Now that many of us across the country are have hit the multiple-month mark of social distancing — with the exception of areas in the process of reopening — folks have started to turn to at-home hair solutions like using boxed hair color and doing their own buzz cuts.
Now is the perfect time to make a hair change you've been considering, but perhaps putting off in hopes of avoiding an awkward in-between phase. One such change is making the transition from relaxing your hair to wearing your natural texture, something you may have been debating for a variety of reasons, be it the cost or the preliminary studies that question the safety of ingredients used for relaxers. If you've been thinking about going natural, there's no better time than during a stay-at-home order to start the journey. Don’t know where to begin? We pulled together a guide to help you grow out your relaxer and care for your hair through it all. You've got this!
Talk To Your Stylist
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, LW Salon owner and stylist, Leona Wilson started offering virtual consultations. "My number one concern now that I can no longer see my clients in person is the health and integrity of their hair," she explains. "To make sure they are not compromising their hair, I offer free virtual consultations, where I walk my clients through blowouts, protective hairstyle options, and product knowledge."
Wilson shares, "I think if you always wanted to try transitioning [to your natural texture], this is the best time to give it a shot. You are at home and have time to play around, explore different styles, and watch YouTube videos."
According to cosmetologist and trichologist Sophia Emmanuel of Crown Worthy NYC, transitioning your hair is always a better option than trying to relax it at home. "A relaxer is a chemical, and chemicals are irritants. If they are not applied with proper care and not rinsed out [in a timely fashion], problems such as hair loss or hair breakage will occur," she explains. "Any product that can cause irritation on the scalp needs to be applied by a licensed cosmetologist who is skilled with chemical application for this reason."
Biomedical scientist, trichologist, and founder of Alodia Hair Care, Isfahan Chambers-Harris elaborates on how irritating relaxers can be to your precious crown. "The use of these chemical agents can have adverse effects on the hair and scalp: They can penetrate the hair and ultimately damage its cuticle — which is the outer layer of the hair — leading to weakened, brittle strands," she explains. "Improper use of relaxers can also cause infection, scarring of the scalp, and even thinning and permanent hair loss in some cases."
If you try to relax your own hair, you also run the risk of under-processing it. "Under-processing your hair means the relaxer did not break down the bonds of the hair enough for the hair to be manageable and because of this, your hair will be dry, brittle, will tangle, and then break," Emmanuel notes.
The Big Chop Isn’t Your Only Option
"For many, the big chop signifies renewal, rebirth, and a chance to see the real you that has been hiding right beneath the surface. It's like an excavation of buried treasure," explains owner of Spiral (x,y,z), founder of CurlyWorld, and creator of the Curly Girl Method, Lorraine Massey. But If you’re not quite ready for the big chop, you can slowly cut away the dead ends until you reach the final destination: 100 percent natural. "If you transition, you can use conditioners to soften your new growth and hydrate with cream-based moisturizers to reduce dryness," says Emmanuel.
"First, take a good look at the fresh new hair growing from your scalp — it can be hard to see when the two opposing textures are competing for your attention," suggests Massey. "Focus on the new regrowth sprouting and observe its texture, swirl, coil, spiral, and form. Imagine that just growing and growing out of your head as-is. I always equate it to a garden."
Hairstylist and salon owner, Ursula Stephen (who's worked with Zendaya, Tiffany Haddish, and Nia Long), shares some additional alternatives to the big chop.
"You can alternate protective styles like braids and weaves. You can also wear wigs. Another way is silk pressing (a process in which the hair is straightened with heat) — this option will keep your natural hair manageable throughout the transition process while looking like 'yourself' through the journey. [I’d recommend] a routine of only [once] a month for silk pressing. However, light touch-ups around the edges couples times a week are OK for maintenance."
But, You Will Eventually Have to Cut Your Hair
According to Wilson, "after six to eight months, your relaxer will likely be on its last legs." She recommends cutting the rest of the relaxed hair off and starting to embrace your new texture (and explore its possibilities). "If you can’t bear to have shorter hair, then continue getting your trims, wear your protective styles, and be truly committed to pampering your hair with treatments so you don’t suffer excessive breakage," she adds.
The transitioning process is different for everyone and no two people will experience the same results, explains Emmanuel. "The amount of time [it takes to completely transition] depends on the length of your relaxed hair, how often you trim or cut off the relaxed hair, and if there are any setbacks such as hair breakage or hair loss. It can take as long as a year (or longer) if you do basic trims every three months versus the big chop."
Wash Less, Condition More
According to Massey, protecting your hair from yourself is key. "Let's be honest, we only spend a few hours with our beloved hairdresser and the rest of the time your hair is spent with you," she says. "Give your hair as much conditioning love as you can. Slowly start to detox from the years of force, flatirons, straightening chemicals, glue from weaves and wigs, and years of overlapping oils."
