While the transition from relaxed to natural hair texture is usually a beautiful and empowering experience, it can often be a real struggle. Styling hair when it’s in-between textures—or straight, wavy, and/or curly at the same time—can make it tempting to disguise your hair in a top knot every single day of the week.
“When transitioning from relaxed to natural, retaining moisture and proper detangling is key,” says Monique Rodriguez, founder of hair brand Mielle Organics. “As your natural hair grows, you may experience a new challenge in caring for two different textures. Products designed to make your natural hair more manageable are best during this period.”
I’ve had plenty of moments in my personal journey where, after a wash and go, my hair has been super coily in certain sections, while simultaneously having straight ends in others. Needless to say, these moments can be extremely frustrating when you’re ready for your hair to finally have one cohesive texture. To find out how to best manage transitioning hair (without wanting to pull it out entirely), we spoke with a few natural hair gurus to get details on how to help your hair look and feel healthy in 2019 and beyond. These expert tips will help make your curls really pop.
1. Consider the “big chop”.
Going all in on the “big chop”—or dramatically cutting off relaxed hair into a short style—is one of the fastest ways to start your natural hair journey, but it’s definitely not a requirement. “It’s not for everyone, but a big chop is very therapeutic and it naturally pushes you headfirst into self-acceptance and understanding your texture,” celebrity hairstylist Angela Stevens tells SELF.
If you’re interested in hanging on to your hair length for a little while longer, don’t feel pressure to chop it all off. During her transition process, celebrity hairstylist Monique McCorkle would snip her relaxed ends after each shampoo. “Every time I washed my hair, the dead ends would get all knotted up, so trimming my hair made it more manageable and cut down on my styling time,” she explains. For those who don’t feel as comfortable cutting their hair totally off, regular trims at a salon are a great option for keeping hair healthy and even while it grows. Stevens advises trimming hair every four to six weeks, because as curly strands grow, straight hair is often more prone to breakage at the meeting point.
2. Experiment with protective hairstyles.
“Protective styles, like weaves, braids, and wigs, to are great tools to help protect new growth,” explains McCorkle. While it’s easy to pull your hair back every day, hairstylist Sammy LaCombe says these looks can thin out your hairline and damage your roots from all the tugging and excess force. Instead, try out different protective styles that put less tension on the hair, but still keep your ends tucked away.
“Braids and weaves are great protection when done with the health of the hair in mind,” says Stevens. “Here are some things to consider: Pain and hydration. At no point in the service should the styling be painful, although it is a common misconception that has allowed hair loss to prevail. If it’s too tight, speak up, or reconsider your hairstylist. It’s also very important to make sure the hair and scalp are moisturized prior to implementing a protective style. Brush through the hair with a paddle brush after oiling the scalp to evenly distribute the moisture on the hair that’s meant to be braided—it will help increase circulation, which helps to promote hair growth.” While protective styles can help give your hair a break, hairstylist Gabrielle Corney suggests wearing these styles in moderation, as more breakage could be caused between natural and relaxed parts of hair.
3. Disguise straight ends with a well-placed curl.
Even if you’re dealing with particularly straight ends, it’s still possible to wear a curly hairstyle while transitioning. A two-strand twist out or foam roller set can completely hide the appearance of relaxed hair by helping to make it more uniform. Bonus: Since foam hair curlers are cushy and narrow, they won’t tug at your hair like many plastic rollers can, and can be purchased at most drug or beauty supply stores. To get a curly look with foam rollers at home, wrap a one-inch section of conditioned damp hair around a rod at a time, then sit under a hood dryer until hair is completely dry. Next, gently remove the rollers to reveal a bouncy set of curls. LaCombe’s preferred curly style method is created with two-strand twists. “At night I’ll put my hair in thick twists, coil the twists into buns, and pin them,” she explains. “In the morning, I’ll take them out and shake them out.”
4. Try out new hair accessories.
With the chill of winter months ahead, you’ll probably want to avoid going outside with a wet head. If you don’t have time to style your hair before heading to work in the morning, there are plenty of accessories—some made specifically for natural hair types—that you can use to illustrate your personal style. One versatile accessory is the head scarf or turban, which can be tied into a wide variety of different shapes to completely cover or accent your hair. Other quick and easy accessory ideas can include decorative headbands or barrettes for days when you want to keep hair out of your face, or spice up a second- or third-day hairstyle.
5. Make heat protectants your new BFF when using hot tools.
When heat is used properly, it can be a wonderful aid for styling natural hair. Hairstylist and author Anthony Dickey recommends transitioning women use hooded dryers, hair dryers, and other hot tools on a low setting to better protect against heat damage. If you’re looking to completely straighten your hair while transitioning from a relaxer, a great heat protectant is key.
“Some natural hair lines that I love with heat protectants are Mielle Organics and Alodia,” says Stevens. “I usually like to use a thermal leave-in cream before blow drying, and a heat protectant spray throughout the hair before straightening. Lastly, one pass of a hot tool per section is the best protection against heat damage—don’t overdo it, ladies!”
6. Supplement your shampoo routine with co-washing.
Co-washing is a process that utilizes a conditioner to hydrate and cleanse hair in place of shampoo. Using this method can help to not only reset your curly wash-and-go style, but also provide moisture outside of your go-to leave-in conditioner. Reserve use of a sudsy shampoo for about once every two weeks to help remove any product build-up from hair.
“The reason to love co-wash is that the cleanser is made of antimicrobial oils that still clean the hair but give it added moisture,” says Stevens. “Any style that’s heat-free will love the benefits of co-wash.” While this cleansing method can be useful to help keep hair hydrated, Corney says it should never take the place of a regular shampoo.
7. Schedule a consultation with a hairstylist who can help you transition properly.
Just like any other life experience, you may need a bit of professional help on your natural hair journey. Although there are some things you can do at home, utilizing the expertise of a stylist who understands natural hair can be a total game changer. “Seek the assistance of a professional cosmetologist who specializes in natural hair,” Rodriguez explains. “They can provide useful information on proper care for your hair texture and recommend at-home solutions in-between visits related to dryness, heat damage, dandruff, and more.”
Many salons offer hair consultations before the actual appointment to help better assess their clients’ needs. “From the first consultation alone, you will know whether or not the stylist understands your needs and will give you what you’re asking for,” says LaCombe. “If within that consultation, you feel like there’s a misunderstanding or they’re not going to do what you want to do, it’s not a good fit.”
Corney suggests that while the internet is vast and plenty of information available, it won’t cancel out the advice of a professional. “Seek out a qualified professional who wants to be your healthy hair care partner,” she explains. “You may be surprised on how much healthier your hair can be.”