When you begin your natural hair journey, it is important to first identify what type of hair you have. But how does one identify their hair type? How would you describe your hair? Kinky, curly, coily, coarse, fine, thick, dense, prone to dryness, fragile, difficult or painful to comb? A helpful but by no means conclusive guide is the Andre Walker hair typing system. Below are pictures which illustrate the different hair types in his system. This article focuses on hair that would typically fall within the “Type 4” spectrum according to Andre Walker’s system but hopefully there will also be useful tips for ladies with other hair types.
Type 4 is generally accepted to be the most fragile of all the hair types, being prone to dryness and therefore breakage, and requires a lot of moisture. Also, as a result of the very tight curls and coils associated with this hair type, it can get tangled very easily and can be painful to comb/brush when dry. Women with Type 4 hair will also experience shrinkage of up to 70% i.e. the curls will shrink up to 70% of their length, giving a false picture of the hair length. How do we work with this texture?
Firstly, it is important to develop and establish a regimen. “Regimen” is defined in the dictionary as a regulated system as of diet, therapy or exercise intended to promote health or achieve another beneficial effect. Developing a hair regimen involves identifying your hair needs and establishing a routine and using products that cater to those needs. There comes a time when we need to review our hair and beauty practices and reflect on what we could be doing differently.
For a lot of naturals, their regimens will constantly evolve depending on their hair length and journey as their hair needs change. Why is it important to establish a good hair and beauty regimen? It is important for you to have an established routine for your hair in order to grow healthy hair. Your hair needs consistency as this allows your hair to get used to and work with the products, styles and timings of your regimen to achieve its optimum health. Constant changing of products (yes, we’ve all been guilty of the endless search for that magic curl product!) or failure to keep to a proper routine will only end up with your hair being in a constant state of shock.
So let’s start building a regimen.
As mentioned above, Type 4 hair is known for being prone to dryness, so it is important to moisturize regularly, preferably on a daily basis. Please note that oils and “hair grease” do not moisturize hair; they act as sealants, sealing in the moisture. Water is always a good start to moisturizing, leave-in conditioners as well (look for water-based leave-in conditioners as opposed to butter-based ones). A useful tool for those beginning their natural hair journey is to mix up some water with a few drops of your favourite leave-in conditioner and/or oils and keep a small spray bottle in your handbag. That way, you can sneak into your office bathroom and have a quick spray break and spray your hair sporadically during the day. If you do not want the hassle of carrying a spray bottle around, remember to spray your hair in the morning when you wake up and just before you go to sleep at night and always remember to seal with an oil.
In respect of your hair washing routine, some naturals only “co-wash” their hair. Co-washing simply means washing your hair using only conditioner and not using any products that contain sulphates. Consider whether eliminating shampoo from your product regimen is something that could work for you. Product build-up makes for a very itchy scalp so perhaps one can reduce the frequency of the usage of shampoo and start co-washing as an alternative on some occasions. You can also use shampoos or cleansers that have reduced amounts of or, better still, no sulphates in them. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate or “SLS” is a very common ingredient in shampoos because of its cleaning qualities; in fact it cleans so well that it strips the hair of its natural oils and nutrients which results in a “squeaky clean” straw-like feel to the hair. Natural cleansers such as “dudu osun” or Black soap, apple cider vinegar, bentonite clay and rhassoul clay work just as well as shampoos do but without the stripping effect. With washing, also establish how frequently you want to wash/cleanse your hair – once a week, twice a week, twice a month, it’s completely up to you and dependent on what your hair is telling you it needsand how that fits in with your lifestyle.
When it comes to conditioners, things are a lot easier. Most good conditioners can be easily obtained from your local pharmacy or beauty supply store. Look out for those conditioners that boost and hydrate the hair; after all moisture is key for Type 4 hair. Do not be afraid to try products that you would not normally have thought would work on afro hair. Some of the most recommended conditioners would typically be associated with European hair, rather than afro hair, but these are the conditioners which some natural veterans swear by. However, it is really for each individual to decide which conditioner works best for their hair.
On the subject of conditioners, you may also want to think about investing in a deep conditioner and/or steamer for your hair. A great way to ensure your hair is getting the moisture it needs is to do regular deep conditioning treatments which may involve using a product that is a dedicated deep conditioner or simply loading on your regular conditioner and slapping on a shower cap on for an hour or a few. The other option is to invest in a steamer or a heat cap but I would recommend doing your research on these first before expending a huge amount on a steamer that may or may not do the job.
On the topic of moisture, it is also important to moisturise from the inside out, and therefore, it is important to ensure that you are keeping your body hydrated. The recommended daily water intake is about 1.2 litres, so try to drink at least that amount every day to replace the amount of water you lose during the course of each day. Your hair and your body will thank you. If you are not a fan of the taste of water (or lack thereof), then try adding a cordial to it, or adding a slice of lemon or lime to it to give it some flavour, whatever works, just make sure you are drinking it.
When building your regimen, make sure you do your research on your products and their ingredients and also, as mentioned above, listen to your hair. What is your hair telling you? Perhaps you have heard of this “magic” conditioner, but actually when you try it, it does absolutely nothing for your hair. Or perhaps you are told to co-wash regularly, but all you receive for your troubles is an itchy scalp. Stick with the products that give you results and get rid of the others, including the so-called “magic” ones.
Finally, the key component to any regimen is patience. Take the time to figure out what works best for you and your hair. When building your regimen, take into account your lifestyle and make changes where necessary. Be prepared to make mistakes (sometimes some expensive ones – especially when buying natural products!), and always keep an open mind. Be open to learning new things and changing what you’ve always done, but has not really worked for you. There it is, it is now time to get started with building your hair regimen, good luck!
Feel free to share your tips on building a regimen or whether you found the above tips helpful in the comments below.
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