How to Stop Naturally Curly Hair Breakage and Promote Growth
The Natural Hair Dilemma
Whether you are newly transitioning, "Big-Chopping," or empowering your already fully natural head of hair, being a "Naturalista" - a woman with chemically un-treated hair - means long nights of detangling and wrapping before bed, frequent deep conditioning treatments, and pain staking protective styling, among other things.
But even while taking the most delicate care of your hair, breakage and brittleness may still occur. Here are a few tips on how to stop hair breakage and promote healthy growth of your naturalhair.
Facts about Your Natural Hair
No matter what your race, creed, ethnicity, mixture or blend, biologically everyone's hair grows the same way in the same process. Our hair is all made up of the same proteins and materials and varies only in color, rate of growth, and texture or shape. The integrity of your hair is not dictated by genes or heritage, but by how well you care for it.
There is quite a bit of controversy regarding what creates the varying texture of human hair. Most believe that depending on the shape of your follicles on the scalp of your head, your hair may be curly, wavy or pin straight. The more oval the follicle, the more wavy or curly your hair will grow. Some also believe the amount of bend the core of your hair has is what gives it a curly or straight texture. Additionally, the size of your hair follicles will also play in a role in whether your hair is fine, course, or somewhere in the middle. Genetics indicate what kind of hair traits you'll receive from your parents.
The Andre Walker system was created by Andre Walker, hair stylist of TV personality and actress, Oprah Winfrey. It classifies hair texture on a scale from 1-4 (from straight to curly) with subcategories in between.
Your individual curl pattern does not inhibit healthy hair growth, although it is important to understand how your curl pattern relates to how you should moisturize. For example, someone with bone-straight and fine hair will have more oil and dirt saturated hair from root to tip than someone with curly or coiled hair. The path down a thin, smooth outer layer of hair is easier to travel down, while curlier and coarser hair makes it harder for natural dirt and oil from the scalp to reach the ends of the shaft. This is why curly hair needs constant moisture, while straight hair needs cleansed and clarified more often.
Why Porosity Matters
Human hair is like a sponge. Because straight and fine hair is smooth and thin, moisture tends to rest on top of the hair, causing unwanted dampness and air-drying to take forever. This is because the cuticles on straight hair are very tightly compacted like the scales of a snake, letting very little moisture inside the shaft. This is also true for curly hair with low porosity
Coarse hair often has more open cuticles, like the shingles of a roof, letting more moisture into the shaft much quicker. Many of us have both fine and curly hair, or even straight and coarse hair, making it hard to discern whether or not we have low or high porosity.
A very simple test you can do on your own hair is the best way to figure out the correct amount of moisture your hair needs. Collect a clean, dry sample of your hair from your head or your brush. Try for a piece towards the end of your hair shaft. In a clean glass of water, gently drop your hair into the glass, being careful not to submerge it under the surface of the water. After about a minute, your hair will rest at the top, sink to the bottom or bobble in between.
If your hair floats on top of the water, this means you have low porosity. Your hair is very defiant to accepting moisture and very stingy about giving it up once it's locked in. Should your hair float to the bottom, your hair has a very high porosity and takes in moisture quite willingly. If it floats somewhere in the middle, your hair has got a normal level of porosity- not too hard or too easy to moisturize. So what does this mean for your healthy hair care regimen? Just like with anything else, moderation is key for stable growth and establishing health.
Those with low porosity should focus on opening their cuticles using hot oil treatments and keeping their hair clear of any obstructing dirt and dandruff by regular co-washing and conditioning. Build-up is not good for your hair, but over washing will strip away any moisture your hair does have. Try to keep shampooing to a minimum, 2-3 times a month at most. Use cleansing conditioners instead. Although it may take some coaxing to get moisture locked into hair with low porosity, it will stay locked in longer than highly porous hair.
If you have high porosity hair, try using a moderate amount of conditioner and supplement it with a sealer or hair pudding. Keeping moisture locked into your highly porous hair should be your main focus.
Things to Avoid
In order to take the best care of our hair, we'll also need to understand what our hair is and how it is effected by our environment.
