Kinky hair 101: The very basics of caring for kinky hair


The impression most people have about going natural is that it is a lot of work, and that you constantly have to play around with your hair. On the contrary it’s actually very simple. The trick is just to get out of the mindset of dealing with your hair when it was relaxed, and work with your kinks in a way that won’t make them rebel. You cannot treat natural hair the same way as you treated relaxed hair. I can’t stress this enough. But once you figure out the basic rules, you’ll have come up with a routine that works for you in no time and will actually start really looking forward to wash day so you can play with your hair (or maybe I just need to get a life).

Of course, everything has to be tweaked to each individual, and what works for one person will not necessarily work in the exact same way for the next. And we all know rules are made to be broken. But if you are at a loss about where to start, these tips may come in handy when caring for your natural hair:

Moisture, moisture, moisture, is all our hair craves, and the best way to get moisture is from water itself, so make sure you are wetting your hair at least once a week. However:

Washing does not always mean shampooing! Most commercial shampoos contain sulphates- sodium laurel/laureth sulphate (SLS), or ammonium laurel sulphate (ALS). These strip your hair of natural oils, leaving it dry and brittle. Check the ingredients list to see if your normal shampoo contains these, and try and limit their use to only when you are experiencing heavy build-up. Switch instead to natural sulphate-free shampoos or clarifying cleansers such as Dr Bronner’s (make sure you dilute, and add an acidic substance such as lemon juice, to bring down the pH) or black soap, but even better, try ditching the shampoo every other wash and “cowashing” instead. This consists of washing hair with a cheap conditioner, such as Herbal Essences Hello Hydration, V05, or one in the Suave Naturals range.

Eliminate or limit the number of products with silicones (‘cones) in them
. These are ingredients which end in ‘one, ‘xane, ‘onol. These are useful in products like heat protectant should you choose to straighten your hair, but not so necessary in conditioners and moisturizers. ‘cones tend to build up in hair, requiring a sulphate shampoo to strip them out.

Avoid anything containing mineral oil/parafinum liquidum/petroleum. Mineral oil (present in most products marketed at “Black Hair”) can be a complete nightmare for natural hair. Although a number of naturals do find it useful in sealing (see below) and protecting their ends, the side effect is it coats the hair shaft preventing moisture from entering, and leaving our strands dry and brittle. It also attracts dirt and dust to the hair, leaving it quickly looking dull and lackluster. The only way to remove them is by using sulphates, leading to more dryness. All in all, mineral oil is a disaster in my opinion: Petrochemicals have no business in our hair!

If you do choose to use products containing mineral oil, make sure you avoid the scalp to prevent clogging your follicles, and elect to shampoo over cowashing.

Conditioner contains enough surfactants to clean your hair and scalp, and provided you are using all-natural products that do not bind to your hair, you shouldn’t experience any build-up. However, before you start on this routine, you will have to use a sulphate shampoo the first time to strip out the junk from all the bad products you’ve been using up until now.

Try and deep condition once a week, or once every two weeks, with a cone/mineral oil-free conditioner. If you feel your hair needs an additional boost, add honey, olive oil, shea butter or any other natural oil to your conditioner. Apply to hair, cover with plastic cap for at least 20 mins with a hooded dryer/hot towel/heat cap, or for an hour using just body heat (towel wrapped around your head to keep this in).

Going back to the earlier subject of heat, limit the use of this on your hair. Whever possible, try to air-dry your hair (as it gets longer, you might find it best to do this while it is stretched out in twists or braids to minimize tangles). If straightening, make sure you ALWAYS use a heat protectant. Either roller set your hair or stretch it out in some way to dry before using ceramic flat irons (making sure to limit the number of times you pass the flat irons over you hair to 2 or 3), or straighten with a blowdryer, but never both. Remember that results can be unpredictable, you can never fully eliminate the risk, and heat damage is irreversible!

Never comb hair dry! The best method of combing hair is when wet or damp, and loaded with conditioner.

Kinky hair tends to thrive more if kept in protective styles more often than wearing it out. These include twists, braids, buns, or any method to keep hair stretched out as it dries, and also keeping ends up and away from your clothing. (Check back later for more protective styling tips) If you prefer to wear your hair loose, stretch it out while drying to minimize tangles and lock in moisture, thereby retaining length: i.e. twist or braid hair with leave-in/moisturizer when wet, and then loosen when dry.

Keep hair moisturized between washes. There are many ways to do this, and many products to use, but my favourite is to mix a little leave in conditioner in a spray bottle with purified water and some oil (e.g. castor). Shake up, and spray on hair daily.

Oil is not moisture! You can only get moisture from water, products with water high up in the ingredients list, or humectants, such as aloe or glycerin. Oils and butters only lock in the moisture that is already there, so use natural oils and butters (such as extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil & pure unrefined shea butter) to seal in the moisture after using a water based moisturizer. Never use oil on its own on dry hair unless you are planning on starting a brush fire. Note though, that sealing after moisturising is extremely important to help retain that moisture, and also to keep your ends lubricated, minimising splits.

Handy tip on humectants: These work by drawing moisture out of the air and into your hair. In dry climates, however, there is no moisture in the air, and so they can end up pulling the moisture back out of your hair. Although the climate in Nigeria is generally humid, we sometimes spend our days in dry airconditioned rooms. So a good trick when using products with humectants, is to apply them before you get in the shower, and let them soak in the steam for the best moisturizing benefits.

