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You Have to Know These 20 Things Before Transitioning to Natural Hair

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

For those born with Afro-textured hair, there’s never been a better time than now to wear it natural and proud. Going natural is hard work, but it’s so worth it.

By Maya Allen – July 7, 2016

Going natural is hard work, but it’s so worth it. Just note that if you’ve straightened your hair, worn extensions, had a perm, or had relaxer in your hair your entire life, transitioning back to your natural roots is not going to be easy.

I’m talking from experience here, because I struggle with my natural hair all the time. I just challenged myself to wear my natural hair for a week and it was a journey, to say the least.

Revitalizing the curls you were born with is a process — but I if I can make it out with my dream hair, so can you. To help, Got2b and Smooth ’N Shine celebrity stylist Larry Sims revealed what you should know before transitioning to natural hair. Here’s what you should keep in mind before beginning your natural hair journey.

1. You have to dedicate more time to take care of your hair. Natural hair is not a get-up-and-go thing. The beauty of having chemically treated hair (perms and relaxers) or extensions is that you don’t have to spend that much time tending to it. While natural hair requires more attention and needs a lot of TLC (think: detangling, washing, braiding, moisturizing, and styling your roots). So make sure you have the time in your schedule for upkeep. It could be that adding more me time to your life is what you’ve needed all along and caring for your hair is part of that.

2. You probably won’t have your dream hair overnight. If you’ve been straightening your hair with a flat iron for years or using chemicals to alter your natural hair texture, your curls probably won’t look exactly how you want them to right away. "Expect to see a loss of length in your style because curly hair is naturally shorter," Sims says. "And don’t be alarmed if you notice a bit more dryness. Curly hair is naturally drier than chemically treated and straight hair, because it’s easier for the oils secreted from your scalp to travel down the shaft of a straight strand compared to a curly one."

3. YouTube will be your new best friend. Not everyone has their own hairstylist on call like Beyoncé, but don’t sweat it — these days, you can figure out how to be your own personal glam squad because YouTube exists. There you can find countless tutorials, how-to videos, and product reviews from natural hair gurus. All you have to do is find a blogger who has similar hair texture to yours and delve into her videos to figure out exactly how to care for your hair.

4. Be open to finding your go-to natural hairstyle. You have to remember to work with your hair, not against it. Not every style is going to look good on your hair. So when you find a style that looks bomb, stick with it. You’ll get faster at doing it and you won’t run the risk of damaging your hair by trying out a style that pulls out your edges or just doesn’t look good. The good news: Your options are endless, so don’t be afraid to try braids, crochet twists, flat twists, bantu knots, braid outs, crown braids, twist backs, and more.

5. You’ll want to start off with simple styles. If you’re always on-the-go and the thought of spending hours on your natural hair scares you, try out simple styles like topknots, wash ’n’ gos, or braid outs first. "I like doing really great topknots or double-strand twists in a crown-like direction, because these hairstyles aren’t too tight and don’t disrupt the natural curl pattern of your hair," Sims says.

6. Mastering complicated updos, braids, crochet twists, and bantu knots will take practice. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve leaned on a friend for help or stood in front of the mirror for hours trying to teach myself how to do a natural style. Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged. Playing around with your hair and eventually seeing the results you want is such a good feeling.

7. You might start to compare your curls to other women’s hair, but don’t. Natural textures come in an array of curl patterns. The form, color, shape, and texture of your hair is yours — so own it! It’s easy to look at other women’s curls or natural styles, and wish your curls would coil or bend the same way as theirs, but yours probably never will and that’s OK. It’s all about understanding your hair, figuring out what works for your texture and shape, and embracing it.

8. Moisturizing your hair will become your main priority. Since curly hair is naturally drier than straight hair, it’s important to moisturize your strands on the regular. Look for hydrating ingredients like jojoba oil, glycerin, aloe vera, shea butter, and avocado oil on the label of hair products to make sure you’re getting the maximum hydration. Smooth ’N Shine Intense Moisture Deep Recovery Treatment works really well for dry and curly hair. Shea Moisture’s Curl Enhancing Smoothie and Dark & Lovely’s Au Naturale Coil Moisturizing Souffle are also super-hydrating and will leave your curls soft, moisturized, and bouncy.

