Thursday, January 28, 2010

Please leave that baby's hair alone!

I'll never forget the first time I saw Mocha Girl One (HmG). She was an emergency c-section, and had to spend several days in NICU. She was born four days past her estimated due date and looked huge in her incubator. I imagined her to be especially delicate and feminine. I couldn't wait to frill her up, and more importantly to do her hair! The only reason she wasn't sporting a barrette the day we took her home from the hospital, was because the one I brought to match her lacey outfit, slid right out.

Mocha Girl One's baby hair was silky straight and fine. As the weeks rolled by, it became wavier until she had a lovely curly fro. I washed
it all the time. I brushed it several times a day. I tried snap clips, and moved to velcro barrets when the clips slid out. I bought a different head band for every outfit. Meanwhile her curls continued to wind tighter and tighter.

I kept everything in a pretty box, dubbed
the hair bin. I was really frustrated at not being able to give Mocha Girl One a real style, until I discovered the rubber band. Rubber bands came in all sizes and colors. Rubber bands gripped Mocha Girl One's hair and it stayed in place. Rubber bands held every stray strand captive and her hair looked fresh all day. I liked a nice smooth look, which meant I was winding the bands around her hair tightly. She had little bumps in some areas, but I'd seen those before on my own head, and thought nothing of it. When Mocha Girl One's hair began to break in various areas, I was really perplexed at the cause. I never imagined I was pulling my daughter's hair too tight. I got compliments about her styles wherever I went, and imagined I was doing a fabulous job with grooming.

Mocha Girl One's hair became so patchy that I had to give her a trim around her second birthday to even things up. Prior to the trim, some braids were as much as three inches shorter than others. I cried as I trimmed her hair. I bought countless products, searching everywhere for a solution, while watching her hair intently for improvements. For some reason, my problems with her hair felt like a personal failure. It's amazing how vested we can be in our daughters' appearance.

I made some changes and Mocha Girl One's hair grew back stronger. I continued to make mistakes, but nappy hair can be resilient. It thrived anyway. I'm thankful for the experiences I had with her, because it helped me to do better for her sisters in their turn.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me that first day in NICU, "Congratulations on the birth of your baby girl.'ve got plenty of time."

Consider the following suggestions:

1. Baby shampoos may contain harsh and drying detergents. Read the label carefully and avoid anything containing sodium laurate sulfate (SLS). Try a mild natural soap like liquid castile soap. Moisturize by spritzing with water. Add a light oil, like 100% pure unrefined coconut oil. Jojoba Oil is also a good choice. I've read it's the closest oil to the natural sebum our scalps produce. If your baby's curl pattern is still very loose, you may not need an oil, because her natural sebum will do an effective job of keeping her strands moist.

Update 4/2011: I used Trader Joe's Liquid Castille Soap which is labeled for safe use as a shampoo. I can't endorse any other formulation because I've never tried it. For example some people love Bronner's brand, others say it is not ph balanced for hair and may be damaging. At this time, Trader Joe's Castille Soap is discontinued. I don't know why. I recommend trying a moisturizing sulfate free shampoo. Even Walmart has at least one to offer these days. I've also had success with African Black Soap.

2. If you don't oil your baby's scalp and hair you may not need to use shampoo every time. Plain water will easily rinse away dried sweat and spit up.

3. If you use oil to loosen cradle cap, be sure to wash it away with a mild shampoo. Oils may clog a baby's delicate pores.

4. Be patient with styling. Use accessories proportionate to your baby's hair length and head size. Make sure you leave slack at the roots. Never pull the hair tight. It may be pretty, but come right out later.

5. Watch out for little bumps on the scalp. This is a sign the baby's hair has been pulled too tightly. These bumps may become filled with puss, indicating an infection.

6. If you can, please leave the baby's hair alone as much as possible. Your frequent styling and grooming sessions are coming soon. Enjoy these care free days.

7. If you must dress her hair, try headbands, but make sure they aren't too tight around her head. Use one or two strategically placed barrettes instead of a head full.

8. Be careful with rubber bands. I continued to use rubber bands safely for years. I was careful not to wind them tight. I carefully cut them out of the hair during take down.

Our baby girls have few ways to communicate their discomfort. If a style isn't killing them they may not cry, but it may still be painfully uncomfortable. Even as they get older they may not always communicate their discomfort well. They can get headaches from tight pony tails and poorly fit head bands just like we do. I cringe at the thought of a little baby sleeping on a head full of hard plastic barrettes. I confess to being the worst offender of this in the past, but I've learned my lesson. Mocha Girl Four (age 4 months) has yet to wear a barrette.
In the worse case, a baby's hair may not tolerate the stress and break off, as I experienced with Mocha Girl One. It's fun to dress our daughters up. As we fuss over them, let's try to remain mindful of their tender immature strands.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Nappy Princess

When I was a little girl, I loved to cover my head with a towel, and dance around the house flinging it back, and forth as though I had the longest hair in the world. I wanted hair like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Whether on TV, movies, books, or magazines, I was drawn to long hair that hangs. I thought this was only a little mocha girl thing, but I've observed this behavior in little girls of various ethnicities. Everyone seems to love long flowing hair. It is beautiful.

