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Whoever said having natural hair is easy is right. It is, but only if you are patient with an open mind and willingness to change your styling, maintenance, and purchasing habits. No more buying products solely based on price and packaging with expectations of getting it right the first time. Whether you have virgin or chemically-processed hair, if you are interested in taking a more invested approach to your hair care, here are the three things that you will inevitably have to go through.

Asking questions

Before the natural hair movement I never read the ingredient labels or considered looking for product reviews other than word of mouth. Unless my mother was buying salon products from our beautician for at-home use, I was purchasing products at the beauty supply store solely on packaging aesthetic and marketing copy like grow, long, and thick. Don’t continue that cycle, especially with so many brands trying to capitalize on this lucrative market. If you have access to the internet, then use it. Search for product reviews on YouTube and read about ingredients. No, you don’t have to become a chemist to have healthy hair, but being knowledgeable will prevent you from continuously buying a $30 bottle of oil that is chock-full of synthetic ingredients with a few drops of extracts.

Trial and error

No one can guarantee you will find the products that meet your hair care needs and personal wants after the first, second, or tenth product that you have purchased. I always read and watch numerous product reviews from women with my hair type (i.e. low porosity, Type 4a) before purchasing a new product and I have had about a 95% success rate. Sometimes it will take you years to realize what is causing your breakage. It took me four years to realize (or accept) that wet detangling was breaking my fine strands. Two years before that I attributed my back acne on “being natural” when products with silicones were the culprits all along. Don’t have a meltdown because you cannot learn everything overnight or even in a year. Just ensure your scalp is clean and your hair is moisturized and you will be fine. Be more patient with yourself.

Listening to your hair and scalp

As much as I envy the women who can wear extension twist for 6-8 weeks at a time, I know my scalp cannot handle it. Even when I create mini twists on blown out hair, I know that I am about to tolerate weeks of an inflamed and irritated scalp due to my seborrheic dermatitis. My scalp condition requires that I cleanse my scalp 1-2 times per week, but my schedule does not revolve around my hair and sometimes I want more diverse styling options like everyone else. Of course you can wash your hair with twists extensions, but the scales from seborrheic dermatitis tend to be larger than regular dandruff and surround multiple strands, making them difficult to rinse away. My scalp is another reason why cleansing conditioners are off limits for me. They do wonders on my hair but only irritate my scalp, so I restrict my cleansing to shampoo.

All of this is a learning process that is quick for some and long for others. You also have to note that we are all ever-evolving beings. As your choices and the variables around you change, so will your hair. What works for you now as a 24-year-old with virgin hair living in California may not work if you relocate to Louisiana, dye your hair blonde, or start experiencing health complications. Always remember to do what works for you.