Curly, straight, thick, short, long, braids, extensions, highlights, lowlights, and everything in between. There's a whole lot to think about when it comes down to handling your beautiful mane. Let's talk.
My friends always look at me crazy when I refer to my hair in third-person. But honestly, "she" is! Some days she's just not feeling it, other days we get along, and sometimes we get into full blown, knock down, drag out fights! We've spent a long time getting to know one another, and although I don't have her all figured out quite yet, I have learned some techniques and tricks along the way that help us stay on good terms. Now that fall is right around the corner, there are some adjustments that I'll have to make in my routine to protect my hair through the changing climate. Honestly, with this attitudinal hair, my routine changes all the time. I've received some messages asking about managing and maintaining curly hair so, for now, I'll go through my deep conditioning routine (and all-time favorite homemade conditioner recipe!) along with a few of my staple products, tips on maintaining length, and biggest warning signs.
Summer 2013, the year before I began at Spelman, I cut my hair. A lot. I was so overwhelmed with long hair, and really didn't feel like it was at its healthiest. So I took myself to the Carol's Daughter salon in Harlem, and they cut my hair like 5 inches above my shoulders. At first, I thought it was cool. I was excited to start something new, but then I freaked out! I felt like there was nothing else to do with it, especially not when it started getting a bit colder. Well, I got over myself, learned to braid really well, and experimented with a bunch of different protective styles. I found that my hair in braids grew so much faster than when it was loose. I still throw it in a cute braided style when I need a break, and when I'd like to see some growth. Although braids or twists can be low-maintenance, I definitely make sure to take them out at least once every two weeks. It's important, to me, that my scalp has a chance to breathe. Alleviating that tension also helps to prevent breakage around the hairline (especially if the braids are really tight!). After all, stressed roots don't make for healthy length.
After taking my braids out, or after my hair has been straightened for two weeks, I always try to make time for a really good deep conditioning treatment. It's definitely a long process, but so worth it. Some of my favorite store bought deep conditioners include Eden Body Works Jojoba Monoi Deep Conditioner (it smells literally amazing) and SheaMoisture's Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque (perfect for preventing split ends when the weather gets really cold). I love these options because I can actually understand the ingredients, and that's really important to me in making sure that I'm treating my hair like it's actually a part of my body that I love. Whenever I am not traveling, I like to make my own deep conditioners with ingredients straight out of the fridge. These hair smoothies smell great and feel even better. Sometimes, when I have leftovers, I spread the rest on my hair and hands for a mini facial moisturizer.
After shampooing twice (I use SheaMoisture's Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo. It's so moisturizing I can use it to detangle before conditioning!) I section my hair into fours and apply the deep conditioner through each section. After applying the conditioner, I put it all in a plastic cap and sit under a hooded dryer for 30-40 minutes. The warmth helps my hair to soak up all of the yummy ingredients in the conditioner, and the plastic cap makes it so that nothing dries out. It takes a long time, but rinsing out all (seriously, all) of the conditioner is really important. The conditioner is real food, and if it's left out- it'll go bad in your hair (gross, but true).
Between deep conditioners, keeping my hair moisturized and detangled is the focus. I don't straighten it often, but when I do, moisture is still key. Some of my favorite products to lock in moisture, whether my hair is wet and curly or dry and straight: Mixed Chicks leave-in conditioner, Eden BodyWorks Peppermint Tea Tree Hair Milk , Carol's Daughter Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Pure Hair Oil, and straight up Organic Coconut Oil.
Any hair products with alcohols or mineral oils tend to be really drying, and I try to stay away from them- especially when my hair is straight, which is also when its most vulnerable to breakage. Length can be fun, but ends that are further away from their roots need a lot more help staying moisturized. One of the biggest warning signs that my hair will give when it's time to re-moisturize is frayed, frizzy ends. It might be annoying to see your ends frizz up, but it's much better to wash and re-moisturize than it is to flat iron them over and over. Generally, frizz won't be a big issue when each strand is hydrated- root to end.
All of the products that I've mentioned are great, and I use them faithfully, but what's more important than what we put on our hair is what we put in our body to help our hair be as healthy as it can be. Lots of what I put in my homemade conditioner, I also put in my breakfast smoothies. Greek yogurt contains vitamin B5, also known as pantothenic acid, which works beautifully for strong, healthy hair by causing increased blood flow to the scalp.
Dark green leaves, like spinach and kale, are full of iron, beta carotene, and folate. These vitamins may be advertised in hair supplement pills that have a bunch of other crazy ingredients, but they are available naturally in food. If greens just aren't your thing, try to blend them up in smoothies or stir them into rice or pasta. Juicing is great, but the leaves themselves contain lots of vitamins that pack the power. I am a vegetarian, but I'm not against meat as part of a balanced diet. Actually, fish are low in saturated fats but have lots of essential omega-3 fatty acids that promote shine while lean meats contain protein that keeps healthy hair strong. Throwing in some of these hair healthy foods into your diet go way beyond healthy hair, but provide that undeniable shine from the inside out.
Try out the recipe for my homemade deep conditioner, and comment with your experience. Love it? Hate it? Suggestions for more ingredients? I'd love to hear all the recipes and regimens you've got, too. Keep giving your mane all the love you can, and it'll love you right back!