If you spend any bit of time on Instagram, YouTube, or other online beauty communities, then you’ve probably heard of the natural hair trend. This movement encourages women (and men) to embrace their natural hair, including all its so-called imperfections, and ditch damaging treatments like bleach, perms, and relaxers.
But successfully embracing your natural hair also means learning how to properly care for it. Most people don’t actually know their hair type, which means they don’t know the exact needs of their hair. And many of the most popular hair products on store shelves can damage our hair and scalp. Learning more about your hair type and the best products to use are two of the most significant steps you can take toward a healthy, natural head of hair.
The Natural Hair Movement
In the past few decades, the natural hair movement has, no pun intended, taken root. While this movement started as a way to encourage black women to embrace their natural hair type, it has branched out to encompass all different races, genders, and hair types. Of course, at its core, the natural hair movement is a celebration of black beauty and heritage, and we should in no way downplay that origin when discussing the natural hair movement. But everyone deserves to feel beautiful with their natural hair, no matter what that means for them personally.
While there’s controversy over the inclusion of white men and women in the natural hair movement, hairstylists define natural hair as hair that has not undergone any chemical treatments. For this article, we will too. Women of color are certainly the most targeted by relaxing products and services, there’s no denying that. But in the same way that we’re all constantly being pressured to wear a certain trend or do our makeup a certain way, there are constantly changing trends in hair. The perms of the ’80s are a not-quite-forgotten memory, which was then followed by the stick-straight hair of the 2000s. Now, more men and women are embracing their natural hair textures and saying no to chemicals and heat.
How to Determine Your Natural Hair Type
The most common guide for determining your hair type was popularized by the book, “Curly Girl,” but was actually designed by a man named Andre Walker. You might have seen this categorization system before in magazines, online, or even from a local hairstylist.
The Walker hair type guide goes from one to four. Straight hair is one, wavy hair is two, curly hair is three, and kinky hair is four. Inside these four categories are letters which differentiate between different hair textures. These letters range from A to C. For instance, 2A hair is wavy but fine, while 4c hair is kinky and very coarse and thick.
An individual’s hair can land perfectly in one category, be spread across multiple categories, or sit halfway between two. Some people have chunks of hair that are one type, while the rest of their hair falls into a completely different type. Hair types can also change with age, especially following pregnancy or menopause.
Naturally straight hair isn’t quite as needy as other hair types, but that doesn’t mean you can abuse it. The benefits of straight hair include lots of shine, fast growth, and its durability. But some people with straight hair struggle with volume and excess oil in their hair.
Most people with straight hair probably have no issue with traditional shampoo and conditioner. But that doesn’t mean these are the healthiest options for their hair. Those who struggle with greasy hair might also benefit from adding moisture to their hair routine or limiting the amount of shampoo they use. It might seem counterintuitive, but this can actually help rehydrate your scalp and stop it from creating excess oil.
Wavy hair can range from very loose to almost curly. But the defining feature of wavy hair is its S-shaped waves. Wavy hair is great if you like the look of beachy, unkempt tresses. But it is also prone to frizz, flat roots, and flyaways. While wavy hair isn’t normally as fragile as curly hair, you should still avoid most brushes and take extra steps against breakage when your hair is wet.
If you have wavy hair, your hair texture — the A, B, or C in your hair type — probably plays the biggest role in how your hair responds to products and styling. Those with finer hair, type 2A and sometimes 2B, might prefer a routine similar to those with straight hair. This routine typically uses lighter products and less moisture. But those on the heavier side of 2B into 2C might lean toward a curly routine with lots of moisture and styling products with a pretty heavy hold.
In contrast to wavy hair’s S-shaped coils, curly hair is described as C-shaped. This hair type is more delicate than straight or wavy hair, and you should avoid using anything but a wide-toothed comb. Brushes will create undefined frizz in curly hair. You can gently brush your hair when it’s wet, but you still need to take care not to cause breakage.
For most men and women with curly hair, moisture might seem like the key. But even the most hydrated curls will lose shape if the right styling products aren’t used. What curls really need is strong hold and structure. Curly-haired folks have coined the term “gel casting” for the process of coating their curls in gel and allowing it to harden. While this technique might look scary at first, the final results are luscious, bouncy curls that hold their shape throughout the day.
Kinky hair is most common in black or Latino individuals and is sometimes called “Afro-textured” hair. This hair type is even tighter than curly hair, and often more fragile. These curls are typically described as Z-shaped, but some type 4 hair is actually more wavy than curly. This hair type is slow to grow because as each strand of hair grows, it curls. Type 4 hair tends toward more breakage than the other hair types, as well.
Of all the hair types, kinky hair needs the most moisture and care. You should only comb type 4 hair if it is wet and saturated with conditioner. Some natural hair enthusiasts even urge those with kinky hair not to touch it with a brush or comb it at all and instead, use their fingers for detangling.
Choosing the Right Products for Natural Hair
When it comes to caring for natural hair, the products you use are perhaps the most important factor. Many popular hair products contain harmful sulfates and silicones. These compounds create a damaging stripping and coating cycle that takes away your hair’s natural moisture and replaces it with a layer of heavy silicone. No matter what hair type you have, we suggest ditching any products with these ingredients altogether. Your hair will thank you.