I'm not against dressing up and playing pretend. It's fun to have a different experience sometimes. We can play with wigs, and weave extensions in our hair on occasion to enjoy something new. Personally, I've never used extensions, weaves, and wigs on my daughters. While I don't condemn mothers who occasionally use braid extensions, I've even stopped using them in my own hair to send my daughters a message. My main concern is that we don't want our girls to cling to these things in an effort to hide what they've been given. We don't want our daughters to believe they are lacking something special, because of the hair they have. We want to give them an accurate understanding of what to expect from their hair, so they'll be able to enjoy its beauty.

Nappy hair may grow long, but it has to grow very long to become heavy enough for the coils to stretch out and
look long in it's natural shrunken state. In fact, nappy hair hides its true length. Depending on the nappy head, you may be surprised by how much stretch you can pull from a shrunken section. I expect about 70% shrinkage when I wash my daughter's hair loose and leave it alone to dry. Check out Mocha Girl Two's hair below. Her true length is hidden well in its shrunken state.

Nappy hair doesn't hang unless we interfere--as I've done above with Mocha Girl Two's hair by stretching it out in braids. Over time and with exposure to moisture her hair will shrink back up. It will twist, coil and zig zag upwards and out. My goal is to teach my daughters to celebrate this unique aspect of their hair. So many people experience intense frustration that their hair won't stay stretched out. Maybe they straightened it for a special occasion, but it poofed before they were ready. Abusing our naps by applying excessive amounts of heat while denying it moisture in an effort to keep it stretched, often results in shorter and damaged hair.

The afro is considered retroactive, and trendy. Some people link it with terminology like
soul, black pride, and black power. I see it as the natural adornment of a nappy princess. Between braids, cornrows, and twisted styles you'll find my daughters running around the house in their afros. The bigger, the better. I tell them they're nappy princesses with hair that blots out the sun. Their strands rise and float wild and free. I think the afro is a beautiful style choice for special occasions. Especially accessorized with pretty clips and colorful head bands. I also love afro puffs.

Healthy nappy hair likes to be left alone sometimes to do what it does. Shrink and rise. I discourage my daughters from only finding beauty in their long stretched hair. The healthiest nappy hair isn't perpetually stretched. I'm sure there are exceptions, but my daughters' hair remained the same length year after year when I was perpetually stretching it. I was fighting dryness and weak brittle hair that snapped easily. I also don't want my daughters abusing hair they know is damaged, but can't accept unless it looks a certain way. I find healthy short hair to be much more beautiful than damaged hair of any length.

Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mushy Naps

Have you ever overcooked noodles? Did you know that noddles keep cooking if you leave them sitting in hot water? One busy evening, I boiled a pot of spaghetti, and left it sitting in the water. As I ran around the house managing one crisis after another, the spaghetti soaked up much of the fluid in the pot. When I finally returned to the kitchen to dish up our meal, I was amazed by the sheer size of the water logged noodles. I thought I could save the meal by drowning the spaghetti further in sauce, but as I watched in dismay, large chunks sloshed off the serving spoon in the transfer from pot to plate. I encouraged myself with the thought that sometimes food tastes better than it looks, but when I gingerly sampled a tiny bit, it disintegrated in my mouth in a gooey, mushy mess. I quickly spit it out, and reached for my phone to call in pizza.

Mushy naps can behave like water logged spaghetti noodles. We all know nappy hair can be dry, and many of us go to extremes trying to keep it moisturized. I've found a plethora of extreme moisture regimens online. While we may occasionally need to do a long conditioning treatment to remedy an unusual problem with dryness, we shouldn't be incessantly soaking our nappy hair with moisture building concoctions. Ever heard the adage, "too much of a good thing is a bad thing?" This is very true for nappy hair.

While you won't wake up one morning with strands you can visibly see have swollen to twice their size, that's exactly what's going on when we trap too much water, or moisture rich products in our strands. When nappy hair with this problem is touched, it feels too soft. If you gather a good portion in your fist it's like squeezing a handful of mush.

Mushy naps are too stretchy. Elasticity is good, but a good moderate stretch should hold with average resistance. Mushy naps keep stretching, but there's no strength to hold. They snap sickly under modest pressure. Mushy naps are fragile and weak.

