Sunday, June 9, 2013

How On Earth Do I Know My Hair Type????

If you're anything like me, you are confused by this hair typing system often referenced to by hair bloggers and vloggers across the nation. I had only been a few weeks into my natural hair journey when I realized that part of "going natural" was being able to assign a number and letter to your curl. Fortunately, three years later, I have been able to decrypt a system that once boggled me and should be able to help those of you who have no clue what your hair type is.

Essentially, the hair typing system is a 4 point scale, further divided into letters a to c. Type 1 hair is the straightest hair and most common, naturally, among Asians. I have yet to see a black woman born with bone straight hair, so that's all the reference I am going to make to Type 1 hair. Type 2 hair is wavy hair. The hair is neither straight nor curly but floats in the middle ground. This look and straight hair have become the most sought after hair types in recent years.

The four hair types from left to right: Type 1 (straight), Type 2 (wavy), Type 3 (curly) and Type 4 (coily). At the very least, you should know what number you fall into. 
The next hair type is Type 3 hair, which essentially, is the curly hair. This hair type is not uncommon in the black community. Let me remind you that I am talking about hair in it's natural state, with rolling, curling, flat ironing, relaxing or any other form of styling. Type 3 hair is most often (though not exclusively) seen on bi-racial people who have some black heritage. Again, it's seen in other races. Curly hair ranges from loose curls (Type 3a curls) to really tight curls (Type 3c).

Finally, there is Type 4 hair. It's basically the coily hair. This is the hair type that is most common (though not exclusively) seen on black people. The term "kinky" was coined for it several years ago, and it has been branded by many as dry, wild, stunted, undesirable and unmanageable. Turns out it's not any of those things but dry. Your hair type is determined by the shape of your cuticle, which is why it's congenital. The shape of Type 4 cuticles results in tight coils, which are more prone to shrinkage and make it difficult for the sebum from sebaceous glands on the scalp to reach the tips of a hair strand. Why is that problematic? Well, sebum is a waxy substance every human being produces to lubricate the hair and keeping hair lubricated strengthens the entire shaft of hair. The result of poor sebum distribution on hair is the hair ends up dry and fragile. That is why people with Type 4 hair struggle to retain length. The hair grows just as rapidly as other hair types but the older, dryer ends of the strand break off. It's a vicious cycle that many are unaware of. You may be surprised to find that Type 4 hair can even be found naturally on white people.  It was more common to see a white woman with a frizzy head of hair decades ago, simply because, like black women today, they go to incredible lengths to hide it. 

Finding a white person with afro
textured Type 4 hair is possible,
but rare. White women with this
 hair type go to extreme lengths
to change it.
Type 4 hair is further divided into 4a, 4b and 4c. This is where it gets complicated. Identifying which of these three you are is challenging because the differences are subtle and many of us have never taken the time to look closely at our natural hair. I always tell the story of my sister and a friend of hers called Lynn. They are both black. A year after I went natural, my sister followed suit. Like me, my sister had no memory of her natural hair since we both had our hair relaxed at a young age. She loved the results. After her big chop, she pranced around for months with a well-cared for, unparalleled TWA. She was a junior in college and had the cutest coils. She was no stranger to compliments on her hair, people of all races seemed fascinated by how "bouncy" her hair was. One day, a black man ran after her as she left the library and said, "I'm sorry. I have seen you around a few times and didn't want to approach you because I thought it would seem weird. I really want to know how you get your hair to look like that. My wife straightens her hair and I'm always telling her there's this girl at school with the nicest hair and she should try to style it like that!" Just like that, my sister walked away with one of the most unexpected compliments she had ever received. On another day, she was with Lynn, when Lynn said, "I really like your hair... I can't go natural. I know my afro would never look like that- so curly." The problem is Lynn had never really seen her natural hair. Chances are, with a little TLC, her natural hair would look way better than she expected.
It's important to use this illustration when determining your
hair type. 

