I Don't Do Afros: 4 Alternatives That Keep My Natural Hair Knot-Free

If I let my hair flow free, it would become one solid dreadlock.
Publish date:
November 13, 2013
curly hair, afro, afros, buns, curl pattern, extensions, hair treatments, hairstyles, natural hair, relaxers, twists, weaves

There's this
idea going around that black girls should all drop their weaves and relaxers
and start rocking afros. When you Google "black girl natural hair"
19.5 out of the first twenty image
results are fros of some sort.

Here's the thing, though: all black hair is not the
same! And what I found out, the hard way, is that I will almost never wear a

I have had
natural hair for pretty much all of my 20-*mumbles off into
years of life. However, much of that was spent in some sort of
kinky twist extensions, braid extensions, cornrow extensions, or whatever.
Basically, I rarely handled my own hair without some added -sion.

My first foray
into rocking my own, extension-free hair long-term was when I was 22. Needless
to say, that was also the first year I applied a relaxer. There I was, thinking
I was all cute with my fros and wash-and-gos and twist-outs. But every
time I would visit the salon, they would chop and chop and chop away my ends.
My hair always needed
the trims due to fraying and breakage. My inability to retain length was

Because I
prefer the low-maintenance route, my go-to style was a wash-and-go. I didn't
mind that my hair would shrink into the tiniest fro, having people thinking I
was a rejected (male) member of the Jackson 5. I loved the low maintenance. But
the detangling process after wearing my hair out all the time left me with gobs
of hair either in my hands or chopped off by my stylist's
scissors. Frustration led to relaxation, yet relaxers also proved to be

After a couple
of years relaxing my hair, breakage from the chemicals, and no real solution,
my second journey into natural hair came by accident.

I began weaving my hair
when I started training at my dance studio and acting more consistently. I
needed something easy and cute that could quickly take me from sweaty dance
classes to auditions. But while I was considering the transition from relaxed
back again to natural hair, I took too much time off in between relaxers and
the choice was made for me.

After being unearthed from a weave and enjoying a
fresh wash, my hair became a tangled, locked mess. I had no choice but to chop
off my hair and whittle it down to a two-inch fro. I decided then that I would go
natural for real for real.

To ease me
into this process, I've done a combination of weaves and wigs to allow my hair
to grow. Two years since that first big chop, and I have learned a ton about my
hair. I have also seen it grow longer than it ever has. And one thing I
learned, which I realized only after my first natural hair experiment, was that
I cannot wear afros if I want my hair to be healthy and retain length.

In the natural
hair community, we call styles like afros and twist- outs "free hair"
because it's not braided down, or pinned--it's just out. An afro, unlike
what some may tell you, does not, in fact, just grow out of every black person's
scalp. What grows out of my scalp is a ton of intensely coiled hair that
basically wraps around its own self-destructive ass.

To achieve the
luscious fros my hair sees on Google (it really does see, it has a life of
its own) it has to be picked out. To maintain it, you have to keep picking it
out, as black hair tends to be susceptible to humidity. But my hair isn't just
susceptible--it down right begs for humidity, the little slore (not slut-shaming, you guys, I love my hair's loose ways).

So I would have to keep a comb
on me and constantly pick or tease when my hair was "free." But combs
are bad for my hair type and should only be used sparingly. Constant picking
leads to constant breakage, no matter how many products you slab on the hair.

looove how fros look, and I'm downright envious of girls who can rock their own
so carelessly because it just naturally forms that way after a wash. But it
ain't for me. And if I really left my hair un-manipulated it would become
one solid dreadlock. I mean yeah, it'd be a cool story to have one impenetrable
mass of locked hair--I might even get a TLC reality special--but it'd get heavy
and like, be gross.

So I have to keep
my hair stretched. This is what has worked for me and is the key for
practically every other super-coily haired girl I've seen on the interwebs.

hair is cool because it’s versatile. It looks much shorter than it actually is,
and my hair stretches for daayyss. But because it’s so coily, it is very
susceptible to tangling and knotting.

So instead of
forcing my way into the free-flowing afro club, I've found four simple ways of
styling my hair that allows for very little manipulation, keeps my hair
stretched, and thereby limits tangles and knots:


Pros: Very
versatile; easy to create and style.

Cons: Can lead
to breakage at the ends, so not the ideal stretched style for me.

