It’s that time of year again: the one where we all commit to self-improvement, better health, and taking better care of the planet. We join gyms, buy snazzy new bullet journals, fill our fridges with pounds of fresh produce (which we are definitely going to eat before it goes bad this time, right?). And if we’re of African descent and rocking natural hair, we probably are also promising ourselves that this is the year that we get really serious about committing to giving our hair the TLC it truly deserves.
Choosing to go natural is a big decision. From school to the dating world to the workplace, wearing natural hair can add a whole ‘nother level of discrimination to a life already full of challenges. But it can also bring great joy, pride, and a connection to our ancestors. Whether you’re just beginning your natural hair journey or are recommitting to the #teamnatural life, New Year’s is the perfect time to get yo’ life and your hair in order. To help you on that journey, we’ve collabed with Marisa Wilson, a hair-care expert based in York, Pennsylvania (Beneath the Surface Salon) to compile a list of New Year’s resolutions to help your hair be its natural, healthy, Black, and beautiful self.
Meet Your Mane
If at all possible, find a stylist who specializes in African-descent hair to do a consultation. We turn into private detectives with every Tinder match, but often, we don’t properly investigate to find out more about our hair and how we can give it love. Learn not just the curl pattern of your natural hair (most of us have a few different curl patterns on different parts of our head), but your hair’s texture, porosity, and moisture status. Wilson notes that this is particularly important for folks with mixed/Afro-latinx hair.
You know you need to keep your hair moist, but the how of it can be elusive. Do we use the LOC method? LCO? Pre-poo? Co-wash? The information you gain in your consultation can help decide on the exact products you’ll want and the order to apply them, but most natural moisture routines will have a few features in common, namely:
- Shampooing way less than you think
- A daily leave-in conditioner
- A post-shampooing combination that includes three elements: a leave-in, a creme conditioner, and an oil.
We’ll provide a list of Holy Grail products below, but Wilson’s No. 1 go-to is one you can pick up right at the grocery store: coconut oil. While the debate still rages over whether this exquisite elixir is a friend or foe to our diets, its benefits for our hair are well-established. It contains antifungal and antibacterial properties, adds protein to hair, provides a good balance between penetrating moisture and sealing moisture, and can be used on both hair and scalp (talk to your stylist about whether you should be oiling your scalp! Not everyone needs to, and the needs can change depending on time of year and other factors).
Get in the Cut
If you’re just beginning your natural hair journey after relaxing, there are two main approaches: You can go with the "Big Chop" or "Transitioning," growing it out until there’s enough length to comfortably cut off the relaxed hair. Either way, shears will be involved. You’ll watch your hair fall to the floor and maybe shed a tear or two—but it’s going to be OK. Promise.
If you’re well into your natural hair journey, you know that it’s crucial to keep up with regular trims. Split ends not only look raggedy, but they can also thwart your efforts to grow your hair. Though there are products that can temporarily seal the ends and improve the appearance, it’s inevitable—those ends will continue to move up the hair shaft until either they’re cut off or they break off. Wilson notes that neglecting split ends can result in a vicious cycle where the ragged ends cause the hair to lose moisture, and then the lack of moisture promotes split ends... and on and on.
Wilson recommends getting your ends trimmed every six to eight weeks, and there are also some tell-tale signs that it’s time for a snip:
- Split Ends: While these can often be easily seen with the naked eye, even if you can’t see them, if the ends of your hair feel particularly dry and brittle, you know it’s time to make that appointment.
- Excessive Tangling: If your hair has been tangling more than usual, especially tiny knots at the ends, a trim can really help. The excess friction caused by the fraying of the hair shaft can cause shed hairs to stick and get tangled.
- Excessive Shedding: People lose, on average, about 100 strands a day. If you’re losing significantly more than that (or just more than your normal amount), it might just be you need a trim. (If regular trims aren’t helping, schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out physiological causes.)
- Falling Flat: If your hair’s normal volume and bounce has mysteriously disappeared, it may well be that it’s being weighed down by split ends. A quick trim should put the spring back in its step!
Shelter Your Strands
We know, we know, we should be covering our hair at night! But when the Netflix coma beckons, what are we to do? Well, Wilson echoes the wisdom of our mamas and grandmamas—at least do something. Put something between your precious strands and the evils of friction. Whether it’s a silk/satin scarf, a bonnet, a silk-lined cap, or just a silk pillowcase, any level of protection is better than none. And doing so will also help your hair retain moisture.
It’s also time to embrace the pantheon of protective styles: Whether you want to go with wigs, braids, twists, weaves, or updos, there are so many ways to give your natural hair a much-needed break to recover health and gain length. The idea is to infuse your hair with moisture and tuck the ends away from the stresses of the world (if only we could do that with, like… our entire lives!).
This author can attest to the beauty and utility of protective styles: The first time I tried to go natural, I failed miserably. I was definitely not living my best naturalista life. This time, I’m about 18 months into my journey, and simple protective styles are saving my life. Once I got over the ridiculous shame of not learning how to do them in my childhood, a few quick YouTube videos on flat twists, bantu knots, and simple braids rocked my world in all the best ways.
Wilson notes that natural hair can be straightened safely, especially via a silk press, if we remember the magic words: heat protectant, heat protectant, heat protectant! She also pointed out one often-unrecognized cause of damage this time of year: our cold-weather gear. From coat collars to hoodies to scratchy scarves, all that rubbing can cause trauma to our tresses. Once again, a simple silk scarf can save the day.
Holy Grail Help
While what we do has the biggest impact on how our hair behaves, using good products can certainly give a much-needed boost. Wilson named some of her faves…
- The Mane Choice: This company, founded by a physician and registered nurse, focuses on product development based on solid research and is known for its generous rewards program. Wilson is particularly fond of its conditioners and oils.
- Influance Hair Care: (The "It’s Natural" Collection) These professional-quality hair-care products come from a Black-owned brand that has been in business for more than 60 years and offers many products that are sulfate-free.
- Creme of Nature: Wilson’s budget-friendly favorite is Creme of Nature, a brand that’s widely available in beauty supply and discount stores, and focuses on providing products with all natural ingredients, especially argan oil and honey.
These resolutions will help your year and your hair get off to a great start—and whatever you do, remember the biggest gift we have as people of African descent: one another. Whether you consult a stylist, Youtube videos, blogs, or just friends, no question is stupid, no challenge is insurmountable, and when we consult with each other, we access the wisdom of our ancestors.
Jessica Davis is a makeup artist, nurse, and pastoral counselor (weird combo, but it works!) based in the Philadelphia area. You can see her beauty posts and contact her for mua services on Instagram or read more from her on Medium.