Ready...Set...Big Chop! (Transitioners Read Up) An All-Inclusive Guide to Preparing For the Big Chop

I am super-exhausted from a weekend away from home but I wanted to post some information right away for those transitioners about to start their natural hair journey.
At least for me, a large part of lessening my nervousness about doing the 'big chop' was being prepared (especially if you are only a few months into transitioning and will have only  a few inches of new growth when you big chop).
When I big chopped I didn't have anyone who broke it down for me the way I'm about to break it down for you.  I had to trial and error (and waste some money buying products I didn't really need) to figure out what I really needed for my hair.
Now I'm not going to be product-specific because everyone has their preference of products and the products you use will often boil down to your hair type and cost.  Some are willing to spend more than others. I am also not going to tell you that you have to get all-natural or organic products.  I will only give you a list of the ingredients that should send up a red flag to you if you find them in the products and that should indicate that this product is not the best for you.  I encourage all my other current naturals, veterans and newbies who may have already figured out a thing or two to chime in with comments so we can help our soon-to-be naturals get off to a good start. Here goes:

Key things to know before you start this natural journey and to keep in mind throughout your natural journey.  Never forget them and you are not likely to fall off the bandwagon:
  • Natural black (kinky-curly) hair, needs lots of moisture
  • Moisture is water; moisture is not oil
  • Natural black (kinky-curly) hair needs moisture all the time (I will explain how to achieve this so you are not constantly dousing your head with water).
  • 'Moisturizers' as in oils, butters, or creams (emulsified mixes of  oil and water) act on hair as sealants
  • Not all oils are created equal.
  • The type of oils you use depends on what you want your hair to look and feel like, and therefore depends on your hair type. I don't use a typing system so when I say hair type, I simply mean, the unique characteristics of your hair, (i.e very kinky and coarse, loosely curled and silky, thick, thin, etc.)
  • How much growth you retain will depend on two things only, aside from genetics,: The health of your scalp and your ability to retain the current hair you have - which leads me to the next point:
  • The health of the hair that grows out of your scalp will depend on two things: The health of your scalp and your general health. If your scalp shows signs of ill-health (flaky, dry, excessively oily) this will affect the quality of the hair that grows out of it (i.e. whether the hair that grows is strong or weak).
  • Just like the skin on your face, your scalp needs to maintain proper oil balance to be healthy. Hopefully, if you notice the skin on your face is excessively oily or dry, you look into it, the same should go for your scalp. It is usually partly genetic but the oil balance in your skin is optimized by your diet, your general health and the products you apply to it so PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SCALP always.
So lets start at the beginning:
There are two main activities you will do as frequently as needed to maintain moisture in your hair. They are:
  1. Moisturize
  2. Seal
Moisture is water and only water.
Discard the myth that oil is moisture. When you were a child and your Mom 'moisturized' your hair with some hair oil, she was really sealing in the natural moisture in your hair. Test this by applying oil to hair that feels very dry. Do you notice your hair now feels oily but still dry?
Don't bother applying oil to dry hair. You are just wasting the oil. The rule I follow is this: Always 'moisturize' (seal) hair before it is fully dry (as in damp or wet).

Oils, butters, and creams with their wonderful smells and slick feeling do nothing but seal moisture into hair shaft (temporarily - which is why you must do it regularly).

The very air  that surrounds us is constantly robbing, not just our hair, but our entire bodies, of moisture. Remember water in the air is maintained at an equilibrium. This drives evaporation and precipitation. But unless you are in very humid climates, water tends toward evaporation into the air  -  meaning the air pulls water from the surface of whatever it can: Rivers, trees, and, yes, you!

Oils and butters are purely for sealing purposes.
Creams with oil and water, attempt to do double-duty: imparting moisture and sealing. How effective these butters, oils and creams are at it is entirely trial and error and up to what feels right to you.

So the takeaway of everything I've told you so far is this: Your primary duty in taking care of your natural hair for as long as your hair is natural will always be to keep moisture in your hair by applying moisture (water) and sealing it in with oils, butters, creams etc.

