Day 1: THE BASICS- What Hair Is and How Relaxers Work

Hello my beautiful people!

You are very welcome to ‘Going Back To Natural’, a blog special dedicated to you and to everyone curious about natural hair, considering reclaiming their kinks, looking forward to a healthy hair journey with their kinks. In this post, a few scientific terms are used, but they ARE explained, so please don’t let it throw you off. 🙂

I want everyone to have healthy hair– and I LOVE to share everything that brings light to my life with others. If I could make you see what I see, what I feel when I interact with my hair, I would! It’s amazing really and apart from deciding to get a Law degree at uni, going natural is the next best thing I’ve done for myself so far! It is my mission to get all my ladies on their way to healthy hair- and though I write from what I know or what I’m beginning to know- my experience with my kinky hair, I must say this at this point:

Being natural is best for hair but I want you to know that you can still have healthy relaxed hair.

I know, relaxer is bad for the hair strands but that orobo bottle of coke or 1L of Berry blast you chug every day is SO unnecessary but you drink it anyway. Your entire reproductive system may be better off if you abstain but you’re sexually active anyway, so yarrr.

Naija Hair Can Grow, Lush Strands, and Wura’s Secret Hair are three lovely 100% Nigerian hair blogs that give me joy. The ladies behind them have luscious, long, healthy relaxed hair BECAUSE some time ago, they decided to reject the traditional ideas about Nigerian/African hair, and start their healthy hair journeys.

First of all, I think it’s important for you as a person of African origin to know how relaxers work. I say “person” because this blog isn’t entirely for women. It’s important that guys know these things- perhaps it can help them be a little more understanding. As a woman, when you understand the science behind relaxer, I think you’ll be inspired to give your hair a lot more TLC than you’re giving it right now- especially if you choose to remain #teamrelaxer.

As you very well know, there are different types of hair. Even with the ones we buy- Brazilian, Mongolian, Peruvian- there’s straight, there’s wavy, there’s bohemian curls etc etc. You know by now that your hair is not Brazilian neither is it Mongolian. It is African. And we Africans are blessed with curly to coily hair. It’s our exclusive preserve. Try as we might, we cannot change this. Relax your hair today and in a few weeks, your undergrowth will remind you of whom you are in case you forgot.

heheheh

heheheh!!

WHAT HAIR IS

All hair (African, Caucasian, Peruvian, Mongolian, whatever) is composed of a protein called keratin (70-90%) for strength and structure, water for elasticity, and trace elements.

Your hair starts growing in the follicles. The follicles are embedded in your scalp and your dermis/epidermis. That’s where growth happens. I like to say it that hair is being cooked in the follicles. When the hair is ready for the world, it pushes up out of the scalp (Still attached though) to join the rest of the strand and so it continues. Think of the hair that you see as a chain of dead proteins. I think this is a fair introduction, stay with me now.

HAIR IS LAYERED

Science has shown us that our hair really has three layers- the cuticle, the cortex and the medulla. The cortex is the powerhouse. It takes instructions from your genes as to whether your hair is going to be straight or wavy or curly or kinky. It also determines what your hair colour is.

Almost anything you do or try to do has to get to the cortex to be of any effect. If you want to dye your hair and the dye doesn’t get through, the colouring won’t happen.

When you relax your hair, you are converting the curly to straight and the relaxer can only do this by tearing through your cuticle to alter the cortex.

WHY IS OUR HAIR THE WAY IT IS?

Remember I said ALL hair is 70-90% keratin?

Keratin proteins contain certain amino acids called cysteines.

These cysteines are connected to each other by things called disulfide bonds. These are present in all types of hair.

HOWEVER, the more disulfide bonds exist in a chain of proteins, the curlier the hair is.

Our African hair is naturally abundant in disulfide bonds, hence its unique kinky curliness. ^_^

SO WHAT DO RELAXERS DO TO NATURALLY KINKY-CURLY HAIR?

Relaxers break these disulfide bonds in such a way that they cannot reform. The part of your hair that is affected by a relaxer treatment can never go back to the way it was. A little weird how it’s called a “relaxer”. This cycle is nothing relaxing to your hair. Instead, it is very stressful for your strands to be torn through like that. Not to be dramatic but bonds are broken! 

Me, happy with my broken disulfide bonds in 2011.