Now, back to the crux of the issue: what's the difference between 4a, 4b and 4c. They are basically a scale. Type 4a are the loosest coils and closely resemble curly hair but tighter. An afro of 4a hair will look like curly hair with a lot less definition and more frizz. Type 4c are the tightest coils. I am 4c. To determine that I looked closely at a strand of hair near the crown of my head after I had deep conditioned and had a damp head of hair. I didn't strain the strand since that would lead to a looser coil than I naturally have. It is important to note that some people have two types of hair on one head. The hair type on the crown of their head differs from that on the edges of their head. If that's the case for your, accept that. You are Type 4b/4c or whatever the case may be.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

You Don't Need to be a Pro to Deep Condition

Last night, as the clock struck 11 pm, I steered in the direction of bed. It had been a long day at work, it rained on my way home (the ultimate downer) and it was late. Yes, there was a lot to be despondent about,
Deep conditioning will make both you and your happy and
you will be able to restore your hair's natural curls.
Pictured is Ebony of
yet, ladies, I felt so incredibly relaxed. I called my boyfriend to say good night and I attempted to explain why my head felt so good. I'd just had my weekly hair wash, but this time, I went the extra mile and deep conditioned. Prior to this ritual, my hair felt tired, dry and strained. Deep conditioning was much needed, and if you want strong hair, you will start recognizing when your hair needs it too.

"My scalp feels so cool... so revitalized," I tried to explain to my boyfriend over the phone, and he laughed at me because prior to dating me, he never had casual discussions about hair care developments. Lost for words to describe the inexplicably refreshing sensation that the conditioning had left my scalp and hair in, I paused mid-sentence. Then, as if he took the words out of my mouth he said, "It's as if your hair just got washed by a cloud..." EXACTLY!!!

A plastic hair cap, sometimes
 referred to as a plastic hair
processing cap, is used during the 
period to cover the hair saturated in 
conditioner. I don't even bother 
purchasing those plastic caps and just 
use a plastic grocery bag. 
As ridiculous as the last paragraph sounded, it's an actual account of the conversation I had with my boyfriend- provided not only for your comical relief, but also for your education. Deep conditioning is not something that requires expertise. It's something that should already be a part of your hair care regimen. Like all other good things, it minimizes breakage, softens brittle hair and restores moisture and elasticity. Two weeks ago, I took down some crochet braids and made the disheartening discovery that the Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Intensely Smooth Leave-In Conditioning Cream I had long been using for light-duty moisturizing is absolute rubbish (at least on my full head of hair). Two weeks and two deep conditioning sessions later, my hair is where I wanted it to be. It feels good.

Fortunately for you, there are multiples ways to go about deep conditioning your hair. You don't even need to run out after reading this article and purchase a $500 "deep conditioning mask" to do it. Behold, Nubian princesses, your options:

1) Generic Conditioner. This has to be the most convenient method of all. Just use the conditioner you have been using for your regular washes. Instead of rinsing it off after a few minutes in the shower, leave it sitting in your hair, covered with a plastic hair cap, and go about your business around the house. I often go watch a series of YouTube videos or some episodes of my recent TV fad. Additionally, I have what I call my small "conditioning towel", exclusively used for deep conditioning. I wrap it around my neck and dab away at water that seeps out of my cap. Forty minutes to an hour later, I return to the shower to power wash the conditioner out of my hair.

2) Greek Yogurt Deep Conditioner. This is the best treatment for dry hair and while there are many recipes out there, I highly recommend Naptural85's. I'll let her explain it all to you, but if you are pressed for time, it's all summarized underneath.

