Natural Hair Journey Series:
Over the last decade or so, one trend that has gained immense popularity amongst celebrities and everyday people alike is joining the natural hair movement. The term ‘natural hair’ is predominantly used in reference to those with Afro-textured hair. This is because, for us, wearing our hair in its natural form was not considered the norm. The natural hair movement is therefore a way of embracing our very being in a fuller, more collective, empowering, and educational way. Today, buzzwords like ‘wash day’, ‘TWA’, ‘pre-poo’ and ‘co-wash’ all have roots in the natural hair community.
In preparation, most Black women and girls either perform a “big chop” to get rid of permed/texturizerized hair all at once, or choose to go through a process called “transitioning” where the damaged hair is cut over time. Either one can be a daunting task for them and pose their own fair share of difficulties. I sat down with Pretty Well Beauty’s own copy editor Juzanne Martin to learn more about her journey, why she chose to transition, and how the natural hair movement impacted her life.
PWB: How would you define natural hair?
Juzanne: I would define it as your crown, what you’re born with, your natural curl pattern. It doesn’t even have to be curly hair; it just defines you and it’s different in every way for everyone. It’s also something that should be embraced because it makes you YOU!
PWB: Have you always worn your hair in its natural state?
Juzanne: No. I was natural from birth, but around 11 to 13 years old was when things started to change.
PWB: What did your natural hair journey look like?
Juzanne: As a kid, my wash day was on Sundays to prepare for the school week ahead. Every Sunday, my mom would wash my hair, detangle it, and style it, but because I had a lot of thick, longer hair, it would be such a long process. I always kept it in plaits or braids, and used the bubbles and hair ties.
I think that as I got older, something kind of changed in me. Going to school, I would see the other girls wearing their hair out and I’d ask my mom if I could leave my hair like that. She said I couldn’t because it’ll get tangled and frizz and just poof up - basically that it won’t work or it wouldn’t look good - so it was always kind of an unknown struggle that I guess I didn’t really understand. But, over time, my mom started to blow dry my hair out just to make it an easier process for her to manage her hair as well as mine. That blow drying turned into flat ironing my hair here and there, and then the flat ironing turned into me doing it once a week on wash days. Instead of plaits, I would just blow dry it and do a consistent silk press every week.
I loved it!
Then, in my teenage years, there came a time when my mom wanted to introduce me to relaxers, but she was very concerned about the health of my hair. To get around the harshness of a relaxer and be able to manage my thick hair, she took me to her Dominican hairdresser who suggested a “curl deactivator”. I’m not quite sure what the chemical was, but it was less harsh than a relaxer so my mom was all for it. My hair was so silky smooth, became wavy when wet, and a lot easier to detangle and manage after that. I kept getting them every three months and, over time, I (and all the other women in my family) started to notice my hair was getting thinner. It started to break a lot as well; I had a lot of split ends and my hair just wasn’t how it used to be. What we realized was that that product was not for me.PWB: What made you decide to go back to being natural?
Juzanne: My hair was breaking off a lot so, when I was about 16 or 17, I cut my hair to a bob length. I stopped using the curl deactivator and began to really focus on the health of my hair and getting it back. I started using less heat, doing hot oil treatments, got into protective styles a lot, and it worked!
My hair kind of went back to its original state and I got my curl pattern back, but, at that time, I wanted to experiment again; I wasn’t really feeling the long wash days and just had so much thick hair. I ended up getting regular relaxers from maybe freshman year of high school until December 2018, and it was the same situation again. The health of my hair was declining and I was obsessed with buns, so I was really manipulating my hair a lot. It also wasn’t growing as fast as it normally does and I wasn’t keeping up with my treatments, deep conditioning, or wearing my bonnet at night.
One day, I was sitting on my bed in my college apartment and suddenly got the urge to watch a bunch of random natural hair videos on YouTube. Big chops had started to become popular, and I was going back and forth about whether or not I should do it. I was not used to having short hair. Even though I was terrified, I just told myself “I’m going to do this” and decided to transition.
