It's kinda crazy what inspired me to pitch and then pen this article. I was watching Usher's visual for "Bad Habits" while trying to figure out why a particular small area of my hair was thinner than it needed to be. I came to the conclusion that it was because I was manipulating it too much by always taking that particular cornrow down and braiding it up again. And that got me to thinking about so many of the bad natural hair habits that a lot of us have; ones that prevent us from getting the long-term hair results that we want.
If you're sick of your own tresses not flourishing as much as you would like, take a moment to see if any of these habits are ones that you definitely need to break.
1. Keeping Your Protective Style in Longer Than You Should
I don't know one naturalista who hasn't heard that one of the best ways to achieve length retention is by putting their hair up in a protective style. As I said a second ago, my hair is currently in cornrows (a personal favorite style of choice). I dig them because, not only do they keep me from having my hands in my tresses all of the time, but protective styles are also a great way to protect my ends as well (damaged ends are the main reason why most of us don't get the inches that we want). Still, too much of a good thing can easily work against you.
In this case, if you've got your hair in some braids or twists (via your natural hair), they really need to remain in there for no longer than a couple of weeks. Braids and twists with extensions, you're pushing it if you keep them in for longer than two months. The reason why is because your hair and scalp need to be thoroughly washed and to take a break from the stress that protective styles can cause if you've got them in for too long. One day, I'm gonna share how protective styles can actually be the reason why your hair isn't growing. For now, though, just don't keep them in for a billion years. It's the kind of bad habit that doesn't get discussed, nearly enough.
2. Using Too Many Damn Products in Your Hair
The beauty industry is a billion-dollar one and we as Black women play a HUGE role in why that is the case. That said, I know there are tons of products out here that make all sorts of promises. But you've gotta remember that companies are looking to make revenue. This means that if they've gotta lie to you and say they have a serum that will fix your split ends (nothing fixes split ends; you have to trim them), that is exactly what they will do.
Anyway, while I'm all about finding products that work best for your hair if you use a lot of them at the same time or you keep switching up, all that's gonna do is either weigh your hair down and clog up your hair follicles (not good) or end up damaging your hair because not all products are created equal and your hair shouldn't be treated as some guinea pig or science project. It typically takes about two months to figure out if something is really your jam on the product testing tip. Try a couple of things out at a time and stick to what works for you, even if it's only a few products. Less is more is always best when it comes to hair care.
3. Not Knowing Your Hair Type and Texture
Let me tell it, I think women struggle with knowing what their hair type is about as much as they struggle with figuring out their correct bra size. When it comes to hair type, the numbers run from 1-4. 1 is straight. 2 is wavy. 3 is curly and 4 is coily. Then there are letters that go with each number, ranging from A-C. A is fine. B is medium. C is coarse. As far as your "numbers" go, YouTubers like Angela C. Styles, IAMTRAEH, and LavishlyBritt all have videos that break hair types down pretty well. As far as your hair's texture, a cool figuring-it-out hack is to take a piece of thread and lay it on a flat surface. Then place a strand of your own hair beside it. If your hair appears thinner than the thread, your hair is fine. If it's the same size, your hair is medium. If it's bigger, it's coarser.
Having this information is essential because it can help you to better understand how to properly care for your hair, what products work best, and ultimately how to keep it thriving. For some tips on all of these things, go to YouTube and put your hair type and texture, along with "natural hair" in the search field and you will see literal days' worth of videos pop up so that you can get to know your hair, even better.
4. Using the “Wrong” Styling Tools for Your Natural Hair
A lot of stylists will tell you that using your hands to detangle and style your hair as much as possible is oftentimes a good look because you can be gentler with your locks than you can with styling tools. But when it comes to the things that you absolutely do need, make sure you've got—a wide-tooth comb; some plastic hair clips (the metal ones tend to snag and tear); a Denman brush; a hair steamer (to lock in moisture); a microfiber towel (it's easier on your hair during wash days) and a blow dryer for your hair type (Red by Kiss Blow Dryer gets a lot of praise if you're a 4-type).
