I remember it vividly: During graduate school, I went natural.
"Going natural" is a growing rite of passage for black women—that moment when we decide to stop using chemical relaxers to permanently straighten our hair because we're tired of hearing (and believing) that our real hair isn't good enough.
As I now know, discovering what works for your curly hair is a unique, sometimes frustrating, sometimes funny journey. And while everybody's curls are different, every curly girl shares these 10 truths:
1. Your "washes" don't often involve shampoo.
I can go for days without wetting my hair, and often, it looks even better the second or third day it goes without water. When I do wash my hair, I often skip the shampoo and simply place heaps of conditioner on my hair, comb it through in the shower, and rinse. Curly hair is drier than straight hair (more on that later), and excessive shampooing can lead to brittleness and breakage.
2. You realize you should buy stock in a conditioner company.
I might not use much shampoo, but I purchase conditioner by the liter. Because the natural oils our scalps produce struggle to circle their way down each coil on an extremely curly head, curly hair tends to be dryer than straight hair, which is why conditioner is a must.
3. Hair products require an entire line item in your budget.
In addition to rinse-out conditioner, there's leave-in conditioner, styling cream, deep conditioners, oil treatments– no, I don't need all of this in one day. But during the course of a week, I might use about 10 different items. For real.
4. Don't ask to borrow a brush.
I don't have one. Brushing very curly hair just makes it tangled and overly frizzy. Using a wide toothed comb is a must. Combing through tangles while hair is wet and soaked with conditioner makes for easier styling and care.
5. There is a language.
Poo, co-wash, pre-poo, holy grail, 3c/4a/4b. It's part of the code extremely curly girls learn when talking about our hair. Look it up.
6. The weather app on your phone is the first thing you check each morning.
Extremely curly hair is a great weather vane. I can tell by the way my curls are popping or drooping how much humidity is in the air. I often make styling decisions based on that day's forecast.
7. Humidity can actually be your friend.
This might not be true for all of my curly counterparts—but I love humid weather. My life in Florida after college was a series of consecutive good hair days. I like my hair big and bold, and the water in the air, combined with products that helped my hair retain moisture, made it look amazing. Trips to Las Vegas and Phoenix, on the contrary, made my hair look dry and flat. When I travel now, I choose which hair products to take based on the climate at my destination.
8. Finding a good salon takes work.
Like any other woman, I like to pamper myself with a trip to the hairstylist for a fabulous cut and color. Occasionally, I might even like a blow dry. But like many curly girls, I need a stylist who knows to book at least two hours for me. She also needs to know how to trim curly hair without giving me an accidental triangle bob.
9. Certain materials can be hazardous.
When some of my longer strands get caught on the Velcro closure on the neck of my winter coat, I can expect to either lose some hair or experience some serious pain trying to detangle it. Winter hats are also problematic, as wool and woolen-like material dries out curls and gives me a nasty case of hat head. Luckily, a few curly entrepreneurs have created winter caps with curl-friendly satin or silk inserts (yes!) to combat dryness and breakage while preserving the style. I also sleep on satin pillowcases at night—cotton is pretty drying.
10. You can get "more" hair—instantly.
Thanks to my hair, I can be a disco queen, '70s hippie, or '80s trendsetter in minutes. All I have to do is tease my hair to its highest heights, leading my not-so-curly friends to wonder if I added extra hair. Nope. I just picked it out with a classic black power fist pick—which I can then stick in my hair for effect.
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