blogger in the Natural Hair space for the last 5 years. Her knowledge of textured hair care, specifically natural hair, extends over nearly two decades. To say Charis is passionate about black hair would be putting it mildly. She is a Natural Hair Consultant in her spare time and believes that good hair is healthy hair. As a mother of multicultural children, she finds education on all hair types imperative and strives to contribute to educational tools in mainstream media. Bio.