By the way, when I say not oils are created equal I mean that some oils, due to the size of their molecular structure, can be absorbed to some degree into the hair shaft, thereby helping to reduce protein loss from the hair strand. These oils are: coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil. I feel like this is another post since this one is already tres long.   :-)

Your Scalp
Many of us naturals, especially us newbies, become so enamored with our new 'curls and coils' and so fixated on getting perfect curl definition and discovering our textures that we forget the other half (a big part, right?) of the healthy hair puzzle - the scalp.
It's not an interesting part of us. It doesn't curl prettily like our new coils. It doesn't glow like the rest of our skin (I mean we can barely see it, especially if we have thick hair). So its easy to forget that this much-hidden stretch of skin, makes or breaks (literally) our hair. It is the manager behind the scenes, while we are so focused  and enamored with the celebrity on the screen, making it easy to forget that the celebrity that is our hair, does not stand a chance without a happy scalp.
The scalp is no different than the rest of your skin. In fact, the behavior of the skin on your face may indicate what is going on with your scalp. Do you tend to have oily skin? Dry skin? These are clues to pay special attention to your scalp. What your scalp needs most is balance (just like the rest of your skin). It does its magic by producing sebum (in addition to producing hair) to nourish the hair on our heads. Too much sebum, just like on our faces, clogs pores and may inhibit your natural rate of growth. Too little leaves the hair that grows out of your scalp, dry, and perhaps even weak and brittle.

Maintaining A Balanced Scalp

Three things come into play here:
  1. The products you apply to your scalp
  2. How clean your scalp is
  3. Hydration moisture
Does Your Scalp Love Your Products As Much As You Do?
This is where it is important to choose the right products. And this is where I will list the ingredients to avoid when looking for the right products.  Products with certain ingredients will either clog the pores/follicles in your scalp, or disrupt its natural oil balance by causing your scalp to produce too little or too much sebum in response.
When looking for the right hair products, I'm not going to tell you they have to be 'all-natural.' I go this route because its a safe bet that if the product is 'all-natural' (and of itself this is a vague term) it is less likely to have the disrupting ingredients I am about to list.

Ingredients to Avoid (ingredients with asteriks by them mean use in moderation):
-Petroleum-based ingredients in general but specifically: Mineral Oil.
Note: Propylene glycol is also petroleum-based (see previous post about) but scientific studies have not proven that it harms your scalp or hair. There is the risk it may disrupt the natural oil balance in your scalp because it does act as a humectant. Here is a tip: whenever you encounter an ingredient you know to be petroleum-based, do some research on the ingredient to discover if it has proven to be harmful or disruptive when applied on or in the body. Be informed.

-Cones (silicone, dimethicone anything ending in cone etc)*

How Clean Is Your Scalp?
I inspect my scalp several times a week. I gently scratch the surface with my nail. If I see dead cells, or flakes under my nail or if my scalp looks greyish or dull, I know it needs a wash and a treatment. Wash your scalp regularly (shampoo not necessary). And when you wash it, gently scrub it to remove dead cells that clog follicles. Massage it (preferably with oils) to stimulate blood circulation and to seal moisture unto it.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
I specifically use the term 'hydration' here to differentiate between this moisture and the one we talked about above. Hydration refers to the moisture balance inside your body. If you are dehydrated, your moisture balance is off and it will affect your scalp. When we are dehydrated, our hair, skin and nails are the first of our body parts to be deprived of what hydration levels we do have in our body (the body considers vital organs to be a much bigger priority than your skin and nails when it comes to needing water). So a good indicator of how hydrated you are is how dry your scalp is and whether your nails and hair are brittle (from continuous dehydration). Keep your body hydrated and your scalp benefits as well.

Starter Products
Now the part I know you transitioners have been waiting for.
Below is a list of all the products that should start you off on the right foot as a new natural:

1. Moisturizing Deep Conditioner
 Notice the emphasis on moisturizing. Remember my post about knowing the different types of conditioners? It may help to refer back to it here.
Many new naturals complain of excessively dry-feeling hair when they first 'big chop.' There may be several reasons for that including how you took care of your new growth during the transition period but here is a tip to overcome this temporary but frustrating stage: Deep condition very frequently.
I won't tell you how frequently - its up to you. Just listen to your hair and when it feels dry, deep condition. I am not a fan of baggying (the term for applying deep conditioner to your hair, putting on a heat cap (baggy) and sleeping with it overnight) but if I ever recommend it, it would be during the first few weeks after the big chop (if hair feels dry).

