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Transitioning Problems

Transitioning starts out easy, but it gets harder and harder both physically and mentally. Growing out your natural hair, especially if you have been using relaxers for a long time will present many challenges.

If you have relaxed your hair consistently for a very long time, your hair and scalp has adjusted to the chemicals and stopping them will cause some discomfort as your scalp begins to re-balance itself. Chemically relaxed/texturized hair is damaged hair. The relaxing process straightens your hair by breaking the bonds in the hair and damaging them in order to straighten out the natural kinks and curls. Relaxing your hair also strips natural oils from the scalp, causing your skin/scalp to become out of balance. This is one of the reasons why, when you chemically relax your hair, you need to use numerous scalp remedies, greases and hair repair products to help fix your hair, stop it from breaking and minimize dandruff and dry scalp.

As you transition to natural hair, your hair and scalp will undergo a series of changes and rebalances that at times can make it seem like things are going backwards. In this article I will go through a number of major things that may happen to your hair, and how best to get through them. These are all normal if they happen but not all things happen to everyone.

PROBLEM: Relaxed Hair is Tangling
As your natural hair grows in, your relaxed hair will start tangling around itself. A lot. Sometimes to the point where you can’t do anything with it. It may become unruly and difficult to tame. This is because your natural texture is growing in with texture and volume, leaving the straight hair on the ends to stand on their own.

SOLUTION: Style the relaxed ends in curly styles using a strong hold gel. Twistouts and braidouts are a nice alternative to try and match the relaxed texture to the straight texture. The smaller the sections you use, the curlier the end result will be. The photo at the top of this article is my rod set using Curlformers and no heat on 100% natural hair, but can also be used for transitioning hair. Check out my video to see how it was done.

Using a deep conditioner or hot oil treatments on your hair at this point may help your relaxed hair last a little longer.

Try to match your relaxed hair to your natural hair, and not the other way around. Using direct heat to straighten your natural hair may permanently damage it and you will lose your natural texture. Use this time to learn about your natural hair, not change its texture to conform with the relaxed hair.

PROBLEM: Excessive Shedding

This can happen deeper into the transitioning cycle. A healthy head of hair normally sheds 100 – 150 hairs every day, leaving no bald areas. Anything above this is categorized as “abnormal” or “excessive” shedding and can be caused by a number of things outside the transitioning process such as illness, hormone imbalance, medications and severe shock. During your transition, the sudden shift in your scalp’s condition can sometimes cause more than normal shedding. It is nothing to be alarmed about except in the event that you have large areas of baldness appearing, at which stage you should see a dermatologist or get a referral from your doctor for a specialist.

SOLUTION: Do not heavily comb or brush your hair. Always comb or brush from the ends up, holding the hair above the comb. Never comb from the scalp down, pulling at the hair. Be extra gentle with all hair products and appliances.

Gentle scalp massages with a coconut oil can be very soothing to the hair follicles. Adding lavender to the oil adds healing properties.

PROBLEM: Excessive Breakage.

There is a very weak point of your hair during transitioning. That is at the point where the natural hair and relaxed hair meet. We call it the line of demarcation and it is where your hair will most likely break off. This breaking off can cause split ends and can damage the ends of your natural hair.

SOLUTION: My advice is to just cut the relaxed hair off and be free. If your hair is really breaking off badly, cut off the relaxed hair that remains, just above the line of demarcation. If you don’t want to cut off your hair, you will need to keep your hair styled in protective styles for the duration of your transition. This means in braids, twists or some other style that does not allow your relaxed hair ends to be free. The use of high protein conditioners on your relaxed hair will not stop the breakage at the line of demarcation.

PROBLEM: Sore Scalp

Personally I experienced a high level of pain on my scalp, in different places, during my transition. The pain was so bad I sometimes had to take painkillers. You may not experience this level of soreness but if you do, don’t give up! There is no scientific evidence of what causes this soreness but I have an opinion.

It is a fact that chemical relaxers de-fat the scalp. And in the process damage the follicles beneath and this is a cause of chemical alopecia. I believe that by burning, de-fatting and damaging the layer beneath the scalp, these chemicals also have the effect of deadening or blocking signals from the follicles, effectively shutting pain receptors down, sometimes permanently. Some follicles remain undamaged, with a blood supply but do not produce healthy hair, or any hair at all.

Once you stop using these chemicals, these dormant follicle processes “wake up” or try to heal themselves. And the sensitivity of that process causes a lot of soreness, heat and pain. In my case this went on for around 12 months (badly in one area in particular), generally all over my head. Once the process is complete, the pain disappears and does not return. Like I said, I have no scientific or medical info on theory, I came to this conclusion judging from my experience and the experiences of others over the past 15 years.

PROBLEM: Scalp Dryness.

With new natural hair come new products! If the products you used when relaxed contain things like sulfates, mineral oil and petrolatum and you continue to use them through your transition, these products will cause a worse imbalance as your scalp tries to rebalance. You will notice the dryness more if you work in air conditioning or a dry environment.

SOLUTION: Change your products, use a hair steamer. I have written a number of articles on the right products to use on natural hair, and the wrong ones. You can find two of them here: NOT NATURAL DRY HAIR. These are the main issues that cause concern in when transitioning. If you have any questions or would like information, please feel free to ask your question in the comments below or on our forum.

Using a hair steamer is a great way to gently rehydrate the scalp and hair. You can find portable steamers online, even on eBay and they are not expensive. Using a steamer once a week will show improvement in your hair's elasticity, moisture retention properties and scalp dryness.

These tips will help you embrace your natural type 4a and 3c hair and style it to perfection. As you can see, there are plenty of ways to care of your naturally curly hair, so don't be afraid to make the transition and show your curls off to perfection!

Last modified on Thursday, 21 May 2020 10:11
Patricia Gaines

Patricia Gaines aka Deecoily is the founder and creator of Nappturality in 2002, the beginning of the natural hair movement. Since 2000 she has been blogging on all things natural hair, Black culture and politics.

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