As the cliché goes, we all want what we don't have – and no one knows this better than women with curly hair. We are familiar with heat damage and have spent hours trying to stretch out our curls with a hairdryer and round brush, or frying our strands with straighteners and relaxing treatments just so we can fit in. All of these methods can cause serious damage to hair and even alter your natural curl pattern. Think limp, wispy, lifeless hair with annoying straight strands that refuse to curl. It's heartbreaking.
But all is not lost. The good news is that while heat can cause permanent damage that sometimes requires a big chop, there are other ways to restore your curls, whether that's adjusting your curly hair routine or embarking on the road to acceptance. Ahead, three women open up about their transition from damaged hair to healthy curls.
Sofia Hassani, 29
"I decided to go natural in early 2017. After nine years of chemical treatments like relaxers and texturisers, I had no curls left and my hair was damaged beyond repair. I didn't have much choice actually; it was either a big chop or transitioning back to my natural hair. Part of me really longed to become 'friends' with my hair, too. I wanted to learn to accept it.
Having patience was hard and the process was emotional. It’s not just hair and it’s never going to be just hair. Transitioning wasn’t solely a change in my appearance but a very crucial change on the inside. It’s about fully accepting who I am, which I never did before. Some days are still difficult and I’ll keep my hair in a bun so I won’t feel so exposed (especially pre-lockdown, as I worked in an office). I still look at people with straight or wavy hair and wish that were me because I know that in many ways, my life would be easier. I wouldn’t feel insecure around new people and I wouldn’t have to hear comments about my hair or have people ask if they can touch it.
That said, going natural has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Embracing it takes time, particularly if you’ve been hiding for so long. I’m moving forward now and loving myself the best way I can. I know there will come a day where these insecure moments will not occur as often. I created my Instagram account Curlsfirst to inspire other curlies but also to motivate myself.
I’ve been using Only Curls Hydrating Curl Creme, £16, Only Curls Enhancing Gel, £16, and Kinky Curly Knot Today Leave-In Conditioner, £24.99, in my routine. They are all very light and have worked really well with my damaged and transitioning hair. I keep learning new things every day, like how to let go of the negative thoughts and the self-hate and to finally become comfortable.
For anyone wishing to transition, just know that you’re going to have good days where you feel like your hair is flourishing and working with you, but also bad days where you might want to give up on the process. Don’t compare yourself or your hair to anyone else, either. Social media is amazing for inspiration but it’s easy to get discouraged when you see other people getting different results, even if you are doing the same thing. I started to take photos of my hair almost every week, though nothing seemed to change. You’ll be amazed when you look back."
Aimee de Gruchy Gaudin, 25
"I decided to go natural when I moved to London in 2015. After 10 years of straightening my hair on a weekly basis, it was so damaged it had stopped growing. My hair was brittle, dry and frizzy. When I started my first job, it felt like the perfect time to change it up and finally embrace my natural hair. What better place than London where so many others with similar hair to mine were going natural. I thought, Why can't I?
The main reason why it took me so long to go fully natural was because I grew up in Cambridge and like most teenagers, I wanted to fit in. That meant straight hair. In going natural, it felt like I was being brave. I was sticking two fingers up to the people who had made snide comments ("You look like you've been dragged through a hedge backwards" or "You look like you've been electrocuted") and I was embracing my natural hair. I felt doubly courageous because after years of damage it wasn't all perfect ringlet curls. I had to get through the straggly phase and nurse my hair back to health, which took time. I also had to get through a lack of feeling sexy and beautiful with my natural hair. I found that whenever my hair was straight I'd get men ask me out or talk to me. Now, I'm very lucky to have a partner who can't get enough of my natural curls.
Being natural means being proud of my Jamaican heritage. It makes me feel like I'm being true to me. I now associate my straightened hair with being an insecure, self-conscious teenager, totally unhappy in my skin. Being natural represents the confident, strong young woman I've become. I couldn't give a rat's arse if it rains now!
My natural hair is not something I fixate on anymore, or obsess or cry over. A lot of people tell me I'm lucky but then I tell them how many combs I've broken. I'm still a little way from being able to say I love my big hair, because it comes with a certain amount of maintenance and I'm a busy woman. But I do enjoy my curls – when they're behaving.
For repairing, the vegan Maria Nila Structure Repair Shampoo and Conditioner Set, £33, and the Maria Nila Structure Repair Hair Masque, £24.85, are amazing. Also the Cantu Leave-in Conditioning Repair Cream, £6.99, is great for keeping your curls soft post-wash. The Cantu Wave Whip Curling Foam, £6.99, prevents curls from frizzing and it doesn't give you the crispiness that other mousses do. Cantu Moisturising Curl Activator Cream, £7.99, also helps hold the curl. I use Kiehl's Magic Elixir Hair Oil, £27, on the days when my curls need extra moisture, and every so often I rub on an aloe vera leaf.
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Remember: curls are beautiful. They're not brave or 'a statement', they're a part of you. Don't listen to other people's comments, don't let them touch your hair if you don't want them to and don't buy the shampoo or conditioner intended for Caucasian hair. They won't work for you. Don't be insecure about your natural hair, it's not going to make people point, stare or take the piss and if it does, that is their problem."
Dakota Branch-Smith, 24
"I decided to go natural in January 2016 after a really bad attempt at perming my own hair.
In the beginning, the hardest part of my journey was accepting not having straight hair and getting used to learning my curl pattern without relying on my usual styles. I’ve had short hair since I was 16, but not this short.
To me, being natural means freedom. When I first cut my hair, I didn’t see many girls my age like me and I found it really hard to get used to. But it made me psych myself up even more to be like, Girl, this is cute! I’ve unlocked a new level of confidence and it just shows me that I don’t need straight hair to feel confident.
I love my hair now. It honestly makes me happy and I feel so empowered. I love going to the barber's, I love experimenting with new colours and it’s easy to manage. That’s my favourite part because I’m very lazy.
I don’t tend to do much to my hair as I don’t feel like I need to, but Eco Styler Black Castor and Flaxseed Oil, £6.99, is the only gel that really curls my hair how I like it, especially when I’ve got a fresh cut.
If you’re ever thinking about transitioning, you need to trust the process. Be patient and persevere. And just love your curls. We can be so conditioned to fit beauty standards and to be like everyone else. You have to remember to dare to be different and own it."