Me with my broken disulfide bonds in 2011. :p

I’d like you to watch this video of Dr. Oz explaining how relaxers- and also weaves & high heat impact our hair. Curly Nikki was on the show to help out 🙂 They talk relaxer at about 12:00.

A kink is a bend in the hair strand. Our African hair has LOTS of kinks. Granted, every kink is a potential breaking point for our hair, but when hair is relaxed, the form is changed permanently and the hair is left in an EVEN more fragile, even more vulnerable state. You probably relax your hair because you want it easier, and more manageable, but you can’t just stop there. Your relaxed hair deserves just as much effort and care as natural hair, if not more!

Fun fact: your “undergrowth” isn’t your relaxer wearing off, it is your hair growing! After numerous touch-ups, do you agree with me now that your African hair should be way longer than it is today?

Are we good? Do you have an idea now of what your hair is made of? And how generally, chemical processes and more specifically, relaxers affect them? I hope so! Any questions, just drop em off in the comments section. I don’t want you over-thinking yet though, we have more days ahead of us!

This is probably the first time I’ve gone into relaxers on the blog. As I always say, good hair is healthy hair. But that’s as much as you’re going to hear from me about relaxers in a looong time, if not never. From tomorrow and till the week ends, we will be talking about how to get you started on your healthy NATURAL hair journey ^_^

Okay, same time tomorrow

Love

AB

X

P.S.

For more about the Structure of Hair, you could read this old post I wrote here.

For more about how relaxers, straighteners and texturisers work, here’s this article, and another one- here.

HAIR BASICS: TEXTURE x DENSITY

Hey there. This is another post in the Hair Basics series, a bunch of posts about the fundamentals of hair. What it really is and how it functions. You could continue the Understanding Hair 101 class here 🙂

Hair texture and density are two properties that get mixed up a lot, but they really are different things.

Do you believe that all big afros or natural heads are “full” or “thick”? Just because someone has got a lot of hair does not mean that the person’s strands are thick.

Hair texture refers to the width/size of your hair strands, and Hair density is simply how much hair you have.

HAIR TEXTURE

– The size of your strands.
– Determined by the cortex.
– Types: Your hair texture may be fine, medium, coarse.

The thicker your strands are, the stronger they are. Fine hair is the most fragile, and coarse hair the least. Thick strands I read, are easier to detangle.

How can I determine my texture?

I don’t want to go there but in trying to determine mine, I read something that simplified the matter. Sorry ladies. The hair that grows in your nether region is coarse. Compare how similar or how different the hair on your head is to that and the texture of your hair will be revealed to you.

Can one person have different textures?

Yes.

My strands for the most part are fine. Not thick at all. Then I have some in the centre of my head that are more coarse than the others.

Here’s a short slideshow showing a coarse strand and a fine strand (both mine)- can you see the difference?

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HAIR DENSITY

Basically, it’s the population of Hair City. A measure of how many strands are living on your head.

Types- Your Hair density may be High, Medium, Low.

Technically, you can only measure your hair density if you partition your hair into 1” x 1” sections and count the number of strands per section- like the average number of strands/follicles per square inch area. You don’t have to do that.

What’s my Hair Density?

It’s best to check for your hair density when it’s dry. All you have to do is this- Let your dry hair hang loose. Can your scalp be seen? If it’s difficult to see your scalp or no scalp can be seen at all, your hair is high density. If it’s very easy to see scalp, your hair is low density, and if you can see only some of your scalp, medium density.

Again, I must stress this:

High density hair is usually called thick by other people- because of how it looks or feels as a whole. However, it does not mean that your individual strands are thick. You can be high density with fine strands (like me) and low density with thick/medium strands.

What to do with this information?

Again beware of sweeping generalisations. Some people say fine hair is easy to moisturise and doesn’t need a lot of moisturising but so far my own fine hair hasn’t been easy to moisturise. A moisture plan has got a lot more to do with hair porosity I believe, than the way it feels. *side-eye* at those people.

  1. The simple advantage of knowing your texture is that you have a better idea about how to handle your hair. If you attack your high density hair with all your might and a comb or brush just because it looks thick, you will be doing mad damage if you have fine texture strands.
  2. Choosing products- a High Density head does not need volumising products. Heavier products may be desired instead, to weigh the hair down a little. The very opposite is the case for Low density hair.
  3. Styling- low density heads may prefer smaller twists or braids, styles that don’t show a lot of scalp. High density heads may prefer bigger braids or twists and layered styles.

