Whether you’re starting your natural hair journey or you’re ready to switch things up for the season, it’s important to have an informed routine (regardless of where your hair currently stands). To that end, we spoke with Miko Branch, founder of the popular haircare brand Miss Jessie’s, to glean some insider salon secrets to upgrade your regimen.
1. Understand Your Hair
“While all curl types can benefit from moisture, sectioning and appropriate drying time, coily and kinky hair requires more manual maintenance and styling because of its density and volume,” Branch explained. Basically, natural hair is not one size fits all. So before you choose products, ask yourself these questions. It’s all about finding a regimen that works best for you.
- What’s your hair type? There are four different types: straight (1), wavy (2), curly (3) and coily (4). But shape also plays a role in determining your type: spiral curls (A), kinky curls (B) or coily curls (C). Put the number and letter together, and there’s your answer. For example, if your hair is curly and coily, your hair type is 3C). Still not sure where you fit in with the natural hair community? Here’s a handy quiz to figure it out.
- What’s your porosity and density? Porosity is how well your hair absorbs and holds moisture while density is the thickness (or thinness) of your strands. Both are broken down into low, medium and high depending on your hair type.
- What are your specific needs? Common issues can be dryness, frizziness, breakage or growth. You can also look at addressing these needs based on having relaxed, color-treated or heat damaged hair. Identifying what’s missing from your hair currently will help you fill in the gaps with the right products.
2. Find Your Wash Routine
So, you have a better understanding of your natural hair and now it’s time to work on a wash day routine. This regimen is the ultimate test in taking care of your hair. While steps may differ depending on your hair type, everyone can benefit from sectioning your routine into three areas: preparation, cleansing and styling.
- Preparation: Whether you’re pre-pooing, detangling or starting an oil treatment, this step is all about preparing your hair before cleansing. Branch also recommends sectioning hair during this step to make cleansing and styling smoother. “Natural hair tends to have a lot of personality and volume, which ultimately requires an often timely, mapped out approach in order to maintain and optimize,” she said. “Hair expands and can be very dense, so parting into sections to wash, detangle, apply products or styling is key because otherwise, it can become overwhelming due to volume.”
- Cleansing: This is the time you hop in the shower and wash out all the dirt, grime or product buildup. Reach for a shampoo and conditioner before rinsing with warm water. You can also add a deep conditioner or treatment for more nourishment to your locks.
- Styling: After getting your hair squeaky clean, the fun part begins in defining your strands and keeping your hair moisturized. This can mean investing in a leave-in conditioner, cream, oil and/or gel.
It’s important to note that you might not find the routine in one go. It’ll take some time before you find a system that clicks, especially if you have to switch it up depending on the season. You’ll find it helpful to create a daily, weekly and monthly routine to maintain your hair’s health. Overall, be prepared for trial and error. It’s truly the beauty of treating natural hair.
3. Gather Your Essentials
Once the routine is set, it’s time to make a list of products. These are the items you’ll use regularly to maintain your natural hair. It might take one, two or even three go-arounds before a product will start to actually provide benefits, so be patient before you start looking at an alternative (unless it’s irritating or causing discomfort, then stop using it immediately). Oh, and simplicity is key. Not every hair type needs a million products in their collection.
- A cleanser like a sulfate-free shampoo or co-wash can be a to start your wash day. Use it once or twice a week. We recommend Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk Care Shampoo, Curls Blueberry Bliss Reparative Hair Wash, Melanin Haircare African Black Soap Reviving Shampoo.
- A regular conditioner can bring moisture and shine to your hair. Try adding a deep conditioner or masque once a week to added moisture (especially for color-treated, relaxed or dry hair). We recommend Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Conditioner, Miss Jessie’s Honey Sweet & Nice Moisturizing Conditioner and Olapex No. 3 Hair Perfector.
- You’ll want a leave-in conditioner to make detangling easier, maintain moisture and make the rest of your styling routine run smoothly. We recommend Kinky Curly Knot-Today Leave-In Conditioner, Ouai Leave-In Conditioner and Living Proof No-Frizz Leave-In Conditioner.
- Invest in a daily moisturizer to keep your natural hair looking like wash day all week. This can be a cream, spray or milk. We recommend Miss Jessie’s Pillow Soft Curls, Mielle Organics Avocado Moisturizing Hair Milk and TGIN Butter Cream Daily Moisturizer.
- Hair oils are a must for scalp treatments, styling and giving your strands the nutrients it needs. (Coconut oil, castor oil, avocado oil and olive oil are good starters.) A little goes a long way to seal moisture on your strands. We recommend Curlsmith Curl Conditioning Oil-in-Cream, Playa Ritual Hair Oil and PATTERN Argan Oil Hair Serum.
- Add hair tools (aka wide-tooth comb, detangling brush, hair clips and/or scalp massager) to make wash day easier to manage. However, whatever tool you decide to use, Branch suggests being gentle with your natural hair. “When thinking about managing natural hair, understand that natural hair is like a fine piece of silk. [It’s] very fragile while appearing strong, voluminous and big,” she explained. “Harsh combing and heavy tugging are damaging to the hair so treat strands kindly and gently, especially when dealing with thick hair.”
4. Experiment with Protective Styles
Protective styles can be a great way to manage your natural hair. From braids to wigs, these styles can promote hair growth, prevent breakage and reduce damage. Plus, it’s a style you can rock in any season for up to 4 weeks. If you want to experiment with protective styles, make sure you’re doing nourishing and conditioning your hair (especially your scalp) weekly.
5. Upgrade Your Night Routine
You didn’t think the washing and styling parts we it, right? Once you go natural, you have to change your sleeping habits in order to reduce frizz, damage and breakage. Swap out any cotton products for silk or satin accessories. We’re talking pillowcases, scrunchies and bonnets. If a nightcap isn’t your thing, there are plenty of hairstyles to keep your hair frizz and tangle-free.
6. Reduce Heat Usage
Heat tools can be the main culprit in split ends and damage. Try reducing your heat usage and opt to air-drying your hair instead. If that’s not an option, use a heat protectant before applying the heat tool at the lowest temperature.
7. Trim Your Hair Regularly
Say goodbye to split ends. Monitor your hair growth by staying on top of your trims. Branch recommends having an open conversation with your hairstylist on how often you should trim your ends and how to maintain your cut after the appointment. If you rather do the trim at home, here’s a step-by-step to get you started.
8. Invest in a Salon Visit
Get all your questions answered by a professional. Book an appointment at a salon that specializes in natural hair and learn how they’ll work with your hair. “It’s important to speak openly with your stylist to first and foremost get the foundation established—how often do you need a cut, how often should it be deep treated based off of condition, what are the best styling products based off of your hair type,” said Branch. “Whether getting a cut, color or chemical treatment, your main job is to keep hair healthy between salon visits by keeping it moisturized and avoiding excessive heat. That way, the next time you see your stylist, there is a lesser need for a deep treatment or an excessive cut since it’s not in a damaged state.”
A few things to keep in mind
Don’t stress yourself out trying to check off everything on the list. Your journey can be ever evolving. It’s important to take note of your hair changes and be flexible with your routine. “Many people think dealing with natural hair is easy, when in fact it is very manual and requires a lot of patience. Fortunately, the payoff is splendid in that you have hair in its strongest state,” said Branch.