While this is a basic list, the main thing to keep in mind is a lot of metal, a ton of heat or anything that will cause your hair to snag and tear are absolutely no-nos. You really don't need a ton of styling tools; just things that will make getting the results that you want as easy as possible without creating any drama in the process on those pretty tresses of yours.
5. Mishandling Wet Hair During Wash Days
Your hair is definitely the most fragile when it's wet. That's why it's best to detangle your tresses with your fingers as much as possible, to deep condition after shampooing so that your hair is more manageable, and to apply a product that has some "slip" to it when you're using a detangling comb or you're doing something like braiding or twisting your hair for a braid out or twist out. Otherwise, you could end up ripping some of your hair out or weakening the cuticles during the styling process. As far as slip goes, if you'd like a little help figuring out which product would work best, Naturally Curly gave some slip awards to a few. You can check them out here.
6. Trimming Your Hair More than Dusting
One of the reasons why I stopped going to see a professional stylist was because far too many of them don't seem to know the difference between dusting and trimming. Hmph. I've always wondered if a lot of stylists have a secret vendetta against their clients gaining inches because I don't always need a bob— thank you, very much. Whew. Plus, as I've learned more about what does and doesn't work for my hair, I've become a big fan of dusting. Dusting is about getting rid of the raggedy or split ends that you may have without getting rid of 2-4 inches of hair in the process.
If you're nervous about attempting this, the main thing to keep in mind is you need a pair of sharp shears and a good amount of patience. Click here, here and here to watch some videos on how to dust.
Oh, and for any stylists that may have side-eyed me for what I said, I know there are some great ones out there and that some folks wouldn't be able to walk outta the house without one. At the same time, I believe a good one also isn't scissor happy. I'm thinking that we all can agree on that.
7. Having a Complex Relationship with Heat
Contrary to popular belief, I personally don't think that heat is the enemy; I think using heat the wrong way is, though. Back when I got on board with the whole "heat is the devil" movement, I actually experienced a lot more breakage than I do now that I blow my hair out every wash day and then leave it in a protective style (other than the weekends) until the next wash day. I believe it's because this method stretches out my hair so that there is less tangling and it also helps me to nurture my ends easier.
Anyway, that's not to say that huge mistakes aren't oftentimes made in this lane, mostly because people use the wrong kind of heating tools, apply them when they're too hot and/or use them too often. If you're in search of a good blow dryer for your natural hair, Byrdie recently published an article that features 12 (click here). After getting one, always make sure that your blow dryer is on low-to-medium heat and that you ONLY use it once your hair is about 60 percent dry on its own (the drier it is, the less you will be able to singe it). And try not to apply heat more than 2-5 times a month. More than that can definitely damage your hair and even alter your natural curl pattern.
8. Being High-Maintenance with Your Edges
Lawd, the internet. I'm pretty sure some of y'all saw the post of the young lady who mistook Gorilla Snot (which is already quite a beast when it comes to laying hair down) for Gorilla Glue. Well, at the time that I'm writing this, her hair literally hasn't moved in a month. Like…at all which resulted in her going to the ER (check her take on it here and a radio interview with her here). When I watched the video, the first thing that came to my mind is how obsessed a lot of us are with keeping our edges as laid as possible.
Listen, there's no time to get into how I believe that European culture has played a certain role in us having a preoccupation with baby hairs as grown women (goodness). For now, I'll just say that probably the most fragile parts of your hair are your edges and nape. So, constantly weakening your edges' hair follicles by always brushing them down, drying that part of your hair out with gels, and always applying pressure with braids, lace fronts and wigs are all surefire ways for your edges to either thin out or bald altogether.
If you must gel those babies down, make sure to use a non-alcohol gel (Allure published a feature on some of the best edge controls around; check it out here) and definitely give that area a break a few days a week. Sleek edges are cool, but you know what's even better? Having edges, period.
