Natural Hair For Beginners: What You Need To Know Before Going Natural in 2021

Feb 6, 2021

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Let’s be real: the natural hair game has evolved quite significantly in the last decade.

Gone are the days where we struggled to find affordable and accessible products for our coils.

Now, even Walmart’s shelves are stocked with a wide selection of natural hair products.

We’re also more educated about natural hair than ever before. However, not all news is good news. With so much information, products and tips on the web, it can be confusing trying to navigate through all the noise.

To help with this, we’ve created this ultimate natural hair for beginners resource list (based on current research and science) to truly deep dive into the wonderful world of natural hair, unbiased and unfiltered.

And to be clear, natural hair 101 is more than just learning about great products. It’s about of the negative and dangerous narratives we’ve been unconsciously fed our entire lives, and actively unsubscribing from them.

Let’s get into it!

an infographic showing natural hair for beginners

We’ve been conditioned in many ways to be, for lack of a better word, anti-natural.

White supremacist beauty standards are marketed to us every single day, unconsciously selling us a Eurocentric aesthetic that is simply unattainable for many black and brown people.

Let’s get into some mindset shifts you should explore before you start your new journey.

Natural Hair 101: Unconscious Biases To Ditch About Being Natural

1) Curl Type

The reality is this: we’ve been conditioned to view black features as unattractive.

an image of a black girl saying "thats racist"

A direct product of colonialization and white supremacy is the stigmatization of blackness.

According to this ideology, the closer we can get to whiteness, the closer we are perceived as “attractive”, “professional” and overall “acceptable”.

This encompasses what we refer to as “a beauty standard”.

In the beauty-sphere, coily, kinky hair is genetically associated with blackness, therefore less associated with whiteness.

In other words, the coilier your hair, the less you are able to meet this aforementioned beauty standard.

This agenda is further supported by media and what is marketed to as the ideal beauty. Growing up, many of us never saw black women in all their natural hair glory on TV.

The few on-screen naturals were unfortunately often played similar character archetypes – they were either the best friend, the “fat” friend, or worse, the villain.

But never the main character.

This sends a subliminal, yet intentional, message to young black people. For most of us, we’ve grown to unconsciously detest our black hair because we’ve never seen it as beautiful.

All that to say, in order to accept and cherish our hair in all its glory, we need to unlearn some of the lies we’ve been unconsciously fed.

As an example, Type 4 natural hair isn’t “hard” or “untameable”. In fact, Type 4 natural hair is the most fragile of all the curl types due to its tight curl pattern!

Your new natural hair 101 affirmation: all natural hair types are valid, are beautiful, and deserve equal representation. Period!

a black girl playing with her afro in the mirror

2) Comparing Your Hair Journey

Comparison is the thief of joy, sis!

With the rise of social media, we’re exposed to a new method of white advertising. It’s no secret that algorithms (and users) favour women who are able to meet Eurocentric beauty standards.

Let’s be clear: if you’re following anybody who makes you question yourself, it’s time to hit that unfollow button!

There is nothing worse than comparing your journey with someone else’s. Not only does this rob you of this beautiful natural hair journey, it eats away at your self-esteem. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

an image of a black girl tapping her phone saying "delete, erase, unfollow, whatever"

3) Expecting Quick Results

Millennials, Gen-Z and late Gen-Y are referred to as the “microwave generation”.

We have information available to us at the tip of your fingers. In under 3 seconds, you have access to information with a quick Google search and minimal effort.

And while this may be one of the best inventions of our time, it’s also re-wired our brain’s reward centres. Now, we’re looking for the same quick results in all aspects of our lives.

And this is just not realistic.

Anything worth having is worth working towards. You can’t expect to wake up on Day 1 of your natural hair journey and expect long, healthy hair. Natural hair is a journey, not a race.

Which brings us to…

4) Not Having To Put In The Work

Your natural hair journey will be an exciting and interesting journey of self-discovery.

But whoever said it’s easy, LIED!

Learning anything new will be challenging first, especially in a relatively new niche of beauty such as natural hair.

At first, you may be performing a very prescribed and mundane routine – deep conditioning on Sundays, re-moisturizing on Wednesdays, protective styling once a month.

In time, you’ll refine the skill of listening to your curls. With patience, you’ll know what products work best for your hair and what styles you prefer.

Again, all of this knowledge takes time to acquire!