Mushy naps are too lazy to hold on to adjacent strands. Our strands maintain sets by twining with adjacent strands and standing strong. Mushy nappy strands have everything invested in holding the water within.

Your nappy hair may be mushy, if it feels too soft, and all the crinkles, waves and curls quickly fall out, when you remove braids, twists and curlers. You may also be able to observe hair that barely floats, and almost looks heavy. As you manipulate this mushy hair it stretches too much, and snaps weakly, like an old rubber band which has lost its strength.

The chief remedy for mushy naps is protein treatments balanced with moisture. First, we substitute moisture rich products for protein rich products. Protein strengthens the hair shaft, but be careful. Nappy strands which are overloaded with protein behave like work hardened metal. If you bend a paper clip back and forth, it hardens until it snaps apart. When you treat nappy hair with protein, be sure to return to a balanced moisture routine as the shaft hardens to a normal degree. Look for a moderate stretch that holds against average pressure. For example, detangled nappy hair should NOT stretch and snap as you slide a rat tail comb through to separate two sections with a part.

Be sure to use a balanced approach with whatever you learn here, in books, and on the internet.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mocha Girl Style: Half Cornrow-Twist

One of my favorite styles to do on the girls is a Half Cornrow-Twist.

Follow me step by step:

Tools of the Trade

Rat tail comb for parting.

Paddle brush for detangling.

Spritz bottle filled with plain water.

Clips to hold the hair you're not working with.

Shea butter mix
Recipe: 1 part 100% raw unrefined shea butter, 1/2 part coconut oil, 1/4 part grapeseed oil, 3 drops vitamin E oil

Directions: Melt shea butter and coconut oil in a pot over low heat. It will become clear with no lumps. Remove from heat and add other oils. Mix well with a spoon and pour into containers. Allow to harden overnight in the refrigerator. Once it is solid you may store it at room temperature.

Step One
Use your rat tail comb to section out a small section in the front for the braided side bang. Cornrow until you get to the part of the braid that no longer touches the scalp but hangs in a single braid. Instead of continuing a three strand braid, merge two of the strands and finish the corn row with a twist. It should look like a braid cornrow close to the scalp, but a twist where the hair hangs.

In the above picture, I am finishing off the cornrow with a three strand braid instead of a twist. The part I am braiding should be a two strand twist. After taking this picture I removed the braid and finished the bang off with a twist.

Step Two
Next we will create a cornrow-twisted head band. Use the end of your rat tail comb to part a horizonal section across the head from ear to ear. It should be about four inches deep from the hairline.

Clip away the hair you are not working with.

Spritz with water to dampen, and moisturize the entire section you reserved for the cornrow twisted head band with shea butter mix.

Tip: This is an important step for speeding up the styling process. I have found moisturizing large sections at a time to be much quicker than stopping to moisturize every small section I'm working with. I am careful only to moisturize a section I can finish before the hair is completely dry. I like to work with damp hair.

Make a vertical part from the hairline toward the back of the head near one ear to begin the first cornrow twist. I like to make the cornrows about an inch wide. Braid and twist as you did with the side bang. Continue cornrow by cornrow, clipping away the hair you are not working with, until you have completed the entire cornrow-twisted head band.

Step Three
Use your rat tail comb to make a part two inches wide at the nape from ear to ear. Clip away the hair above your part.

Spritz with water to dampen, and moisturize the entire section you reserved for the cornrow twisted head band with shea butter mix.

Prepare to twist the nape section by using your finger to isolate a small portion of hair an inch and a half wide. You should now have a boxy section an inch and a half square in your hand to twist. I don't make perfect parts for twists because they swell and hide all parts well.

Repeat the above process section by section until you have twisted all the remaining loose hair.

When you twist, separate the two groups of strands you will be working with carefully. Ask yourself if you have equal amounts of hair in both groups from root to tip.

Tip: When we get near the end of the twist and discover we don't have enough hair in one of the groups of strands to finish the twist we are often tempted to steal a few strands from the bulkier group. This is called splicing. It creates a sloppy twist which may form knots when we forget that we spliced and try to pull them apart later to re-style.

Style Maintenance

Sleep on satin pillowcase or cover with a silky wrap/bonnet.

Steam in the shower or bath. Hair will shrink when exposed to moisture.

If you rinse this style with plain water after exercise, squeeze the water out gently.

Tip: Never rub a towel vigorously over nappy hair. Even when loose. Strands easily snag and snap off. Think of dabbing and coaxing the water to be absorbed by your thirsty towel more from contact than friction.

