Be Healthy: It does not matter how many hair products you use, good hair care starts from within. A healthy person eats properly making sure they eat a bit from each food group. This is however not an excuse for you to over indulge – remember everything should be in moderation and nothing in excess.
Most people should know this but for the sake of those that don’t – drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Water is essential not only for great hair growth but for overall health as well. Other factors which are crucial for hair loss include stress and illness – try to avoid these by being as healthy as you can.
Back to basics: Before shampooing do a hot oil treatment (optional) with a natural oil like olive oil and then use a moisturising shampoo. You may choose to limit shampoo use because some shampoos are very stripping to the hair. Deep condition weekly and use a leave in conditioner after this. Trim hair at least every 4 months. Sleep with a silk/satin bonnet/scarf at night. Only use wide tooth combs to comb the hair, the smaller combs are meant for styling.
Moisture: Our hair needs moisture to grow. One of the reasons why Black hair (of African Descent) may not grow as fast is because we are not always able to retain moisture effectively. Water is the main source of moisture therefore a good hair moisturiser should contain water (aqua) as its first ingredient. You can use an effective hair moisturiser on its own, or mix some distilled water with it and use this as a hair moisturiser daily. It is very important to seal your hair with oil after moisturising such as olive oil, sweet almond oil, and so on. This prevents the moisture you have put into your hair from escaping. You can also add moisture into your hair by using a moisturising deep conditioner after shampooing as well as an effective leave-in conditioner.
Protein: Our hair is made up of 75% protein. If you are relaxed the relaxer will break down the protein component in your hair this means you have to put the protein back. There are many protein deep conditioners available; the key ingredient to look out for is protein. The most effective protein treatment (deep condition) in my opinion consists of 1 or 2 eggs, 1 or 2tbsps of mayonnaise, 1 or 2 tbsps any moisturising conditioner, 1 or 2 tbsps of olive oil (Optional). Cover hair with a plastic cap for about 1-2 hours (or even less) depending on how long you can stand it. Do not use heat or else the egg will cook in your hair. Then follow up with a moisture-based leave-in conditioner. This will balance out the protein treatment with some moisture. Alternatively you can do another deep condition (moisture deep condition – the key ingredients to look out for are water and a lack of protein) and cover with a plastic cap for about 15mins – 1 hour with/without heat. The reason you may need to follow up with a moisture treatment is because your hair may feel quite hard after a protein treatment. However it depends on how your hair feels. After a protein treatment, I do not always follow up with a moisture deep conditioner especially before relaxing. Do this as often as your hair needs it, it could be weekly or monthly. If your hair is natural however, you may not need to do protein treatments as often. Alternatively you can mix both a moisture and protein deep conditioner to get the best of both worlds as I did above in my most effective protein treatment recipe.
Growth Aids: Growth Aids are perhaps one of the most important components in hair growth. Although our hair grows about half an inch a month (more or less depending on how fast), you can aid the growth process with topical applications on your scalp. A very important tip is that you massage the growth aid/oil into the hair; this also speeds up the growth process because massaging encourages blood circulation to the scalp.
Know your hair – Keep a hair diary: We will not be able to determine hair products that work and don’t work if we do not keep a record of how our hair responds to each product. With your hair diary you are able to know what works and does not work and implement accordingly. Some people say you should test a product for about a month to determine if it is good or not for your hair. However I do not agree with this because there are some products that I have used and immediately experienced a bad reaction. E.g. my hair fell off or got very hard. After such an experience I am usually skeptical about trying it again. A note of warning: If your hairdresser has no knowledge about healthy hair care, look for a new one or do your hair yourself. This will help you to achieve greater results and to understand your hair better.
Protective styling: Black hair is very fragile though it appears resistant. You need to treat your hair with utmost care and keep it protected from the elements. To grow your hair, you need to keep the ends protected because this is the oldest part of the hair and tends to be weaker. Styles such as buns, French twists, braids, weaves, and so on protect the hair from over-manipulation and brushing on your clothes which may lead to breakage. When you are doing a weave or braids, do a proper deep-conditioning prior to it or you may experience breakage. I learnt a lesson from this just recently and suffered a minor setback as a result. These styles however do not mean neglecting the hair, you must still moisturise and seal hair and use a leave in conditioner underneath the weave or braids.
Here is an example of my hair in a bun
Relaxing precautions: We use relaxers every day without knowing the extent to which they actually damage our hair. A relaxer is designed to break down the structure of the hair cuticle. So if you use relaxers there are some important things you should know. First of all – you may want to switch your relaxer to a lye formula – this is the sort that does not need to be mixed. Some people think it is better because it is not as harsh to the hair shaft, does not leave too many mineral deposits on the hair, is highly effective and does not allow you to over relax by making you sit for longer than required. However, I personally do not use it because it is harsher on my scalp and I am not able to endure the severe pain. However for us non-lye relaxer users we need to take an extra precaution mainly – we need to completely neutralize with a neutralizing shampoo for about 10 minutes so that the mineral deposits are not left to sit on our hair and eventually break it. Before relaxing protect the hair shaft with oil or a heavy cream. This will help protect your ends especially during the “acid rinse” – when the relaxer is able to travel to very ends of your previously relaxed hair during the washing process. When relaxing, ensure your hair dresser does not relax previously relaxed hair or this would result in breakage. After neutralizing with a neutralizing shampoo do a strong protein treatment followed by a moisturising treatment (or mix them both). If you must wear a weave or braids I advise that you wait at least two weeks after a relaxer. Finally stretch your relaxers to at least 8 weeks – this will prevent re-relaxing which leads to breakage. I usually stretch my relaxers to anytime from 12 – 16 weeks depending on how my hair feels i.e. If it starts breaking, I know it is time to relax. The soonest I have relaxed my hair in about four years is 10 weeks. But then again you need to know your hair so you can determine what your hair can cope with.
Excessive heat is the enemy: Limit the use of flat irons, blow dryers, curling tongs and such on your hair and if you must use them use a heat protectant to prevent heat damage. After washing your hair it is best to leave it to dry without any form of heat – air dry. I simply apply my leave-in conditioner on towel- dried hair and detangle my hair and either put my hair in a bun (most times) or braids. Airs drying with braids give beautiful curls which you can wear in different styles throughout the week. If air drying does not work for you, a better option would be to either blow dry using the cool setting, protective style with braids or weaves to limit heat usage.