Originally published October 7, 2016 on MyStoryBOTB
Going natural before 2008 was a bit like being a pioneer on the Oregon trail, minus the wholesale slaughter of indigenous people. Pre-Obaman Naturalistas were forced to forage the internet for scraps of information on hair typing, styling aids, and porosity levels. Using a primitive system of communication called message boards (an ancient predecessor of the Snapchat), these early puff pioneers shared best practices, products, and DIY recipes; creating an unofficial liturgy for new converts to follow.
In our very first Hair and Now (a repeating segment which comes out on Fridays if I remember to publish it), MYStory BOTB brings you the Ten Commandments of Natural Hair.
Commandment One: Thou Shalt detangle from the bottom up.
Kinky, curly hair is actually more fragile than straight hair. Each curl point holds the potential for breakage and to add insult to injury, the curlier your hair is, the more difficult it is for moisturizing products to travel all the way down the strand. This is why many naturals struggle with dry, brittle ends. One way to baby your ends (and retain length) is to apply detangler to the ends of wet hair and gently comb, brush, or finger detangle your hair from the ends to the roots. The gold standard for detangling natural hair with minimum breakage is a Denman Brush. These brushes contain five (or more) rows of smooth nylon pins that won’t snag or snare your curls, making detangling a snap.
Commandment Two: Thou Shalt be patient…
Remember when you had a relaxer and you could just toss your hair up in a messy bun or clip on a ponytail when you didn’t feel like styling it? Yeah, Um, natural hair is NOT like that. Natural hair is more like natural look makeup — it takes time, product, and a surprising amount of moisturizer. A lack of patience can seriously sabotage your growth goals. Detangling my collarbone length hair takes me about twenty five minutes. Depending on the length/ thickness of your mane, you may need to allot up to an hour for detangling alone. Be patient and take your time. Rushing through detangling will leave you with a head full of split ends — trust me.
Patience is also a virtue when it comes to separating. If your hair is not 100% bone dry before you separate, it’s going to frizz. An easy hack for still damp hair is to cover your head with a pleated turban and sit under the dryer for twenty minutes. The turban wicks away moisture while the satin texture reduces frizz.
Always use a pure, natural carrier oil to separate your strands. Natural oils not only add shine, they are easily absorbed into the cuticle, improving the condition of your fro while you flaunt.
Commandement Three: Thou Shalt not cheat
Natural hair is hair that has not been chemically altered, period. Texturizers, Tex-laxers, Kiddie Perms and Brazilian Keratin treatments are all just fancy names for chemicals meant to weaken the bonds of your coils, making hair easier to straighten. Contrary to popular belief, these treatments are not safer for your hair than relaxers. In fact, California attorney general Kamala Harris (aka female Barack Obama) recently brought charges against a major keratin treatment manufacturer for misleading labeling and high levels of formaldehyde in the product.
With time and a little effort, it is possible to maintain healthy, nourished straight natural hair without relying on chemical cheats. Google ‘straight natural hair’ for inspiration, advice, and best practices.
Commandment Four: Thou Shalt have laid edges
Laid edges cover a multitude of sins. Whether you brush your edges forward or back, intentionally styled baby hair adds a level of sleekness to any natural hairstyle. For banging baby hair every day, all you need is a spray bottle of water, some edge control, a toothbrush, and a wide headband or old knee-hi.
First dampen your edges with water. Using the toothbrush, lay the hairs in the desired position. Hold your edges in place by applying a thin layer of (preferably nourishing) edge control — we like Slick Stick edge control by Golden Goddess Cosmetics for the easy to use applicator stick. Brush all the edge control in with your toothbrush until no product is visible. Use your wide headband or old knee-hi to hold edges in place for 10–15 minutes, et voila! Perfectly laid edges.
Commandment Five: Thou Shalt have good hair habits
Long, healthy hair starts with a good foundation. These three good hair habits will keep your locks looking their best.
- No more towels: According to Dana Oliver, Fashion and Beauty editor at Huffington Post, “the coarse texture and dryness of a cotton or terry cloth towel can cause damage to the hair.” Towels create friction, which magnifies frizz, multiples split ends, and leads to dreaded single strand knots. Instead of using a towel, gently pat tresses dry using an old t-shirt, satin robe, or nylon/satin pillowcase.
- Low manipulation: Think of your coils like a slinky. If you are constantly tugging, twisting, or pulling on them, eventually even the strongest strands will break under the pressure. Instead of torturing your tresses, give them a break by using low manipulation and protective styles. Protective styles are hairstyles (like flat twists, crown braids, or buns) where your ends are safely tucked away. Low manipulation styles are hairstyles (like twist-outs, bantu knots, and tuck and rolls) that don’t need to be combed or brushed daily.
- Sleep on satin: Same concept here as with the towels. The less friction and abrasion your hair has to deal with, the longer and healthier it will be. The term ‘Satin’ does not refer to a fabric, but a texture. The satin texture is created by densely weaving fabric in primarily the same direction as the weft. The result is a supersmooth fabric with less interlocking points that could cause snags or tangles. Savvy naturals never let any other texture touch their curls.
