The Truth About Going Natural

If you thought that straightening treatments and perms are high maintenance, wait until you go natural. If you have 1A to 3C hair (you can check your own hair type, here), a natural hair transition may be a walk in the park for you, but women with 3B to 4C hair have their work cut out.

This has truly been one of the most difficult challenges that I’ve ever faced with my appearance. I’ve written about my natural hair complex, growing up with the perception that only straight hair can be beautiful (read about it here). But now that I’m finally comfortable stepping out with an afro, I’m more myself than ever. I feel as if there’s been so much unnecessary time and money wasted to present myself in a way that was not meant to be in the first place. I mean, I like the sleek haired look, but I love big hair even more now.

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My transitioning hair – curly roots and straight ends.

It’s been over a year since my last Keratin straightening treatment; I last blow-dried my hair two months ago for a length check and I’ve been wearing Havana twist braids for about four weeks now. Once these braids come out, it’s back to the drawing board with managing my own hair. It’s been a very liberating process, which is what every other natural hair transitioning woman will tell you. I’m loving the growth process and finding comfort with the hair that I was born with. And I’m not even all natural yet – my ends are chemically treated, and I haven’t cut it away because I am attached to my length. Brazilian (Keratin) treatments gradually wash out, so I am hoping that I won’t have to chop much off and simply get regular trims.

I’ve researched other people’s natural hair journeys before embarking on my own. Most women talk about how liberating the process is but they rarely go into depth about how much hard work it can be. So I thought that I would shed some light on things you’d need to consider before going natural:

Are you doing it for the right reasons?
The natural hair journey is trending in the Western World, while most African women are still hiding behind weaves and braids. I say hiding, not because we’re ashamed of our hair, but because braids and weaves just seem like the neater, more presentable alternative. Afros are quite eye catching and it always seems as if the woman wearing one is trying make a statement, or that she is a bit of a diva. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had my hair straightened. I’d reached the point where I thought, “I already know what I look like with straight hair, why not see if my natural hair would suit me.” I’d revert to straightening my hair if I didn’t like the way it looks. Thus far, I’m not giving up on my hair texture, and neither are my friends and family. They’re all supportive.

Know your hair type
This is really important. Before going natural I didn’t know anything about hair types and co-washing, which is washing without shampoo. I assumed that my hair would turn out like one of the other girls’ in those YouTube videos but it isn’t. From what I can tell, I have type 4 hair. There are different ways to manage different hair types for instance, type 4 hair is the driest of all hair textures due to the coils being so tight. The moisture from your roots don’t gets to the ends fast enough to hydrate it, so it’s important to moisturise all the time, twice a day if need be. Women with 3A hair which looks like soft curls, may not need such intense moisture treatments.

Don’t become a product junkie
In the first two months of my hair transition, I bought different hair products at least once a week – anything that looked like it would be curl enhancing, sulphate free, hydrating and had a good holding duration. I’d spent so much money on products that I don’t think I’ll ever use again. There was one product called the Curl Enhancing Smoothie by Shea Moisture that I really liked, which I bought in the UK, and just my luck, it’s not readily available here in Cape Town. I’m looking into buying it online, otherwise I mostly inexpensive DIY products like Flaxseed gel, coconut oil treatments, and honey hydrating masks. They’re amazing! If you’d like me to share my DIY recipes, please leave a comment below.

The wash-and-go isn’t really wash-and-go
There are hundreds of YouTube tutorials on how to perfect a wash-and-go. And what all of them have in common is that it takes at least 20 minutes to an hour to get the right look. Natural hair must be washed, rinsed, detangled carefully, rinsed again, hydrated, styled with a gel, and then air-dried or blow-dried with a diffuser nozzle. One does not simply wet your hair and go. If you want to go natural because you love the wash-and-go look, know that it’s not going to take you five minutes if you do it properly.

Natural, Donna Lee De Kock and I (transitioning) at a birthday party.
Natural, Donna Lee De Kock and I at a birthday party.

Since I still have chemically treated ends, I use the Bantu Knot method to give me that wash-and-go look. I follow the same process that I mentioned above, and then simply separate my hair into small sections to form tiny knots. Once my hair is dry, I untie the knots, and carefully tease/pick at my roots. The Bantu knot method ensures that my straight ends look curly and that my hair looks like it’s one hair type. Watch this video by Alyssa Forever, on how to do Bantu knots, here. If you’d like me to post a step-by-step video tutorial of my own wash-and-go process, please feel free to post a comment in the space below.

Research protective styles
My go-to hairstyle is chunky Havana twist braids – in box shapes. Once you step into transitioning hair life, you’ll learn about easy style tips like Bantu knots, flat twists, wigs, braids and sleeping on silk pillows to protect your hair. I’m not really into wigs and I don’t sleep on a silk pillow but I take special care when washing and drying my hair. I don’t use a towel anymore – I use a cotton t-shirt that causes less friction and damage to my hair.

Chunky Havana twist braids. Photo/ Ashley Craig Brandt
Chunky Havana twist braids. Photo/ Ashley Craig Brandt

Do you have any questions or comments related to my natural hair journey? I’d love to hear from you. Please post a comment in the section below.

Connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, or email me directly to robyn@bewhole.co.za

Author: Robyn

  • I absolutely love love love that top photo! I’ve always wanted curly hair – mine is poker straight and stubborn! And thick. Years ago, I’d perm it so that I had curls. Now I leave it alone, but it’s still a lot of work. Thankfully, my hairdresser has learned to cut it so it behaves (more or less….). I came through the 60s as a young adult and so have been delighted to see natural hair making a comeback. Big hair!! Very cool. And yours looks absolutely fabulous, my dear. Thanks for the photos. And the information. I didn’t know there were hair types.

    • Janet! Thank you. I’m sure that if I posted a step-by-step tutorial on how to do Bantu knots, you’d have lovely bouncy curls – you’d have to use a gel and it would take quite a bit of effort but I’m sure that it would work. According to your description you have type 1A hair. I always wished that I could have hair like yours but I think we are all just a little unappreciative of what we have because we’re accustomed to it. We need ‘change’ all the time. It’s also why we don’t see the beauty of our own features like others do. I’d love to learn more about your life in the 60s!

  • Lynn Cupido

    Robyn, this is amazing! Thank you for sharing, but now I have so many questions. I would honestly love it if you could share a couple of DIY hair products, maybe in the next post?

    • Sure! I will post some Recipes and maybe a Video tutorial – I’m not all that great with videos but would love to show you know I do my Bantu knots too. It costs me less than R10 to make my holding gel! And you can reuse the ingredients. You’re going to love it.

  • Mel

    hi interesting read! 🙂 I too am going natural but in a different way, im 38 and 90 % white. Been dying it dark brown for years and am wondering if I too would suit my own natural hair! Been facing a lot of criticism from people who say I’m giving up and will look old. We will soon see I suppose! Good luck with yours! It looks pretty 😉

    • Hi Mel, just popped over to your blog. You look really pretty with dark hair, what is your natural hair colour? Your children are gorgeous! Leon has the most beautiful ginger hair. I don’t know anyone who has been homeschooled or educates their children at home. I think your children are as lucky as you are brave. I’m going to enjoy reading your stories.

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  • That looks amazing on you!!! I’m usually not a big fan of hair extensions, but these look pretty real!

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