*This article was originally published on August 18, 2011. It was re-posted as part of our ‘Best of 2011′ Series
One of the most challenging aspects of switching to natural hair is getting to know it. To know how it communicates that it’s happy or sad with how you’re treating it. Here are six key indicators of hair health that naturals unknowingly ignore or misinterpret.
It’s easy to know when hair is BONE dry and on the brink of snapping… but trouble starts way before that. Stretching hair too far can dry it out, so can sleeping with it uncovered and neglecting to moisturize protective styles. This dryness can lead to the gradual breakage. Make sure that your hair always feels supple with a bit of spring when you pull at the strand. And always seal in water-based products with a butter or oil.
It doesn’t have to look like a bird’s nest for your hair to be tangled. As twist outs and braid outs soak up humidity, they shrink and the strands become gnarled. Just be aware of this, and pay attention to whether breakage ensues when you re-style your hair. Stretched styles are a great way to combat tangling.
The ends are the most vulnerable part of the hair, and boy do they take a beating. From combing and brushing — even twisting — ends suffer a lot of mechanical damage. A tell tale sign of thrashed ends are twists or braids that are difficult to seal. If you can’t twist your hair all the way down to the end of the shaft because the ends are too rough and uneven, then you might be due for a trim.
You might be surprised at this one… but many naturals are simply unaware when their hair grows. Women who struggle to retain length often blame lack of progress on slow growth, when the culprit is actually breakage. To get an idea of how quickly your hair grows, try dyeing a few strands in the front, middle and back with henna. Monitor them every month to see how far down the henna goes. I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much growth you have on a weekly basis.
If it’s been a few years and your hair hasn’t budged, don’t be so quick to blame it on genetics or slow growth… you might be dealing with chronic breakage. YouTube guru KimmayTube has a famous video showing how her hair stayed the same length during her first 10 years of being natural. Protective styling isn’t necessary for everybody, but if your hair is fine and fragile, it might be the best way to guard against breakage.
Blame it on years of our mothers, aunties and hairdressers yanking combs through our hair, but many of us don’t have a proper gauge of what is gentle and what is not. You should never be so rough with your hair that your edges are depleted, your comb is full of hair or your head hurts. Incorporate finger styling and smoothing into your regimen and pay attention to how much broken hair you end up with after a styling session. If it’s too much, then be even easier with your handling.
What vital signs would you add? Which would you take away? And does this list help you re-evaluate your own regimen?