This month I have mostly been... (and braid maintenance)

BRIEF INTRO: I keep getting told off for not posting enough pictures. Well, for not posting enough full stop. But people seem to want to see pictures mostly. So I've decided to do a series at the end of each month called "This month I have mostly been...", summing up how I've worn my hair for the past month. I really don't do enough interesting things to my hair to warrant more frequent posts than that on the subject (as I am extremely challenged when it comes to experimenting with styles) but I'll try and make up for that by posting lots of pictures. Happy?

So, this month I have mostly been, well, in braids as you all know. Which I guess has been a good thing, as I started the year off in this:

Snow, although beautiful, is NOT a kink's best friend!

But I can tell you, it has been a real challenge. I never start to miss my hair more than when I have put it in a protective style. Then I start coming across all these new products I want to try and all these interesting hairdos I think I will somehow be able to manage (not sure who I am kidding), and getting extremely jealous when I see other people's 'fros. Also, braids really don't make for a very exciting picture post.

However there is no point in having a protective style if you put your hair through the manipulation of getting it done, but don't leave it in long enough to reap the benefits. So I am going to try and keep them in for another 2 or 3 weeks. Yikes.

I have been maintaining by spraying daily with a mixture of bottled water and vegetable glycerin before I get in the shower (sometimes I add leave-in conditioner to the mix), and every couple of days, I seal with a mixture of Shea Butter and Castor and Grapeseed Oils (I melt the Shea, whip some Castor and Grapeseed Oils in, and then leave it to harden again. I have started using this as a regular sealant when my hair is loose. Shea and Castor because they are nice and heavy, and Grapeseed because it promotes shine. But I'll talk more about my updated regimen when I finally take these darned braids out).

I’ve washed every week. On week one I cowashed with Elucence Moisture Balancing Conditioner, applied some leave-in conditioner, and then sealed with the Shea/Castor/Grapeseed mix. I do this for the entire length of the braid to where my hair ends (my braids are done one inch past the ends of my hair and then knotted). On week two, I used a mixture of Dr Bronners Peppermint (only because it was the one I had open at the time. I don't have a preference for this over the other flavours), jojoba oil, water (I always dilute the Dr Bronners soaps as they can be quite stripping) plus some lemon juice to bring down the pH level as castille soaps have an alkaline pH. (I will talk more about hair and pH in the Kinky Hair 101 series, but the short version is hair- and skin- are acidic in nature, so using products with a lower pH can affect their condition, and appearance, and help prevent unnecessary damage). I don't really measure the amounts, but thinking back the ratio of castile soap to water is about 1:7. That stuff really lathers up and you don't need much of it. I pour in a few drops of oil and then squeeze the juice of about half to one lemon. I shake vigorously (in my spray bottle) and then I am good to go.

Roughly the amount of soap mixture I use every wash

I spray the mixture directly on to my scalp, concentrating on getting that clean, and then I allow the run-off of the soap mixture to cleanse my braids as I rinse. (As an aside, I know this goes without saying but if you have just one spray bottle and want to use it for both your shampoo mixture and your leave-in mixture, please make sure you wash it out properly so you are not spraying shampoo on to your hair on a daily basis when trying to moisturise). I then follow up by cowashing my braids, again with Elucence Moisture Balancing Conditioner, and then using a leave-in conditioner, and sealing as before.

I've alternated between cowashing, and this shampoo method every time I've washed my braids.

I then give myself a scalp massage using whatever oil blend I feel like at the time (always incorporating Jojoba as a base, and usually adding Castor and a few drops of Rosemary Essential Oil). This is a part of my regular routine on wash days, and maybe one or two more times during the week.

As I always use synthetic hair (I have used human hair about twice in the course of my life, and from what I remember it itched like crazy and I wasn’t too fond of the smell when it got wet. Also as I've had time to think about it over the years, the thought of having someone else’s hair on my head freaks me out a little bit), so by the 3rd week, the ends had started to get a little bit ratty. I just trimmed them slightly to try and get them looking more polished. 

And that's about it.

So now its time for the pictures. I have tried to be versatile with styling my braids, as I didn't want to just pull them up into a ponytail every day, as I usually do. However, like I mentioned, I am challenged and thought it was best to just start slow. So this has mainly consisted of a variety of knots (particularly useful for keeping the hair off my neck in this heat since I got back to Lagos), or some form of accessory or another. 

Just pulled into a simple bun...
...and accessorised with a bow...
...or scarf
Trying to mix it up with a side bun

Same Bun Different View
Tried to vary it even when wearing them down
For work
Keeping them off my face...
...but trying to be slightly more imaginative about it
And the top knot for hitting the town.

So that's all, folks! I'll try and be a little more adventurous next month.

How The Rest Of The World Does It - Capetown, SA

I'm fortunate enough to be able to travel a lot for work, and whenever I do I am struck by the number of ladies with natural hair I see proudly rocking their kinks, compared to back in Nigeria.

I thought it would make a good series for the blog if I could photograph some of them to share with you guys (bearing in mind I am not a professional photographer, or even an average amateur photographer).

