Ready to put down the relaxers and let your hair grow out, but don’t know where to start? Celebrity hairstylist Cynthia Alvarez, who works with stars like Alicia Keys, Dascha Polanco (in fact, she was responsible for Dascha’s gorgeous lavender-gray ombré), and Rita Ora, shares the five things every woman should know before making the leap.
You don’t have to cut everything off at once. Some women start the transition process by going for the “big chop” (cutting off all your processed hair in one fell swoop versus the more gradual process of just stopping all relaxing processes), but others don’t for a variety of reasons: For example, they don’t like how they look with short hair, they worry that they won’t be able to style their short hair while it grows out, or they’re afraid of negative feedback from others around them.
While going for the big chop is often seen as the easier way to transition, ultimately, it really comes down to personal preference, Alvarez says. “Some women prefer not to deal with the two textures and do a big chop, whereas others take on the extra work of managing between the two.”
Whether you for the big chop or not, Alvarez recommends starting your long-term transition with a trim to get rid of any split ends, as well as trimming about an inch off every month to get rid of damaged ends and prevent more split ends from forming.
Stay away from the heat. About one or two months in, you’ll probably notice that your hair looks like it has two competing textures, which can be frustrating for many when it comes to styling your hair. You may be tempted to reach for your straightener — but laying off the heat will give you a better idea of what your natural hair texture will ultimately be once it gets past the first couple of months, according to Alvarez.
Two words: leave-in conditioner. Technically that’s three, but seriously: You will want to moisturize, moisturize, and then moisturize some more. Curly hair tends to dry out really easily, so throw out your rinse-out conditioners and invest in a really good deep-conditioning treatment such as Dove Quench Absolute Intensive Restorative Mask, Mixed Chicks Detangling Deep Conditioner, or Eden BodyWorks Jojoba Monoi Deep Conditioner. And don’t be afraid to deep condition for 30 minutes at least twice a month. The chemically treated ends of your hair are extremely fragile, so you’ll want to deep condition to prevent breakage and keep your hair nourished.
Protect your hair while you sleep. Give your transitioning hair a little extra TLC by sleeping on a satin pillow slipcase. Alvarez calls this an “overlooked essential,” saying that unlike a cotton pillow slipcase, a satin or silk one won’t absorb any of your hair’s natural oils — which means your hair will have an easier time maintaining moisture and shine. (This will also help prevent next-day frizz.)
Put away the styling products. Alvarez reiterates that it’s important to use the right oils — such as olive, coconut, avocado, or jojoba oil — on your scalp and hair to promote growth and seal in moisture, so she recommends staying away from heavy gels and mousse — they’ll only sit on your hair and weigh it down. Instead, experiment with different styles that embrace your curls and make the most of them. (Need some hairspo? Try these gorgeous looks for natural hair.)