9. Jacking Up Your Wash ‘N Go
When it comes to low-manipulation hairstyles, wash 'n gos always top the list because you don't have to do a lot of styling and touching of your tresses in order to end up with a really cute look. That doesn't mean that too much of a good thing can't go awry though. The wrong products, tugging too much on your hair while it's wet and not knowing how to cultivate a bedtime routine that will result in you messing with your hair as little as possible the following morning all have to be factored in to make this a good idea for your natural hair texture.
If you want to make sure that this heat-free look goes off without a hitch—wash your hair with a sulfate-free shampoo; deep condition your locks; rinse your hair in cool water (it will keep your cuticles smooth); apply a curl cream (if you've got tighter coils) or add a carrier oil as a base to it (if you've got a looser curl texture) to set your curls, and keep your hands COMPLETELY out of your hair until your tresses dry (otherwise, you could end up with a significant amount of frizz). Wrap your hair up with a silk scarf or satin bonnet at night and refresh in the morning with a light leave-in conditioner. And try and let your wash 'n go be for about a week. Remember, low manipulation is always the key to stronger hair. You can get some other wash 'n go hacks by checking out this video, this video, this video, this video and this video.
10. Being Too Reliant on Your Wigs
Wigs can be dope; especially the kind that exists these days because I promise you that some, I can't even tell that they are wigs at all (like this line right here). Not only can wigs help you to avoid over-manipulating your hair, but they can also protect your tresses from outer elements, encourage your styling creativity without a lot of drama, and save you a ton of time when it comes to your morning routine.
Just remember that a wig is not your natural hair (no matter how much it may look or feel like it). If you've got a human hair well-secured, it can last for up to six weeks (if you take care of your natural hair that's underneath); just don't go beyond that. As far as sleeping in wigs, it really is best to remove them. If you opt not to, don't go more than a few days without doing so. Your hair and scalp need to breathe. Your edges need a bit of a break from the stress and tension of the wig too.
11. Not Taking a Multivitamin
There is plenty of data that says most of us don't get nearly enough nutrients from food alone. This is where multivitamins come in. They are a great way to supplement what you may be lacking which can result in everything from a strengthened immune system and healthier heart to more energy and beautiful hair, skin and nails. There are loads of vitamins on the market, so it's kind of hard to recommend a specific brand. You might want to look for one that specifically says "for hair, skin and nails" on it. Whatever you do, just make sure there are vitamins A, B12, C and E, iron, biotin and zinc in the product that you decide to go with. One that contains collagen is definitely a bonus. Oh, and if you opt for a liquid form, not only does it hit your system faster, it tends to be more potent too.
12. Stressing Out
If there is one thing that I have learned to become more and more intentional about, it's not letting any person, place, thing or idea stress me out. It's just not worth it. PERIOD. This includes when it comes to protecting my hair. Did you know that constant stress can throw off your cortisol levels and literally push your hair into a resting phase that can hinder it from growing? No joke. So, if you've got some job or man who is driving you up the wall and you're noticing some shedding or even thinning as far as your hair is concerned, don't tell yourself that it's all in your head. There is a very real chance that you are going bald due to anxiety. Release what's got you in that state. Your hair will thank you for it.
BONUS: STOP COMPARING
Iyanla Vanzant once said, "Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self." Out of all of the mistakes that we could possibly make when it comes to our hair, I promise you that the biggest one is comparing your tresses to someone else's. When God made you, he took out just as much time as he did on his other daughters. Don't insult him by acting like you somehow got a shorter end of the deal because, I can say from very personal experience, that once you get a real understanding of how your own hair works, you'll come to adore its individuality. You really will.
You'll wake up knowing that your hair is a gift, that there isn't one thing wrong with it, and that you are truly blessed. That your Creator made not one mistake. Amen? Amen.