9. To keep your curls looking their best, you’ll need to wash and condition your hair every three days. Sims suggests this wash schedule to revitalize your curls, but if you don’t like to shampoo and condition that often, you can use a curl revitalizing spray on dry hair to revive your curl pattern. On wet hair, Sims recommends using a curl-defining cream, like Smooth ’N Shine’s Intense Moisture Curl Defining Cream, and letting your hair air-dry. Regardless of the product you choose, it’s also important to avoid using excessive amounts of products that will add build-up in your hair in between wash days.

10. You have to pay attention to the way you detangle your hair. With natural hair, you can’t comb it out however you want. Sims recommends detangling only when your hair is wet using a paddle brush or wide-tooth comb. "Also, make sure that while you’re detangling, you add a little bit of moisturizing conditioner to your strands, and work from the bottom of your hair up to the roots using a paddle brush," Sims adds. That way, the knots are untangled at the ends and you can make smooth passes through your strands as you continue to brush your hair out.

11. You need to use the least amount of heat on your hair as possible. Put down the blow-dryer and the flat iron. Instead, opt to air-dry your hair so you create minimal heat damage. "To counteract any damage done already, you’ll also want to keep your hair moisturized and conditioned, trimmed, and hydrated with mask treatments," Sims says. Try out Ouai’s Treatment Masque or Moroccanoil’s Restorative Hair Mask.

12. People might make ignorant comments about your curls. Natural hair can be perceived the wrong way and can become controversial in certain environments. But don’t let that stop you from proudly wearing your curls. If your hair does provoke an ignorant comment, take it as an opportunity to educate someone on the beauty of natural hair.

13. You will have to spend more money finding the right products. Natural hair requires a lot of trial and error, which means finding the right products for your hair texture will cost you. But while it’s not fun spending extra money on the right shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, oil, and spray for your curls, it is worth it. Especially because once you find the dream product combo that makes your mane gorgeous, you’ll be so happy you invested in your curls.

14. You’re going to want to touch your hair all the time. There’s something so magical about feeling the wind through your curls when you walk and fluffing up your hair with your hands. I have to say it feels so damn good to touch your natural curls — plus, playing with curly hair is so much more fun than twirling straight hair IMO. Just don’t get in the habit of playing with it too much, since it’s fragile and you don’t want to cause additional breakage.

15. You’ll need to trim your hair until your damaged or chemically treated ends are gone. "The reality of it is, you have to allow your natural curls to come out and be reborn," Sims says. "If you’ve been using a lot of excessive heat on your hair, overtime muscle memory kicks in and it will have a tendency to be a bit more straight along the midshaft compared to the hair near your roots." But eventually, as your hair grows out to a comfortable length, you’ll have to slowly trim and get rid of the over-processed hair that’s a result of heat damage. That’s the only real way you’re going to get your natural, organic curl pattern back, he says. To give yourself a dusting (aka tiny trim without changing the shape), simply snip off the very ends where you see splits or frayed pieces.

16. You have to be gentle with your curls. Don’t get into the habit of carelessly combing out your hair, pulling at your edges, or braiding way too tightly. The point where your natural texture meets your straight hair is called the line of demarcation. And that line is the weakest part of your hair. So since your curls are super-delicate to start with, be extra gentle when caring for them.

17. You’ll need to give your hair time to grow. If you’ve been perming, relaxing, or straightening your hair for years, you’re not going to be fully natural in a few days. Expect to be growing your hair out for four months (or more!) to fully get back your natural texture. Sure, it seems like a long time, but if you’re moisturizing, trimming, and conditioning your hair properly, you’ll see results before you know it.

18. You might miss having straight hair — and that’s OK. Whether your hair was flat-ironed straight, permed, or relaxed with chemical treatments before you went natural, you’re going to miss it. The convenience of straight hair is hard not to miss, thanks to its lower-maintenance nature. But natural hair can be convenient too, especially if you master the right style, like bantu knots or braid outs — styles like this can last up to a week! But don’t feel bad if you go back to straight hair after trying your natural hair for a bit. Hair is diverse and you can switch it up when you feel like it!

19. Your hair is going to get a lot of attention. Get ready for the comments, compliments, and constant questions about your hair. TBH, it could be good attention or bad attention, so buckle up because it’s going to happen regardless. Especially since big, free-form curls are hard to miss. But relish in all the attention, girl, because your hair looks good!

20. Understand that going natural is not only about your hair, it’s about a lifestyle. "Natural hair is a full-on commitment and really changes the way you present yourself to the world daily," Sims says. "So be prepared for the lifestyle shift, embrace the fact that people are going to approach you in different ways, and be confident in your style."

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