By Kendria Smith
Natural hair is the “new black” for many African-American women, including myself who, after 20 years of chemically relaxing, is now a “transition newbie.” So the question for all of us out there in similar shoes is: where to begin?
As I attempted to surf the web for helpful tips on how to successfully transition from relaxed to natural hair, I quickly found myself drowning in a sea of products, blogs, and tutorial video sites. All I really wanted were the basics, but now I was completely overwhelmed with information. I decided it was time to seek some professional hair care help.
I switched my search to “natural hair salons in New York,” and came across Wesley Styles, the website of expert hair stylist Tamika Wesley. I sent a request to Tamika to meet with her for guidance, and received a confirmation email with a consultation time that same week.
A natural herself, Tamika was bright, upbeat and very obliging as we sat down at the salon in Chelsea for a heart-to-heart. Here I share her pearls of wisdom and a short video on transitioning tips. I can only describe her as “lovely.”
BN: What are the fears that keep some women from opting for going natural?
Tamika: Some women have the attitude of, “I want to go natural, NOW WHAT?” Some women still aren’t sure how to two-strand twist their own hair, or don’t want to spend time twisting it at night. Some women feel lost trying to embrace and actually dealing with their OWN hair texture and pattern. Some women see other lovelies and ask, “How come my hair can’t look like hers?” I have to explain that everyone’s texture and curl pattern is different.
As for the social stigmas, some lovelies feel like the look is unkempt. I explain to them that it’s what God has given us, so embrace it and make it beautiful! If you don’t love yourself, how can you possibly expect anyone else to embrace you!
BN: What would you say are the biggest adjustments in caring for natural vs. relaxed hair?
Tamika: Natural hair needs a lot more moisture than relaxed hair. Also, with natural hair, it’s super important to properly detangle the hair when wet, or you can risk ripping and tearing the hair, especially if you tend to have knots at the ends. With relaxed hair, a little moisture and product goes a long way.
BN: How do you know if you need to do the “big chop?” And if you don’t, what advice can you give to those who’ve decided to grow out their relaxed hair?
Tamika: The “big chop” is a personal and individual choice. A woman has to be ready and confident that she can embrace a much shorter look. The “big chop” can be extremely emotional for some women, especially if they have always worn their relaxed hair longer. The “big chop” can also be a release for some women who are sick of the in-between looks that half-natural and half-relaxed can give. Some lovelies want to just get rid of the stringy ends of the relaxed hair. The “big chop” also makes life easier for some lovelies because, with less hair and maintenance, the styling time is shorter.
The advice that I would give women who decide to grow out their relaxer without doing the “big chop” would be to definitely trim the hair every 8 to 10 weeks. Also, keep the hair moisturized so that the relaxed ends don’t tangle, knot and dry out.
BN: What products/accessories are essentials to have during transition?
Tamika: I always recommend that clients invest in a spray leave-in conditioner, as well as a nice creamy leave-in conditioner. As for accessories, I recommend a large wide-toothed comb, which can be found at any major drug store or your local beauty supply store.
BN: What should a regular beauty regimen be? Are salon visits necessary and, if so, how often?
Tamika: A regimen should consist of a moisturizing shampoo, a moisturizing conditioner, a deep conditioner used twice a month or every other week for at least 30 minutes, and going to your stylist every 8 to 10 weeks for trims and haircuts. Depending on the texture of hair, wrapping is great because it will help to keep the hair smoother. Also, pin-curling at night assists with body and curl, so heat appliances won’t have to be used as much.
Salon visits are necessary, especially for the client who is apprehensive about using too much heat on her hair. A good stylist will be able to flat iron or press the client’s hair straight enough that it can last for up to two weeks.
BN: How do you define a “protective style?”
Tamika: These are styles that protect the ends of the hair from rubbing, splitting and being damaged by the elements, especially since your hair may be breaking off faster than it grows. What protective styles do is keep your ends “protected.” They fall into two categories: Complete and Low-Manipulation.
Complete protective styles keep the ends out of sight and are 100% protective. These would be styles such as: wigs, sew-in full weaves without any hair out in the front, braids, kinky twist, 2-strand twist and flat twist.
Low-Manipulation styles are styles exposing the ends to some degree, but are protective in that they drastically cut down on the manipulation (combing/handling) that the hair experiences. These styles include: roller or rod spiral sets, some updos or pinned-up styles, braid-outs and twist-outs.
BN: How much heat is too much during transition? What about coloring?
Tamika: This is a great question! Blow-drying, flat-ironing and curling are okay. They must be done with the proper styling products, good-quality styling tools, and without high heat. If lovelies are going to thermal press their hair during transition, I would recommend using an electric flat iron, keeping the temperature on 400°, and focusing on pressing the “new growth area” with minimal slow iron passes. You don’t have to pass the flat iron through the hair 1000 times to smooth it out. I would leave the Marcel hot combs to a great hair stylist, if it’s necessary.
If a lovely wants to color, I would recommend using a semi-permanent color or hennas. I don’t recommend using any color products that use peroxide. At this fragile stage of transitioning, semi-permanent and permanent hair color can make the hair drier and can lead to breakage, due to the different textures the hair has during the transitional phase.
BN: Any last words of advice for those frustrated/intimidated with the transition process?
Tamika: First, congratulate yourself on committing to the process. This is a great time to get to know your hair, learn how to care for it and embrace its beautiful and unique texture and curl pattern. Find a great stylist that can assist you with this period of your life. We, as women, want to feel and look beautiful. Your stylist can help make suggestions on hairstyles, or assist with creating something that will work for each individual’s lifestyle. I would also advise my lovelies to BE PATIENT! Anything worth having takes time to get. Don’t put added or unnecessary stress on yourself because of your hair. Embrace your hair and make it as beautiful and unique as you are!
Do you have a few hair care tips you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below.