Most of us expect nappy hair to behave like straight hair. We wash our hair like the women in shampoo commercials and marvel when we're left with a mass of tangles. We detangle with small tooth combs, expecting them to slide through without interference. We stretch our nappy hair out, walk into a mist, and huff when it shrinks back up. We purchase one product after another to make it shine, and conclude something's wrong when it doesn't. Our biggest problem is a lack of understanding of what we can expect from nappy hair.
Nappy hair is full of tight twists and coils and bends which refract light. As a result, it won't shine in its shrunken state. I saved myself lots of money and frustration when I stopped expecting my daughters' hair to shine like the straight haired models on television. I learned to expect a healthy sheen, and stop assuming my daughters' hair was dry because it wasn't shiny. I learned to test for dryness by rubbing the strands between my fingers. Dryness is sometimes more easily felt than seen. I also test the elasticity of shed strands by pulling them apart to see how easily they snap. My fingers quickly reveal when products are coating the hair shaft making it greasy while the hair underneath remains parched and brittle. The strands of moist nappy hair feel smooth, but not necessarily soft.
Nappy hair can be very soft, but it can also be wiry. I've discovered a range of softness in my daughters and among their friends. We sometimes expect every nappy head to feel the same. I've learned there's great diversity, and what works for one head may not work for another. Even within the same family, different methods and products may have to be used. Though my girls have the same parents and genealogy, their textures are very different. When I stopped expecting to meet all of their needs one way, their hair became much healthier. We can experience optimal softness by making sure the hair is properly moisturized. While nappy hair should be handled gently, there should be some elasticity to each strand.
Nappy hair needs water to gain moisture. This has been an expensive lesson for me to learn, because most products marketed for nappy hair are full of grease and oil. Most mocha moms can remember getting their scalp greased and hair slicked in pursuit of moisture. I've learned that greasing my daughters' hair in this fashion actually promotes dryness. Grease coats the shaft, robbing it of much needed water from the atmosphere.
Nappy hair loves moisture, and will shrink in proportion to how wet it becomes. Rates of shrinkage vary from one head to another. This was another great revelation for me. I liked to showcase the length of my daughters' hair by stretching it out. I used grease and oils to "moisturize" and kept their hair as far from water as possible. The result was dry and brittle hair which remained the same length year after year. I had to learn to accept shrinkage, and save the hair stretching for special occasions. The best thing I've ever done for my girls' hair is to have them ditch their shower caps.
Nappy hair grows just like every other texture. Sometimes it grows slowly, but it grows. Poor length retention is a result of the hair breaking off at the ends as quickly as it's growing at the roots. Some nappy heads are more susceptible to breakage than others. My daughters never had much length retention when I was adding beads and barrettes to their ends for every style. I had to learn to avoid accessories that eat away at the ends of their hair. I had to reduce manipulation by leaving their hair in styles for at least a week. I had to handle their hair gently and carefully.
Nappy hair will frizz up. I love a fresh style, but little girls who play will quickly frizz up their styles. Straight hair lies flat and smooth, but nappy hair is full of loops and twists which separate and move around. This action is especially stimulated by moisture and friction. We can coat our hair with products which bind the strands together like glue, but if we do this all of the time, we will inhibit moisture. If I am going somewhere special and I want my daughters' styles to look fresh, I do their hair as close to the event as possible and have them wrap their hair until we are ready to leave. Generally, I've learned to expect some frizz.
I've accepted that some styles I may want to achieve come at a cost. I can create smooth hair, stretched to the max, by forcing it to rigidly stay in place, BUT I may expect dull, dry, brittle hair which stays the same length year after year. There are probably exceptions to this outcome, but judging from what I see of the general population, it's true for most of us.