Featured image by Giphy
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
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7 Black Women Bookstagrammers To Follow And The Reads By Black Authors That Empower Us
I've always been a stan for reading, and I've been a so-called book geek since kindergarten. My mom would always reward good grades and behavior with a trip to the local library, something my siblings loved more than any new toys or free time to play outside. We would spend hours at the tall stone building in the downtown area of the small town I spent my childhood in, first in the downstairs "Children's Room" (which only had books for readers 5-13). I later graduated to going (i.e., snuck) upstairs to find all the juicy celebrity autobiographies, travel books, and classics like Sula, Moby Dick, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
So today, when I see so many Black women part of #bookstagram, I feel seen because many of us love not only to read but to drown in books by Black authors, poets, historians, and researchers who continue to add to the narrative and reflection of what it truly means to be a Black person---a Black woman---in America.
Check out (and follow) a few of my favorite Black women bookstagrammers and the books that empower us:
Zora Neale Hurston is clearly an icon, and she's one of my favorite authors, thought leaders, and scholars, so this is an obvious choice for me. What I love, specifically, about this bookstagrammer's page is that it lacks pretension, is super-relatable, and includes a nice mix of nonfiction books, something I'm trying to boost in my collection.
2.Kayla Starr @blackgirlbookadventures
Another classic, Beloved was a book I unsuccessfully tried to read as a 12-year-old, tried again in my 20s (and failed), saw the film, and then fell back in love with again reading in my 30s. Black Girl Book Adventures is a page that just screams brightness, positivity, and a love for books that draws you near.
3.Black Girl With Books @blackgirlwithbooks
This book had a profound effect on me, as it connected the dots between Ghana (a place that has held a special place in my heart since my 2016 visit) and Black America in a way that blew my mind. It also helps that the storytelling and timelines are captivating and thoughtful in a way that any editor who just loves good writing--in an online content environment that seems to reward robotic, vapid, Grammarly-informed, copycat writing---would appreciate.) The founder of this page also offers info on bookstores and other interesting updates for bibliophile baes.
4.Shani Akilah @_shaniakilah
A love of travel and books? Yes, please! Shani's page is refreshing and welcoming, inviting you in on her global adventures along with her journeys through her latest reads. I'm a huge fan of books that feature Black women protagonists in Caribbean or African settings who are able to come into a higher sense of themselves through challenge or hardship. For some reason, I'm always drawn to those books, which is why this one is a top pick for me.
5.Boipelo Lecha @boipelo.reads.books
I'm not big on romance novels (after having grown out of an early obsession with Danielle Steele). At one point, I'd been yearning for a book that offered an elevated sense of the Black love experience (beyond the esteemed OGs like Terry McMillan, Eric Jerome Dickey, and Zane) and stumbled upon Love In Color. It was just what I needed because it's a collection of classic love stories retold through the lens of the author, and the tales centrally feature women.
Biopelo is an up-and-comer in the #bookstagrammer space.
I've been consumed by Black historical fiction, and this is a good one for the collection. It tells the story of a Black southern family through generations in a way that doesn't feel like a book you were forced to read for a college project. It screams, "Turn me into a six-part Netflix saga," and was a surprise hit for me because I made some very ignorant assumptions about a poet being able to write such a story. (Ah, like Maya Angelou isn't literally a queen in my head.)
Virginia-based Semiyah is literally like my reading tastes twin, down to the mix of types of books she showcases on her page, from romance fiction to new YA titles.
Lex serves up book events and information about new releases to boot, and her page doesn't scream, "Hey, I'm going to just promo books sent to me for free by publishers." On top of that, I support any and everything with the name Tiffany D. Jackson stamped on it. She's a graduate of the other HU (heeeey all my Hampton *cough*, I mean, Howard folk), and the way she puts her special stank on YA will have you wanting to actually relive your own teenage years.
Dare I say, reading her work is like the first time I read Judy Blume, Sister Souljah, and Candy Dawson Boyd---all pioneers in what is now known as young adult fiction. It's authentic, truthful, kind, real, and has a living soul, all elements I yearned for back in the late '80s and '90s as a confused, geeky, Black girl at the library and that I still yearn for as an award-winning editor, editorial manager, and self-employed woman at my big age.
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