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How to transition to natural hair: a beginner’s guide

(Last Updated On: October 20, 2021)

If you’re reading this, it means you’ve finally decided to give up chemical hair treatments. Congratulations! It’s a big decision for a lot of us. Whether you decide to start with a big chop or not, transitioning your hair is an important step in your natural hair journey. No, it’s not easy, and there is no quick way to grow your hair out, but it is so rewarding as a process, and you will come out of it with a head of healthy hair and a positive mindset. Here are advice and tips on transitioning your hair from chemically treated to natural hair:

How to transition to natural hair without a chop

First of all, a ‘big chop’ is when a natural decides to cut off all of their hair into a TWA (teeny weeny afro) and start all over. However, you’ve made the decision not to chop off all of your hair. Instead, you’re going to grow it out.

When it comes to transitioning your hair, your new growth will grow out curlier than your chemically treated strands, so your hair will end up being two different textures in the process. It will seem difficult to care for multiple textures, but here are some of the best tips on how to transition your hair without “big chopping”. 

Avoid heat styling as much as you can. Using heat on your hair, such as blow-drying and straightening, will cause more damage, and it will drastically decrease the overall health of your hair. Relaxers, texturizers, and perms are already damaging on their own, so heat styling will add to that. 

Trim your ends often to get rid of the damaged hair and decrease the likelihood of split ends. As your natural growth comes in and the different textures become more visible, you’ll often want to get rid of the chemically treated hair. Every 3-6 months is the best time period for getting trims. 

This goes without saying, but the best way to transition natural hair is to give up the chemical treatments. These include relaxers, texturizers, and perms. You may also want to give up hair dyes as well. Although they are not considered chemical treatments, they can still be damaging, so it’s best to avoid them during your transitioning period. 

Pay the most attention to your roots and scalp. Of course, your whole strand is important to care for, but your roots and scalp are the most important for new growth. You want to aid blood flow to the scalp by massaging the scalp thoroughly while shampooing. This will help keep your scalp from becoming too dirty or flaky.  The inversion method can also aid in blood flow to the scalp to help keep your scalp clean for hair growth. 

How to transition without breakage

As mentioned above, your hair will be multiple textures while you are transitioning. You have to make sure to pay extra attention to what your hair needs and take extra care to avoid excessive breakage, especially on your ends.

Here are some tips on avoiding this. 

Protective styles- Protective styles are probably the best way to avoid breakage while transitioning because your hair is protected for long periods of time. Styles such as box braids, twists, crochet, etc., will protect your ends from damage for as long as you decide to keep the style in.

This could be between 1-3 months but no longer than that. If you decide to ‘big chop,’ consider protective styling in the beginning to kickstart your hair growth journey.

Sew-ins are also a great protective style for this period. When getting your hair done into a protective style, if you are not doing it yourself, make sure to request that your hairdresser not make the style too tight. This can cause tension on the scalp and, in some cases, can lead to traction alopecia.

Low manipulation styles- Some women are not fans of protective styles, and that’s okay. There are still ways you can style your hair and keep it protected. Low manipulation styles include twist-outs, braid-outs, Bantu knots, buns, etc.

Consider changing your low manipulation style up weekly every time you wash your hair. They will not protect your ends like protective styles, but they can still be great styles to leave in and cover with a headwrap or scarf for those lazy days. 

Deep conditioning- Your hair can end up drier and more fragile during this period, so deep conditioning weekly is strongly recommended. Deep conditioning adds much-needed moisture to your hair to ensure that it’s healthy and strong. Instead of using your regular conditioner when you shampoo, switch it with the deep conditioner and keep it in a few extra minutes while finger detangling

How long does it take to transition to natural hair?

Due to the wide variety of curl and kink types in our community, the process will look different for everyone. How long the process takes depends on several factors, such as the curl type and pattern, extent of the damage, how much/how little you care for your hair during the process, etc.

It would be best also to consider those genetics play a big part in how much hair will grow. In general, transitioning to natural hair can take a minimum of a year or longer. It is not a quick process. It takes time and dedication, and unfortunately, there is no magic serum or oil that will speed up the process. Creating a simple routine and sticking to it will be your best bet in having a smooth transition to natural hair. 

Do’s and Dont’s of transitioning to natural hair

Your hair is in a fragile state during this process, especially the part of your hair where the new growth meets the chemically treated hair. When it comes to transitioning, there are many things you can do to make it go smoothly and with as little damage as possible. However, there are also things you should avoid as well. 