Also, my mom actually had fibroids. She got them taken care of, but I’d read some articles during that time and was very intrigued by the research linking relaxers to fibroids in black women specifically. That was enough for me to stop, try to be a little more health-conscious, and really get inspired by other women taking ownership of their natural hair. In March 2019, I chopped my hair for the second time and then, every three months, I'd go to my local stylist and have her cut it again.
PWB: What would you say the most difficult part of your journey has been?
Juzanne: I did go through that hard stage where the roots of my hair were super curly and the ends were straight, so it was hard to figure out what to do with it. It was definitely a learning curve for me. I did braid outs to kind of make it match and kept chopping away at it until it eventually all grew out. I’ve been natural ever since, no heat for almost two years, and I’m never going back.
I’d also say being dedicated to learning and taking the time to really do my hair was a process. A lot of people only see the end result, but there are so many different ways of doing things and they all take time, especially if you have several curl patterns in one head. You have to treat them all differently to get the desired look.
PWB: What is your favorite part about being a naturalista?
Juzanne: To look back and see how far I’ve come has been so cool! With shrinkage, it’s kind of hard to tell if my hair is actually growing, but it has definitely grown a lot. It’s also good for me to know I’m doing something right.
PWB: What is something you wish you knew at the beginning of your journey that you swear by today?
Juzanne: I feel like I sought out products that were popular and well-known and everyone was raving about, but I realized they don’t always work. You don’t HAVE to stick with something just because it says it’s for natural hair. Now, you have whole aisles in stores dedicated to natural hair, so experiment with them, don’t be a product hoarder and take recommendations from others.
PWB: LCO (leave-in conditioner, cream, oil) or LOC (leave-in conditioner, oil, cream)?
PWB: What is your hair type and hair porosity?
Juzanne: I would say the back of my head is 4C, I think the sides are 4B, and then the top is a combination of 4B and 4C. My porosity is normal.
PWB: What is your go-to hairstyle at the moment?
Juzanne: A middle-part braid out, and I love second day hair!
PWB: Do you have a go-to hair care routine? Could you tell us a little about it?
Juzanne: Most times, I’ll wash it and everything and then I’ll braid it, leave them in for two days, and then just wear my hair out, but I also like to experiment. Sometimes, I’ll put it in a mohawk or do a twist out because you get different effects with that. Other times, I’ll diffuse and see if that holds up better throughout the week versus a braid out or twist out. Playing around with wigs is also something I like to do to preserve my hair and when I want straight hair or a different color. It just depends.
PWB: What are your favorite hair products, clean or non-clean?
Juzanne: I like Mielle Organics’ Rosemary & Ginger line and the Nuele Hair Serum
PWB: What about a product is a must-have for you to add it to your routine?
Juzanne: Products without sulfates! When I’m washing my hair, I like a lather and, at the end of it, I want my scalp to feel cleansed, but I don’t like that squeaky clean feeling.
I like conditioners that have a lot of slip and as far as edge controls and gels go, nothing that leaves a white cast, nothing that flakes, and it should be very moisturizing and leave my hair with a shine.
I also look for products that smell good, are infused with more than one oil, and have that tingly feeling so I feel like it’s doing something.
PWB: Would you be interested in switching to all-clean hair products if they gave you the same results as your current routine?
Juzanne: I would love to try something like that. I’m always down to experiment, but I’d definitely do my research first.
PWB: If there was one thing you wish you could tell your younger self about your hair, what would it be?
Juzanne: I would tell my younger self that her curls are beautiful, regardless of what anyone says and in whatever state they’re in. You have this beautiful thick head of hair and you should embrace it more. You can make it your own, it’s different, and you should love that all the time no matter what.
I would tell my older self not to get discouraged or compare myself to other women who’ve gone natural. You just have to really find something that works, stick to it, and trust the process. You’ll get amazing results that’ll shock you.