First of all, sorry I've been away so long. I hope your summers were fantastic.
I know some of you had questions on my hair, so I'm going to answer them.
Every black girl has a hair story. Here's mine:
I had natural hair until about the age of 13 when I decided I wanted to put a relaxer in. Styling my hair was absolutely dreadful because I had thick, coarse, curly hair and no idea of proper styling techniques. The lady who used to style my hair was about as clueless as I was in styling natural black hair as I was. I dreaded combing my hair because it hurt and always ended with fist-fulls of hair left behind in the comb.
Relaxing my hair was an ordeal. I didn't wash my hair for several days before the process so I wouldn't have a raw head exposed to the lye-based chemicals. I only relaxed my hair to the texturized point, but each time it still brought me to the verge of tears. I continued this cycle until the age of 17 when I'd had enough and decided to go natural.
I transitioned from relaxed hair to natural hair with the help of braid and twist styles. I cut off the relaxed hair bit by bit, so it wasn't very traumatic for me.
When I finally had a full head of natural hair, it was a learning curve. Believe me when I say those were some of my more scruffy days. I was learning how to style my hair, wash my hair, what products to put in my hair, etc. And I loved every minute of it. Sure, there were times when I would get frustrated with how much time I spend on my hair, but then I'd look at one of my spirals and fall in love again. I was also doing endless hours of research on natural hair & products at this time.
One of the issues I had with my hair early on was shrinkage. African hair can shrink to more than half of it's length. Look below- pictures are worth a thousand words!
My hair after washing:
My hair stretched out:
So as you can see, my hair is a lot longer than it appears. I admit I used to be all about the length and there was nothing more frustrating than having all this length and not being able to show it. Eventually I stopped caring so much about the length of my hair, and started focusing on having healthy, good-looking hair. Eventually the length did come, and come some more. I've never had hair this long that I can remember in my life :)
My hair is the curliest of the curly- 4b in the Andre Walker hair typing system.
I can't give you a be all, end all guide for natural hair. The reason is afro hair is the most varied hair out there. What works for me will not work for you the same way. It took me a couple years of trial and error to figure out what my hair loves. Don't become discouraged when you hear "couple years" because you're trying out new products, it's fun!
Some basic guidelines- expensive doesn't always go hand in hand with quality, synthetic doesn't mean bad (but also not good), and have fun! Learn to read the cosmetic labels- it will potentially save your hair.
What I've found works for me is completely avoiding using Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) which can be found in many commercial shampoos and laundry detergent (!). I found they strip my hair and leave it like straw. African hair is more prone to dryness then other hair types and cannot be washed with regular shampoos every day.
I wash my hair once a week and for regular washings, I find using a Herbal Essences conditioner and scrubbing my scalp sufficient to get a good clean. Other times I'll use African black soap to wash my hair and it's splendid. I usually make my own products for daily use, but Carol's Daughter has some good products for black hair. For those of you who are a little more strapped, Oyin Handmade also makes some good products for really reasonable prices.
Another factor in how products work is the hardness of the water. What products I use depend on where I am. Different regions have different water, and they make my hair react differently to the same products. Again, trial and error will be your best tools.
I usually style my hair in twists and twist outs. The chunky fro is also a favorite. For delicate styles I'll spend 5-6 hours per week on my hair, but to simple fro's maybe 1 hour. Because my hair is so much healthier than it has ever been, I can color it from time to time. The last time I colored my hair I used cherry kool-aid to give it a tint. It's made nice highlights in the sun. Remember, when you dye your hair, extra deep conditioning is a must. I also never flat iron my hair or blow dry it on hot, because heat damages curls.
The last thing I have to say about natural hair is the confidence it gave me. I used to N-E-V-E-R open the door without it being perfect or a hat on. Now when I hear the doorbell and I'm asleep, I'll pop out of bed without a thought on what my hair looks like :) And I can't tell you how convenient it was traveling for a couple months without having to think about when I'm getting my next relaxer.
If you choose to make the decision to go natural, know you're doing it for you. Don't let anybody discourage you. If they are put off by your hair, how good a person are they truly? There's hundreds of girls out there willing to guide you when you start your journey and that starts off with me :)
*** I'm in no way bashing relaxed hair. People have a right to choose how they want to style their hair. I'm sharing my experiences with my hair :) ***