After Five Years, I've Finally Figured Out What Actually Works For My Natural Hair

After being told natural hair wouldn't work for me, I went natural anyway. It bordered on being a mistake until I finally figured out how to take care of it.
Publish date:
February 28, 2013
How-To, DIY, natural hair, apple cider vinegar, essential oils, recipes, baking sodas, hair rinse

After my mother died, I went on a binge of doing a lot of the things she told me not to do, like party every weekend, get a dog, and eat cereal for dinner. Near the top of that don't-do list: “Never go natural. You don’t have the head shape for it.”

While the irony of a person with natural hair telling someone else that the hair that grows out of her own head doesn’t suit her was never lost on me, I did tire of painfully peeling large chemical-burn scabs from my scalp after getting my hair relaxed.

So in 2007, I hacked off the straight ends of my hair into an uneven, fuzzy mess of a ‘fro.

Twelve years had passed since I'd dealt with my natural hair--even then I didn’t actually deal with it, my mom did--so I was clueless about how to properly take care of it. I Googled “natural hair” and was introduced to the wild world of natural hair blogs.

Natural hair bloggers run the gamut from tight coils to loose waves, product snobs to cult-like DIY eco-holics, edgy eccentrics to Ivy League prepsters, high- to low-maintenance. I matched my fine, multi-textured, mostly kinky (4B) hair to various bloggers and attempted to mimic their results, only to learn that my hair does not like most products. Sorry, companies.

A majority of the products I used left white residue on my hair after just one use, which led to a lot of excess shampooing that resulted in major breakage and a super-dry, itchy scalp. At the other end of the spectrum, I tried mixing my own complicated hair elixirs from all-natural ingredients. It worked very well, but I’m basement-low-maintenance and hate the idea of scheduling my life around my haircare schedule.

By balancing the cleansing with the elixir-ing, however, I found the best routine for me. If you can relate, this could very well be the best routine for you, too.

Problem: Shampoo strips my hair of all its oils and makes it very hard to replace.

Answer: Stop using shampoo, dummy!

The health of my hair improved greatly after I stopped using shampoo. Like, clouds-parting, sun-emerging greatly. I alternate between apple cider vinegar and baking soda rinses. The vinegar one is my regular formula, while baking soda is used for a deeper cleanse. Each of these rinses gently rids my hair of excess oil and dirt but leaves enough behind to keep the strands healthy.

I also stopped washing my hair frequently, trying to wait two weeks between washes. My hair needs five to six days to get back to “normal”--a balance of moisturized hair and scalp--after a wash, so washing my hair even once a week results in the breakage and flakiness I try so hard to avoid.

I follow a wash with a light conditioner like Suave Tropical Coconut Conditioner to dispel the vinegar scent and safely comb through my hair before styling it.

You didn't think I was going to keep my rinse recipes to myself, did you? Pshaw! Here they are.

Ranu’s Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse (adapted recipe from The Moptop Maven and Afroniquely You)

⅓ organic apple cider vinegar (with "mother")

⅔ warm water

10 drops of your favorite essential oil (I use rosemary, but it can be dangerous for certain people--especially pregnant women and people with neurological and circulatory disorders. Research!)

1. Combine all ingredients in a squirt bottle.

2. Apply half of mixture to wet hair.

3. Rinse with warm water.

4. Apply remaining mixture to wet hair.

5. Rinse with cold water.

6. Apply conditioner, rinse, and style as usual.

Ranu’s Baking Soda Rinse

2 tbsps of baking soda

3 cups of warm water

1. Completely dissolve baking soda into warm water in a bowl.

2. Pour mixture onto wet hair.

3. Rinse with warm water. Then, rinse with cold water.

4. Apply conditioner, rinse, and style as usual.

Problem: My hair can’t handle many products or oils without going limp or feeling greasy

Answer: Stick to light or water-based products and natural oils.

My hair loves oils! Depending on the season and state of my hair, I switch between coconut and grapeseed oils for summer and olive and avocado oils for winter. I apply it at night, set my hair in plaits and cover it with a scarf, so that it can soak in while I sleep.

For day-to-day styling, I dampen my hair with a water-filled spray bottle, which also helps to redistribute oil on my hair and scalp. I currently don’t use any branded hair products, but Aveda Be Curly Curl Enhancer was one I had great success with.

While it took me five years to settle on this regimen, it was worth the trial and error. I now have the shoulder length hair that I’ve always wanted (i.e., enough for a top-knot). The journey taught me a lot about my values and hang-ups about how natural hair should look and feel.

Do you have any tips for natural hair? Don't be greedy with them!