How To Transition to Natural Hair

We’re not going to sugar coat it: learning how to transition to natural hair is not easy.

There’s growing pains to learning new things, and this is true for transitioning to natural hair.

At some points during your journey, you will feel tempted to drop the deep conditioner in favour for the relaxer or flat iron.

Don’t beat yourself up over it: that’s normal!

But you need to stay motivated. Consistency is the name of the game.

I get it, you want long, healthy natural hair overnight. Same here, sister.

But to make this journey more manageable and exciting, patience is key. This is an exciting time for you to learn a new, unexplored part of yourself. Enjoy the process!

Learning how to transition to natural hair, and how to maintain healthy hair, is worth the wait.

The Big Chop

The big chop is well-known (and well-feared) in the natural hair community.

By definition, it’s when you cut off all of the damaged hair and only leave the unrelaxed, healthy hair at the roots.

a black girl cutting her hair showing the big chop

This is the boldest way to start your new journey, but it is the most effective.

Whether you are dealing with natural hair heat damage or relaxed hair, a big chop ensures that you are giving your new growth ample opportunity to thrive. Dead hair will continuously split up the hair shaft, thus damaging new growth.

But the big chop is extreme, and we get that. So the next best thing you could so: an invisible trim.

An invisible trim means dusting off just a few cm from your ends (rather than inches) every 4-6 weeks. This will keep your length while getting rid of split ends.

The Two Cornerstones of Natural Hair for Beginners

To begin your new journey, there is one fundamental thing you must focus on.

And that’s your protein-moisture balance for natural hair.

If you focus your attention on these two things, everything else will fall in line.

protein vs moisture image

Moisture

Moisture is the most important cornerstone of natural hair for beginners and veterans alike! Aligning your actions to emphasis moisture is the first step in keeping your protein-moisture balance for natural hair level.

Every natural experiences dryness, regardless of hair type. If you chronically experience dry natural hair, let me in on a secret: we all do.

Our scalp, much like the skin on our body, produces natural oils called sebum. Sebum is our body’s way of moisturizing itself.

In an ideal world, the sebum from our scalp is supposed to moisturize our hair via gravity, from the top of our head to the ends of our hair.

But because of the angularity of our curls and kinks, the sebum cannot travel down our hair shaft.

So it gets trapped within the bends of our curls at the roots, and can’t make it down to our ends.

This is the main reason why natural hair is chronically dry.

To combat this, we need to manually add moisture to our hair via water and products.

an image of chloe x halle giving us a cup of water

But in many cases, naturals still experience dryness, even after a thorough deep conditioning session. The reason for this is:

Porosity

The best way to moisturize your natural hair is leveraging your hair’s porosity.

The gag is: once you know your porosity, you’ll never experience dryness again.

Natural Hair Porosity

Natural hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb water and/products.

Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture.

High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are always open. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture.

The root word of porosity is “pores”, which by definition are “openings that allow for the passage of liquid”.

In the world of hair, these pores are referring to our hair’s cuticles. Porosity measures the ability of your hair to absorb and retain moisture through these cuticles.

There are two main types of porosity:

  • Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture, so products just sit atop the hair.
  • High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are always open. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture, thus the products eventually evaporate away.

Each porosity has its benefits and drawbacks, but there are techniques we can employ to make our porosity work with us, not against us.

Rather than focusing our attention on our curl type, investing in your porosity will ensure your hair is moisturized and thriving – thus growing!

Check out our porosity portal, where we disseminate the latest and greatest porosity tips for your curls.

Protein

The next part of the protein-moisture balance for natural hair is: levelling your hair’s protein levels.

Our hair is made out of a protein called keratin, a heavily-bonded protein that keeps our curls bouncy and elastic. It’s also abundant in other areas of our bodies such as our skin and nails.

Keratin is rich in a particular kind of amino acid called cysteine, which is made up of tiny sulfur bonds in the cortex (the layer right underneath the cuticle).

These sulfur bonds are very strong, and contribute to the inherent strength and impermeability of our beautiful hair.

To be clear: these sulfur bonds are CRITICAL to your hair health – they’re the building blocks of healthy, strong hair. If they weaken, you’ll notice drier, more brittle and overall lifeless natural hair.

Thus, it’s imperative we keep these bonds strong and secure by handling our curls with care, eating right, and using the right protein treatments.

