A Pressing Dilemma for Natural Hair

Proceed with caution

I recently came across this question on a website regarding issues with pressing natural hair. The person posed this question:
For about 3 months I have used my new awesome straightener which made my hair very nice and straight. My natural hair is very curly but now I sometimes want to curl my hair (like just put mousse in it) and I was wondering what can I do to get my natural beautiful hair back after straightening it so much?? PLEASE HELP!  I put mousse in it yesterday and it looked horrible because most of it is not even curly!
The "best answer" chosen to her question was to put mayonnaise in it to get the curl back.  The reality is that this woman has literally fried her hair, and it may never go back to it's original texture no matter how much conditioner, mouse, gel or condiments she uses.

There are many reasons why people choose to go natural, and one of them is the avoidance of double processing (perm + heat and/or coloring). Although they do not have a perm, they still wear their hair straight and have just removed one of several steps that is damaging to hair. However, what many people don't realize is that chemical relaxers are not the only thing that permanently alters the texture of hair. The consistent application of high heat over time permanently changes the texture via damage to the hair shaft. This is sometimes referred to as "training" natural hair* by making it easier to straighten after it has been pressed out for long periods of time.

*I cannot stand the term "train" when it comes to natural hair. It is basically saying natural hair is bad and unruly and must be beaten into submission. My hair behaves just fine, and the only thing training does is train it to play dead. [End personal diatribe]

What is actually occurring is that the heat is breaking down the natural protein bonds of the hair and subtly changing its texture (i.e. damaging the hair). True, it is not to the same degree that a relaxer alters the texture, which chemically breaks the bonds in hair as opposed to thermally. But the heat, over time, alters these bonds as well.  This results in a change to the natural curl pattern making it less curly/kinky when it is worn natural. Some say that their hair texture is uneven in places and tends to be "lifeless" after this occurs.

For those individuals who want to keep their hair straight at all times, this issue really isn't a problem. Permanently changing the hair texture to less curly may be ideal. However, for those women who either want to go back and forth between curly and straight styles, or who are in the process of transitioning from a relaxer to natural hair, this can be a very problematic issue. If your goal is to embrace your natural hair texture and eventually wear your hair natural (i.e. curly) on a regular basis, consistently pressing your new growth throughout your transitioning period can leave you with hair that is already starting out heat damaged and is not your true hair texture.

This is the primary reason I am such a huge advocate of the "Big Chop" method of transitioning because pressing damages the new growth, but walking around with a perm on top of a mini-fro doesn't look good either (not to mention that the point where perm and virgin hair meet is a weak spot that is prone to breakage). I understand and appreciate that everyone is not comfortable sporting a TWA. There are other methods of transitioning (ex. twists, braids, extensions) that won't have the same adverse consequences as regular pressing. This is not to say that any amount of pressing is bad. Some people enjoy the ability to go back and forth between straight and curly styles and there's absolutely nothing wrong or harmful in that.  When pressing is done properly and in moderation, your hair will be just fine. It is the consistent, frequent application of high heat that is damaging to the hair and could leave you with not exactly the healthy, glorious crown of curls you hoped for.

For tips on avoiding damage when pressing natural hair, please check this out.  Check this out as well for more tips on avoiding damage when pressing natural hair.


The 8 Month Update

It has been about 8 months since I started on my second loc journey, so I wanted to provide an update.  My locs are now well into the "teenage" stage of locking.  In this stage, the locs have definitely started to form and there is no more unraveling.  However, my locs are still somewhat "spongy" and are not yet as firm as a fully matured set of locs.  Different areas of my head have different textures, so the locking progress is going at different rates.  The locs in the back are much firmer and defined than the locs on the top and in the front of my head, where the hair is softer.  The back locs have about 1" of unlocked root, while the ones on the top of my head have about 3" of unlocked root:

In true teenage loc form, my locs are quite fuzzy and fluffy at this point.  Because of my hair texture and the way my loctician sectioned my hair to follow the curl pattern, the ends of my locs still have curly-q's, which I rather like because they somewhat mask the fact that I have a wild mess of teenage locs underneath.  Most people recognize that I have locs, but I still have a few people question whether I have locs or twists.  I actually try to keep my hair as full looking as possible by not overtwisting or using too much product (which is a good idea at any stage).  Even though the full length of my locs are fuzzy, I only focus on twisting and clipping the locs close to the root to maintain maximum fullness.  I actually prefer how my locs look the one to two days after a fresh retwist after I've had the chance to sleep on them and muss them up a bit.

