Length was one of your main goals when you decided to go natural and I know you’re so excited about finally receiving something tangible. But now that you’ve reached that milestone and you’re seeing some results, you want to make sure you stay on the right track. You don’t want to regress. So the next important milestone (which really should be first) is health because, yes, it is possible to have long and unhealthy hair.
You may think it would be evident to see if your hair is healthy or not, but in reality your hair can be unhealthy right now and you may not even know it. Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, in her book Hair Care Rehab: The Ultimate Hair Repair & Reconditioning Manual, says that “[Healthy hair is] damaged hair that is well-maintained.”
That’s a funny way to put it, but it’s true. With the climate changes, combs, brushes, clothing, pillowcases and our own hands posing a threat to our hair, it’s almost impossible for hair to avoid some type of abuse. Even our hair strands rubbing against each other can cause damage. And the longer your hair is alive, the more exposure to damage it can endure.
So the question then becomes: Are you well-maintaining your damaged hair? Here are some ways to test that:
1. Test while your hair is in it curliest state
Some naturals think the best way to see if your hair is healthy is by straightening it to see how it turns out. Well, that will only help best with determining whether you have split ends. A way to see if your hair is healthy is to see how well your hair bounces back after it’s pulled, so your hair should be in its fully natural state. When you pull a group of hair as far down as it can go, let go of it and see if it shrinks exactly back to where it originally was. If it doesn’t, that’s not a great sign.
2. Is your hair soft and manageable?
Hair becomes hard and brittle mainly due to a lack of moisture or protein. There are other factors that can tie into it as well (poor diet, etc.), but if your hair is noticeably dry and hard to manage, it is not in the best health. This is not a hard test to do as it only requires your fingers. Touch your hair. How soft is it?
3. The cup test
You’ve heard of the cup test. It’s a method that helps naturals discover their porosity level. Porosity is the ability for hair to absorb and keep in moisture. It’s either low, medium or high. Have you previously tested your hair’s porosity? Studies show that damaged hair becomes more porous (high porosity) because of its consistent exposure to heat, friction and/or improper care. The hair cuticles stay lifted (and in extreme cases are missing) and it becomes extremely hard to keep water in the hair. If your porosity level has changed, something has changed in your hair’s health. Additionally, there are times when hair is trying to take in moisture but just needs some assistance. These are typically issues naturals with low porosity levels experience. Their stubborn hair has that “no new friends” mentality and is very skeptical about who (or what) they let in. Heat can actually be a friend in this situation as heat allows the cuticle layer to relax and “open up.” Hot oil treatments, co-washing with hot water, and heating up mixtures can make a noticeable difference in your hair’s health. If your products are not getting into your hair, you could be literally letting your money go down the drain.
4. The stretch test
This may be the most accurate way to test hair’s health (it’s debatable though). This test measures elasticity. Our hair is very flexible. So flexible in fact, it should be able to stretch about 50 percent of its original length before it snaps. This puts hair to the ultimate test of durability. All of its years of exposure to harsh conditions will be put to work to see if it can withstand some pressure.
Hair is strong and can grow even while it’s damaged, but hair is like a rubber band. You know how a frail rubber band looks and how (incredibly) it can still hold things together and not disintegrate to the touch? Now try stretching that rubber band. As you begin to pull it, all the cuts and flaws in it are clearly visible and as soon as one of those weak spots give way, the rubber band snaps.
Hair is the same way. If the rubber band (or hair, it’s the same scenario) was fresh and “healthy” it could be stretched MUCH further. If your hair is not passing the stretch test, it’s time to adjust some things in your regimen.
How to bounce back to your healthiest damaged hair –
There’s only two words of advice to give here. Stay consistent. Hair loves consistency. Actually just about anything loves consistency because it is something to look forward to. You look forward to pay day, right? You probably know the exact hour and minute of the day you will get your expected money. Well, your hair expects you to come through for her, too. If she responded positively to a hair product, she will expect it again. And if she doesn’t get it, you’re accepting the risk or making her more fragile and prone to those same cuts and flaws of a rubber band. Don’t do that to her.
Healthy hair can be a bit tricky to nail down, but it’s not impossible, and it’s not too hard either. Now that you know that completely damage-free hair is a little fictional, you can stop pining over attaining it and manage your “damaged” hair to the best of your ability. Just know the difference between healthy “damaged” hair and damaged hair beyond the point of return.
Now get to work, sista. Elevate your hair game!
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