Creating New Styles
We can create new styles by making small variations to the ones we know. Consider the style we just learned. What if we finished the cornrows off in braids instead of twists, and did the back with individual braids? What if we kept everything the same, but did a bang with two braids parted in the center instead of one fixed to the side? What if we continued the cornrows all the way back into a pony tail shape, and finished the braids off in twists? What if we made the braids bigger or smaller? What if we removed the bang, and braided all the hair back?

See what I mean? It can be overwhelming to start from scratch, but making small alterations to a style we already love makes trying something new both fun and easy. Remember, it's only necessary to master a few good styles to keep things interesting. Our skills improve as we practice, and our styling time decreases because we are able to work faster.

Making Oils Work For Nappy Hair

Oils don't moisturize nappy hair.

Many Mocha Moms remember sitting on the floor between an older woman's knees to have their scalp greased and hair oiled. We've all made the mistake of trying to moisturize nappy hair with grease and oil. Some naps thrive anyway, but I never experienced optimal nappy hair until I began to moisturize with water.

The hair shaft is full of tiny openings. When applied to dry hair, greases, and oils coat the shaft and seal the openings. This prevents the absorption of water. Water makes the nappy hair shaft moist and supple. Oil can make it outwardly greasy, crispy and brittle over time.

Grease and oils play an important part in the moisture process. They lock in moisture. While nappy hair loves water, it evaporates from the shaft quickly. Moisture is balanced when we are able to trap small amounts of water in the shaft before it evaporates. This is achieved by applying oil to damp or wet hair.

Some oils are thicker and heavier than others, leaving a thicker layer on the shaft than others. I've read cautions in numerous places discouraging the use of mineral oil because of its tendency to be drying. I've also read a few testimonies of its effectiveness in moisture regimens. I wonder if the success stories may be attributed to using mineral oil on damp or wet hair. Personally, I prefer to use one pure oil at a time and avoid butter and grease formulations with mineral oil. You will have to experiment to find what works best for your daughter's hair. Stop using anything resulting in crisp and crunchy hair.

We can increase moisture to the hair shaft by adding a creamy water based product like leave in conditioner to damp, or wet hair. As a final step we seal this extra moisture in with an oil or oil based hair butter formulation. Experiment until you find one your daughter's hair likes.

I alternate in applying the following oils to my daughter's damp hair:

Castor Oil

100% Unrefined Coconut Oil

Olive Oil

Grapeseed Oil

100% Unrefined Shea Butter

There are many oils you can try in addition to the above. You can even scent your oils with essential oils which promote good health. Be sure to research the effect of essential oils well before adding them to your hair products.

Fuzzy Naps

Mocha Girl Three has fuzzy naps. Her hair is silky soft and fine. It stretches long when saturated with water. As it dries, the individual strands clump into curly little coils. If I apply gel to Mocha Girl Three's wet hair, small ringlets and waves are set all over her head.

If I allow Mocha Girl Three's hair to dry naturally, applying only a thin layer of shea butter, it frizzes up within several hours no matter how I style it.

At one time, I frustrated myself by constantly trying to smooth her hair with a brush. I styled her hair almost daily, but had to stop when I noticed it was breaking excessively. Fuzzy naps can be delicate. I began matching her outfits with caps when we left the house.
I did my best to force Mocha Girl Three's hair to adapt to the methods I used with her older sisters, but failed miserably. Her strands are fine, and many of the styles that work well for her sisters, made her hair look sparse . Mocha Girl Three's small braids were thin and scalpy. I was relieved to have some success with small twists, but they knotted and tangled terribly over time. I was working too hard to be experiencing such bad results.

My struggle ended the day I decided that Mocha Girl Three's hair was important enough to receive different treatment from her sisters. If something I was doing wasn't working, I stopped. If a staple product for her sisters was gunking up her hair, I experimented until I found a product her hair loved. Most importantly, I stopped attributing her bad hair days to flawed hair. Rather, I acknowleged that her hair was communicating a need that wasn't being met. The result was beautiful fuzzy naps.

I've found the following methods to be effective with fuzzy naps:
1. Expect some frizz over time.
2. Use only thin layers of product to moisturize.
3. Avoid heavy oils and butters. May apply light oils and butters sparingly.
4. Experiment with leave in conditioners for moisture.
5. Style with braids and twists no smaller in diameter than the size of a pencil.

6. Dampen the hair with plain water before manipulation to change or freshen up a style.
7. Encase the hair or pillow in satin, or silky fabric before sleeping.
8. Expose to steam and moisture daily. This may exacerbate frizz but also promotes elasticity. Healthy fuzzy naps are sometimes...well...fuzzy.
9. Examine gel formulations and avoid some alcohols which may be drying. Try pure aloe vera gel as a natural substitute.