I wore twists,
and the next two styles, on an epic two-week adventure to celebrate my mom’s
birthday on a road/train trip along the West Coast from Vancouver down to Cabo.
I deliberately used this opportunity to challenge myself to style my own hair
without heat or weave, and to see what would work best, so this is also great
vacation hair!

Because my
hair is thin, I curled my hair overnight with plastic rollers and pinned it
under into a bob to create volume. Neither the twisting nor rolling has to be
very exact. I twisted mirrorless on the car leg of our road trip and rolled in
an Amtrak bunkbed and woke up to this.

I like twists,
but they ultimately wouldn't be the best style for me. Because I'm a busybody, I
was constantly doing and undoing my twists. The ends of my hair and nape of my
neck, which are both of fine density, were the proof: my hair was knotting and
breaking off at the ends thus defeating the purpose of a protective
style. People with denser, more coarse hair, however would likely benefit
more from twists.

After toying
with my hair, and in a simple eureka moment, I happened upon...


Pros: Easy as
pie to style; doesn't require a lot of handling or maintenance; the low
manipulation leads to growth.

Cons: Not
versatile; can pull at the hair and lead to breakage where you tie the bun
(unless you use a hair bungee, and boy do I have a love story awaiting for you
for the glory that is the hair bungee).

I found buns
to be the winner on the very last day of my two week self-imposed, rewardless,
everyday protective style challenge. Instead of a high bun, I pull my hair back
into its less fabulous sister, the low bun. My edges at the front of my hair
need TLC (no scrubs), and pulling my hair up also pulls my edges, and it's too
taxing for an every day style.

A low bun, however, lets me just pin the front
edges of my hair (which is the shortest part of my hair) to the side, leaving
my edges in tact. I just make a middle part, and tie my hair low to form an
afro puff. From there, I just pin the hair under to make a bun or I part the
puff, make one twist, and pin the twist under.

The most protective is doing the
latter, as the bun stays stretched in the event of humidity. Because it's all
tied up, I'm not inclined to play with it as I would with twists.


Pros: Keeps
natural hair smooth and practically frizz-free when your natural hair is

Cons: Requires
heat; may be cost-prohibitive.

When I
tell you my hair does not like to be manipulated, it does not like
a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. It can revert from being flat-ironed in two seconds flat (it's
happened). It throws combs back at me. It spits out my brushes. I mean, I'm 83%
sure my hair gave me the finger after detangling it, no lie. (OK, 83% of the
time people say no lie, it is actually a lie)

I was surfing
the web for hours for random hair advice (y'all don't do this?), and I
found out about something called the Nanosmoothing
which is designed for girls with naturally coily hair. I like to occasionally
straighten my hair, particularly when I want a trim and to see exactly what is
the state of my hair, but it is very, very difficult to find a stylist who can
make my press last. Not because of the stylists, necessarily. My hair is
simply highly porous and of fine to medium-fine density, so it does not like to
be messed with and responds with fits of breakage when it is. I am also a
natural-born skeptic.

So, I dug high and low for reviews of the Nanosmoothing
treatment on other black hair blogs, and ultimately took the plunge after about
two months of research.

relaxers or texturizers, it isn't permanent and it wears off over time. And
unlike treatments that wear off, like Brazilian keratin, it didn't require
chemicals like formaldehyde, nor does it significantly change your hair texture.
Rather, it uses an amino acid, cystine, which is an organic compound.

So while
my hair wasn’t drastically different (which I didn’t want because I want my
natural hair to remain natural and coily) I noticed my hair was very slightly, but noticeably, more loose. It
functioned more as a semi-permanent detangler. On top of that, it kept
frizziness to a minimum when I flat-ironed my hair.

I seriously could not
believe that a press that would normally last two seconds (literally) was lasting
me two weeks after a) being wrapped up in a wig for a day b) a weekend of Atlanta
bachelorette weekend partying, c) enduring New York's spring showers/humidity
and d) several ballet classes (yeah, that was an eventful two weeks).

will definitely use this again. However, I only sparingly use heat, and the
treatment requires heat to "lock-in" every 8-10 weeks. For those heat
averse ladies like myself, I suggest just doing it for those times you plan to flat-iron your hair.

The treatment can run up to $175. This may be costly, but it is
a solid staple for my long-term hair regimen.


Pros: Versatile,
super low manipulation leads to best length retention; it's like a blanket in
the winter keeping this scalp warm- think a semi-permanent snuggie y'all!

