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Top 5 No-Nonsense Tips for Transitioning from Perm to hair like gorgeous, Lupita Nyong'o

Updated on January 10, 2016

Hair tips from Early YouTube

I cut my perm off in 2009 following the completion of two professional internships. It was my senior year of college. The year I would finally step out into the world after almost two decades of preparation. Dance classes, gymnastics, honors classes in school, summer science camps, orchestra… my parents were all about preparation, not only in school and extracurricular activities but also in appearance. I had been getting perms since I was 5 years old, and I didn’t even know what my natural hair looked like.

It’s a common story for African American women. Historically, our natural hair has been banned in corporate settings, so the preparation for real-world Eurocentric gazing starts young.

Inspired by the election of President Barack Obama, in 2009 I was confident that my education, skills, hard work, intelligence, credentials, dedication, and amicable personality was enough to land me a job without THE HAIR. So I cut it off. Following the instructions in a YouTube video, I stood in my bathroom facing the mirror with a regular pair of scissors, pulled my straight, shoulder-length, permed hair up to reveal the super-tight coils at the root, and cut at the clear point where my last perm had been. I BCed. Big Chopped. And, I recorded it all on a handheld video camera. When I was done, I took the camera with me to reveal my TWA (teeny weeny afro) to my mom. I wanted to get her first reaction on tape.

She screamed, jumped out of her seat and shouted, “good luck getting a job, now!”

Though I didn’t use hair shears to cut my hair, the cut looked good, and even. My curl texture tucked away my ends. It wasn’t the cut-job that made her say what she said, it was the fact that I was wearing my natural hair.

“You’ve been watching those girls on the internet! I knew you were going to do something like this,” she said, now practically in tears. “All that work. Why couldn't you have waited until you got a job!” The work she was talking about were my credentials; college-prep high school, MVP of high school track team, cheerleading captain, editor of school paper, good University, good grades, founder and president of a student organization, college radio DJ, two professional internships, etc.

It was in 2009 that I decided that the misunderstandings that mainstream had about my hair would need to be addressed. I was going to wear my natural hair texture. If an employer wanted to judge me for it, I had peace of mind in knowing that the President of the United States, and the whole first family had the same coils springing at their roots.

Later that week I went to my regular salon to get my TWA shaped. But, I initially wanted to cut my own hair in my bathroom with my scissors because I wanted control over my image, for once. I wanted to take ownership of my own hair. I wanted to fully feel in control of my own body.

Early YouTube videos helped me understand my hair. They would educate women, like me, who were just seeing their real hair for the first time. Now days, it’s hard to find YouTube videos on natural hair that educate in the ways that those first videos taught me. But, there are still many women who want to take that step that I did back in 2009. I’m so grateful for those first YouTubers, and I want to share with you a list of tips that I learned from them. These tips are responsible for the joy I find in caring for my hair, and the success I have had in growing beautiful 4C textured hair that received complements from many.

  1. Never touch your hair while it’s dry.

Good tip to live by. Though you might be saying to yourself, “how am I going to ‘never touch my hair’ while it’s dry,” you need to understand that your hair loves water. We ran from water when we had a perm because we were trying to maintain a straight look, and water would destroy our style. Telling yourself to never touch your hair when it’s dry helps you to change your thinking. Most of your success in growing healthy hair will come from your own shift in thinking. It was never our hair that was “unmanageable,” it was what we were doing to it. We were mismanaging our hair. Once you get in the habit of not playing with your hair, and moisturizing with water and a spray bottle when needed, you will begin to learn your unique texture. It is truly rewarding.

2. Do not use combs to detangle.

Finger detangling is the way to go. Yes, you can do it. If you know your hair, you can detangle your hair with your fingers alone. During the first year of growing your hair you will be getting to know your hair texture.