Dos

Trim your ends at least every 3-6 months- getting rid of those damaged strands is the best thing you can do for your hair during this time! Snipping them off little by little will ensure that you will soon stop dealing with multiple textures and the headache that comes along with them. 

Deep condition weekly- don’t skip this step because your hair will need all the moisture it can get. You need to keep your hair moisturized to avoid breakage and dryness. Instead of using a regular conditioner after you shampoo, use a deep conditioner. This doesn’t have to be done every week, though. Every other week will suffice as well. Just make sure you’re getting some conditioner on those strands to bring them back to life. 

Big chop- you don’t have to do this step, but it does make the process a lot smoother, so consider it! You might find that transitioning without chopping is just too much for you! 

Dont’s:

Heat style – you want your hair to have the least amount of damage as possible. Heat styling too much can make your hair fragile. You don’t want to add heat damage on top of the damage that has already occurred, so skip it. 

Don’t put too much tension on it – putting too much tension on the roots can cause the hair to be pulled at the scalp, which can cause thinning that can become permanent if you’re not too careful. 

Manipulate your hair too much – try to stick to simple and easy hairstyles more often as they are less likely to cause more damage to your hair. Try to limit the number of times you comb and brush your hair to avoid pulling too much of it out. The less you do to your hair while styling it, the easier it will grow and retain length.

Also, something to remember: don’t brush hair when it’s wet, and don’t comb hair when it’s dry! Comb and detangle your hair when it’s wet and covered in conditioner to make it easier on your hair and your fingers. Combing your hair when it’s dry is basically ripping out a bunch of hair.

Always start at the ends of your hair and work your way up when you’re combing. Brushing your hair when it’s dry is better than when it’s wet because it’s less likely to be ripped out by the coarse bristles of the brush. If you need a little more slip when brushing your hair, use some gel to slick it back and smooth it out, but NEVER brush it when it’s soaking wet. 

Best products to use when transitioning to natural hair

Shampoos and conditioners – the labels and brands don’t matter when looking for shampoos and conditioners. What matters the most is making sure that they are moisturizing. Water should always be the first ingredient of any shampoo and conditioner you buy.

Always remember that a little goes a long way. I know we have a ton of hair, but we really don’t need to use half the bottle in one sitting! If you’re unsure of where to look for products, here are a few suggestions: 

  • OGX Coconut Milk Shampoo and conditioner–  If you’re looking for something affordable but still great quality and extremely nourishing, this can be found at most drugstores and department stores. 
  • Redken All Soft Shampoo and conditioner– If you’re looking for a salon-quality, high-end product, this can be found at many department stores or bought from local salons  

Moisturizers

  • Mielle Organics Pomegranate & Honey Leave-in Conditioner– Not only does this smell absolutely amazing, but it is also moisture that lasts. You will not need to touch up your hair as much during the week using this Mielle leave-in conditioner. Just like other products, you do not need much at all to cover your hair. 
  •  Curls Blueberry Bliss Leave-in Conditioner– This leave-in has come highly rated by naturals for years. It is a great conditioner for repairing and restoring hair to its healthy state, so it’s perfect for transitioning hair. 

Oils (optional) – You do not need oils in your hair as most products you buy will already come with oil in them but if you feel comfortable using oil, consider these oils.

  • Jojoba oil– Jojoba oil is the oil most closely related to the sebum that our scalps naturally creates, so it’s a great oil to have
  • Coconut oil– it’s not scientifically proven, but there are many wonderful uses for coconut oil. You can use it on your hair, your skin, and you can even cook with it. Make sure to look for organic coconut oil for the best results. 
  • Avocado oil– Like coconut oil, you can also find this in your kitchen, and it has many wonderful properties

Bonnets and scarves

  • When it comes to bonnets and scarves, no one knows better than a black woman. Buy your bonnets and scarves from black women. You will be supporting the community and also getting quality products you know will work for your hair. No one knows what our hair needs more than other black women. We are the experts when it comes to our hair, so trust them and buy from them. 

How do I style my hair while transitioning to natural?

Simple styles like buns, puffs, twist-outs and braid-outs are great styles for when transitioning. Braids and twists stretch the hair without heat and will cover up the different textures. Puffs are great, low-maintenance styles that don’t require too much touching up during the week. Similar to a puff, you could also ‘pineapple’ your hair and add a headband or wrap for a cute, laid-back style. 

You do not have to protective style your hair, but if you want a break (we all do from time to time!) from your hair, a protective style is a way to go. It requires minimal effort on your part, and you don’t have to style it every day (unless you want to!). Transitioning your hair does not have to be a scary, time-consuming process. It can be rewarding and amazing if you let it. 

Best of luck! 

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