Chemical Processing and Coloring
Relaxers are generally used by curly haired people who want to straighten their hair for easier styling. The alkali lotion-like chemical substance is applied directly to the hair from root to tip and washed away using a special neutralizing shampoo or agent. The mixture used in relaxers are usually caustic which means that it can cause chemical burns skin and scalps. Relaxers should only be applied by a professional.
When you relax hair (also known as lanthionization), you are actually breaking down the protein and structure of your natural hair. While the relaxer sits on your hair during application, the mixture dissolves your natural oil and moisture leaving you with brittle, breaking and dry hair. Avoiding the chemical straightening of your natural hair will help maintain the length of your hair by reducing breakage and shedding caused by relaxers.
This is also true with chemically coloring your hair. The over-processing of hair using unnatural or synthetic dyes will ultimately lead you with severe breakage which is often irreparable. The best option for healthy hair is to discontinue use of chemical coloring or never start to begin with.
Wigs, Weaves, and Braids
Whether it's a full head of micro braids (braided tightly from the root), lace front wigs with sharp edges of cut netting resting at the base of your hairline, or hand sewn - needle and thread - installation of synthetic or human hair attached to your braided hair, you must be careful about how your maintain your healthy hair underneath.
Hair braiding is an ancient artform and is common place in almost every culture on earth. Commonly still, it's used as a means to extend the look of the length of your hair. The risk behind keeping your hair in braids is that depending on how tightly the extension hair used is braided along with you natural hair, your scalp will suffer and eventually give in to the pull on the follicle resulting in hair loss, especially around the hair line and its edges. Also, without regular washing of your natural hair, bacteria from sweat and dirt can cause your hair to lose its integrity and break off.
For those who wear wigs and weaves, and who also work out regularly, sweat attracts unwanted bacteria which will cause your scalp to itch. Generally, it's hard to scratch that itch under the hair, glue, thread, etc. You may find the "weave pat" isn't enough to make it subside so you end up ripping the hair apart from the outside to get to your scalp. Unless you're able to wash your natural hair effectively under your weave, trapping your hair underneath a weave or wig is not healthy for your hair long term.
Handling Your Hair
The main reason for breakage is over-manipulated and stressed hair strands. Lots of brushing and fine-toothed combing will strip your hair of it's protective outer layers and leave you with thinned, broken-off hair around the edges of your hair line and crown, especially while detangling. Rinse your hair after every work out session to keep lactic acid from your sweat away from your tresses.
Don't be afraid to try new products until you find the one that works for your hair. As a precaution, however, try to keep your hands out of your hair, no matter how fun and bouncy it is. Skin and hands collect the oh-so-important oil from your hair while you play and style it so keep the touching and tampering to a minimum.
Drying Your Hair
If you've ever let your hair air dry, you might have experienced what is commonly known as "shrinkage." Shrinkage is the noticeable difference in the length of your hair when it's wet and dry. The water from the wash usually pulls or weighs down the hair giving it a dramatically different look from when your hair is finally dry. Low to high heat from a blow dryer right at the root and shaking or patting dry the ends with a cotton cloth is my preferred way to dry my hair thoroughly while retaining length. If you've got a dry (clean) t-shirt lying around, try wrapping your freshly washed and moisturized hair until it dries, using no heat if possible. Using your hair's own elasticity, it should keep quite a bit of length when unwrapped.
Once your hair is long enough to be pulled into a bun without brushing, your hair will know no bounds for styling versatility. There are so many different types of up-dos for naturally curly hair, many without the use of faux or synthetic hair added. The key to protective styling is to protect your ends and edges, two places hair often breaks off.
You can also stretch your hair and seal in moisture using the Bantu or Nubian knot technique. There are many places online with tutorials on how to do twists, bantu, Nubian and braid outs. Experiment and see what you like better for a different "twist" on your curls!
Professional Hair Care
If you have any doubt, spare no expense in keeping your hair healthy by going to a professional cosmetologist that specializes in naturally curly hair. They will know what products and regimens to administer and suggest that won't damage your hair.
Love Your Hair
There's nothing more empowering than knowing how to make any and every part of you shine. I hope this insight helps you in your natural hair journey. Please comment if you've got any other suggestions or advice for your fellow Nautrualistas!