FYI – if you’re transitioning to natural hair or dealing with natural hair heat damage, your curls are severely lacking in protein.

We’ll get into the best products you should consider for both moisture and protein below.

The Real Tea on Natural Hair Products

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be a product junkie to have healthy natural hair.

On your new journey, you may feel anxious and excited to try out new products. And there a lot to choose from!

There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with products, but remember: having too many products can counteract your journey. How will you know what’s working if you have a million different products in rotation?

The easiest thing you can do for yourself during the beginning of your journey is to keep it simple.

The simpler your routine, the easier it is to stay consistent and stick with it.

To start, here’s a basic skeleton of the products you should have in your routine.

  • Shampoo
    • A critical step for all naturals – simply co-washing (using only conditioner) is not enough!
    • If possible, have two shampoos in rotation:
      • A moisturizing shampoo (sulfate-free), which are normally gentler for weekly use;
      • A clarifying shampoo (or a clay mask) which are best for monthly deep cleaning
    • Shampoo should be used at least once a week
      • If you have Type 4b and 4c hair, shampoo biweekly with a co-wash session in-between
    • Focus your efforts on the scalp – do not shampoo the length of the hair to avoid stripping the ends
an image of the best products for fine type 4 natural hair_mielle organics pomegranate and honey shampoo

Mielle Pomegranate & Honey Shampoo

Best for TYPE 4

This shampoo is one of the most moisturizing shampoos on the market – and this is an understatement! If you’re pre-pooed properly, your hair will feel soft and supple after shampooing with this product. Key ingredients such as honey and panthenol promotes moisture retention and hydration throughout the shampoo process. A must try for Type 4 naturals!

Shea Moisture African Black Soap Bamboo Charcoal Shampoo

Best for TYPE 3 – 4a

This is a great shampoo if you have low porosity natural hair, but also great if you have scalp issues such as flakiness, dryness/oiliness, or itchiness. It contains tea tree and willow bark extract, which will calm the scalp and assist with skin turnover, which is essential if dealing with any of the above scalp issues.

  • Conditioner
    • Contains emollients to soften the hair after the shampoo and reduce frizz
    • Use a conditioner with slip for light finger-detangling (if needed)
    • If Type 2-3b, skip this step and go straight to deep conditioning to avoid over-moisturizing
  • Deep conditioner
    • Must be used every time hair is washed and shampooed – especially for Type 3c-4 naturals
    • Includes delivery agents that brings moisture deeper into the hair cuticle
    • Repairs and restores the hair for the week to come
    • Look for deep conditioners fortified with plant-based ingredients such as aloe vera, honey, and plant-based oils
best deep conditioner_camille rose algae renew

Camille Rose Algae Renew Deep Conditioner 

Best for TYPE 4

A cult favourite deep conditioner, This deep conditioner contains essential plant-based oils and butters loved by all naturals: manuka honey, mango butter and aloe vera, and also includes innovative ingredients such as hemp seed oil and blue-green algae. And it smells like mint chocolate chip!

best deep conditioner, TGIN honey miracle hair mask

TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask

Best for TYPE 3c – 4

One of the most superior ingredient list of any deep conditioner on the market. The ingredient list is short and simple and formulated with primarily juicy plant-based ingredients. Honey is the SECOND ingredient, meaning that you’ll truly feel the softening effects from the honey after rinsing. Jojoba oil and aloe vera, the third and fourth ingredients respectively, are incredibly beneficial for moisturizing natural hair. A must have for coilier textures!

best deep conditioners_shea moisture deep treatment masque

Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque

Best for TYPE 2-3

The OG of deep conditioners. It contains deep sea kelp and shea butter to provide deep hydration right into the hair shaft. This mask is great for looser curl patterns. For best results, use in the shower after shampooing (in replace of a regular conditioner) for 15 minutes.