Can I just say: running up to random people and asking to take pictures of their hair takes a lot of nerve! But hopefully it will soon become second nature.

So we start with Capetown. Enjoy!



Thandokazi & Asiphe

Asiphe close-up


Side view of Nicky's Fro-Hawk

Nero- Yes, those are braided extensions, but on a normal day, she is natural

PS: Thank you ladies for letting me take your picture!

A Look Back At My Kinky Hair Journey

In the spirit of the new year and new beginnings, I was clearing out my laptop the other day… a never-ending task that began when I got it, but I digress…when I came across some photos of me from before I started on this "healthy hair journey". I realised I hadn't done a post in a couple of weeks, thereby not upholding New Year's resolution number 1. The situation in Nigeria over the past few weeks took a turn that put blogging a few rungs down the ladder in the grand scheme of things. My hair is still in braids, so there's nothing to update about on that front, and the strikes meant that I hadn't been able to meet up with my friend who took photographs of the Birthday Bash, and there are apparently too many to email. So blog post subjects were a bit thin on the ground. However, seeing all these pictures suddenly inspired me to begin a post on my hair journey which, once I started writing, pretty much blossomed into a book. Or at least, a rather long pamphlet. You'll be glad to know I have now broken this down into bite-sized pieces to form a series of hair tips, following on from the Kinky Hair 101 post.
I can’t count the number of times people have told me they would go natural if their hair was "like mine", or people who are natural and say they struggle because their texture is “difficult”. There are some people who assume that the appearance of my hair is solely due to my genes. People also believe that when you go natural, your hair is automatically healthier. While genes play a role in our hair growth, and it is true that it is easier to cultivate a healthy head of hair when you are not putting chemicals in it, my pictures clearly illustrate the difference in the appearance and health of my natural hair before I started following a healthy regimen, and after. 
I have always had a lot of hair. In fact I find it amusing when people imply that I might have an "easier" hair texture, because I have broken an obscene number of combs in my lifetime. I have the kind of hair that makes hairdressers cower when I walk in to the salon, because it is really rather dense. Which is why I am glad I no longer have to rely on them! 

I have also never had problems growing my hair or retaining length, even when I was relaxed. In fact this was one of the factors that inspired me to go natural- the constant regrowth I seemed to experience. However, because my hair is so dense and coils tightly on itself, creating nightmare tangles, it always just seemed unmanageable. So much so that at a loss for what to do with it, my poor mum got me my first kiddie perm at the age of 9. 
I have told my natural hair story to anyone who will listen, but for fun, I'll do it again. I first went natural about 12 years ago, not to make any kind of political statement, not really even because I was particularly concerned about health. I was just sick of having to go to the hairdresser every 6 weeks for a touch up, and I dreaded it because I always, ALWAYS, got burned! Also I am one of those people who doesn't like to feel constrained, or like I am obliged to do anything, and that was exactly how I felt when I was relaxed. The idea that I needed to constantly do something every six weeks to look presentable made me feel quite suffocated. I distinctly remember the realisation that the effect of my relaxer was so fleeting. I would admire my hair in the mirror about a week after I had been to the hairdresser's (after the relaxer burn had died down. Sigh), and note wistfully that I only had about one more week, 2 tops, of it looking nice. And there was never any question of stretching my relaxers, as my regrowth was always ridiculous. 

Thinking back, it was also constantly breaking and shedding. Literally every time I combed, or even ran my hands through it. At the time I thought this was pretty normal, but when I think back I shudder. Now as an aside, I am not saying that this was solely the result of having relaxed hair. A lot of people are relaxed and with good regimens are able to retain a phenomenal amount of length. I was just generally clueless, and had horrendous haircare practices (curling tongs every single day, anybody?) 

Actually alarmed at how much like
my brother I look in this pic!
So I went for the chop. I'd waited about 3 months from my last relaxer and had about 2 inches of hair. At twa stage, it was pretty simple, and I mainly just did wash and go's graduating to two-strand twists and twistouts (although I had no idea that was what any of this was called at the time ). Its been quite hard to find pictures of the early days, as digital cameras were still a future invention at the time (yes, its been that long, and yes, I am THAT old).

After a while, I got to the awkward phase where my hair was neither long nor short and I had no clue what to do with it, so I braided back to back for several years.

One day, I took out my braids and realized I had loads of hair. So instead of looking after it, I started messing around with it. Of course that was the beginning of a slippery slope. I NEVER styled without using direct heat, and I don’t think I even knew what a heat protectant was. Every time I washed my hair, I would dry it (probably without even using a leave-in. I don't really remember) using the pik attachment of my hairdryer, without having detangled properly first and just ripping through the knots.

Birthday braidout done on blow-dried hair 

Flat-ironed hair

I also flat ironed like mad. Both of the pictures above were taken about 6 years ago when I first moved back to Lagos. I was still using products geared towards relaxed hair, but at this point, my hair was the longest it had ever been at the time. I think I was just past APL, and while it didn't look bad at all, it was ridiculously dry and my ends were a mess. It had also taken me 7 whole years to get there! 