As tempting as it may be, hairstylist, CEO and cofounder of Miss Jessie's, Miko Branch advises clients to "avoid washing your hair daily as it will dry your scalp and strands. Cleanse your hair at the root while massaging your scalp once or twice a week. If you are active and/or use a good amount of styling product or conditioner, then cleanse your hair more often. Rinse out the shampoo with warm water," she suggests.
She also recommends staying clear of shampoos with sulfates and other drying chemicals. "Curls thrive from the natural oils in your hair, so the last thing you want to do is strip them. Choosing quality curl cleansers is paramount to the integrity of your natural hair and keeps your hair free from dirt and product buildup. You want a cleanser that has pure ingredients meant to improve the look, strength, and texture of hair."
Massey agrees. ["Look for 100 percent sulfate-free, water-soluble, silicone-free cleansers and conditioners," she says.
Finally, after washing your hair, Branch encourages clients to avoid regular towel use. "[Traditional towels] can create tangles, friction, and frizz. Use either an old cotton T-shirt or a microfiber towel, and dab wet hair to soak up excess water," explains Branch.
Always Detangle Delicately
As you navigate your new texture, tangles may pop up more frequently than before — especially at the demarcation line (where the relaxed and natural hair meet). Stephen says she reminds clients that "the smaller the section, the safer the detangling process." Go slowly when you're detangling your hair and make sure you have the right tools on deck. "You need detangling spray, a paddle brush, sectioning clips, a wide-tooth comb, time, and patience," Stephen explains.
Emmanuel recommends arming yourself with a conditioner that has plenty of slip. "Start at the ends of your hair, and comb working your [way] up. I recommend the Joico Moisture Recovery Treatment Balm or the Joico Moisture Recovery Conditioner, which is not as heavy as the balm. These two conditioners will add slip and help detangle your hair," she explains. The Best of Beauty-winning Carol's Daughter Coco Crème and Philip Kingsley's Moisture Extreme Conditioners are also great slippery and moisture-rich options.
Lean Into Protective Styling
Branch optimistically shares there are many ways to hide the two dueling hair textures. "Protective hairstyles are key — just make sure to switch these out every two weeks. There are plenty of helpful video tutorials online," she explains. "Some of the protective styles that I recommend that are easy to create at home include extension braids, add-on hair, goddess braids, cornrows, flat twists, and topknots. You can grow out your hair, protect it, give it a much-needed break, and look fabulous all in one shot."
According to Wilson, the longer you are transitioning, the more creative you'll have to become with your styling methods. After you see enough growth for the different textures to be noticeable, "You should try styles that make the most of your curls rather than fighting to straighten the new growth, like rod sets, braid-outs, or use foam hair curlers," she shares. "At this point, you should be getting your hair trimmed at least once a month, taking off at least one to two inches of relaxer."
Seriously, Put Down The Hot Tools
As you transition, consider this: "If your goal is to wear your hair [in its natural texture] after transitioning from a relaxer, then the less heat you use on it the better. But if you must use heat, hooded dryers, [blow-dryers], and any hot tool must be on low setting," explains Wilson. "If you are looking to completely straighten your hair, use thermal leave-in cream or spray before blow-drying and then a heat-protective spray for flatironing (like Paul Mitchell Flexible Style Hot Off The Press Thermal Protection Hairspray)." Her words of caution: only one pass of hot tool per section to avoid excess damage.
But Massey, on the other hand, advises clients against heat styling altogether, "You’re replacing one bad habit for another. Think of your new hair as a newborn or like owning a designer piece of clothing that was tailored for you. You want to preserve it; you want to keep it alive," she says. "You’re not going to throw it in the wash with all your other clothes or iron it. Transfer that thought to your own organic hair fiber that grows out of your head. It’s priceless. Once you stop using heat on your hair, you will see it flourish. It may take some time, but a healthy head of hair is worth it."
Finally, Some Encouraging Words
Branch leaves us with some additional words of wisdom: "Now is the time to get to know your gorgeous natural hair — and keep it hydrated and healthy. Don't cut, bleach, or color your hair. If you’re not a professional expert or certified hair colorist, you’ll need to live with your new look until salons open up again," she explains. "And, you may have damaged the integrity of your scalp and hair. Think weak, thinning, tangling, breaking, dry, brittle, dullness, and lifeless hair. It’s just not worth the risk."
Now, check out these hair tips:
- The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Hair Color Last for as Long as Possible
- Here's Everything You Need to Know Before Cutting Your Own Hair at Home
- Why You Should Never Bleach Your Hair (and What to Do Instead)
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