CAN I CHANGE MY TEXTURE/DENSITY?

No. You have not grown any hair follicles since you were born. Even weeks before you were born. Follicles are responsible for your density and your hair cortex is responsible for your hair texture.

So anything that claims to volumise or decrease the look of your hair- thin it or thicken it (that is, reduce or increase its density) or thicken your individual strands- is really just promising to make it appear so. APPEAR is the key word. That’s all it’s doing. It’s not changing the structure of your hair. It is what it is. Accept your texture and density and learn to work with them- consider them in building your regimen, in styling- and if you want thicker or thinner hair for any purpose, just google. There are so many temporary thinning or thickening products or practices you could try. 🙂

So tell me, how densely populated is your Hair City? And the individuals that live up there, how thick are they?

x

HAIR BASICS- HAIR TYPING 3

Hello you! We are still learning about the fundamentals of understanding hair and today, we conclude the lesson we started on Monday on the system of Hair Typing. So far, we know that

1. hair may be classified into 4 groups, according to naturally occurring curl patterns.

2. We’ve got Type 1- Straight hair (no curl), Type 2- Wavy hair (not straight but not really curly either), Type 3- Curly hair (well defined loopy S pattern of curls) and Type 4- Kinky hair (less defined curl pattern. Ranges from a slight S pattern to a zigzag pattern to tightly coiled hair with no visible curl definition).

3. Yes, it is possible to have more than one hair type.

If you missed the last post, please read it here. If you’re new, the blog is currently in session, going back to school, trying to understand the very fundamentals of hair- what hair is, how it functions, why it acts the way it does, you are welcome to join the Hair Basics series.

Q: IS ANY TYPE BETTER THAN OTHERS?

A: No.

Yes I know, in Nigeria and beyond, people feel like the looser your curls are, the better. For one too many people, Good Hair = Loose curls. There’s a documentary I should find and put up a link to. I came upon it when I was transitioning and I was really shocked that people seriously think like this and it’s not just bants. A woman actually cried tears of joy (And relief?) when she saw that her baby didn’t have “nappy hair” like her, but “good hair” like his daddy. The occasional celebrity comment (hey Brandy) or random guy tweeting about wanting “good hair” for his kids. Or relaxed girls saying things like “The Natural hair thing is not for everyone.” Or even the random unnecessary comment you see in a problem solving forum from fellow naturals on a problem that has nothing to do with them- “Oh my 3C hair is like butter.” “Sectioning? My hair is so soft, I don’t need to section when I wash.” Who said you section because hair is soft? Who asked you sef? :s

Haha this should probably be a post on its own. Please please PLEASE do not listen to any of that. Do not let anyone intimidate you or oppress you. People of all hair types have bad hair days. All hair types get tangled and messy and have the potential to break combs. No hair type is better than others. If your hair is tightly coiled, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do- it’s being good. Just get to understand the features of your hair, and soon you’ll be on your way to figuring out what your hair needs. Give your hair what it needs and IT WILL cooperate.

Q: OKAY EKENE. HERE, HAVE SOME SPRITE. IS IT POSSIBLE TO PERMANENTLY CHANGE YOUR CURL PATTERN?

A: No.

In the post on Hair Structure, I tried to present the anatomy of hair; what it’s made of and how it functions.

Our hair keeps growing. The bit you’ve relaxed or processed or whatever might change your cortex (for a long or short while) but the hair that keeps growing out your follicle is never going to change. The external message never gets to the heart of it where the growth process begins, in your follicle. It’s not permanent if you have to do touch-ups and do this thing or rub that thing every now and then.

Q: PLEASE TELL ME AGAIN WHY THIS IS RELEVANT?

A: I used to think Hair Typing was really important. It is clearly not unimportant but let me just say, it’s not the beginning and the end.

Appreciating the different curl patterns certainly helped me be reasonable with my expectations. For instance, kinky hair tends to shrink, sometimes as much as 75% of its actual length. If I didn’t know this, I’d probably be frustrated that my teeny weeny afro only looks like half its real size or length when it’s not stretched out. I also think it’s going to be helpful when I start styling because kinky hair do what kinky hair do, and curly hair do what curly hair do. For this, I really love that the good people at BGLH feature fab naturalistas hair/styling stating their hair types.