One important note to make when it comes to eliminating sulfates and silicones from your hair routine is that you can’t just get rid of sulfates. Sulfates are pretty much the only thing that can remove silicone from the hair. If you remove sulfates from your routine but keep using a conditioner or styler with silicone, then your hair will develop a dull, greasy build-up of silicone over time. If you plan to switch to a sulfate- and silicone-free routine, we recommend using a clarifying shampoo in order to give your scalp and hair a fresh start. The Suave Naturals Daily Clarifying Shampoo is an excellent, cheap option.
- Suave Essentials Daily Clarifying Shampoo gently cleanses hair
- Provides 2X more moisture when used with Daily Clarifying Conditioner
- Brings out hair's natural beauty and shine
Most of the products discussed below are available in drugstores, salons, and health stores. You can also find each of these products on Amazon. There are many factors that go into determining whether a product is right for you or not. So, don’t hesitate to try several and stick with the one that works for you and your hair. Each of the products mentioned below is free of sulfates and silicones.
Finding a sulfate-free shampoo for natural hair doesn’t mean spending a lot of money. Many big drugstore companies have launched sulfate-free products in recent years, and this includes several reasonably priced options. Many big retailers, like Walgreens and Target, also carry small black hair care sections where you can find sulfate-free cleansers that deliver tons of moisture.
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- SOFT, SEDUCTIVE, SILKY: This rich blend infused with argan oil of Morocco + silk proteins help repair even the most...
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L’Oréal’s EverPure Cleansing Balm is great for those whose hair doesn’t need a ton of extra moisture. If your hair craves hydration and is a fan of natural oils, the OGX Renewing Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo is a good choice. And if your hair needs a ton of moisture, the SheaMoisture Raw Shea Moisture Retention Shampoo offers a thick, hydrating formula free of harsh chemicals.
- Perfect for transitioning chemically treated hair to natural
- This is a sulfate free shampoo gently cleanses while deeply moisturizing and repairing dry, damaged or over processed...
There’s also a class of products called cleansing conditioners (or co-wash). You can use these just as a cleanser, following up with a heavier conditioner, or as a one-step shampoo and conditioner. One of the most popular cleansing conditioners is DevaCurl’s No-Poo Cleanser.
Conditioners offer tons of variety regarding ingredients and levels of hydration. Some people find that their hair and scalp don’t respond well to some oils and moisturizers. Others will find these same ingredients life-changing. You can also use pure oils, shea butter, and more from your local natural grocer.
A nice, lightweight conditioner is DevaCurl’s One Condition. But if you’re looking for a more affordable option, the Suave Essentials Conditioner is surprisingly silicone-free. Those with particularly thirsty hair will also want to use a deep conditioner regularly, if not in place of a regular conditioner. SheaMoisture’s Superfruit Complex Hair Masque offers loads of hydration to the hair and scalp. The Kinky Curly Stellar Strands Deep Treatment is another popular product within the natural hair community, but it’s certainly not exclusive to those with curls.
- Stellar Strands Will Take Your Curls From Status Quo To Stellar
- When used regularly you will notice improved elasticity
- Reduced breakage while it rejuvenates
Your preferred styler will depend on how you prefer your hair to look on a day-to-day basis. Some people will prefer the way their hair looks without any products after washing and conditioning, and this is fine. But others find they need some after-shower moisture and hold to achieve their desired look.
- Natural curl or wave pattern you never knew you had
- Define your curls, remove frizz, provide long lasting hold
- shine without ever being greasy, crunchy or drying to your hair
You can absolutely use an extra pump of your wash-out conditioner as a leave-in. However, some people like the results of a designated leave-in conditioner. Miss Jessie’s Leave-In Condish helps fight frizz and moistures dry hair. The Kinky Curly Curling Custard is a light-to-medium gel with countless fans in the curly hair community. If you’re looking for a cheaper gel option, the Aussie Instant Freeze Gel is a hidden gem in the drugstore aisles.
To Blow-Dry or Not to Blow-Dry?
Natural hair means no chemical treatments, but what about heat? Of course, it’s always best to keep damaging heat to a minimum, no matter what haircare routine you’re following. But some of us rely on a blow dryer to get ready for our day within a limited amount of time. Fortunately, there are some blow drying techniques that can help keep your hair healthy despite the extra heat.
If you have wavy, curly, or kinky hair, using a diffuser not only helps keep your coils in place, it also helps evenly distribute the dryer’s heat to prevent damage. This method is slower than just blasting your hair with the open dryer. But the final results are better-looking and, more importantly, a lot healthier.
You can also opt for a compromise between blow drying and air drying. Tie up wet hair in an old 100-percent cotton shirt — this helps fight frizz, unlike a terry cloth towel — and go about your morning routine until all you have left is your hair. At this point, most of the water will have left your hair and you can quickly dry it to completion.
Learning to Love Your Natural Hair
Regardless of your natural hair type, current routine, or hair goals, the most important thing is that you love your hair. Many of us have insecurities about our hair, whether it’s the color, texture, or curliness. But the biggest point of the natural hair movement is learning to move past these insecurities and appreciate how our hair makes us unique and represents us as individuals.
You should also remember that it’s okay to change and try something new sometimes. You can rock natural hair for years, but then go and dye it neon green or get a Brazilian blowout. This doesn’t devalue the effort you put into keeping your hair natural for all that time. As long as you’re doing what makes you happy, and prioritizing your hair’s general health, then it’s your body to do with as you please. Have fun with it.