My current maintenance routine involves washing and retwisting about once a week.  I tried washing without retwisting last week and discovered that my locs are not quite ready for all that.  They tangled and crept together and were just a mess.  I do an apple cider vinegar pre-treatment that I leave on my scalp for about an 30 minutes, shampoo, then follow with a rosemary infused apple cider vinegar rinse.  I retwist using a palm rolling technique with a teeny dab of Organic Root Stimulator Lock & Twist Gel and/or Carol's Daughter Loc Butter.  The loc butter has less hold to it, so I use it by itself when I want immediately full locs.  I usually leave the double prong clips in overnight and take them out in the morning.  For moisturizing, I use a small amount of Carol's Daughter Lisa's Hair Elixir every morning or every other morning.

Mentally and emotionally in relation to my locs, I have my good and bad days, but on the balance things are good.  Going through this the second time around (and having the benefit of being a few years older) I don't worry about how they look as much.  Yes, I still like to look good, but I've accepted and embraced the organic beauty of teenage locs as opposed to a manicured, no hair out of place look.  I do have my days (or weeks) when they just do not act right, when one renegade loc will not lie down, or the whole lot of them are just lying flat.  I have my days when I wish I could just wrap them up for the next 4 months and not think about them at all.  I do find that my locs look better when I am in a better mood and worse when I'm feeling down, so I try my best to stay in good spirits (but I'm human so I don't always succeed).

Overall I'm very pleased with my progress and am thoroughly enjoying this round of teenage locs.  While I'm definitely looking forward to a head full of fully mature locs, for now I'm embracing this phase of my journey.


I've Been Featured on iRockLocs!

I've been featured on one of my favorite loc blogs, iRockLocs!  Kim is a natural hair and loc blogger sharing her journey from perm to locs (which I think is an amazing leap.... it took me 5 years to build up the courage to go from natural to locs) and features lots of inspirational info, stories and pictures to help anyone who is traveling the same journey.

Please check out my feature here: Cassandra: She Rocks Locs! as well as the rest of her site. Thanks Kim!!



Delectable Moisturizing

It is my pleasure to share with you a guest post from fellow natural hair aficionado, Christine Lowe-Woolard.  Christine is a mother of three and the owner of neosoul.essentials, llc. Founded on the principles of natural skin and hair care, neosoul.essentials, llc carries natural, paraben free products for hair and body. Visit http://www.neosoulessentials.com for product information.  Follow her on Twitter at @Christine_LW.  Enjoy!


I am privileged and pleased to have been given the opportunity to write a guest post for the Natural Afrodisiac. I love reading blogs about natural hair and reading about others’ ideas, conditioning recipes, products and hairstyles.

A little, teeny, tiny bit about me, then onto the good stuff. I became natural about seven years ago. I had worn a relaxer for almost EVER and was tired of the curling, the blow drying and whole the “don’t get my hair wet” syndrome I had to follow to keep my hairstyle flowing.

I was five months pregnant with my first child and trying to transition with four inches of relaxed hair and two inches of new growth. The two textures were fighting each other and I STILL had the “don’t get it wet” problem because I was styling it using curlers.

On Halloween, 2002, I looked in the mirror at my hair and said that’s it. I cut off that dry brittle four inches and had a beautiful crown of two inch long curly, cute Afro hair. And I haven’t looked back since.

Now, onto the good stuff.

One thing I’ve noticed about my hair in general – whether it is relaxed or not – is that it is dry. When I read blogs, there is always a question about how to get more moisture into the hair and to keep it moist. I wanted to take this time to share some of my natural recipes that I’ve created, used and gotten off the Internet that have worked for me.