I actually very clearly remember that the day the second picture was taken. I had gone to some hairdresser who was even more clueless about natural hair than I was. Fed up with her ripping through my hair, pulling it out by the roots, and arguing when I tried to correct her, I stormed out in a rage, hair half done (my speciality, but perhaps more on that in a later post). I went to a friend’s complaining about what had just happened, and she kindly offered to help me... by frying the hell out of it with a flat iron and without any form of heat protectant. And I gladly acquiesced.
Needless to say, although neither of the pictures above seem to illustrate any kind of damage, my hair did not look like that for more than a few months.
The more I heat styled, the drier and more split my hair got. I also began to lose my curl pattern, and eventually started losing length:
Yes, people. Heat damage is real!!
Also I found styling my hair incredibly tedious. My washing and detangling technique (or lack thereof) made me believe my hair was unmanageable. Washing was such a chore: I used sulphate shampoos which would cause my hair to shrink and knot, I didn't detangle properly with my conditioner, and then I would start the process of ripping through my hair with my hairdryer and pik attachment, effectively giving myself a (bad) haircut every time I washed. I never looked forward to wash day, and would delay as long as possible, meaning I would go several weeks without getting proper moisture in my hair.
I didn’t want to start braiding constantly again, and I was just looking for a simple way to get ‘wash and wear’ hair. I somehow got it into my head (thanks to some other clueless hairdresser) that a texturizer would be the answer. A texturizer. On heat damaged hair!!!!
Well peeps, this stringy mess was the result:
Texturizing + continued heat styling + other bad haircare practises
From the second I did it, I regretted it. My hair was dull and limp, and literally broke off every time I touched it. I had to cut inches off every couple of months. So I decided to transition back almost straight away. Although I had BC’d the first time I'd gone natural, this time around I couldn’t psychologically bring myself to shave it all off, and I went back to the constant braiding after all.

It was around this time that I started doing a lot of research into natural hair care, and the internet was a complete treasure trove of information.
After finally getting rid of the last few texturized ends, my hair went from here:
Oct '09

                                                            To here:
April '10

                                                                                                                                   To here:
Dec '10

I was initially very focussed on length, but after a few months focussed more on health. That meant doing things like giving myself trims as and when I needed them (more often in fact, as I tried to get the front to catch up with the back), instead of hanging onto stringy damaged split ends just because I wanted to be a certain length. 
And with health, the length came naturally.
And the difference in texture, softness and shine is so obvious it even shows in pictures, as illustrated in these ones of my early twistouts taken in October '09, when I was just starting off on this healthy hair journey... 
This was actually about an hour before I chopped off the last bits of texturizer
... compared to what it looks like now that I understand my hair's properties, know how to handle it, have a proper regimen,  have sorted out my moisture-protein balance, figured out its likes and dislikes, pay attention to ingredients and am selective about the products I use:
The journey so far...
Despite my numerous chops, my hair is NOW the longest it has ever been, and I have hit BSL several times. I haven't straightened in a long time, but if I ever do (taking adequate care), I will make sure I post a comparison to the flat ironed picture above.

So you see, people, although none of the earlier pictures show my hair looking particularly bad (apart from the ghastly texturizer stage which we shall block from our memories as soon as we're done reading this post), it is obvious when compared to what it looks like now that it had not reached its full potential, and it probably still hasn't.

Now that was a ramble and a half and I'll try and keep it to a page next time, but I didn't launch into all of this to brag. Well... maybe a little... because I really do love my hair... but my main point was that finding these pics reminded me that there was a time that I too struggled with it, and although I never went through the phase that some people go through where they hate it, there were points when I thought it was a lost cause. If I'm honest, the reason I was worried to cut my hair off the second time was that I had gotten used to having long hair, and I was under the impression that I had reached an age where my hair would never grow back. How wrong I was.

Yes, ultimate hair length, growth rates, textures, etc are genetic. Some of us will have loose curls, some of us will have tight kinks. Some of us will have both. Some of us will end up with waist length hair, and some of us will not. All that matters is that we figure out what is best for our own hair and help it to reach its full potential. And at the end of the day, and as cliche as it might sound, all healthy hair really is beautiful!
I hope that through the series of posts that I have written, I can pass on what worked for me, and offer encouragement to anyone who might be feeling disillusioned about their journey. Hopefully you will be able to take something from them that you can make work for you.

Until next time, have a good one, my lovelies!
In the next post, I talk about growth and retention (here's a hint: pretty much everybody's hair grows. If you think your hair is not growing, you are probably just having issues retaining it!)

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Happy New Year, people!

Hope you've all had a fabulous holiday season and are ready to take on 2012.

This year, I'm keeping it simple with the resolutions. I normally have a long list that I've totally forgotten about by the 15th.

As far as my hair goes, its more of the same, really. As soon as the braids come out (yes, I'm looking forward to that already) I'm going for a healthy trim and then maintaining a healthy moisture-protein balance, sealing my ends, and protective styling. Also, and I always say this but fail miserably, I will try and be more adventurous with styling.

I get ideas from trawling through various tumblrs like this one.

So here's some Kinkspiration to kick-start the year:

We start deliveries again on the 9th, so look forward to getting your orders then.

Catch you all soon!