It’s definitely a journey — both mentally and physically (see these myths), so you need to prepare yourself for the following…
1) You are dealing with two different textures, and if you want your hair to look its best, you may be limited to styles that blend your two textures effectively — especially as your transition progresses (rod sets, twists, etc.)
2) If you are eliminating direct heat (recommended) and your hair is short (no ponytails), then your styling options are limited even further
3) If you’ve never managed your natural hair before, it takes some time to find out what it likes and needs. It’s tempting to copy someone else’s routine, but I quickly learned I had to discover what my hair likes.
4) Be prepared to deal with naysayers who may not like natural hair and attempt to discourage you from this journey. Your confidence WILL be tested, for sure.
Having said all that, it’s absolutely the most rewarding experience in the world once your transition is over and you are fully natural.
Below I will tell you what you can expect during your natural hair transition by the month. Keep in mind, a lot of this information has been influenced by MY journey and the health of my hair at the start of my transition (which was not very good.)
Also, I was texturizing prior to my transition so my hair was not completely straight, and I had some natural hair in the back because the texturizer didn’t take at all.
Just as a reminder, my last relaxer was June 2009 and my last texturizer was March 2010. My hair was bob length when I began my transition.
So more than likely your hair is in a different condition, length, etc. than mine, so your results may be different. This is just a general guide.
These are obviously the easiest months of your transition because it’s not much different than when you were relaxing. Most people wait at least 6-8 weeks between relaxers so the first two months won’t require much change to your routine.
However, I would highly recommend you start to wean yourself off direct heat — i.e. blow dryers, curling irons and flat irons. You want your natural hair to grow out healthy and retain moisture. Direct heat is not its friend.
If you are going to use heat, at least limit it to the ends of your hair (bumping/curling ends etc.) Remember those ends will eventually be chopped off anyway.
However, if you’re going for a long-term transition, you’ll want your entire strands to remain healthy. Eliminating heat altogether is the best option for long-term transitioners. However, if you must use it, read my guide here.
I didn’t do much different during these months in terms of styling. I did use the flat iron to curl my bangs once, but that was the last time I ever used direct heat on my hair.
This is where it started getting challenging for me. This was the longest time I had ever gone without relaxing my hair and new growth seemed to be coming out dry and brittle.
I had too much new growth to successfully wrap my hair, but not enough natural hair to wear natural styles. My hair was too short for a decent-looking ponytail, so I was at a loss for styling.
If your ends are still healthy and not too thin (like mine were in this video) you can try to do two strand twists or two strand twist outs, but you should put a rod on the end to help your ends look finished.
This is when I started experimenting with rod sets. My first one didn’t come out too well, but I got better with practice.
Rod sets eventually became my go-to style for months 3-8. This style blends your hair textures so well, and if you use small rods they can last a long time.
In month 4, I started deep conditioning my hair every week with Organics Olive Oil Replenisher. This was the best thing I could have ever done. My natural hair began to soften up and my hair seemed to be retaining moisture better.
You MUST deep condition your hair regularly!
Some believe that if your hair follicles become damaged during relaxing, your follicles produce “scab hair.”
This is hair that grows out with a protective coating. The coating can make your hair more brittle and dry to the touch.
Basically your hair is trying to protect itself from the chemicals. Even when you stop relaxing, your follicles may still produce scab hair for awhile.
It can take several months for your hair to grow out healthy again.
So if you notice that your new growth is hard/dry and you are not using any direct heat, it could be a result of scab hair. This may not be your true hair texture you’re seeing. I DEFINITELY noticed a huge difference in my texture as my transition progressed.
Many women stop transitioning because they assume the scab hair is their natural texture. In some cases it may be scab hair. There’s really no way to know unless you keep transitioning.
Some people don’t believe in scab hair, but I can tell you that the texture of my new growth is drastically different than when I first started transitioning. I honestly believe I had scab hair. Deep conditioning and patience is how to get through this period.
Things started getting a bit easier for me during this phase. I should also add that I trimmed my hair every single month during my transition… even if it was only an 1/8th of an inch. Sometimes I trimmed twice.
I’m not saying you have to do this, but remember my hair was very damaged when I began, and since I was doing a long-term transition, I knew I had to trim to keep my ends as healthy as possible and maintain some length.
By this time you will probably have anywhere between 2 1/2 to 3 inches of natural hair and you can REALLY start to see your texture. I also noticed the positive impact of deep conditioning and using no sulfate shampoos.