  •  The treatment can be done on any day and does not require shampooing first. 
  • The DIY conditioner is made of 2-3 tablespoons of natural whole or 2% plain Greek yogurt (any brand), enough lavender essential oil to mask the yogurt smell and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. 
  • Application of the yogurt mix is first done by sectioning the hair into 4-6 parts. Working part-by-part, the yogurt is smeared onto the hair, starting at the end to about 3/4 up the hair. 
  • DO NOT apply yogurt on the hair near the scalp. It should never come in contact with your scalp. 
  • Cover with cap and wait for 20-25 minutes.
  • Rinse each section under the shower (never allowing yogurt to come in contact with scalp)
  • While under water apply a small amount of conditioner and rinse it out immediately. 
  • Before re-twisting the rinsed, conditioned hair section under water, apply a small amount of aloe vera juice and twist. 
3) Egg and Mayo Deep Conditioner. Again, there are several different recipes for this. I recommend Naptural85's, and I have pasted her video below. The Egg-Mayo conditioner is the ideal treatment for restoring protein and getting back that hair elasticity. I personally do not use it because I can't stand the smell of eggs and mayonnaise, which, if conditioning is done well, should not linger. I can admit, though, the benefits of it are clear.
  • The ingredients of the DIY egg-mayo conditioner are 2 beaten eggs, 6 tablespoons mayo and 1-2 teaspoons honey. 
  • Start by shampooing the hair, rinsing it and applying a 3:1 water to apple cider vinegar mix. 
  • Apply the DIY egg-mayo conditioner to all the hair, ensuring it's all covered. The hair can then be covered with a plastic hair cap for 45 minutes and rinsed out afterwards. 
  •  Sectioning the hair for conditioner application must be done for medium to long hair, but is not necessary for short hair. 
The hot oil treatment is made with a
combination of essential oils. Which oils
you use is a matter of preference, but it's
best to watch a few YouTube videos to
get a rough idea of what kind of ratios to
mix your ingredients in. 
4) Hot Oil Treatment. This is the ideal treatment for adding shine to your hair. It is basically the application of a mixture of oils to the hair and then warming of the oils for 20-30 minutes. There are multiple oils that can be added to your hot oil treatment. Typically, a combination glycerin, coconut oil, jojoba oil, castor oil, rosemary oil, olive oil, and many other essential oils are used. It's a matter of personal preference. Post application of the oil mixture, a hood dryer or a conditioning heat cap is used over a plastic hair cap to warm the oils. Caution is necessary since oils warm up faster than water (heating should be low to moderate). The hair is then shampooed and conditioned.

Those are just four deep conditioners you can do at home. There are many more. The type to use should be determined by your hair's current needs. When in doubt, out of supplies or broke, then the generic conditioner method is the answer. Deep conditioning with your normal conditioner can be done as frequently as desired, and while the other three are for "special occasions", your normal conditioner will always be there. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Plants Don't Thrive in Deserts (Hydrate Inside and Out for Healthy Hair)

We have all heard the implausible prescription of 8 glasses of water a day. Some of us have tried it, most have decided it's not even worth the effort. You really don't get more impractical than a physician, do you? Eight glasses?! Well, ladies. Turns out hydration is vital for healthy everything. There are a lot of women out there
No water- no life. You
can't  be dehydrated
for weeks and expect
healthy hair.
trying to find quick fixes for poor skin and perpetually-brittle hair, but they are bound to be no more successful than a man trying to make a rock taste good by putting icing on it.

The first step to long (or short) healthy hair is a good diet and HYDRATION. The latter, hydration, is most often overlooked. I have often wondered why it's so hard for us to hydrate our bodies, when the benefits are so clear. It's because it's inconvenient. We're too busy to find a vending machine and buy a bottled water, we no longer trust the water fountains (what's been on them and the quality of what sprouts out of them) and by the end of the day, we've left too little time to get our glasses in and actually enjoy them. Yet another day goes by with one glass of water or less and, yet again, your hair must battle the rest of your body for the limited supply of H2O.

I'm not pretending to be the best at continuous hydration. I empathize with all of you. However, there are some solutions you should consider. Abandon the bottled water. Ironically, they are more likely to discourage hydration than promote it. Here's why:

