By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom
One of the most important lessons that I now know is that my hair will always behave in a fixed and reproducible manner depending on how wet or how dry it is. My epiphany came during a PhD seminar on smart materials (i.e materials that give you a set response depending on heat, light, pH etc and if you change the environment they revert back to the original state). I would hazard a guess that I had been natural for at least 8 years at the time and the most frustrating time for me was wash day when my hair had to move from wet to dry. I finally realised that the reason for my struggle was that I was expecting my hair to behave differently without really doing anything differently. I thought that products could spring my hair into curls or slow down shrinkage but in reality my hair (emphasis on MY), did not and still does not care for products. I finally grasped that my hair is a smart material, it has a fixed behaviour when wet, when damp or when completely dry. These are my rules for the first stage — handling completely wet hair.
Things my hair will do when wet
-Very high level of elasticity
-Very easy to section through with hands or a widetooth comb
-Very high level of shrinkage (my hair wants to be 1 inch long even when it is actually 1 foot long)
Things my hair will not do when wet
-My hair will not form clumped curls even with product
-My hair will not stay tangle free unless I force it to
-Attempting to start styling hair on soaking wet hair is futile
Things that I have to be aware of when my hair is wet
1. Silent breakage or breakage by stealth
When my hair is wet it, it can be stretched very easily especially if there is conditioner on it. This stretching happens with finger detangling or combing with a widetooth comb. It is really easy to manipulate but as the hair stretches, it is very easy to move from the elastic stage (where hair is like a rubber band and can easily stretch in and out ) to the snapping stage. The difference is that on wet hair the snapping is totally silent and nearly painless (unlike if you yank on a strand of dry hair).
The remedy: If my hair is wet, it will only be handled once it has been loaded up with conditioner. This helps to soften the hair and reduce friction. I generally will avoid wet detangling, it does not work that well for my hair, but if I have to, I will always take care never to rake through with a comb. I would always work in sections and always look at the shed hair to see if it has a bulb or not, this is the measure of success for me
2. Inter-twinning of strands
The high level of shrinkage when hair is wet comes with the high potential for tangling. This is especially true if I do not take the time to stretch out the strands and keep them separated and detangled by either twisting or braiding. I imagine my hair like a box full of little copper wire coils. Wetting my hair is like shaking this box and causing the coils to mingle. Separating the wires back into individual coils would take a lot of time, effort and undoubtedly damage to some coils.
The remedy: Prevention is better than cure. I choose to always wash my hair in braided sections. Prior to fully wetting my hair, it will normally already be detangled and all the braided into 10 or so sections. During the wash, the hair will shrink but as the strands are compact, they retain the detangled alignment and do not intertwine. Going back to that box full of coils analogy, it is essentially like tying a few coils together with a string and then shaking the box — it will be much easier to separate the coils which are contained together with a string compared to those that are free.
3. Products with slip
With the exception of coconut oil, my hair in general does not care for products. For wet hair, I am looking to wash and condition my hair. Pretty much any random shampoo will work and I generally pick hair conditioners based on slip (some type of silicone, usually water soluble) and softness (generally the magic ingredient is behentrimonium chloride). Any conditioner with these two ingredients will generally work well with my hair and to be fair, even conditioners without these ingredients will work for my hair, I will just notice that the product is harder to apply and my hair has less softness. I believe the reason why my hair does not respond to products is because it is not that damaged (no colour, no heat use , generally finger combed and mostly protectively styled). Conditioners as a product will make a great deal of difference to people with damaged hair and those whose hair can clump into curls. Shampoos will make a great deal of a difference to people with sensitive skin which is easily irritated.
How does your hair behave when it is wet? What can you do with it and what would you avoid? Do products matter to you