  • Moisturize and seal
    • Use high-grade, quality moisturizing products to keep the hair moisturized until the next wash day
    • In general, follow the LOC method for high porosity hair and LCO method for low porosity hair
    • Liquid (L)
      • Must be water-based – either a leave-in conditioner or just water
      • For Type 2a-3b, choose a light-weight leave-in spray or water
      • For Type 3c-4a, opt for a leave-in milk or light cream
    • Oil
      • Use sealant oils to lock in the moisture – examples include castor oil and olive oil
      • For looser curls, use light-weight oils such as argan oil
      • For tighter coils, opt for thicker oils such as castor oil or shea butter
    • Cream
      • Used for additional moisture
      • Great for twist-outs and braid-outs
      • Can be skipped for gel
    • Gels
      • Prioritizes definition and shine
      • Hair must be moisturized first prior to applying
      • Great for wash and go’s
an image of tgin daily moisturizer

TGIN Butter Cream Daily Moisturizer

Best for TYPE 4

No other moisturizer exists on the market quite like this one – not only does it have amazing slip, but it’s rich formula with shea butter and vitamin E will help flatten your cuticles and promote hydration all week long.

a picture of camille rose curl love moisture milk

Camille Rose Curl Love Moisture Milk

Best for TYPE 3c – 4

This buttery, soft leave-in contains incredibly moisturizing ingredients such as avocado oil, rice oil and aloe vera (aka the moisture G.O.A.T.)! Plays well with creams and gels for defined twist-outs and good for all porosity types, especially low porosity naturals.

an image of the shea moisture jamaican black castor oil leave-in conditioner

Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Leave-in Conditioner

Best for TYPE 3c, 4; high porosity

A fan favourite amongst high porosity and protein-loving naturals. The proteins in this formulation are small enough to fit into your cuticles, reducing frizz and increasing moisture absorption. A win-win!

shea moisture curl and style milk

Shea Moisture Curl and Style Milk

Best for TYPE 4

A light-weight, hydrating leave-in moisturizer. Perfect for Type 2 and 3 naturals with loose curls and waves. Be light-handed when applying and focus on your ends for more volume and curl definition.

Earthtones Naturals Curl Enhancing Jelly

Best for TYPE 4

A Canadian-based brand, Earthtones Naturals focuses on holistic, natural ingredients – and this gel is no exception. Its formulated with some ingredients such as aloe leaf juice, panthenol and sea kelp!

How To Choose The Right Products For Your Hair

As mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to figure out what works for you is simply experimenting.

By trying out different products, you can get a sense on if your hair prefers gels over creams, leave-in conditioners vs milks, etc.


But this can be both expensive and mentally taxing. Who can keep up with all the new products?

Here are 3 general rules of thumb to consider when trying out products:

  • Porosity
    • As the cuticles are tight and flat, low porosity nauturals should avoid products that further flatten the hair
      • Avoid ingredients with coconut oil and proteins.
    • High porosity should look for these ingredients, as the cuticles are very open and need proteins to flatten the cuticles
  • Curl Type/Density
    • The tighter your curl pattern, the more thicker/richer ingredients you should use
    • Type 2 and 3b naturals should opt for water-based milks and use a small amount of gel for curl definition
    • Type 4 naturals should always use a leave-in milk, coupled with either a cream styler, gel and/or oil
  • Ingredient List
    • Not all formulations are made with quality
    • Natural hair thrives best with products containing water as the first ingredient, followed up with plant-based ingredients
    • Avoid the following ingredients, if possible:
      • Silicones (especially if low porosity)
      • Mineral oil/petroleum (creates a tight barrier around the hair which results in dry hair if not removed with sulfate shampoo)
      • Petroleum
      • Formaldehyde
      • SD Alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, propanol

Natural Hair Tools

If a product isn’t working for you, it may not be the product, it may be the tools you’re using (or lack thereof).

These must have tools for natural hair are essential in any natural hair routine – some of them actually work to help your hair absorb the products better. I’m here for that!

Without these tools, not only are you not getting the full benefits of your expensive products, you won’t reach your hair’s full potential as effectively.

The best part? These tools are AFFORDABLE asf (roughly around $5-10), and won’t run out, unlike your products.

They can be used week after week in tandem with your products to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

an image showing a hot head thermal cap

Thermal Hot Head

Best for TYPE 4

This is a must have tool for natural hair, especially for low porosity naturals. Deep conditioning as a low porosity natural is virtually pointless if you’re not opening up your cuticles to let the product in. And this product will do just that! A much more effective deep conditioning strategy than the baggy method, and best of all: it’s much more affordable than a $100 steamer. You can’t beat that price point!

image of the best spray bottle for natural hair

Fine Mist Spray Bottle

Best for TYPE 3 – 4a

Water is imperative to moisturize natural hair. When your hair feels dry, it’s not craving more products, it’s craving water. She’s thirsty!