Happy Birthday HMG!

Age 11!

We started a family tradition several years ago of celebrating our children on their birthdays by granting them the royal privilege of being in charge of the day. We crown our girls queen and our son king on each of their birthdays. We do fun things, eat their favorite foods, and share it all with our far away loved ones online through pictures. We can't believe what a big deal this has become for our children. It's a highlight of the year every time.

Head Mocha Girl's birthday fell on a Sunday, our busy worship day, so we're following our tradition today.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I seldom choose to style my daughters' hair in tiny box braids. They are time consuming to put in and remove. I usually save this style for special occasions. It's a big favorite for stretchability. We can achieve about an 85% stretch with tiny braids, even though I put them in without first stretching the hair with heat. Tiny braids also mimic loose hair and can be worn in variations everyday. My girls love putting their hair in a pony tail, removing it and putting it back up again a million times a day. Tiny braids permit my daughters to enjoy the freedom of independent styling without filling their loose hair with knots.

I'll never forget Mocha Girl Two's (age 7) first experience with tiny braids.

I can't remember where we were going when I decided Mocha Girl Two was finally ready for tiny braids. She sat perfectly, for hours as I put them in. We all thought the finished style was spectacular. Mocha Girl Two was ecstatic. She danced around and swiveled her head from side to side until I thought her neck would snap. Her hair slapped her cheeks and pounded her back. She loved it! What's the big deal?

Nappy hair gets it shape from the structure of its strands. When we examine the length of a single shed strand we may observe its capacity to coil up tightly like a slinky, or bend in all directions sharply in broken "z" shapes. We have to stretch it out and hold it in place to determine its length. The degree of tightness with which the strand shrivels back when we release the stretch varies from nappy head to nappy head. When we consider the fact that these strands exist all over a nappy person's head, sometimes in varying degrees and shapes, we can understand the appearance and behavior of nappy hair.

Nappy hair is agitated by moisture to coil up tightly. More moisture usually results in more coilage. We call this phenomenon
shrinkage. The degree to which nappy hair shrinks once exposed to moisture varies from one nappy head to another. How much moisture is necessary to start the process also varies from one nappy head to another.

Stitching nappy hair into tiny braids stretches the strands and holds them in place. The tightness of the braid stitch pattern determines how much the hair will shrink once exposed to moisture. I can create a relatively tight stitch, but I prefer to braid my daughters' hair moderately tight, because tight stitches are difficult to remove. In braiding tightly, I'm referring to the tension along the length of the braid. I am careful to leave slack at the roots to prevent excessive tension to the scalp, which often result in small bumps with a potential to become infected.

Whenever I style my daughters' hair in tiny braids, we know to expect some shrinkage the next day as the hair soaks up moisture from the atmosphere. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry the morning Mocha Girl Two learned this important lesson.

After hours of dancing, flinging the tiny braids over her shoulders, giggling, and twirling around, it was bed time. In those days, I was encouraging my girls to wear satin bonnets to bed to preserve their styles and prevent the drying friction which occurs while sleeping on cotton pillowcases. Mocha Girl Two begged me to leave her tiny braids loose under her satin bonnet. I enjoyed her glee so much I capitulated. Otherwise, I would have gathered them into a loose ponytail first. Mocha Girl Two went to sleep with a huge grin on her face.

One can imagine my surprise when the next morning I was jerked from a deep sleep to frantic shrieks and a blotchy face covered with tears. Mocha Girl Two stood beside my bed.

"My hair is
gone!" She cried.

My heart stopped as I grabbed her head and did a desperate and thorough examination. It looked fine.
Gone? What did she mean gone? I wondered.

It took me several long minutes to realize my daughter's tiny braids had shrunken up to her chin. The style looked fuller, and the effect was adorable, BUT it was shorter. Much shorter. I released a sigh of relief and sat up. I gathered Mocha Girl Two close and introduced her to shrinkage. I made sure she understood that whether she loved or hated it, she should respect it.

If nappy hair loves moisture, and it shrinks when exposed to moisture we will find greater success in optimizing hair health if we allow it some modicum of freedom to shrink. This means sacrificing the appearance of length much of the time. My Mocha Girls find this aspect of their hair disappointing. I tell them they have choices, but should be willing to live with the consequences of how they choose. We can enjoy stretched hair every day, but the result may be hair that remains the same length year after year.

Detangling 101

Frustration is an enemy I greatly respect when detangling my daughters' hair. It can cause me to rip through knots and reach for the scissors when I encounter resistance. I also watch out for haste. I'm tempted to take ineffective short cuts when I'm rushing. These lead back to frustration. What a shame to sacrifice the health of my daughters' hair because I chose to approach a task I lacked the time to do right. Nappy hair is easier to detangle when we approach the process deliberately from ends to root. My girls and I began to enjoy our sessions more when we set aside a special time just for hair maintenance.

