You don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on products or keep your strands hidden in protective styles to achieve healthy hair. Follow these tips to rehabilitate your hair whether it's natural or relaxed.
Step 1: Shampoo your hair at least once a week
The average person's hair grows between ¼ and ½ inch a month. Washing your hair more often can help you achieve the maximum amount. Your scalp is just like your face. You can't maintain a healthy growing environment without cleansing away the sebum (natural skin oil) in and around your hair follicles. Use a shampoo that says it's for "dry", "curly" or "damaged" hair because those are usually the mildest formulas. You can still co-wash, but don't forgo a weekly shampoo unless your product says it effectively cleans the scalp.
Step 2: Use a pH balanced shampoo
The pH of hair is between 4.5 and 6.5 (around the same pH as aloe vera juice). African American hair has naturally raised cuticles which makes it more sensitive to pH than other hair types. A shampoo that is pH balanced will smooth your hair's top cuticle layer, leaving it shinier and easier to comb. That's really important because the easier it is to comb your hair the less it will break when you detangle and style. Read How do I know if a product is pH balanced? to decide if your current shampoo is a keeper.
Step 3: Make sure detangling is a breeze
The most important job of a conditioner is to make your hair easy to detangle, especially if you are natural or transitioning. If you're using the right conditioner for your hair, when you comb from end to root, you should only have 2 or 3 areas where the comb gets snarled. If you don't already have a favorite conditioner, choose a product that contains 2 or more of the following ingredients:
Behentrimonium Chloride or Behentrimonium Methosulfate
Cetrimonium Chloride or Cetrimonium Methosulfate
Step 4: Use a strengthening conditioner after every other shampoo
Forget what you've heard about protein-moisture balance. When you choose a good conditioner, the manufacturer has already balanced the amount of protein and moisture in the bottle. A rinse out conditioner that contains strengthening ingredients will penetrate your hair and protect it against breakage. The most balanced deep conditioners are made for "dry" or "damaged" hair. Try As I Am Hydration Elation Intensive Conditioner, Nexxus Keraphix Restorative Conditioner, or Ouidad Deep Treatment. Protein and other strengthening ingredients rinse off in water, so don't worry about "protein overload". Those with fine hair may want to use a strengthening conditioner once a week.
Step 5: Get a hair cut if you're experiencing moderate to severe breakage
If you're experiencing significant breakage, it's likely that the cuticle layer has been worn away at your ends. That happens during chemical treatments, but also from simple combing and brushing. You need to get rid of the oldest hair in order to see a real transformation. You don't have to do the "Big Chop". Instead, choose a trusted stylist to take off ½ to 1 inch. After that, follow the rest of this regimen so you'll only need trims every 10 to 12 weeks. Keep your ends trimmed to prevent your hair from tangling excessively when it gets wet.
Step 6: Find 2 easy styles for your current length
The most difficult part about growing your hair out is the awkward length phases you'll have to go through. If you have a good cut, your hair should tangle less and be easy to style. Keep your ends in the best condition possible by alternating between 2 low-manipulation hairstyles. For example, many women have shorter hair in the front than the back. Give the front some time to catch up by bobby pinning it out of the way instead of trying to make it blend with the rest of your hair. If you follow the other rehab steps, you will have new style options in 2-3 months as your hair grows longer. Check out the Hair Liberty DIY section to learn easy styles for any length using bobby pins, hair accessories and/or braids.
You can incorporate one rehab step at a time (shampooing more often, for example) but you'll see the most drastic improvements when you follow all six of these steps. Once you have a steady routine, don't change what you're doing. If you feel like trying something new, experiment with different hair styles and styling products. This regimen will work for all types of kinky, coily, and curly hair whether it's natural, relaxed, or color-treated. For more advice specific to your hair type and preferred style, take the Hair ID Quiz.
Updated January 1, 2012