I’m a huge proponent of natural remedies and the like, so most of the ingredients that I use, you can easily get from your neighborhood drug store or grocery store. Feel free to copy and paste, ladies!

Deep Conditioner and tasty condiment? Mayonnaise can be your BFF. And I’m talking about REAL mayonnaise, not salad dressing. 
Mmmmayo and Avocado deep conditioner:

½ ripe avocado
1 cup real mayonnaise (approximate)

Mash ½ very ripe avocado and mix it with a small jar (approx 1 cup) of real mayonnaise. Apply to the hair and pop on a plastic cap. Leave the mixture on for about 30 minutes (or longer), then rinse out. Should leave hair soft and moisturized.

Brown Sugar Scalp Scrub stimulates your scalp and gets rid of dry, scaly dandruff.  I prefer using oils only, so that the sugar does not dissolve.
Brown Sugar Scalp Scrub:

½ cup turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw)
Approx ¼ - ½ cup of your favorite liquid oil
Mix ½ cup of turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) with about ¼ - ½ cup of your favorite oil – olive, coconut, soybean…you choose. Make sure the mixture isn’t too runny, so that you don’t have the stuff running in your face. Rub gently into your scalp and enjoy the feeling of those sugary crystals giving making your scalp tingle. Rinse clean.
These are the two recipes I use to keep my scalp stimulated and my hair moisturized. I certainly hope that you will find them as helpful as I have.


The Growth Myth

This is why your hair doesn't "grow"

Growing up I was always led to believe that black hair does not grow, or at least, does not grow as fast as other hair textures. I was deathly afraid of cutting my past-the-shoulders hair for fear that it would never grow back. I had friends in middle and high school who jumped on the Salt-N-Pepa asymmetrical cut fad (which, as it turns out, was a complete accident when a bad perm burned the hair off one side of Pepa's head, so she shaved it) and ended up having to permanently wear short hair when it was time to even it out. Or you just had the girls whose hair just always stayed short no matter what they did. I was considered "lucky" for having hair that went past my shoulders.

However, when I went natural 12 years ago, I found out this is a flat out lie. Or, at least, an incomplete truth. I cut my hair down to about 2", and within 6 months I had a full head of hair again, at least 6" worth. What I discovered is that it's not that black hair doesn't grow. It comes out of the root just fine, some faster than others of course. The problem lies in how fast it is breaking off.

Let's do some simple math here. If your hair grows 1" per month, but breaks off at a rate of 3/4" per month, your net hair growth is only 1/4". It's not the growth that's the issue; it's all the things you're doing to your hair to make growth counterproductive. All of the growth serums and scalp treatments in the world won't do a bit of good if the ends of your hair are breaking off at a rapid rate.

So what causes breakage? Damage. And what causes damage? Heat, chemicals, and physical stress. The very processes designed to make our hair "long and pretty" are damaging and destroying, causing split ends and breakage, which gives the appearance that our hair does not grow. Many women that you see with long, thick straight hair do not have perms, but rather press their hair so that they don't have the combination of both chemical and heat damage. What saved my hair when I was younger was the fact that my mother always did my perms using a mild relaxer, and I got touch ups every 8-12 weeks, not every 6 like my friends.

I think this myth is the root of the problem (no pun intended) when it comes to deciding how to transition from a perm to natural hair and the fear of the Big Chop. This myth has been ingrained into our heads so deeply that we believe that if we cut off our long hair, it won't grow back quickly and we'll be "bald headed" for years. However, once you stop doing all the things that cause damage in the first place (and probably the reason you're going natural anyway) you will have greater "net hair growth" as you have less breakage to counteract the growth that has been occurring all along.

So stop believing the myth that black hair does not grow, because it does, just like any other type of hair. If you cut the perm off, it can and will grow back longer and stronger than before, and quicker than you think.


