Letter From a Transitioning Reader
A couple days ago I received a note from a Natural Selection reader that I wanted to share because it brings up a lot of issues and frustrations about a tricky phase of the natural process: transitioning. This in-between phase, where you’re neither fully natural nor fully relaxed can prove quite challenging because you’re dealing with two hair textures on one head. Read on for the letter and my response….
“Cassadie, I am trying to go natural and having a difficult time. I wore a relaxer for 25 years and have been wearing braids for 18 months. I have shoulder length hair with relaxer only on the ends now. My hair does not grow out of my head curly at all so I have been wetting it and braiding it at night, using some of the products mentioned on your site. I feel completely defeated in less than a week’s time. When my hair is wet, it is just wet; meaning it does not curl up. It is just large, and wet. From reading the site, it does not appear as though other women are having to braid at night, but I cannot be certain. And I am not feeling good about all the hair products being so close to my face – I am prone to breakouts. So, is this just a matter of being patient, and training the hair? Or am I going about this all wrong with the braiding at night? Or is it that some of us can’t go natural?
Worn out in SF”
First and foremost WOISF, I want to congratulate you on going natural! After 25 years of relaxers, its a big leap to make, but I am confident that you have made the right decision. I am a firm believer that everybody can go natural, but it is a matter of finding what works best for you and your lifestyle.
I too spent about a year in braids growing out my relaxer. It was really a fantastic way for me to transition because I didn’t have to deal with the two textures and braids are delightfully low maintenance.
But all good things must come to and end and braids must be taken out. I’ll never forget taking my braids down once and washing my hair for the first time. The resulting mess of matting and knots and shedding and breakage and tears was truly traumatic. And if/when you get a comb through, you can’t really style it in a wash’n’ go and you probably don’t want to straighten with heat risking damaging the new growth. It’s supremely frustrating. And it makes you feel like making a U-turn on the Natural Highway and turning back down Relaxer Road.
My suggestion to you is chop those ends off. The relaxed ends that you’re hanging on to are not doing you any favors. They are literally dead weight and not allowing your natural growth to curl and thrive.
Not ready to lose the length? Fair enough! Chop your ends off gradually over time. There’s a lot of great styles for transitioners like two-strand twists or bantu knots, which you can wear for a few days and then untwist for a cute wavy style. I personally think the Bantu Knots are super fly!
So, braids are good for transitioning, but braiding every night and unbraiding every morning might be overkill and that much manipulation might be doing more harm than good. If I braid on the same hair over and over again, my curl pattern ends up stretching WAY too much and the resulting look is pretty dang heinous. Again, I would try one of the aforementioned protective styles. Make sure to get a satin sleep cap and/or scarf which will not only protect your hair, but also your skin and sheets from product.
The one thing I cannot stress enough is the importance of moisture. Co-wash your hair with a good conditioner. Make sure you find a good cream moisturizer or a leave in (water should be one of the first ingredients on the label!). Remember—oils and butters are NOT moisturizers.
I do not think that it’s a matter of “training” your hair, its a matter of learning your hair and what it likes and dislikes. And after a 25 year separation between you and your natural texture, it’s only natural that there’s a lot to learn.
In the end, I think that you were correct, WOISF, that learning to care for natural hair is a huge matter of patience. Realistically, there will be a ton of successes and failures journey of going natural, but with each of those ups and downs you will hopefully learn something not only about your hair, but about yourself. Once you figure it all out, I’m positive that you’ll be thrilled with your decision. Best of luck to you!
ps. If any one else has any words of wisdom/advice, please post em in the comments!