  1. If you buy bottled waters from vending machines, you have to spend money to get each one. On days when you are strapped for cash (or change), you are actually less likely to drink water. The result is  a correlation between financial stability and outward appearance (I extrapolate, of course). 
  2. Unless you have a portable vending machine, you drink less on days when you are over-scheduled and busy. That, you can imagine, is not a good combination: stressed and dehydrated. 
  3. The alternative solution of buying bottled water in bulk is both uneconomical and "heavy". I know what you're thinking: "Midori, isn't bulk and uneconomical an oxymoron?!" Yeah, but there are exceptions to every rule and this is one of them. Anyone who has replaced the regular purchase of bottled waters (in bulk) with a Brita filter jug will tell you that they saved a lot in the long run. Alternatively, if you went the extra mile and decided to carry three to four bottled waters to work you'd quickly realize that carrying bottles of water around is far from fun. There's nothing glamorous about a hand bag crammed full of stuff (even if the stuff is really healthy). 
  4. Finally, bottled waters are just not eco-friendly. Annually, the US disposes of enough plastic bottles to circle the earth four times. You may not be responsible for that as an individual, and you may argue that you alone cannot make a difference. However, we are in this environmental tragedy because there was no individual accountability to start with. It starts with YOU. 

Try to drink several bottles a day. A reusable bottle saves.
Avoid BPAs and bottles with mouth parts that are difficult
to wash. 
You might be wondering what the best course of action is then. The first thing I recommend doing is getting a Brita filter jug, if you are uncomfortable drinking tap water. I grew up drinking filtered water in my parent's house, and though now I am confidant that there's nothing terribly wrong with my tap water, habit hinders me from drinking it without filtering it first. The next course of action is to invest (yes, it is an investment) in a reusable drinking bottle. I must emphasize the word "REUSABLE". "Reusable" is not a Poland Spring Water Bottle you bought last week and finished (that's just gross and will begin to look gross in a couple of days). "Reusable" are those BPA-free empty drinking bottles you can buy in stores. They cost the equivalent of 3 or 4 bottle waters from a vending machine, but save you a ton more. There are also Brita bottles you can buy to filter on the go. Selecting your bottle may turn out more complex than anticipated. There are a lot of options. Be wary of water bottles with straws in them or with sport caps (that you suck on), because they are harder to clean. What may appear
intricately designed could be more for show than function and within weeks, you will be culturing several species of fungus in those hard to reach parts of the bottle. I always  buy reusable water bottles with wide mouth pieces that I can get a sponge through if need be. Once that investment in a good bottle is made you'll have one bottle to carry around and you can replenish, replenish, replenish some more.

Embrace reusable bottles
If you are anything like me, then you aren't too fond of the taste of water. I mean, on a hot day, everyone loves a cold glass of lemon water, but after two I just feel bored and full. Then, try getting beverage mixes like crystal lite. Crystal lite sachets are a constant part of my weekly budget and enable me to drink 20 ounces of water in a few hours. I must admit, I am sucker for flavor.
Abandon bottled waters. Their bad for your pockets
and the environment.

At this point, you may be kicking yourself for reading an entire article about a water bottle, but maybe this was the kick you needed to drink more.... water, not alcohol. I must reiterate, one of the most important keys to healthy, moisturized skin and hair is hydration.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Poor Leave In Conditioners (Who I Won't Be Using Any More)

Your hair should NEVER feel brittle. That's a red flag. If you're
using a product that dries your hair and makes it feel course,
it's time for a revision. 
So, almost a year ago I wrote a blog post on leave-in conditioners. I discussed the importance of them in every hair care regimen, reminding you all that Afro texture hair will never be "independent". We are forced to take the time to nourish it, when many other hair types aren't. For an entire year, I used and highly recommended Garnier Fructis Leave-In Conditioning Cream. Those days are over. It's one product that no longer works for me.

I recently took off my crochet braids and, as always, had to put in hours of detangling and thorough washing. I decided it was high time to walk around with my natural hair- give it a break from the braids (with protective styling of course). What I was not prepared for was the revision that my hair product collection would need. Garnier Fructis Leave-In Conditioning Cream once worked for me, but after washing my hair, deep conditioning, applying the leave-in conditioner and topping it off with jojoba oil to seal in the moisture, I realized that it would not be the ideal leave-in conditioner for my exposed natural curls. Withing 20 minutes, what had been soft and moisturized dried to a crisp. I kid you not. I even tried to reapply it and seal it in again and that yielded no better results. At a loss, I went to YouTube to find out what the reviews on the product were (something I should have done a year ago- before I started using it). Some natural hair vloggers claimed that it was the perfect product, but many argued that once you go natural it is not effective. It was then that I started reflecting on why it took me so long to find the same thing. For a year, my go-to protective style was crochet braids. They allowed me to wash my hair weekly and I would use the Garnier Fructis Leave-In on the little hair, near my roots, that was exposed. Anyone who knows the chemistry of African hair knows that it is actually the hair closest to the roots that is the best nourished, strongest and least in need of moisturizers. So I was unaware that it would evaporate within minutes of being applied to my unbraided natural hair.