On Hair Day, I make sure the answering machine is ready to pick up my calls. We set up a comfortable location. If I'm sitting, I make sure my daughters are positioned so my back doesn't start hurting. I generally like to stand behind a high stool which lifts my girls to the perfect height. From the time my daughters were little, I trained them to sit still for our grooming sessions by offering them a video. The fact that we only watch TV on weekends makes this a fun treat for everyone.

Follow me step by step, as I illustrate a detangling session with Mocha Girl One.

Style History
Mocha Girl One had her hair in twists for three weeks. When I took them down, her hair was set in a nice wavy pattern we like to call a
twist out. I planned to let her enjoy her twist out for several days before putting in another set of twists, but she became ill. Mocha Girl One stayed in bed with loose hair for an additional week. As a result, her hair appeared to be extremely matted and tangled. Approaching this task on dry hair or with grease would be a long painful nightmare for my daughter. The strands were intertwined snuggly, because they'd been left to shrink and wind about each other for a long time. Nappy hair in this condition has to be coaxed apart. Moisture will agitate the strands to release their grip, and conditioner will help them to slide free. I easily detangled Mocha Girl One's hair once it was saturated with my conditioner mix. The entire session took thirty minutes.

Step One
Set yourself and your daughter up comfortably. What will she be doing to keep herself entertained while you're doing her hair? Will this activity last the length of your detangling session? Try to make sure everything you need is within easy reaching distance. Ask your daughter if she's comfortable. Make sure you are able to move freely around your daughters head. Are you comfortable? Avoid positions that force you to hunch over, resulting in neck and back strain. This may seem excessive, but I find I can do a better job if I'm not constantly stopping to make adjustments.

Step Two
Tools of the trade include a spray bottle filled with 3/4 water, 1/4 conditioner and a tablespoon of castor oil. Play around with this formula. Add more conditioner and castor oil to create more slip.

Paddle brush. I use a Denman Brush with widely spaced bristles.

Rat tail comb. I ONLY use the tail of the comb to pry apart my braid stitch.

Clips to hold the hair you are not working with out of the way.

Step Three
Use your fingers to isolate a small section of hair no larger than two inches square.

Clip the hair you aren't working with out of the way.

Saturate the hair by spritzing it with the conditioner mix in your spray bottle.

Step Four
Grasp the section of hair you are working with firmly, allowing lots of slack at the roots. You will begin the detangling process at the ends. Apply your paddle brush about one inch from the ends and gently slide it down towards empty space. Test the resistance of the strands as you go. If you encounter resistance stop and investigate its cause. Knots may be unraveled with the tail of your comb, or a hair pin. If you are unable to undo the knot after studying it, I have found it better to snip it away with a sharp pair of sheers then to rip it away with a tug. Ripped hair becomes split and frayed.

Generally, I encounter few knots if I remove my styles carefully and saturate my daughters' hair well with the conditioner mix.

As the brush slides down easily into empty space, move up your section of hair about an inch at a time until the entire length is free of tangles.

Repeat the process with another small section of tangled hair.

Step Five
When you've accumlated about three 2 inch square sections of detangled hair, braid them together loosely. This step is extremely important. Wet nappy hair shrinks rapidly. By braiding up the loose hair quickly we can prevent strands from ensnaring adjacent strands as the hair shrinks.

Step Six
Once the entire head is detangled and braided up loosely, allow your daughter to rinse the braids profusely in the sink or shower. Mocha Girl One's hair tolerates a residue of conditioner well, but I have to be sure to rinse the conditioner mix completely from my other daughter's hair. Otherwise, their hair looks dull and chalky. You may want to shampoo the hair if it's dirty. A great time saving tip is to leave the hair braided loosely while shampooing. I find the detangling process with the paddle brush to be extremely effective in removing debris from my daughters' hair. Be sure to rinse, rinse and rinse to remove the conditioner trapped within the braids.

Step Seven
Allow to dry.

Step Eight
Prepare to style.

Pictured last is the ball of hair I removed from the paddle brush when we were done. We shed about eighty to one hundred strands a day. Mocha Girl One's shed strands were trapped in her twists for three weeks. They floated in her twist out for an additional week. When we consider the length of her hair, we can conclude that she lost an acceptable amount.

