So, You Want To Go Natural? Read This

When I made the decision to go natural, the Internet instantly became my encyclopedia (even more so than it is now, which is saying a lot), as I'm sure it has been for many others who've embarked on this journey. I sifted through every blog, Instagram account, YouTube video, and Pinterest board that had anything to do with natural hair. And, while this plethora of information has been helpful, it has also been extremely overwhelming, terrifying, and confusing.
Even after reading every article I could get my hands on, I still had a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers. So, I consulted Anthony Dickey, hair guru and co-founder of Hair Rules, an NYC salon with a product line that caters to textured tresses. His goal is to help women love their hair, embrace the versatility it offers, and wear it however they choose — through healthy, responsible methods. So, I knew my strands and I were in good hands.
Ahead, see what he had to say. And, if you have any questions for him, please leave 'em in the comments.

What are some common misconceptions people have about going natural?

“That they have to cut off all their hair... Another big myth is that you don’t have a ton of versatility. Understanding how to take care of your hair while going natural is really the pot at the end of the rainbow. Gone is the notion can’t be beautiful in its natural state.”
What are some benefits of "big chopping" versus transitioning? “The benefits to big chopping are that you're immediately introduced to your natural texture... The great thing about transitioning is that you don’t have to be anxiety-ridden about the process, because transitioning means exactly what it means — gradual. Time allows you to become comfortable with the idea of this new texture that’s not chemically altered... It’s such an individual, personal decision. You don’t have to do anything."
What can women expect when going natural? And, what's the hardest part? “A whole new hair-care regimen that has nothing to do with their old one. The only hairstyles that [most women who go natural] have worn their entire lives are the kinds that have kept them away from water and conditioner, two components that are key to [natural hair]. And, [they] have a lot of hair loss, dry hair, and are always going to the dermatologist because they have scalp problems. So, when you understand [the importance of moisturizing], then your hair texture starts to make more sense, and you’ll ultimately have this soft texture that you’ll know more about. But, that’s really hard to fall in love with, because you’ve never been properly introduced to it."

What are some ways to prepare for the natural process? Are there ingredients you should look for?
“The most important thing, particularly [for those] in the [type-4]-kinky to [type-3-]-curly categories, is to avoid shampoos that have suds and sulfates in them at all costs. Look to conditioners, leave-ins, and oils... Move toward the styling gels that are just as conditioning as they are holding. Deep-conditioning is always good, because it will keep the natural hair, as well as your relaxed hair, softer, so that it doesn’t break. But, remember that...if you wash your hair with something that suds up, then deep-conditioning is meaningless. You’ll never be able to put back what that shampoo took out. It’s like a sponge. If the sponge is dry, it’s almost brittle, right? But, if you add a little water to it, it expands."

How important is it to identify your curl pattern and cater to it with your regimen? “It’s not really that important. You have a million-and-one textures in one category to begin with, and if you get caught up in the details of your curl pattern, it’s going to get overwhelming. It’s just important to know that the looser your pattern is, the more days you can go between washes."
I'm about five months into my transitioning phase, and I've been experiencing a lot of breakage. I've been told that's normal. Is it? "Well, yes and no... Usually, the breakage is coming from the over-processed hair. That’s going to break off regardless. Even if you got a relaxer today, that hair is going to fall out. You’re going to constantly shed, which is why women opt to stop relaxing — they’re sick of their hair thinning out and all the breakage. And, you notice this more when you stop, because there’s a thicker texture coming in, so the contrast is a lot more evident."

What about blowdrying your hair when transitioning? I've heard that's a big no-no.
"Most of our clients, natural or transitioning, come in to get blowdrys. Essentially, it’s tension and the intense heat that end up permanently ruining your natural texture, which is why I recommend using a comb attachment. After you’ve washed your hair with the non-sudsy shampoo and followed up with conditioner, it becomes clean and soft. So, all you have to do is go through the hair with a comb attachment, which helps detangle it while letting the heat from the dryer do the rest. And, you want to do it while it’s wet so the roots get straight."

Should I be putting it on a lower heat setting?

“I think that’s a waste of time, and it really doesn’t get you anywhere. You want to make sure that you’re getting your hair dry, and quickly, so you’re not applying heat over and over.”
Can I use a straightener? “As long as you’re using those tools on hair that’s super soft, and it’s not drying it out, then that’s okay. What you don't want to do is get roller sets. If you try to roller-set kinky hair, the amount of heat that’s needed to take that kink out when you come out from under the dryer is going to cause heat damage in the long run. You don’t want that kind of intense stretching, tension, and heat because then you’ll end up ruining your natural texture."
Say I didn’t want to apply heat to my hair. What are some styles you recommend? “The great protective styles are twist-outs, braid-outs, weaves, and Bantu knots. These are all hairstyles that you can wear when you’re transitioning. And, you can use mousse to get a wavier, curlier texture."

That's interesting, because I went to a hair salon in the city that’s pretty well-known for dealing with curly textures, and they told me my only options, styling-wise, were a blowout or to do a big chop and cut off my relaxed ends.
"They probably didn't know how to do your hair. Most hairdressers aren’t interested in your natural texture — their only goal is that you get out of that chair with silky, straight hair. And then, when you go to wash it a week later, they’ve ruined your natural curl pattern. Some stylists even sneak relaxers into conditioners, because they don’t know how to deal with your texture."

What advice do you have for women who are transitioning and have had similar experiences? "I would recommend coming to Hair Rules. (laughs) I can’t anticipate what a hairdresser is going to tell you...but I would be careful of who you go to. It’s best to do your homework and take your time. Consultations are key. I’d advise going to a bunch of them at different salons. Find a hairstylist you trust and who sounds like they’re coming from an honest place. Listen carefully, interview, and ask around. And, by the way, no one should charge you for a consultation. That’s a crime."
The Natural Hair Project: one woman's journey of growing out her chemically altered hair and embracing her natural texture. Check back every other week for updates, lessons, and tips.

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