My Hair Journey
Some people think that just because I am a dermatologist, caring for my own hair is easy, and that could not be further from the truth! Just like most of you, I have struggled to figure out what works best for my hair and I am still learning every day. I have always had very thin, slow-growing hair that would not grow past my shoulders and spent a majority of my life wearing some sort of protective style in the form of braids or weave. My hair is naturally very tightly curled, some would call it a 4c, but if there is anything past a 4c then that's definitely it. The tightness of my curl is an ode to my Nigerian roots (even Lil Wayne knows about this!). It wasn't until I became a dermatology resident and saw so many women like me struggling with hair loss that I became motivated to learn about the science behind hair care.
In 2013 I decided to stop perming my hair and went completely natural. I actually had a fairly easy transition for about 12 months and then cut off all of my permed ends. I started deep conditioning on a weekly basis, using sulfate free shampoos and avoiding heat. My hair thrived for the first year of being fully natural and I gained length quickly.
In 2015, I started to do intensive research about the science of hair care and really learned more about why certain products are important for damaged hair.
In addition to being very tightly curled, my natural hair was very low porosity, meaning it had a difficult time accepting moisture. I would deep condition often and my hair would feel moisturized for maybe a day. It would take forever to air dry and therefore it was very tough to do cute twist outs, especially since my hair is very soft and frizzes easily. I wore my hair in a bun most days but even stretching my hair seemed to be too stressful. My hair had grown to slightly past shoulder length and plateaued for more than 3 years. The shoulder length hair is a very common plateau for most women, partially because of the added friction our hair experiences from rubbing on clothing but also at this point the tips of the hair have been around long enough that they become subject to the wear and tear of everyday activity and break more easily. In fact, when I had stopped perming my hair years earlier, it was much longer (though very broken and unhealthy at the time so it was always weaved), so it was clear that even thought I was natural, my hair regimen was not optimized based on my styling and routine.
After 3 years of stagnation in June 2018 I decided to relax my hair. Well, not fully relax, but do what people on the internet call a 'texlax', 'texturizer' or 'kiddie perm'. My goal was two fold: I wanted to slightly increase the porosity of my hair to be more open to accepting moisture and two, I wanted to put less stress on my hair to enter a stretched state. By definition since relaxer has to break bonds of the hair to work, it leaves behind holes in the hair shaft, which I wanted to use to my advantage.
Now, even though there are many names, a relaxer of any name is still a relaxer. I use a kids strength lye relaxer (which has a low concentration of the active relaxer ingredient) and relax every 3 months. The relaxer is applied to my roots only and is rinsed out immediately so it does not sit on my hair. This is important because my hair is fine and I still wanted it to have curl and some body.
My hair is now somewhere between a 4a and 4b curl pattern. However, in the 9 months since I relaxed I have gained about 4 inches of length. I am still mostly heat free and I use a deep conditioner and protein treatment weekly. My regimen is not for everyone and in a year, it may not be for me either but for now it works. I do not recommend relaxer to everyone (or most people) because I think it is often helpful to see if hair will thrive in a completely natural state first. But as we know, curly hair is particularly fragile and for some people, going completely natural can be a tough process that leads to more hair breakage when not given the utmost dedication and care. Many natural women I know resort to wearing braids and weaves 90% of the time any way because maintaining their natural hair is tough.
All that is to say, there is no one size fits all regimen and you have to learn your hair to figure out whats best for you. Below is a snippet of my current regimen:
Once weekly wash routine:
-apply protein treatment to damp hair for 30 minutes-1 hour
-shampoo with sulfate free shampoo
-apply deep conditioner. Cover with shower cap + scarf for 30 min
-use rinse out conditioner
-apply leave in conditioner
-apply thick twisting cream
Three times a week-Apply leave in conditioner and follow with oil
Every three months: Use Lye containing mild relaxer and wash out quickly without letting it sit.
I hope my story has been helpful to you. Please feel free to let me know what's worked for you in your routine.