Rather than getting any old bottle for your hair, get yourself a spray bottle where the water is ejected as a mist rather than a stream. 

Your coily hair will be able to absorb water as a mist because the particles are smaller.

The best part? It’s affordable! 

a photo of shear scissors

Shear Scissors by Utopia

Best for TYPE 4

These scissors by Utopia are professional grade shears, made of 100% stainless steal for long-lasting durability. As natural hair is highly fragile, these scissors won’t cause additional breakage to your sensitive coils. Best of all – they’re affordable!

image of the best satin pillowcase, which is necessary for taking care of natural hair

Bedsure Satin Pillowcase For Skin and Hair

Best for TYPE 4

Satin is an absolute must for any natural, regardless of curl type! The Bedsure pillowcases are super affordable and come in multiple colours to fit your aesthetic!

Putting It All Together: The Ultimate Natural Hair Routine for Beginners

Simply put, the key to creating a natural hair routine is focusing on simplicity and consistency.

simple natural hair routine doesn’t have the space for a million products because you use what works.

Consistency is the second piece of the puzzle. Nothing is worth doing if you are not consistent, and this principle also works with natural hair.

Whether we want to see more growth, more moisture or more definition, all we need is a simple routine that we implement consistently, and we’ll be guaranteed to see results.

Here’s the tea on how to take care of natural hair, broken down on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

Daily

On a day-to-day basis, it’s all about listening to your hair.

Learning how to take care of natural hair daily is a skill that you will refine as you go along on your natural hair journey, so don’t worry if you are new to this and don’t have solid footing yet.

Here are some general tips to guide you on daily maintenance of natural hair.

  • Avoid too much manipulation
    • Keep your fingers out of your hair
    • Keep wool sweaters away from the nape of your neck
  • Sleep with a satin bonnet or silk pillowcase
  • If your hair feels dry, re-moisturize your hair with water, a leave-in and oil, and protect it overnight


Weekly

On a weekly basis, your hair is most likely dry and dirty, and begging for a moisture re-up. Here’s what you should do on a weekly basis:

  • Weekly detangling session
  • A complete wash day, including deep conditioner
  • Scalp massage
  • Wash your silks and satins

Monthly

Monthly maintenance of natural hair is all about a reset. We do a lot to our hair on a daily and weekly basis, so it’s important to press the reset button on our curls and give our hair a bit of a break.

On a monthly basis, you should:

  • Dust the ends of your hair to remove split ends, if needed
  • Protein treatment to strengthen your hair
  • Do a scalp detox using a clarifying shampoo (normally contains sulfates) or do a clay mask

Final Thoughts About Natural Hair for Beginners

As black and brown people with curly and coily hair, many of us have been conditioned to resent our features.

We’ve tamed and manipulated our hair in so many different ways to conform. Many of us don’t even fully understand how to take care of it in its natural state.

If nobody has told you yet: your hair is beautiful and valid in whatever state you decide to wear it. This is the first thing you should internalize on your natural hair for beginners journey.

But if you are deciding to go natural, remember that natural hair is a journey, not a race.

This new journey you are about to embark on may seem overwhelming, but with the above guide, you should be able to navigate through with confidence and ease.

Welcome to the wonderful world of natural hair. It will change you.

Are you on your natural hair for beginners journey? What steps are you taking to make the transition? Share down below!

The Curl Market is a natural hair blog catered to helping black naturals grow their curls into a long, luscious manes.

We use the latest evidence-based scientific research to provide you with the top tips on growing your curls, regardless of hair type.

We also provide lifestyle tips, both self care and mental care, to ensure you are optimizing your body’s natural hair growth cycle – because you can’t grow natural hair if you’re stressed out!

Come as you are.

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WRITTEN BY

Ayana Aden

Ayana is The Curl Market’s brand founder. When she’s not deep in natural hair research or creating content, she’s hanging on the couch with her husband and her cat, reading a book or scrolling through TikTok. Follow her on Instagram at @tothecurlmarket.

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What's Your Curl Type?

Take The Quiz!

Learning your curl type is an important step in learning how to take care of your natural hair. It can help you understand what products will work best for you, how often to shampoo, how to style your natural hair, and other key information.

This quiz will give you the lowdown on exactly what your curl type is, so you'll never have to wonder again ♥

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