A few posts ago, I explored the question: What is Hair Anyway? I won’t rehash the deets, so if you wanna know, you can read up on that here. To tie up, nice and neat, the tail-end of that post, I thought I’d expand on the To Do (and Not Do) List I created. Check it out…
DO eat a balanced diet
Fairly obvious. A diet that includes a variety of fruits, veggies and proteins will keep your hair and nails in tip-top shape; protein is very key, since it accounts for 90% of what your hair is made of.
I personally struggle with the healthy diet thing because I hate cooking, especially for one. You know those bachelor(ette) types whose kitchen looks strangely clean… almost unused, even? The types who are known by name and/or order preference to all the restaurants and delivery boys in the neighbourhood? That’s me! So, more often than anyone should admit to doing, I fall prey to the dreaded take-out menu. Pray for me, my waistline, and my hairline!
DO drink plenty of water
Also obvious. Keeping your body properly hydrated goes a long way for optimizing elasticity of the skin and hair. Make sure to drink as much actual water, as opposed to juice, soda, and other sugary/sweet beverages, to get the most benefit. I keep a reusable glass bottle (don’t know how much it holds, but I’d guess about 750 ml) on my desk at work and refill it a couple of times throughout the day. I have another bottle at home that I use the same way.
Oh yeah, and try to eliminate fluids that can be dehydrating. Things like coffee and alcohol will do that to you. Sigh… again, I struggle. Let’s just say, I am not useful to very many without my morning cup-a-joe. And I certainly like my regular G&T (gin and tonic) or glass of wine… REGULARLY…
I have zero trouble drinking water and limiting my consumption of soda/juice. Easy-peasy!
The coffee is getting better.
But the booze… not so much…
DO keep the scalp clean
As a nappy head, I know that the sebum (remember that waxy, oily goodness?) has more difficulty travelling down a curly, kinky, or coily shaft, which results in hair that is more dry than its straighter counterpart. Too much shampooing, especially with products containing harsh chemicals, will further strip already dry hair. Not a good thing. About once a week with a gentle cleansing shampoo is enough… for me, anyway. The frequency varies depending on the condition of the hair, so listen to your hair’s needs and do you! And a clarifying or chelating shampoo once in a while will remove buildup that a regular shampoo might miss. I do that about once every three to four weeks, or when my hair feels tacky.
DO keep the hair moisturized and sealed
In between shampoos, wash as needed with conditioner (co-washing). This method replenishes moisture and removes product without stripping the hair. Similar to shampooing, the frequency varies from one person to another. Adopt a regimen that includes regular post-wash moisturizing of the cuticles, followed by sealing in of that moisture. Sound familiar? It’s kinda like what the sebaceous glands are trying (with a lot of difficulty) to do naturally, isn’t it? And while we’re at it, we might as well protect the ends of the hair, at least while sleeping.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray my hair my bonnet to keep (from rubbing on cotton and drying out)
If they should dry before I wake
Reapply moisture to my ends so they won’t break!
Even though this doesn’t explicitly improve retention, we might as well avoid breakage too.
DO be gentle with the hair
This one is particularly important to me. Back in the day, braiding my extensions too tightly and leaving them in too long wreaked havoc on my edges; they still show signs of trauma, even though I haven’t worn extensions in years! And I must confess… I’m (still) addicted to my brush! In the past, I haven’t been kind to my hair.
When detangling, hold the hair close to the end and gently loosen tangles with the fingers or a wide-tooth comb. For especially stubborn knots, spray the hair with water or apply oil to soften it. Never rip the comb from root to tip! In fact, avoiding combs or brushes altogether would be ideal.
Dry using a microfibre shammy or even an old tee shirt to blot; never rub. Both microfibre and jersey are quite absorbant but will not snag hair the way terry cloth can. Some people don’t even blot; they simply squeeze out the excess water with their hands and let the air do its magic!
Protective styling, when used appropriately, can go a long way. By rolling, twisting, or braiding once and keeping that style for a few days or even weeks, the hair is not in danger or being handled too much or too roughly. But be smarter about how long to keep it in than I was! And if braids or twists ain’t your thing, try wigs. There are endless choices in terms of colours and styles. Have fun with it!
A popular method that limits manipulation is the Curly Girl Method. There are numerous variations on the technique originated by salon owner, and fellow curly girl, Lorraine Massey. Hit up your friendly neighbourhood search engine to find out more.
DO NOT use heat or harsh chemicals
The sebaceous glands work so hard, so why counteract that by using products that suck moisture out? Things like mineral oil, petroleum, chlorine, and isopropyl alcohol are present in most drugstore and even salon products. Read labels and learn what each ingredient is for. When purchasing ready-to-use products, make informed decisions.
Excessive use of heat styling tools can also be damaging. Try using tension methods instead of using hair dryers, flat irons or pressing combs for stretching the hair. Yes, it’s true that you probably won’t get that bone straight, Asian look, but your hair will be much healthier in the long run.
DO monitor and distinguish shedding vs. breakage
Shed hair looks very different from broken hair. Here are the signs:
- Broken hairs are short
- Shed hairs are longer and still have the root attached
- Broken hairs often have split ends (I’ve even seen weird loops in the middle of the hair – how odd!)
- Shed hairs don’t fall out in large clumps – that could be breakage or even hair-loss
Shedding happens in the third phase of the hair’s growth cycle, when old hairs fall out, making room for new ones to take their place. There is a normal amount of shedding that occurs every day. On average, a person can expect to lose somewhere between 50 and 100 hairs per day.
So when you see hairs in the sink or caught in the teeth of your comb, don’t panic. Take a closer look. If you see breakage, go back to the top of this list and follow the advice!
What Dos/Don’ts can you add to this list? What advice would you give to a Natural Newbie about retention?