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Caring for hair isn’t easy, especially if it requires the care and focus that comes with curly hair. Two years ago, I decided to stop using protective styling to focus on my hair health. So far, my hair journey has been a challenge but also greatly rewarding. Since my childhood, I have only used protective styling on my hair and never have I chemically processed it. (I have not even been to a hairdresser)
My childhood was full of warnings about the “scissor happy hairdressers” and damaging afro hair care products. These resulted in fear of ever going to a professional to help me understand my hair health, using minimal hair products and opting for protective styles.
Also, it resulted in laziness, and I found that I failed to maintain any hair routine. Slowly my hair became brittle and weak, which I assume was due to pollutants in the air, inferior quality products. Ultimately this resulted in more protective styling and a cycle of poor hair care. Until recently decided to concentrate on my hair health once again.
With an overwhelming volume of tips and advice, I still found that it is a case of trial and error. That said, my hair now grows about an inch a month and the one key element to this has been having a strong wash routine.
In this post, I’ve simplified my process, so hopefully, you’ll find it more like a foundation rather than a step by step guide since everyone’s hair is different. I will also share what I found mainly worked or failed.
STEP 1: PRE-WASH TREATMENT
Before washing I complete some sort of scalp treatment. I’ve found that I get a lot of dead skin around season changes and it becomes particularly challenging in the winter months. This is not unusual to how I would treat the rest of the skin on my body however I feel that the thickness of my hair prevents it from shedding easily causing irritation.
Summer salicylic acid treatment: One thing my scalp does not require is oil in the Summer as my scalp experiences oil build-up. Since I am now completely converted when it comes to scalp treatments, the one I have been using this year is Salicylic acid. The Inkey List Exfoliating Salicylic Acid Treatment removes everything and only takes 10 minutes. I use this every time before washing my hair which is approximately every 7-9 days.
Winter Oil Treatment: Winter treatment involves adding oil. Using a light oil applied to my scalp before covering it in a cap (cling-wrap) and whit a towel to heat it. Usually, I’ll exercise (or clean) to build body heat; however, if you have a steamer, you could relax under one of those. I experience a dry scalp particularly focussed around the edges of my hair when it is cold. Usually, the oil would have some added drops of either lavender essential oil or tea tree to aid stimulation of the scalp.
What Worked: Olive oil is the oil of choice for my hair. I have tried sesame, avocado, grape seed, coconut, and all are okay; however, my hair and, more importantly, scalp loves olive oil. A tiny amount of heated will make my hair silky and glossy and the curly bouncy and happy.
Tried and failed: The pre-poo products for elasticity often require to be used before oil treatments. I have found that they dry out my hair, and it shows once I’ve pressed my hair as it is stiffer than usual. Thick oils like castor are too much for my scalp and cause itching the next day.
STEP 2: WASH
The actual wash is a lengthy process for me. Currently, I will “first wash” in some form. Either one specifically made to be the first wash or something clarifying somehow. Ensuring my hair is thoroughly clean and ready to receive a hydration wash. The second wash will be a “hydration” shampoo (preferably with a detangler). Usually, once but sometimes twice, if I feel like my hair will benefit from it (ex: left longer than usual between washes). Weather changes give me a dry scalp (updated un pre-wash how I have resolved that). If I still feel my scalp is dry at this point, I may then use a dry scalp shampoo. The final step is using a thick conditioning shampoo like hair story, or if I don’t have that, then a quick hydrating conditioner (leave for 5 minutes type).
What worked: Prayer hands when washing curls is life-changing. Cool water, unfortunately for me, the colder, the better. My hair loves cool water, and since I do a lot of heat processing when styling, I wash my hair at larger intervals which can sometimes be as long as 14 days.
Tried and Failed: Warmer water upsets not only my hair but also my scalp, so I steer clear. Co-Washing alone doesn’t work for me when curly.
STEP 3A: PROTEIN TREATMENT
It has taken me a great length of time before formally introducing this to my haircare routine. This is mainly due to the endless for and against articles about using protein treatments and how they may really damage the hair. Previously I have also found when I used a protein treatment that my hair became brittle and would quickly break. After extensive research, I found that my routine and the behaviour of my hair implied that it should have a protein treatment.
What Worked: In terms of what product, the one I decided to try out was a highly recommended range by ApHogee. ApHogee’s two-step protein treatment left my hair feeling great despite an unusual process since you dry your hair near solid before rinsing it out. The thing which really helped my hair is the second step, a balancing moisturizer. The great thing about the moisturizer is that it can be used on its own as needed and so I have now started using this as my first conditioning after washing.
STEP 3B: DEEP CONDITION
Always have to condition deep my hair and scalp, which is not always with the same product. I have found treating my scalp separately from my hair is as important as treating the T-zone on combination skin types. There are excellent scalp masks and treatments you can try, and they help my scalp at season change when it often gets dry.
What Worked: If it says something like “extreme/intense hydration” then it’s what I want. Also, shea butter products work really well. For the past 4 months, the mask I have been using is KeraCare Intensive Restorative Masque.
STEP 4: TONER
After rinsing my mask out, I will rinse my scalp with a toner like the one I use from Philip Kingsley. Again, this is a recent discovery for me; however, I found it helped my scalp massively and have continued with this step.
STEP 5: LEAVE IN CONDITIONER
At the end of everything, I follow up with a leave-in conditioner. I have found that this should be a water-based leave-in conditioner typically in a spray bottle like the Shea Moisture one. If I use a creamy one then I find I get huge build-up within a couple of days particularly if I am styling with any form of gels to keep my hair curly. There’s not really one that stands out hugely any pretty much go at this stage.
STEP 6: TRIM
The final thing is that I trim my hair very frequently. Initially, it was every wash, I did not want to do a heavy cut as I am not experienced in cutting hair but also wanted to encourage my hair to grow stronger and remove dead ends. Now it is less frequently, perhaps about every 3-4 weeks although I do check every wash. My hair has a habit of breaking and generally growing slower on the left side so it’s important for me to keep on top of that to prevent further damage. Prior to a year ago, I never put any scissors near my hair. I thought that my hair “just didn’t grow” rather than it had issues with breakage. Since frequently cutting my hair I have found my hair can grow about 1 inch a month. I’m hopeful that as I improve my hair strength that I will be able to retain this length and have long hair.
Head massager, wide-tooth comb, satin hair bands, microfibre hair towels, satin/silk pillowcases. These are all important, and I have seen a markable difference in my hair which I switched to using them. I use satin, not silk products as satin is not only suitable for your hair, but also for your bank account.
Do you have a hair routine? Let me know what’s working for you in the comments.