All rights reserved copywritten by Natacha Moten

Choosing the Right Conditioner

The most important thing I've learned from experimenting with products and regimens for my daughters' hair is to read labels. Conditioners are formulated to do specific things for specific hair. A host of conditioners are made of expensive ingredients, and promise to deliver miracles. Many people hope conditioners will reverse hair damage. I try to keep my daughters' hair healthy by avoiding heat, and chemicals relaxers. I treat their strands gently. I encourage them to drink lots of water, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. We grow strong strands from the inside out.

I don't believe a conditioner will force my daughters' hair to grow.

I don't believe a conditioner will repair split ends.

I don't believe a conditioner will make my daughters' nappy hair shine like the straight haired image on the packaging.

I don't believe the weekly application of a conditioner will restore the moisture balance of hair I routinely stress and dry out.

I don't believe conditioners repair heat damage.

Some conditioners do strengthen nappy hair over time by putting protein back into the shaft BUT it's a sensitive process. Too much protein may render the strands hard and brittle. I haven't needed to artificially restore strength of my daughters' hair, because my goal is to prevent the damage from happening in the first place.

I use conditioners to detangle my daughters' hair, and to introduce another layer of moisture after washing.
Slip is a term used to describe a conditioner's ability to cause the shingles on the hair shaft to lay down. This creates a smooth surface which allows individual strands to slide against each other without snagging. I prize slip, because it greatly reduces my detangling time and makes the entire process more pleasant for my daughters. In my house, different conditioners work better for different daughters.

When testing conditioners for effectiveness, try one product at a time for at least a month, unless a clear negative outcome is experienced with the first use. Be careful to notice if your daughter's hair becomes dull, feels tacky, sheds excessively, or performs poorly over time. I've read that some people don't respond well to frizz fighting agents called "cones". You'll find them in the conditioner's list of ingredients with long words ending in "cone". The higher up on the list they appear, the greater their concentration in the conditioner.

Cones work by coating the hair shaft. Over time, they may weigh it down and promote dryness by blocking the penetration of water. A good shampoo is necessary for removing the build up of cones. If your daughter's hair responds poorly to cones, you will find many cone free natural conditioners.

If a conditioner is laden with ingredients I generally avoid it. Allergic reactions are more easily ferreted when we can easily identify what was offered. Simple conditioners, with a main purpose of moisturizing tend to be cheap and effective for us. A valuable tip I learned on the internet is to increase their "slip" value by mixing them with castor oil.

I use the following conditioners for my girls:

Suave Naturals (any flavor)

VO5 (any flavor)

Trader Joe's Nourish Spa

Trader Joe's Refresh

Like my shampoos, I water down my conditioners and apply it to my daughters' hair using a spray bottle. All my girls except Mocha Girl One (age 11) experience chalky build up unless I rinse conditioners from their hair completely.

Choosing the Right Shampoo

Nappy hair is full of loops, twists, and bends. Some people's strands swirl in "s" and "o" shapes while others angle in "z's". The important thing to remember when considering a shampoo is the degree to which the strands you are trying to cleanse curve and rotate from scalp to ends. The more dense the coilage , the more difficult it is for the natural sebum secreted from the scalp to wind its way down to the ends before wash time. This translates into dry hair. When you wash nappy hair, the goal is to remove dirt, dried sweat and product build up. It's important not to strip the hair completely of the precious natural sebum which promotes elasticity.

Consider straight, wavy and loosely curled hair. When sebum is secreted from the scalp of someone with hair these textures, it meets little obstruction and travels down quickly and easily. This translates into greasy hair. A strong detergent is needed to regularly lift excess sebum which possibly dulls and weighs the hair down.

When shopping for a shampoo, read the label to understand its purpose. I have found most shampoo formulations to be geared for cleansing straight, wavy and loosely curled hair. The main cleansing agent in these shampoos is sodium laurate sulfate (SLS), a strong detergent. I have found SLS to be drying to my daughters' nappy hair. When caring for their hair in the past, I'd choose a strong SLS shampoo and lather several times in pursuit of squeaky clean hair. If your child's nappy hair squeaks after a wash, beware of the snap that's sure to follow because of dryness. There are numerous SLS free shampoos on the market today. I've found them in the natural or whole food sections of supermarkets, drug and healthy food stores.

Sometimes, I reach for a bar of soap instead of shampoo. Some soaps are much less drying to the hair than SLS shampoos. Many companies have emerged marketing "poo bars", and a quick search on the internet will yield ample results. I was quick to purchase a bar of African Black Soap when I first started reading about this, and was pleased to discover it left my girls' hair clean, soft and supple. As an added benefit it lasted longer than traditional shampoos, because a little went a long way. Another example is Liquid Castile Soap, which is sold in numerous beauty supply stores and works just as well. An unexpected benefit of using soap is being able to cleanse the entire body with one product. Access to the health food store Trader Joe's has been invaluable to my product experimentation. I've been able to try various good quality natural oils, shampoos and conditioners at low prices.