Always sleep with a satin scarf or bonnet, or on a satin pillowcase.
Cotton draws the moisture out of your hair.

The information can be overwhelming, so through this blog, we will attempt to tackle issues a step at a time. Keep checking back for updates as we review and suggest products, discuss routines, styling tips, care for kids’ hair, etc. We want this blog to be interactive, so please feel free to leave comments or suggestions, or email us at info@thekinkyapothecary.com

13 comments

  1. Extremely helpful piece!
    Thanks!

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  2. I would recommend including threading into the natural hair care regime, at least once in a while. It doesn't have to be pulled too tight and beware of the edges. It stretches out the hair like no other and keeps it soft and protected. I remember growing up in the late 70s and early 80s and my aunts had the most amazing stretched out hair at weekends whenever they took the threads off (bra strap!). They would tuck in a hibiscus flower etc put on their mini dresses and platform shoes and be off on their dates to the cinema with their boyfriends :)

    I also remember my mum getting me to thread her short to mid length hair into maybe twelve parts at night. She would loosen it in the mornings and had an amazing 'fro for work the next day, this was in the early 80s.

    Good luck on your amazing walk, there are nuggets of wisdom tucked away in the most unlikely places in Nigeria, look well and you'll find them. Enjoy the adventure.

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  3. @ Anon, funny you should mention that, as I was just remembering the other day that was the method frequently used to stretch my hair out after washing when I was younger. I might give it a go and do a feature on it. Thanks!

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  4. Lovely tips although I'm at a loss as to how to keep my hair looking nice and curly, so I've resorted to either putting it up in a bun for weeks on end, or just covering it up. However, I just found that the last time I used Aloe Vera gel to smooth my edges it left the hair brittle and now my edges are all different lengths, what advise do you have on products good to smooth and hold natural hair in place without breaking it please? Also, I honestly don't know what hair texture I have though I thought it was 4b (it is really coarse and thick), and I tried to do a rollerset but had it puff in to an afro within minutes of the dryer heat wearing off so do you have any tips on how to get a nice set of roller curls that could last on that hair texture?

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  5. Hi AmaDee, I used to have the same problem with my hair- looks nice and curly when wet, but then would not hold in the moisture as it dried. I was able to improve this by doing 2 things: reviewing the products I used in the first place (just because my hair is so dry, I have really cut out everything that I need a sulphate shampoo to remove. Also I have found that product combinations and the method/order used also makes a huge difference). I also hardly ever let my hair dry loose, usually twisting or braiding when wet and drying it this way.

    I find the best thing for smoothing down edges is to spritz a little with a bit of leave-in conditioner mixed with water, and then smooth a bit of shea butter on, and then I hold down the edges with a silk scarf for about 15-30 mins. I do this just after I get out of the shower, and by the time I'm dressed my edges are a lot smoother, but still moisturised. I found gel on my edges everyday caused them to break, but I don't have this problem at all using Shea Butter.

    Finally, for rollersets, I find working with lagos humidity to be really challenging, so tend to stick to styles that look better when they have expanded, i.e. braid outs and twist outs (I am doing a post later today about my routine, so please check back). For a similar look to a rollerset, try doing a flat twistout, the difference being when it expands with the humidity, it still looks like a nice style as it ends up resembling a curly fro. If you really want to keep trying rollersets, try and avoid products with humectants in, such as glycerin, as these will just suck the moisture out of the air and ruin your rollerset.

    I hope this helps, but you might find the Champagne, Cupcakes & Curltalk event useful. Drop me an email- kinky.apothecary@gmail.com, and I will put you on the mailing list and let you know when the next one will be (its the next few weeks).

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  6. Sorry AmaDee, I forgot to add, Aloe Vera Gel shouldn't be drying your hair out. Check the brand you're using- they sometimes add ingredients in to thicken, so try and get one that's as close to 100% pure aloe as possible (the brand we use is 99.9%).

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  7. That's great Info for a new natural. People can now add or remove from this to create a system that works.

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  8. short and simple!!!Love the tips

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  9. am strugling with my natural hair, i don't even know what type it is now,i notice that when am combing it i have to remove heads (twisted tips) everyday.i don't even know what to do anymore

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  10. hello. have just decided to go natural, i will like to know if i can use black soap as shampoo for my hair since it has no surphate in it.

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    Replies
    1. Hello, yes a number of naturals use black soap to wash their hair. Just ensure you follow up with a good moisturising deep conditioner. Let us know how this works for you!

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  11. This is a bit overwhelming. I am in the process of turning my hair natural and it is seriously cutting and shrinks when I wash it please help me, I also need some suggestions on good shampoo and conditioner. I have been using VO5 .

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    1. Hiya, have you had a chance to read through the rest of the blog? You can find many of your answers in old posts.

      You say your hair is cutting, but are you sure it's breaking or is it shedding? Read the difference here: http://blog.thekinkyapothecary.com/2012/05/scalp-issues.html

      Shedding is normal. If breaking excessively, it might be time to just do the big chop, but try switching up your products first and see if you have any improvement.

      I personally don't find VO5 to have adequate moisture, particularly for transitioning here. You can read through my favourite product suggestions here: http://thekinkyapothecary.blogspot.com/2015/02/products-we-love-this-valentines-and.html

      Please let me know if you have any more questions.

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