When I finished shampooing, my hair seemed to almost glisten and I could tell it was retaining moisture better. That dry, brittle feeling was now a distant memory. 🙂
Also, by the time I got to this point in my transition, I began to notice the multiple textures of hair on my head. Most people do not have just one curl pattern.
For me, the top and front/sides of my hair had almost no definite pattern at all. Some parts were wavy, others were zig zag. And the back of my hair had a more distinct, loose S-shape pattern.
So don’t be surprised if you notice parts of your hair behaving differently. It’s likely due to the different textures.
By now, your texture should be really evident. I’ve noticed on YouTube that a lot of women “big chop” between the 7th and 9th month.
For many women, they feel they have enough natural hair at this point to rock their fros or wear two strand twists. For others, they just get tired of dealing with the two textures.
For me, the transition got easier as I went along — maybe because I trimmed my ends a LOT. Also, because my hair was not completely straight when I started transitioning, I didn’t have to deal with those straight ends hanging down.
By this time all my relaxer was gone and I was only dealing with texturized/wavy hair.
Even though texturizing my hair turned out to be a nightmare, in a way, it made my transition a bit more gradual because I went from straight to semi-straight to natural hair. That also helped blend my textures better.
Having said that, I would NOT recommend texturizing to ease yourself into the transition unless you know what you’re doing or you have a professional who can help.
During this period, I finally began to get better at flat twisting. My edges were very thin and weak from relaxing so the flat twists really helped protect them while they grew back out. So I started wearing a lot of different flat twist styles.
By this time, you’ll have about 4 1/2 to 5 inches of natural hair. That may sound like a lot if you’re just starting out, but remember natural hair shrinks. So 5 inches of natural hair may only be a 2 inch afro if you were to big chop at this point.
When you’re transitioning, your new growth may seem as if it’s taking over your head, but you’ll be surprised how much natural hair can shrink up — especially after you trim off the relaxed ends. Some people experience up to 80% shrinkage (especially people with more coiled hair.)
I’m not trying to discourage you from big chopping at any point. By all means, do it if you’re ready. Just don’t be surprised if your hair is shorter than you expected. A lot of women are unpleasantly surprised when they big chop because they didn’t realize how much shrinkage they would have.
So if you’re tied to your length, be mindful of this when transitioning. Relaxed ends can weigh your hair down, giving you the illusion of more length. But when those ends are cut off, your hair may curl up and be shorter than you think.
At this stage, I was mostly natural, with maybe 2-3 inches left of texturized hair on the ends. I started wearing two strand twists and I would put rods at the end so the remaining relaxed ends would curl (see pic on the right). It was winter time so this was a great protective style with help from my beanie.
Congrats! You have transitioned for a full year. Most people have between 5 1/2 and 6 inches of new growth at this stage. If you big chop at this point, you’ll probably have a good-size afro and most likely be beyond the TWA (teeny weany afro) stage. Of course, everyone’s curl pattern and hair growth is different so results may vary.
One Year and Beyond
If you can make it past a year, you are officially a long-term transitioner (in my book anyway)! By this time, you probably know exactly what your hair likes and you’ve gotten better at managing the two textures.
By the time I hit my one year anniversary, I was mostly natural so it didn’t really feel like I was transitioning anymore. I continued to wear a lot of flat twist styles (to protect/nurture my edges) and I wore quite a few twists and twist outs. Here are a few pics of some styles I’ve worn 12 months and beyond…
Final Note About Hair Growth
One thing that surprised me while transitioning was how my hair grows at different rates. For example, the back of my hair grew out really fast, while the front and crown of my hair grew the slowest.
That is why my hair is layered. When I ended my transition, my back was much longer than the front.
So that’s just something to keep in mind. It’s totally normal to have different growth rates so don’t be alarmed.
Meet Fellow Transitioner, Aisha
This video will inspire you, and perhaps you’ll even see some of yourself in it. It’s by Make Me a Naturalista on YouTube (definitely make sure you subscribe).
In the first series they introduce you to Aisha, a self-proclaimed salon junkie who gets her hair done twice a week.
Yardley and Natasha have a sit-down with Aisha and discuss her challenges with finding appropriate transitioning styles for work. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to read my long-term transitioning guide.
Join the NapturallyCurly.com Transitioning and Natural Hair Forums to chat with other transitioners and get the much-needed answers to your burning questions about your hair!