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My Natural Hair Journey-Paula Karen


I remember being 10 years old dreading “hair wash day”. My mother had three girls and she would wash our hair on Saturday afternoons each week. It was a chore for my mother and took the entire afternoon; imagine three girls with long, thick, unprocessed African American hair. I was the oldest of the three and I made sure mine was done first. This was in the early ‘70s on the island of Jamaica, where shampoo was not a cheap commodity and the variety was lacking. Shampoos back then were made with all the sulfates, alcohol and all the stuff we now know is bad for our hair. The brand we used in the 1970s was good old VO5 and it made my hair feel like a brillo pad and difficult to comb. So my mother would shampoo our hair and then try to comb it out with a regular toothed comb. Oh, the hollering and screaming was abundant in the land!!!


By the time I turned eleven, my hair was relaxed or creamed as we say in Jamaica. Oooh, I loved it. I could brush my hair and pass a comb through it without crying. I could run my fingers through it and when I shook my head, my hair actually moved!

When I was growing up, going to the hairdresser with my mother was fun. I looked forward to the weekly shampoos at the hairdresser. I felt like a big girl listening to the hairdresser talk to my mother while she styled my hair. I wanted a grownup hairstyle and itched to tell the hairdresser how I wanted it done but was crestfallen when my mother handed the ponytail holder for my hair to the hairdresser. My mother believed that little girls should look like little girls.


During my high school years, I was allowed to wear my hair the way I wanted as long as my mother approved. The older I got, the more she did not approve until she just finally stopped commenting on my hair styles.


By the time I got to my twenties, I was over the entire hair relaxer process and spending the entire day at the hairdresser. There were hairdressers who were very good at what they did and some who were very bad at their “job” and my hair paid for it. The long hours at the hairdresser, the burnt scalp from the chemical touchups, the loss of hair from being over processed made me want to put an end to it all. Also, the bad haircuts from “scissor happy” hairdressers, wearing head scarves after the colored treated mishaps caused the rebel in me to stir its ugly head.


After about four years of doing the weekly blow dry and flat iron I looked in the mirror and declared that this has got to end. It was too time consuming to do the weekly wash and flat iron and my hair had not grown much so I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off all the relaxed portions. After I had finished cutting, I looked at myself in the mirror and started laughing. My hair was all shrunk up against my head and looked like it was only about two inches long. I had a Teeny Weeny Afro and I looked like a boy. This was a new look for me, I had never had my hair this short and I realized I did not know what to do with it.


For the first year of being totally natural, I continued to shampoo and flat iron my hair. This was still time consuming. During the second year I started to shampoo and roller set my hair and allow it to air dry overnight. I was still using the products I used when I had a relaxer and these made my hair really dry. After shampoo and conditioner, my hair would be so hard and I realized the gravity of the situation my mother experienced when I was a little girl. I would go to the beauty supply store every week and buy products with the words “moisturizing” or “hydrating” on the container that would be used once and then get thrown on the pile labeled “never to be used again”. There were some ingredients in these products that my natural hair did not care for that left my hair hard as a rock and difficult to comb.


By year three and a half I was done, but I did not want to go back to a relaxer. I decided to do some research on my hair and also experiment with different products. I quickly found out that my hair loves water and all the products I was using was not necessary for my hair. All I needed to do was to moisturize with water, then lock this moisture in with a sealant. I use an oil base mixture (jojoba oil, olive oil, castor oil, vitamin E oil, coconut oil, etc.) with Shea Butter as a sealant.

What works great for my hair is the daily moisture. I wear my hair in two strand twists most of the time and I will moisturize and re-twist every night before going to bed. This might be time consuming for some people, but I have worked out my own technique that makes it seems less so.


Now I do not spend a lot on hair products, water is my main ingredient. I clarify once per month with apple cider vinegar then use a hair cleanser with conditioner combination, apply my sealant and style in small two or three strand twists. The rest of the month I will do a weekly co-wash. My hair cleansing preference is ever evolving and I will try new cleansers and conditioners when I need to. The complements regarding my hair has been forthcoming, whether it is in a two or three strand twist, Bantu knots, a twist out or a head wrap with my curls sticking out; I find that women are admiring my curls. Some women will say “Ooh, I can’t walk around with twists in my hair, but it looks good on you.”  I will thank them with a smile. I love my twists and curls and I appreciate the hair I have.

I have found a happy medium with my hair by using products that work for my hair and make my hair soft, easy to comb, admired and easy to love.

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