Try different soaps and shampoos. Look for key words like "moisturizing" and "non-stripping" on the packaging. Avoid shampoos containing sodium laurate sulfate. The only exception I have to this rule is when I am trying to remove heavy product build up from my daughters' hair. Most of their products rinse away easily with a mild shampoo, but if I'm having a problem I may reach for a stronger detergent. My purpose is to strip something stubborn from the hair shaft. In cases like this, I always follow the wash with an intense conditioning treatment to restore the hair's moisture balance.

I use the following SLS free shampoos and soaps:

Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat

Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle

Trader Joe's Pure Castile Soap

African Black Soap

I've learned that one sudsing is generally enough to remove dirt, dried sweat and build up. I follow it with a conditioner, and rinse profusely. I find lots of rinsing to be more important with nappy hair than anything else. In fact, if I'm using liquid soap or shampoo I water it down and use a spray bottle to apply it to my daughters' hair. It only takes a little to coax oil away from nappy hair. As a result, my cleansing agents last a long time.

Her mother needs to do her hair!

I've been through a difficult season, but it's taught me a valuable lesson. In February of 2009 I became pregnant with our fifth child. While healthy, the pregnancy was a challenge. I began contracting early and had to radically reduce my activity. This greatly impacted my hair maintenance routine with the girls. Whereas in the past I was constantly changing their styles, I could now only fashion quick styles which were left in longer than ever before. My girls had a new look, and I wasn't sure I liked it.

Over time, their hair frizzed dramatically. It looked painfully dry and neglected to me. I felt strong condemnation when a friend offered to take my girls one by one and style their hair for me. I'll love her forever for reaching out in my time of need, but believed it was my personal responsibility to groom my daughters' hair. I imagined I was failing miserably.

As I rested and struggled to find foods my body would tolerate to support the pregnancy, I began to write about nappy hair. As I penned all the new things I'd learned I realized that my perspective was changing. I received frequent visits from my children. The visits from Mocha Girl Three (age 4) struck a chord.

One day, while lying in bed, crouched over my lap top, I looked up and noticed Mocha Girl Three's round head peaking around one of my double doors.

"Mind if I come in, Mommy?" she asked.

"Sure," I said. "But I'm writing."

"I won't bother you!" she promised.

I turned my focus back to my task, but caught frequent glimpses of my daughter walking around the room. She'd pick up objects, examine them and pretend they were characters having conversations. Sometimes she stood, sat or rolled about the floor. Periodically, Mocha Girl Three stuffed her first two fingers in her mouth and studied me earnestly. I could tell she was a little worried about me.

She never asked what I was writing about, but in my brief glimpses of her, I noticed a care free spirit that felt right. Her hair was tremendously fuzzy, but it seemed to fit. I began to ask myself why I expected her hair to be smooth all of the time? Mocha Girl Three has fine hair, which clumps together into noticeable coils when wet, but quickly dries up frizzy. No matter what style I give her, I can expect her hair to look fuzzy within a couple of hours. Pre-pregnancy, I fussed over her hair continually, but as I reclined in my bed it became less important.

This shift in perception extended to all my girls. I began to see their hair as an extension of their lifestyle. It seemed to me that fuzziness should be evident if they were doing all the things girls do. I began to challenge my prior expectation that they remain neatly primped all of the time. My major concern was the health of their hair. My eyes told me to expect their hair to be brittle and damaged, but when I touched their strands my fingers slid across smooth elasticity. I marveled that as long as I had a bottle of water and some conditioner, I could manipulate their hair without breakage. As a bonus, they were retaining so much length

I concluded that health wise, it was better for me to err on the side of leaving a style in for longer stretches than to over manipulate my daughters' hair for the sake of smoothness.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nappy Expectations

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.

Why "Nappy"?

I really struggled when trying to find a term to use when describing my daughters' hair to the masses. Words are so powerful, and evoke such strong responses from people. The word nappy has a history of being used negatively. Many people are offended to have their hair identified as nappy. In deference to these feelings, I thought about using kinky, coily, or natural when referencing our hair but these terms mean different things to different people. The term nappy, however, evokes a clear and consistent image. My message is that nothing is wrong with this image. We can learn to care for and appreciate it as much as any other texture. Our struggles largely result from ignoring the unique needs of nappy hair. When our poor methods fail, we blame it on the hair.

For the purpose of our discussion, I define
nappy as the unique hair texture of tightly shrinking coils, curls, and zig zags typically seen on people of African descent. In fully embracing it, I respect it's unique characteristics and modify my behavior to meet its needs. As a result, it behaves beautifully for me.