A Real Girl's Guide To Transitioning Hair

Natural-hair devotees tend to be a little, well, obsessive. Get a few in a room, and you’ll overhear, “What’s your curl type? 3B? 4A?” (Yes, curls have categories). Or, perhaps you’ll stumble into a heated debate on the merits of the “big chop,” where relaxed locks are cut off in one fell swoop, leaving a one- to two-inch curly halo.
Naturals are always on the hunt for just the right products, like conditioners — but not just any old smear-on, rinse-out variety. They need leave-ins and oils and masks (oh my!). And then there’s the styling process — twists, coils, and braids all done to perfection using a carefully selected mix of gels, mousses, and creams. Transitioning from a chemically straightened mane to hair au naturel is certainly a process, but we’ve started to wonder if it has to be a complicated one. After all, transitioning is, at most basic, just letting your hair…be. Your strands are doing their own thing; your job is to simply support them along the way.
Advertisement
To get some insight, we approached three girls who, just like you, are on the hunt for the best routine for their natural locks. We discovered their curly-girl ups and downs, plus their tips and tricks for bringing out the best in chemical-free hair. Read on for the scoop. You won’t walk away with a curly-care anxiety, we promise!
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page!
1 of 6
Nadeska Alexis, 26, editor

What made you want to go natural?
"I just got really tired of having unhealthy hair. As much as I’d get trims regularly and deep conditioned, I’d lose handfuls of hair every time I combed through it because of the relaxer. Plus, I’d pay so much money to get my hair styled, but by the third day, it started sticking to me and looked horrible. So, I stopped relaxing my hair in April 2011."

What do you love about having natural hair?
"This past summer was the first time I’ve worn it curly, and I couldn’t have been more excited. It’s basically the first time I saw my real hair since I was about 14. I was so surprised to see the texture. But the best part was that I could wash and go. I love being able to wash, detangle, throw on the some product, and air dry. It’s very freeing and good for me because I’m low maintenance."

What are the drawbacks?
"My curls shrink up a lot and when I first started wearing my hair natural, I was a little alarmed by the change. I don’t think I look great with short hair. But other than that, this experience has been pretty awesome."
2 of 6
What challenges did you face along the way?
"The first few months were rough. My hair started growing out, and the roots were thick and curly, but my ends were so stringy. So, I was walking around with two-textured hair and trying to make it look neat. I’d just pull it back in a ponytail, which I hate. Then, one day, I realized I could get my hair straightened with a roller set, so that the textures would somewhat match. So, instead of transitioning with curly styles, I wore my hair straight while my curls grew in." What are your go-to products?
"I’m trying Miss Jessie’s Super Sweetback Treatment. It’s really thick and helps me detangle in the shower. And for beginners, I really recommend Kinky Curly Curling Custard. Some people say it makes their curls too crunchy, but it gives the best definition, and if you fluff your hair after it dries, the crunch goes away."

What’s the best trick you’ve learned?
"Deep condition as much as you can. And if you find a product you like, take it to the salon with you, so your routine is consistent. I use Carol’s Daughter Monoi Repairing Hair Mask."
3 of 6
Channing Hargrove, 25, freelance writer

What made you want to go natural?
"I got a really nasty chemical burn on my scalp from the relaxer. I decided I’d have to be crazy to keep doing that to myself."

What do you love about having natural hair?
"It’s so full! I love how big it is, even when it’s wet. And I think my springy curls are very cute."

What are the drawbacks?
"The frizz, but I’m getting used to it. Also, a lot of people will say there’s only one way to be 'natural.' For me, natural means you don’t have chemicals in your hair. But I’ve heard people say, 'Oh no. If you put heat on your hair then it’s not natural.' That bothers me."
Advertisement
4 of 6
What challenges did you face along the way?
"One of the most popular transitioning styles is the twist out, where you twist the hair to coax it into a curl and create a uniform shape. But I never liked that look because my ends were still so thin and straight. It didn’t look neat. So, instead of wearing my hair curly while transitioning, I wear it in a top knot or straighten it using heat styling. There wasn’t much information out there if you wanted to grow out a relaxer while still straightening your hair with heat. I learned that the key is moisturizing."

What are your go-to products?
"I use Shea Moisture Organic Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo and Matrix Biolage Hydrathérapie Conditioning Balm. Again, I’m all about conditioning, and these products keep my hair hydrated."

What’s the best trick you’ve learned?
"Because I was putting so much effort into growing my hair out, I thought maybe I should make other lifestyle changes that would benefit my hair and my body. So, I drink a lot more water, eat leafy greens, and avoid processed foods and dairy. My hair is healthier as a result."
5 of 6
Jenice Wilson, 31, product manager

What made you want to go natural?
"As I was getting my roots touched up one day, my stylist got relaxer in my eye! She must have thought I was going to go blind because she panicked and kept flushing my eye with water. It was so dramatic. After that experience, I thought I probably shouldn’t be putting this stuff on my head."

What do you love about having natural hair?
"The freedom! Before this, if I was outside without an umbrella and saw a drop of rain, I would freak out. Rain was like kryptonite because wet hair created so much extra work for me. But now, if I want to go swimming, I can. A little rain? No big deal. If the humidity is high, my hair might get bigger, but it still looks good."

What are the drawbacks?
"My hair grew really thick and long when I had a relaxer, but now I feel like I have more breakage. I think it’s because I’m still learning how to care for natural hair. I’ve only been natural for about six months. I had 20 years of experience with a relaxer, so I still have a lot to learn."

6 of 6
What challenges did you face along the way?
"I check a lot of natural hair-care blogs, and they make everything seem so intimidating — and honestly, they can be a little judgmental. There’s a debate raging about what’s truly “natural.” Some people say that if you ever heat straighten your hair, you’re not natural. That’s frustrating. I don’t hate myself or my hair because I want the option to go straight. That’s really the beauty of curly hair: It’s versatile!"

What are your go-to products?
"I’m all about my Kinky Curly Curling Custard. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. I love how it holds my curls — the day after I style it, they still look good. I recently took a trip to China, and I packed some in my carry-on. If they lost my luggage, I knew I couldn’t live without it for a week!"

What’s the best trick you’ve learned?
"When I first started wearing my curls, I would wet my hair and style it every morning. I didn’t realize I didn’t have to go through that process every day. The curls last a day or two with the right products. My other tip: Use a satin pillowcase to protect your curls at night."
Advertisement