Please beware of sweeping generalisations! Hair typing is largely based on the outside look of hair. There are other features of your hair- porosity, density, thickness and elasticity- that truly affect what goes on on the inside. These factors and their relationships with each other are the real big guys, who push the buttons to determine what exactly you should use on your hair and what to do to your hair, the nitty gritty. These things cut across all hair types and not knowing them will affect you more than knowing your hair type will. Don’t just lean on what you’ve heard about Type this or Type that. It is your business to figure out what works and does not work for your hair.

Next week, we’ll be moving on to a very very very VERY important fundamental, Hair Porosity.

Till then, my people. What do you think about hair typing? What’s your hair type? Share!

x

HAIR BASICS- HAIR TYPING 2

Q: HAIR TYPING. YOU NATURAL HAIR PEOPLE AND YOUR BIG GRAMMAR. *eye roll* WHAT’S THIS ONE NOW?

A: Hair Typing did not start with the natural hair community. Indian hair weaves are sought after by many for being wavy. Probably all the Chinese people you’ve seen on TV have straight hair. If you see a Nigerian with really curly hair, your first instinct is to think that she’s kind of mixed race abi? You my friend, have been hair typing with your eyes for as long as you’ve noticed the difference. :p

The origin of the system of hair typing as it is formally known today is credited to celebrity hair stylist, Andre Walker. He’s famous for being Oprah’s stylist and he classifies hair under four umbrellas in his book- ‘Andre Talks Hair’.

Q: WHAT IS THIS SYSTEM BASED ON?

A: This system of classifying hair is based on the feature of curl pattern. Your curl-pattern is one of the things you were born with, pre-determined by your genes, your cortex merely acts on instructions from source.

When you were a baby, your hair was really soft, wavy or curly and not as thick as it is today. As you grew, this changed- not because of anything you ate or because of anything you did. (I don’t know about type 1 or 2 baby hair but I know this is true for us Africans) Puberty I’ve read, can change your hair type. BUT the way your hair decides to curl or not curl is not something determined with your permission. The system of hair typing is based on naturally occurring, chemically unaltered curl patterns.

Q: OKAY… LET’S GET INTO THIS ALREADY, SHALL WE?

A: Yes, of course. Hair is classified under four umbrellas based on the naturally occurring curl pattern.

1 A, B, C.             2 A, B, C.             3 A, B, C.             4 A, B, C.

The letters in the typing system refer to the circumference and type of curl. Like imagine a strand of your hair as a slinky or a spring. Circumference of a circle is the total area the circle can go round. It’s the same with a curl. Circumference here refers to how big a curl is, like what can fit into the slinky or spring; something your curl or spring can easily accommodate in its middle.

For Type 3 hair, “a” is the circumference of sidewalk chalk; “b” is the circumference of a sharpie marker pen and “c” is the circumference of a pencil or a straw.

For Type 4 hair, the circumference is of a crochet needle or maybe smaller.

Type 1: Straight hair. 1A, 1B, 1C.

This hair type has no curl. This makes some people say that it is the most manageable of all the hair types. However, it is prone to tangles and split ends.

Lucy Liu

Lucy Liu

Any Africans with straight hair? I don’t think so.

Type 2: Wavy Hair. 2A, 2B, 2C.

Type 2 hair is somewhere between 1 and 3. Not straight, not curly either, what we have come to know as wavy hair.

Sandra Oh

Dr. Yang Sandra Oh

Type 3: Curly Hair

This hair type has a definite loopy “S” pattern.

3A: has the most defined and most obvious loopy S. It’s circumference is that of sidewalk chalk.

Look how thick these are!

Look how big these are!

3B: as previously mentioned, it is the circumference of a sharpie marker pen.

3C: this hair type has the circumference of a pencil or a straw.

Yvette Nicole Brown. She plays Shirley on Community :)

Yvette Nicole Brown. She plays Shirley on Community 🙂

Type 4: Kinky Hair

Kinky hair is tightly coiled. It is said to be the most delicate hair type, but it is no less manageable. Type 4 hair has the circumference of a crochet needle, or smaller.