2. Co-Wash Conditioner
You know how when you were relaxed you shampoo-ed at least once a week with any old shampoo? Well, cut it out!
Here are two invaluable tips, I learned along the way:
  • Give up on shampoo (almost). Yes give it up. Curly heads do not need to shampoo often as it strips the hair of much-needed moisture. Moisture is the life of your curls. Strip moisture and you will end up with dry, frizzy hair (goodbye defined curls). Shampooing once a month (for those who tend toward dry scalp) or once every two weeks (for oily scalps) is just fine.

  • Become a conditioner-wash guru. Conditioner-wash (also called co-wash) is the process of using only a conditioner to wash your hair (use it like you would a shampoo -  scrub and massage your scalp and rinse). One of the fun things about having a teeny weeny new afro (twa) is you can do what is called 'wash-n-go's' pretty much every day. But not with shampoo! Use only a conditioner when you 'wash-n-go' and your hair will love it! And generally I don't recommend using your deep conditioner for your co-washes, (especially if you co-wash often) as this will cause buildup.
To find the perfect co-wash conditioner:
Choose a conditioner mild enough for daily use. Do not choose a clarifying conditioner unless you have oily scalp and hair (and most of us naturals do not tend toward oily hair). Daily use of clarifying conditioners, even mild ones, will add to hair dryness. Instead look for a daily use conditioner that says: 'moisturizing.'

3. Sealants (Oils, Butters, Creams)
Make sure you have at least one good sealant that works for your hair type. You may have to trial and error to find the ones that work for you but some good, popular ones are:
Castor oil (my personal favorite)
Shea Butter
Olive Oil
Coconut Oil
If you prefer creams to oils and butters, try ones by these natural-hair focused vendors: (Qhemet Biologics, Oyin).

*My natural sisters, help me out here. What are your fav natural-hair focused vendors out there?*

Not a necessity by any means but I know part of the eagerness to go natural is to see and rock your natural curls.  And gel is probably the one product that will get you there.  My one caution for you is that gels are drying so use in moderation and always protect your hair before applying gel, either with a sealant or a leave-in conditioner.
You may have to trial and error with different brands to find one that fits your hair type, don't get frustrated. And a tip: Expensive gels do not guarantee better results. Just avoid products with questionable ingredients (again, be informed).

I also recommend stocking up on the following in preparation for your big chop:

Detangling Comb
A wide-toothed comb is a must for detangling. Make sure your comb is free of sharp knicks or edges which can snag on (and possibly tear) hair during detangling. You want to only detangle your hair when it is saturated with a product that provides some slippage for easy comb gliding. Many naturals (myself included) detangle only in the shower and only when hair is saturated with conditioner (which provides slip).  If you insist on detangling dry hair, Qhemet Biologics (and I'm sure there are others) sells a detangling cream some naturals rave about (I haven't tried it so I can't vouch for it personally).
Detangle only as often as necessary. This does not mean detangling once a month unless you are going for free-form dreads!
Remember this, the longer you take between your detangling sessions, the more knots you will have to fight when you do and therefore the more risk of breakage during detangling. I also think, however, that too much detangling (every day, for example) is unnecessary and increases hair breakage.

Water bottle
Water spritzes help restore moisture to hair on dry days when you are not close enough to home to just jump in the shower. Add a bit of glycerin (and I do mean a bit! Think one tablespoonful to a cup of water) to keep those curls looking moist even longer (glycerin acts as a humectant). Do not apply glycerin undiluted! It is a recipe for dry, miserable hair.

Satin scarf
Sleep with your hair covered to prevent knotting and to help retain moisture.

A list of your fav natural hair youtuber links - Watching the vids of natural hair veterans who've been doing it for years and making it work - with great hair to show for it - will be a great pick-me-up on those days when you are wondering why you ever cut your hair or reaching for that relaxer. Find a natural youtuber whose hair type is similar to yours. I may do another post just to list my top favs.

The main thing is to listen to your hair and respond to its needs. Don't get stuck on a regimen. If you are trying a range of products and find your hair is not happy (is dry, brittle, etc) try to find out which product is causing the undesired reaction and replace it with a better alternative. Don't fall in love with your regimen.


Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot, this will be very helpful