Cons: Quality
hair is costly; can be bothersome for new weave wearers; you might get
dependent on your weave hook up and can be tough to master on your own.

Now some of us
are either a) too busy or lazy to consistently style our hair in buns and
twists or b) don't want to use heat and know that manipulation of any kind can
have detrimental effects on our hair but like to wear hair color and experiment
with different styles or c) all of the above (*chorus of Price-is
-Right style yelling ensues "pick C! C! C! A! B! Ceee!!!!"*)
Welp, C it is.

The solution for you my friends is my buddy called the sew-in weave. WELCOME TO MY WORLD.

There are a
wide variety of weaving methods, but the sew in is the best protective style:
little of your own hair is out (just enough to cover the tracks at the top of
your head) and your natural hair is cornrowed (hence stretched) under wefts of
weaved hair.

The absolute
key is to get hair that looks like your natural hair so that you don't have to
heat style your leave out. Keeping my
hair weaved has helped me retain length more than anything else I've done. I
am weaning myself from full time weave wearing, but the results have been too
good to dismiss them altogether even when I reach certain hair length goals.

I am probably
going to blow a few people's minds because they thought the fro-ish hair I've
been rocking was all God-given (well, it was
given to somebody). I'm just an avid researcher--OK, maybe obsessive, and YouTube
and hair forums have taught me a great deal about vendors that sell the
right texture and DIY weaving. Good hair prompts even professional
weaveologists to ask you how you got your hair to grow. Shh! It’s our secret.

It was
definitely a learning curve since I was spoiled by my homegirl in Atlanta who charged
me next to nothing to weave my hair while keeping it laaiid. But I moved and was momentarily lost and confused. I imagine
it's like having that one weed man who provides both quality and decent prices
and then suddenly losing him. I guess the difference is you could actually hang
out with your weave hook-up (cause she's probably your friend in real life) and
not feel weird or guilty about it. I mean, I wouldn't know since I don't smoke,
so maybe hanging out with your weed man is a thing. And while you have a normal
job, your weed hook-up lives like a hippie, but then ish gets real when you
witness a crime together, leading you into crazy hijinks while an MIA song plays
in the background of your lives--“Paper Planes” perhaps. And then y'all fight,
but then hug it out and then star in movies playing different versions of yourselves.

Yeah, no, wouldn't work.

Well, since I
moved and my homegirl wasn't around to do my hair, Black Hair Media Forum, an
extremely popular haircare message board, was a godsend. I eventually learned
how to create my own wigs and how to sew weaves. The chicks on there literally
have threads dedicated to exchanging pictures of afro-textured weaves and
reviewing hair vendors (yeah, I started a thread myself, whatever).

The highest
compliment on those threads is insisting that someone's weave is indeed growing
out of that someone's scalp because it looks way too realistic. And that lady
on TV who said women don't buy afro weaves? Yeah, she has no idea what she's
talking about. There are wide varieties of afro-textured weaves that are pre-made and get sold out quickly. When you get real fancy, you have your own
vendor that can source and customize it for you.

The downside
is that quality hair is very expensive. Maintain your investment as much as
possible by sealing your wefts and limiting the extent to which you manipulate
it. Basically, treat it like your own natural hair.

afro-textured weaves will undoubtedly shed and tangle more, but some vendors
are worse than others, so research carefully. For this frugal chick, this is the
one area of my beauty process in which I will cough up the money. Whatever can
simplify my hair regimen, maintain my hair's health, and retain my length is a
worthwhile investment.

With all of
this, I stress that embracing and styling your natural hair is a very individual
journey. Afro-textured hair varies sooo widely depending on its porosity, density,
and curl pattern. It really is a science--you have to experiment and find out
what works for you!

So while these tips have been life-savers (OK, they just
saved my hair, but totes the same thing!), try different options. But don't
give up. And for Colored Girls Who've Considered Permicide When The Fro
Wasn't Enough, lay down your burden of Mizani Butter Blends. I was only
tempted, once, in my two-year journey to apply a relaxer, but I will never go back to them.

And so what if
the New York Times, like everyone everywhere all the time, thinks afros are
sooo cool? I mean I do, too, and they are practically the epitome of natural
hair. But they don't work for me, son.

And then other people are all "Why
do you have to wear a weave and not a fro?!!" since they know allll
about black hair after seeing that Chris Rock documentary that one time. But
guess what: they do not know your struggle! But I got you, sis, and so does she.