4A:  it has an “S” pattern, less obvious or defined than a Type 3 S-curl, but it’s there. It’s a little more obvious when stretched (and by stretched I don’t mean straightened in this case. If I pick my hair and pull a strand to the left or right, or anywhere, I’m stretching) Can you see the loopy S?

4A

Esperanza Spalding and Geraldine the Great

Type 4B hair bends in sharp angles like a zigzag similar to a “Z” pattern. It has little visible curl defintion. This is a little difficult for me to explain right now BUT just look at the pictures. The Type 4B hair is clearly curlier than Type 4C but not as curly as Type 4A.

L- My girl Solange and R- the beautiful Erykah Badu

L- My girl Solange and R- the beautiful Erykah Badu

4C hair is very tightly coiled with a short, “Z” curl pattern. It has the least visible curl definition. Some say it has no visible curl definition whatsoever. This is because it is so tightly coiled.

our very own Nollywood mama, Nse Ikpe-Etim

our very own Nollywood mama, Nse Ikpe-Etim

Q: IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE MORE THAN ONE HAIR TYPE?

A: Yes.

My hair for the most part, is 4C Kinky hair. However, a small community behind my right ear does not feel as kinky as the rest of my head. I think it’s 4B territory. Not enough to make a difference though, at least not right now. And I have a few 4A strands like these that stand out.

one of my random 4A strands. which is actually a clump of a few strands. A curl needs a couple others to stick to it to show obvious definition.

one of my random 4A strands. which is actually a clump of a few strands. A curl needs a couple others to stick to it to show obvious definition.

This is just to say that I know for a fact that this is possible. SO many combination naturalistas abound. Your 4A side may not like to be combed with as much pressure, or may need more of a particular product than your 4C side or vice versa. Please be observant and treat your hair, or parts of it as it wants you to.

Are you bored yet? I hope not. This is the second of three posts on the phenomenon of Hair Typing. The final bit will be here on Friday, same time at noon. Don’t miss it! You could subscribe by email so that you don’t forget. 🙂

So my people, what’s your hair type? Share! x

HAIR BASICS- HAIR TYPING!

Hey guys. This week, I’ll be taking you through the second topic in the Hair Basics series we started last week.

The Hair Basics series is a bunch of posts trying to break down the basics of hair science. By the end of this series, I’d love for you to be aware of and knowledgeable about the features of this army of tiny threads that reside on your head! When you know better, you do better and knowing better about your hair will definitely affect the way you care for it. All aboard the journey to good hair, say aye?

I don’t know how you guys felt about the last post on Hair Structure but I’ve read it again and I don’t feel like I really connected. I think I was being too formal (sigh, really it’s just the way I am) but I pledge to be less formal from this moment forward. I might even rewrite the post- but yes guys. I really want us to be on the same page. Questions, suggestions are very welcome!

This particular topic/feature is one that has always popped up since I started reading about natural hair. You’ve probably seen it or heard someone talk about it. This week, we are getting into the matter of Hair Typing.

I have a really long post here (how did I let this happen?) so I’ve broken it up. On Wednesday and Friday, at noon, the other two parts will be published as well. You could subscribe to the blog via email or follow me on bloglovin just to be sure you don’t miss it!

CurlyChronicles and FusionOfCultures were the first two naturalistas and vloggers I discovered when I was transitioning and they first opened my eyes to the versatility of natural hair. It was so amazing to see all the different styles and I was so excited. I think I got my first relaxer when I was 5. I relaxed every six weeks or so until I went to secondary school. For my six years at secondary school, I wore my hair reeaaaaallly short (got mighty low cuts after six weeks at half-term) and I fried my hair over the holidays. Then I grew it out after graduation and continued relaxing for the first three years of uni and part of the fourth. I had forgotten what my own curls looked like. I loved their youtube videos and somewhere in the back of my mind, I was hoping my hair journey would lead me to hair like theirs.

That was a while ago. Since then, I have seen so much more, read so much more and at some point it became clear to me that my hair was different and eventually, I accepted that different was GOOD, just in time for my big chop.

Q. COOL STORY. WHAT MADE YOUR HAIR DIFFERENT THAN THEIRS?

A. Their hair is more curly than kinky, but mine is more kinky than curly.

Q. O_o

A. Okay, stay with me now. You’ll understand this when we are done dissecting this matter of Hair Typing. Be back here, same time Wednesday! x