Every summer, an exhilaration comes over me at the thought of changing my hair — the options are vast and beautiful! This year, I decided on a short, angled cut (I’m in the red dress), and it has been one of my favorite styles. But I’m still experimenting and searching for the right products. So, I asked two of my friends about their summer styles and techniques for taking for natural hair, and here’s what they told me….
First, I’d love to share my natural hair journey.
Sitting in my cousin’s kitchen a few years ago, I was thrilled by the thought of feeling my hair’s curly texture for the first time in 20 years, since I was in kindergarten. I was doing my “big chop” — when your relaxed or chemically straightened hair is cut off from your natural hair. My hair had been chemically straightened since I was five. As a kid, I never really understood why I had to change my hair, although my mom told me it would make my “difficult” hair bone straight and easier to manage. The chemicals used in relaxers are very harsh, and can burn your scalp if left on too long. They also make hair weak to the point that it just breaks off. As a kid, I had hair all the way down my back, but after a few years of relaxing, it wouldn’t grow past my shoulders.
Societal pressure also played a part in how I perceived myself as a kid with curly, kinky hair. All sorts of things — from relatives making disparaging comments about the tightness of my curl pattern to being the only black kid in all my classes — took a toll on how I thought I measured up to society’s standard of beauty. It’s still something that black men and women are up against today — for example, this year, California and New York signed laws that ban employers from discriminating against people with natural hair.
So, 20 years after my first relaxer, after figuring out what was healthy for me and using this natural hair video as a lifeline, I cut my straightened hair and I didn’t look back.
Fast forward to a few months ago — it had been five years since my big chop and my hair was big and full and beautiful and everything I’d wanted it to be. But caring for all this luscious hair was completely overwhelming. If you’ve lived through a wash day with natural hair longer than a couple of inches, (and I do mean an entire day), you understand my anxiety around this.
After scouring Pinterest for ideas, I felt excited about doing something new with my hair. I finally decided on a short, angled cut, which has been one of my favorite styles. I started wondering if other women had similar feelings about summer styles or techniques for taking care of natural hair. I asked two friends, and here’s what they had to say:
Hair type: 4c hair (very tight, coarse curls)
Summer style: box braids
Why I chose this style: I work 12-hour shifts as a nurse and love to explore New York City on my days off, so I need something easy to take care of. Box braids are a protective style, which gives my hair a break from constant manipulation and provides me that extra 10 to 15 minutes of sleep in the morning that we all need. I can wear my braids down or in a top knot, depending on my mood, so there’s never a dull moment when I choose to rock them. The braids last six weeks per installation, so, for me, it’s a summer no-brainer! I also love that natural hair pays homage to my love for being a black woman.
My natural hair journey: I grew up getting relaxers on my hair, which caused irritation and long-term damage. In college, I decided to cut my hair completely off except for a few inches, just to see if I liked it — and I loved it! It was the first time I felt beautiful in my own skin. I ditched the relaxers and embraced the possibilities of my natural hair. A few years later, I tried a sew-in weave, which I liked but there was still lots of maintenance (hair stylists every two weeks, expensive reinstalls, and expensive bundles of hair). And don’t even think about getting it wet or walking in the humidity — that was a day-ruiner, and I used to carry around a mini hair straightener. I felt like I always had to have perfect hair to meet people’s expectations of a “palatable black woman.” Once I got over trying to please everyone, I decided to give a more natural look a try and here I am today. Best decision!
How I care for my curls in the summer: Every six weeks, I get my box braids redone by a stylist that I found by searching the hashtag #boxbraidsbrooklyn (the power of social media!). When I take down my braids at home, before getting them redone, the process takes 90 minutes from start to finish and is accompanied by a glass of red wine and Motown tunes. Then I take a picture to track my hair growth. Next, I wash my hair using Mielle Organics products, which were developed by a black nurse. I use a pre-shampoo treatment, wash/condition with the Rosemary Mint Oil, and twist my hair into two strands for the evening and style using a curl-enhancing styling creme. I also love to wear West African-inspired head wraps from Harlem-based Cee Cee’s Closet.
Hair type: 3c hair (well-defined, tight corkscrews or coils)
Summer style: Pineapple — pulling the curls up with a silk scarf — on hot days, and on cooler days I just rock the fro.
Why I chose this style: It’s way too hot and humid in the summer to be playing games with my hair. I choose the pineapple style on hot days because the fro traps heat around my neck and forehead. But on cooler days, the fro is just so effortless and a show stopper.
My natural hair journey: Four years ago, I was graduating from high school and my hair looked so short in the pictures. It was relaxed and cut in a bob, which I just wasn’t confident with. Short hair is bomb — don’t get me wrong — but I love big hair and knew that’s what I wanted. This was before wigs started popping, so I figured the only way to get my hair to grow long was to leave it alone. And I was becoming more conscious of the hair products I was using from watching natural hair videos for hours at a time. I learned about sulfate-free products, as well as the brands Shea Moisture, Curls and Mixed Chicks. During the next four years, I wore my hair in protective styles — buns or two puffs. Then, junior year in college, I was running late for class, struggling with my hair. So, I wore my hair out in a fro for the first time. I couldn’t believe how much my hair had changed! After years of the same styles, I finally released the beast and it took me a while to get used to, but it grew into such a beautiful shape — like a beautiful tree.
How I care for my curls in the summer: This summer, I moved here from California and am adjusting to the NYC weather — and so is my hair. I wash my hair once a week with Not Your Mother’s Natural Repair + Protect Shampoo. For conditioning, I swear by Palmer’s Olive Oil Deep Conditioner — I lather my hair and leave it in for the day. The next day I rinse and then style it throughout the week using Jamaican Castor Oil and Eco Styler Olive Oil Gel if needed on frizzy parts. This is the only way I can keep my curls looking moisturized and fresh, or else this humidity will have its way!
Hair type: 4b/4c hair (tight curls, coarse texture)
Summer style: short, angled cut
Why I chose this style: For the past two years, I’d had box braids, so I wanted something fresh to shake things up. My mom pled with me not to cut it, but I just had to! Short hair makes me feel the most like myself — it’s just a gut feeling that’s like, “YES. This is us.” I’m also low-maintenance and wanted to be able to wash and condition it quickly, without devoting a whole day to it. I love that it stays off my face when the weather is hot, and I can wear a head wrap on days I don’t have time to deal with it.
How I care for my curls in summer: My hair type is arguably the most complex to care for (which is part of the reason I chopped it off) and always needs a lot of moisture. I’m still experimenting and researching which methods work best for me, but for now I wash and condition it every week with Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo and conditioner. Leslie introduced me to Mielle Rosemary Mint Oil and I’ve started using their Pomegranate Curl Smoothie as a styling creme. On their own they smell amazing, but together they’re INTOXICATING!
Do you have natural hair? What are some of your favorite styles? Thank you, Leslie and Nakia for sharing your stories!
P.S. Three beauty uniforms featuring women with natural hair: Paola Mathé, Ingrid Silva and Klancy Miller.
(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo.)