Commandment Six: Thou shalt become friends with water
Water might be a creamy crackhead’s public enemy number one, but it’s a Naturalista’s new BFF. Moisturized hair is healthy hair, and nothing moisturizes better than plain old H2O. Hydrate your curls from the inside out by drinking at least half your body weight in water each day. Then follow up by purchasing a fine mist spray bottle ($1-$2 at Family Dollar stores). Be sure to mist your hair before you apply any styling,sealing, or conditioning products. These products are designed to help lock in moisture, which means it’s a waste of time and money to put them on bone dry hair.
Commandment Seven: Thou Shalt LOC or LCO
LOC stands for Liquid-Oil-Cream, a three step moisturizing process invented by Natural Hair blogger and vlogger Chicoro circa 2008. LCO is a minor modification (Liquid-Cream-Oil), but the concept is the same. After applying a liquid moisturizer (water and/or a spray on leave in conditioner), you apply a cream or oil based moisturizer, followed by an oil or cream based sealant. The three steps work in tandem to slow the rate at which water evaporates from your hair, giving your strands time to absorb the much needed moisture.
It sounds complicated and time consuming, but it’s actually quick and easy. On wash day, I mist my clean, wet hair with Great Hair Day Conditioning Detangler (L), then run a generous amount of Whipped Shea Body Butter © from roots to ends. After detangling, I coat my ends with Food Grade Coconut Oil (O) (all by Golden Goddess Cosmetics).
Commandment Eight: Thou Shalt not use sulfates
Sulfates are harsh detergents that cut through dirt grease and grime. That’s why we use them in dishwashing liquid, laundry soap, and industrial hand soaps (think the pink soap from middle school). Your hair is not a sweat stained T-shirt or a pan of baked on lasagna, so these cleansers are way too harsh for delicate curls. In fact, sulfates have been proven to cause skin irritation, which manifests on your scalp as dandruff.
Sulfate free cleansers clean your hair and scalp without stripping them of the naturally occurring oils they need to thrive. Avoid any shampoo or cowash that contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS). Which brings us to…
Commandment Nine: Thou shalt read ingredients
Marketers are sneaky little bastards. Just like the ‘Mad Men’ of Madison avenue realized in the 1960’s that it was more profitable to call black consumers African American than Negro and swiftly followed suit, savvy marketers know that putting the words ‘pure’ or ‘natural’ on the box makes consumers feel more comfortable about what’s inside. The FDA requirements for putting ‘pure’ on a label are woefully inadequate. If a product has 51% or more of the billed ingredient, it can be labeled ‘pure’. In other words, I can sell you a bottle that is 51.5% coconut oil and 48.5% arsenic and still call it ‘pure coconut oil’.
That’s why it’s especially important for naturals to inspect what you expect. Don’t just read the label. Read the entire list of ingredients. Ingredients are listed by concentration, so whatever is listed first is what the product mainly consists of. Check out this list of ingredients for the ever popular Eco-Styler Gel (made with Olive Oil):
Ingredients of ECO- STYLER GEL:
1. WATER (AQUA)
2. carbomer- a derivation of acrylic acid
3. Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
4. PVP — polyvinlypyrollidone, a chemical used in hot glue sticks and inkjet cartridges
6. triethanolamine — a ‘Strong base’, just like sodium hydroxide, the active ingredient in relaxers
7. Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate — a biodegradable preservative
8. polysorbate 20 — pretty harmless on its own but the process of making it produces a harmful byproduct (1,4 dioxane, a known cancer causing agent).
9. Tetrasodium Edta — made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide
10. Olive Oil
11. fragrance — companies are not required to disclose what this is
12. Blue #1
13. Yellow #11
Olive oil doesn’t even show up until the end of the list! This product is mainly water and synthetic chemicals, despite what the label claims!
Learning what ingredients to avoid takes time and research, but a good general rule of thumb is: if you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not good for you or your hair.
Commandment Ten: Thou Shalt not idolize YouTubers
Youtube is an amazing resource for new naturals, transitioners, and even experienced Naturalistas looking to learn a new style. I follow lots of Vloggers and next week I will be sharing some of Youtube’s rising stars in the next installment of Hair and Now. But just like the rest of the internet, Youtube is filled with information both good and bad, accurate and poorly researched. Never treat a Vlogger or Bloggers word as gospel (yes, even me). What works for one person’s hair may not work for yours. My hair, for example, doesn’t like protein. No amount of DIY deep conditioning will breathe life back into my curls after an Aphogee treatment. Yet many naturals swear by it. Take advantage of the amazing free resource that is Youtube, but never forget to inspect what you expect, and don’t be afraid to take what you need from a video and ignore the rest.
If you follow these ten commandments religiously (*snicker snicker*), you’ll have healthy, strong and beautiful natural hair that is easy to manage and fun to style. If you ignore them… well…
You might end up like Ashy Loretha.