This leave-in conditioner no longer works for me.
Presently, I am looking for a better leave-in conditioner. I was lamenting the brittle state that Garnier left my hair in to my friend when she said, "Black women need to stop being surprised when products designed for Caucasian hair don't work on theirs." She is absolutely right! I now plan on using Giovanni Leave-In Conditioner, one of the best leave-in conditioner, and will be sure to post a personal review.

Transitioning is difficult. Let's face it women, there is a very steep learning curve when you start to go natural. If I received a penny for each time I had to abandon a product I once thought was good, I would be a millionaire. My advice to you natural belles that might be experiencing the same thing: keep on trying. Taking the time and effort to assess and reassess will ultimately be rewarding- that's what's keeping me in the game.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Growing Long Natural Hair with the Goldilocks Hair Tactic

Too Little or Too Much Hair Attention

I call it the Goldilocks Hair Tactic and it's something we should all adopt. We struggle to find the middle ground when it comes to giving our hair the adequate amount of attention. For decades black women have scorched, stretched, crimped, relaxed, plaited and twisted their hair in an effort to look "strikingly beautiful" and, at the same time, induce growth. It's no wonder why in black communities our real hair is widely perceived as brittle. "It just doesn't grow, so I relax it to make it look longer," a lot of women will tell you as they sit in a salon getting their monthly perm. What they need to realize is that it's no wonder. They're all hacking away a tree trunk with an axe,  not expecting the tree to fall. There are only so many ways I can word this ladies, we are straining our hair way too much and it is high time we stop.

Protective Styling and Time
Crochet braids are great protective style- a personal
You might be wondering why I brought up the Goldilocks Hair Tactic. I have been natural for almost 3 years and I have used crochet braids as a protective style for about two years. My crochet braids kind of define me, because I so rarely have my natural hair exposed to the elements. When I decided to go natural, I quickly learnt the importance of protective styling. As cute as that afro is, in the long run, it leaves you susceptible to tangling and hair breakage. Low maintenance and speed made crochet braids appealing and, well, I never looked back.

This weekend, I removed two-month old crochet braids and was taken aback by the length I had gained underneath them. I've often heard natural hair gurus say that if you want your hair to grow you need to "leave it alone and give it time". Last night as I touched my 100% natural hair, I fully understood the value of that kind of treatment. Three years after my transformation, my natural hair has reached the maximum length that I obtained when I was relaxing- all without sodium hydroxide, flat-irons chemical burns. The added accomplishment there is that the hair is still growing. There are plenty of concoctions for hair growth on the market, but the best word of advice you will ever receive is to leave that hair alone!

For those of you wondering what my natural hair looked like yesterday. It's
possible to grow long natural hair - I am doing so inexpensively.
Regular Washing and Moisturizing
That being said, there are some ladies all too willing to follow my advice- some who have taken it to an extreme. The problem is, complete abandonment will not get you far in your natural hair transformation either. In fact, both natural belles and permed divas are blameworthy here. All too often they get some weave and completely neglect their real hair for months. As the saying goes: "Out of sight of mind". If you have done this, it has to stop today. When I say leave you hair alone it is only to dissuade from the tugging, pulling and burning. That in no way condones the failure to wash your hair WEEKLY (yes weekly!) and keep it moisturized with water or a good leave-in-conditioner and a serum. Neglect will leave you with a mass of hair that needs to be concealed- it almost becomes a secret shame. On the other hand, with a little bit of care, you'll have the option of tucking a mass of lovely natural locks under your protective style or flaunting them out in the open. I don't know about you, but that seems like a no-brainer to me.