  • You will be using water whenever you touch your hair. You will not style your hair without using some kind of liquid to keep it wet or damp as you move your hair around, or style it.
  • While this is happening, you are getting to know how your hair curls, or kinks. You come to understand what knots are. They are shorter strands of your hair, doing exactly what healthy natural hair should do. They are shorter strands of your hair, curling around longer strands of your hair. Once you figure this out you can easily take out knots with your fingers. For me, I just spray the knot with water, and move the curled strands around until it let’s the other strand of hair out of it’s grip.
  • Don’t just dismiss what I told you with a “not my hair texture, you must have good hair.” My hair texture is 4C. That’s the kinkiest hair texture on the chart.
  • Once I learned what my hair was doing when it was knotting, it was so easy to detangle.
  • Using a comb will only make detangling harder. When you use a comb on a knot, you are tightening the knot like pulling the loops on a shoelace. It takes longer to get the knot out, it hurts, and it ends up breaking your hair, thus creating more shorter strands to curl around longer strands, thus creating more knots. Why would you put yourself through that when it’s unnecessary?
  • Wet your hair, and learn how to finger detangle. It will make your life so much easier, and your hair will be healthier.
  • Once you know your hair, and you learn your hair texture and how to finger detangle, you can start to use a WIDE TOOTHED COMB for certain styles after you finger detangle. I only mention this so you know what kind of comb to reach for once you know how to, and have been finger detangling for years. I didn't start using a comb on my hair until 4 years into my natural hair journey. I already knew how to finger detangle, so I just used the WIDE TOOTHED COMB to comb through my bra-strap length hair after it was already finger detangled. Using any comb other than a WIDE TOOTHED COMB will only tangle your hair because all it's doing is poking it's small teeth into your ringlets, and your ringlets wrap around the little teeth like a boa constrictor when you pull. Doesn't make any sense to use a comb to detangle to hair when you think about the physics of the whole thing. But, when your hair is long, and you know what you're doing, the comb that works on our hair is called a WIDE TOOTHED COMB, and it looks like this.

3. Use the hair texture charts you find online to find what texture you are.

This will also help you to understand your hair. Reading about your hair texture will educate you in ways that a general afro-textured hair text will not. I’m 4C. So I know from reading about the different hair textures that my hair is dryer than a 4A hair texture, for example. That way I can start making educated decisions about what might or might not work on my hair, instead of relying on old notions of “good hair” and “bad hair.” Good hair, meaning that the hair texture is closer to a Eurocentric understanding of what curly hair is; wide, silky curls that we found to be easier to straighten and therefore, more “manageable.” Remember, it is not that our 4C hair is unmanageable, it is that we were mismanaging it. Learning your unique hair texture can help you to manage your hair correctly.

4. Co-wash.

Skip the shampoo. Wash your hair with conditioner. You’ll know when you need a good wash that includes shampoo, but surprisingly it is substantially less often than we thought. I would be remiss if I didn’t include the difference in how frequently you will be putting your head under the shower with natural hair. Like I said before, your hair loves water. Don’t run from it. I probably wet my hair every time I get in the shower. I co-wash, or wash with conditioner, whenever my hair is feeling dry.

5. Use protective-styles when you and your hair need a break.

Cornrows, braids, twists, weave, etc. When you need a different look, or you’re stressed, the weather is drying out your hair, or you just don’t feel like bothering with it for awhile use a protective-style to tuck your lovely kinks away for a later day. You will miss your natural hair after a while, and when that happens you can unwrap them to find your hair has grown even longer and fuller.

Those are the 5 most helpful tips that I learned from early YouTubers. They weren’t pushing products, they were posting for education. I grew long, healthy, 4C hair by using water, cholesterol conditioner and my fingers. That’s it.

Oh, and by the way, my mom rocks her own TWA now. She looks amazing! She says she was inspired by me, and she always compliments me on my hair when I see her.

Photo by:  James Mosley
Photo by: James Mosley | Source

If you're in a place with HARD WATER use a Shower Purification System


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