I typed this essay after dealing with my hair for 4 years. I KNOW that there are a LOT of kinky hair-care books floating about out there, but this is my interpretation of what I have learned when dealing with fragile, kinky hair.
FRAGILE HAIR CARE
Due to mounting frustration with my kinky, fragile hair I have cut it short many times. Recently, I began to realize a few key factors in retaining length on the type of hair that I have on my head. My hair shrinks up very compactly to my scalp. In fact, it appears to be thick due to the amount of shrinkage it has, but the real story is that it is very fine and fragile. It will never show its true length unless stretched by braiding or twisting. If you can imagine a 6 inch spring that compacts down to one inch, you can picture my hair precisely. If you have kinky, tightly compacted hair, here are some tips for length retention and maintenance.
1) MOST combs/picks are no-no's. However, the RIGHT comb/pick can be used when the hair is DAMP and moisturized. In the case of my daughter’s hair, I made my own comb by purchasing an ACE comb and breaking off the closely fit bristles to form a handle while leaving the widely spaced teeth on the other end. The particular comb that I use is easily ordered online at Amazon.com.
2) Forget the shampoo commercials! Piling the hair on the head and twisting it around is a recipe for disaster on kinky hair! Gently squeeze and manipulate the hair. Most of the cleansing process (i.e. massaging) should be focused on the scalp while utilizing the lather to get build-up off of the strands. Gently pat or squeeze moisture from the hair with a towel. Vigorous rubbing will cause damage. Your hair may also retain more moisture with the use of shampoo on a regular basis due to the fact that fine strands are more susceptible to build-up which will keep moisture out.
3) Conditioner may be fun to use, but it is not a necessity. May people will disagree with this, but I have looked at many bottles of conditioner in my day. Most commercial conditioners are wax-based, which may make your hair feel silkier, but in the long run it is not doing anything major for your hair. There are herbal rinses and various concoctions out there that are touted to strengthen the hair, but if your hair is healthy to begin with and you aren’t damaging it, that shouldn’t be an issue. The conditioning process seems to be more therapeutic than anything else. Feel free to use conditioner, but don’t set high expectations on a bottle of wax!
4) A good moisturizer/detangler must have “slip”. Slip is a quality that aids in detangling, and minimizes breakage. It allows the comb to sort of “glide” through the hair. Different things work for best for different hair types. For some, it is the good ole-fashioned hair grease that does the trick. For others, it is a cream-based product that works its magic. Some even prefer oil-free products such as glycerin-based sprays. The choice is personal. Please be advised that traditional detanglers are often laden with silicones that can coat the hair and cause build-up, which can make the hair hard.
3) Combing/picking/detangling for kinky hair is not like what you see on T.V. You will NEVER be able to simply “run a comb through” your hair. You must use gentle, “plucking” movements. Even then, you will have some breakage. Do not be alarmed! This is inherent due to the fact that there are several bends and kinks in the strand. However, your shoulders and bathroom floor should not be coated with broken hairs at the end of a detangling session. As you get savvier with the detangling process, you will see less breakage. As your hair gets longer you will need to grab the section of hair close to the scalp and detangle from the roots to the ends. Do not simply put the comb/pick in the hair at the roots and tear your way down your strands!
4) Keep it simple! There are a lot of hair boards out there and they are awesome! However, in the early stages of getting familiar with your natural, kinky crown, it is easy to become a product junkie while in search of the “holy grails” Many people love deep conditioning treatments, hair rinses, exotic oils, etc. Experience has proven for many people, however, that a simple routine of cleanse, condition (or not) and moisturize will do very well. In fact, a good moisturizer can function as a "leave in" conditioner.
5) Protective styles tend to work in your favor. If you want to minimize breakage, it is ideal to put the hair up in twists, braids or other styles that you can create and forget for a while. However, if faced with a situation where a sensitive scalp or other lifestyle concern does not allow for protective styles, be careful if you manipulate your hair daily.
6) Please do not allow the typical standards of beauty to dictate to you how you handle or style your hair. . My hair retained significant length the first year that I wore it natural because I kept it simple and I RARELY EVER combed my hair. I did a lot of finger styling and I was fine with my hair’s appearance. It was not until I became more in tune with what others thought that I began to destroy my hair. On a good hair day, my hair will appear chunky and wild, which can be undesirable in the “straight, flowing hair” mentality that is so prevalent in our society. On my hair, I have to avoid twists, braids, cornrows, or most of the styles that seem to work on kinky hair. It doesn’t really seem to matter if I use protein treatments or not, because twisting and manipulating my hair inevitably leads to tangles, which then leads to breakage. Now, I still do these styles occasionally, but I just have to accept the breakage that comes with it. My hair looks very deceiving because it has about 90% shrinkage, so if someone sees my hair, they think it’s thick and can withstand pulling/yanking and combing. I could have 10 inches of hair and it MIGHT shrink down to 2 inches. Needless to say, I have never had 10 inches of hair because of my insistence on combing. I still have to learn not to be so rough when applying moisturizer to my loose hair, because simply rubbing in a moisturizer will cause breakage, so as my hair gets longer, I will need to learn a new technique for applying moisturizer.
7) Learn to accept your hair! In a world where long, flowing hair is considered the desirable norm, short kinky hair is often lauded as ugly or a thing to be pitied. That is definitely not the case. Not everyone will have long hair! Now, I know that there are people out there who will disagree with this, but I believe that there is a predetermined length that the hair will grow. If you truly desire to discover your max length, you can try
placing the hair in braids and keeping them in (with touch-ups, of course) for a year or two. If you handle the hair in the ways described above, employ a gentle braider, and still only see 6 inches of hair after two years, then it is safe to assume that your max length is six inches.
In a nutshell, if you have hair that is like mine (and you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t) be gentle, have patience, and ENJOY YOUR HAIR!!!!!