Loc Life Lessons

Today, July 1st, is Locs Day, a day to celebrate and appreciate those with locs and those who admire locs.  To me, locs are more than just a hairstyle, but rather a lifestyle.  The experience of growing, cutting, and growing locs again has influenced who I am as a person and how I look at myself and life.  Over the past 8 years I have learned many valuable lessons thanks to my locs, so I wanted to share 5 lessons that my locs have taught me:

1) Anything worth having is worth waiting for.

Cultivating locs is the ultimate exercise in patience.  We are an instant gratification society and are used to instant results.  If we want different hair, we go out and buy it or pay someone to change it.  Growing locs, however, forces you to abandon this need for instant gratification and instead wait for what you want. Even the most intricate microbraids don't even come close to comparing to how long it takes to grow locs.  It takes at least a year for locs to resemble their final form, and even beyond that they are still changing maturing.  Until that time they can be difficult to deal with, fuzzy, unruly, and some days just look downright bad.  Though I have my days where I say "Man I can't wait for these locs to mature!" I have learned to not worry about them and instead focus on other areas of my life that matter, and let nature take care of itself.  You cannot have locs without being willing and able to wait and endure these frustrations.  I've seen the end result of such patience in my first set of locs, so with this set I have learned to enjoy each stage and celebrate the progress in my journey.

2) Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

When growing locs, less is more.  There are a lot of products out there that claim to help grow locs, but most of them are unnecessary.  There are a few products that do work well with locs (and which product works best is an individual thing), but even with these products too much of them causes more problems.  I already confessed to my former product junkie status and how that almost ruined my locs, but that lesson really stressed to me the importance of moderation and temperance when dealing with good things, not just the bad.  It is important to be able to realized when enough is enough.

3) Time heals all wounds.

After I had my product junkie incident, I was devastated.  I thought I had completely ruined my locs and that I would have to cut them off.  They looked REALLY bad and I was just heartbroken whenever I would see other people's smooth, cylindrical locs.  But I didn't give up, and eventually the locs began to heal themselves.  There was nothing I could do in the meantime aside from trying to smooth out the lumps gradually each time I twisted, but ultimately it was just time that made them better.  No matter how bleak, difficult or hurtful a situation may seem, with patience and caring time heals everything.

4) The only person's opinion who matters is your own.

When you make the decision to grow locs, there will be no shortage of naysayers trying to tell you that you are making a mistake.  People will tell you that you're never going to be able to find a job, or that locs will make people look at you negatively, or you won't be able to find a man.  They will look at your unruly baby and teenage locs and think your hair looks bad.  Or (like my last stylist) will try to convince you that your loose natural is pretty and you shouldn't mess it up with locs.  My kids had it even worse with the outright teasing, name calling and ridicule from other children in school; most adults have enough sense not to do that, but the sentiments are still the same.  However, if you know that you have a goal and vision for yourself and know that one day it will all pay off, everyone else's opinions and criticisms don't matter.  I will never forget my son singing "Back then they didn't want me/Now I'm loc'd they all on me."  Your critics will later be the same people singing your praises and wishing they had the tenacity and patience to do it as well. 

5) Know when to let go.

It is said, and I believe, locs conduct and hold energy, both positive and negative, from outside and from within.  Without fail, when I am feeling bad, my locs are unruly and uncooperative.  When I'm feeling great, they look amazing.  Over time, negativity can accumulate in your locs. I know there are countless stories of people cutting their locs after going through a particularly difficult life experience, or when they are moving on to a different stage in life for this precise reason.  In the past 3 years I went through an extremely trying period in my life, including divorce, unemployment, and just losing myself and my way in general.  I knew, but didn't want to believe, the "loc folklore" that they hold negativity, and instead tried to hold onto them and work past it.  But no matter what I did, they just looked terrible.  I was using the same styling products and methods, but they just weren't responding.  Finally I came to the realization that it was just time for them to go.  Of course I was scared, because my locs were ME.  That's how everyone knew me, the tall yellow lawyer with locs.  But I knew that particular era of me was over, and in order to move on I had to let go. We can't hold on to the past and expect to be able to move forward.  Some things in life are to be enjoyed for awhile, but then we have to let go and make room for new experiences.