After years of chemically straightening your hair, you’re toying with the idea of leaving the relaxers behind for good. Blame it on more natural hair representation in the media, or chalk it up to watching those around you embrace a more low-maintenance hair care routine—either way, natural hair seems to be everywhere. Kérastase artist and L’Oreal Professionnel artist Jonathan Matias confirms he’s seen an influx of clients looking to understand how to potentially shift into their natural hair, thus seeking information on transitional hair.
“For most, quarantine propelled this transition,” he explains. “Unable to maintain their last haircut or style, guests looked for ways to care for their hair as easily and simply as possible. With more people currently working from home, the want and need for low maintenance hairstyles is at an all-time high.”
Whether you’re already switching over or thinking about making the move, here’s what you need to know about transitional hair.
What does natural hair mean?
First things first, let’s break down the definition of natural hair. Over the past few years, the textured hair community has used the phrase to describe anyone who doesn’t use chemical services to change their hair's look, feel, or texture. For some, natural hair may also encompass anyone who doesn’t color their hair. When we talk about transitioning to natural hair, we’re referring to anyone abandoning relaxers or texturizers and allowing their natural hair type to grow in.
How long does it take to fully transition hair?
If you’ve been asking yourself, “What are the stages of natural hair transition?” the truth is that there isn’t one specific pathway or timeframe for transitioning into natural hair. As with any hair type, how much your hair grows depends on genetics, lifestyle, hair type, and more.
According to the Academy of Dermatology, hair grows an average of six inches annually. How long it’ll take you to transition depends on your current hair length and how long you’re looking to go. You can expect to wait anywhere from three months to one year to start noticing the most significant changes.
How do you transition to natural hair?
Once you decide to transition your hair, you’ll then have to determine whether you want to start fresh with a big chop or ease into it and let your existing processed locks grow out.
“The easiest way to transition is to cut what is not or has not been working,” says Matias. “For some, the transition is abrupt because it requires a significant amount of length being cut, while others may be able to simply reshape their current style.”
If the idea of a haircut makes you want to run for the hills, Matias says it’s totally doable to transition without making a drastic change.
“For some guests, the idea of chopping their hair is frightening, so get on a healthy hair cutting routine—at least four times a year or once a season,” he says. “For the guests that opt to keep length, the transition will require more time and effort with at-home care. I have introduced [in-salon] keratin smoothing treatments as a temporary solution for previously relaxed guests to help with the transition demarcation.”
How do you know if your hair is transitioning?
If, until now, your schedule has religiously revolved around your chemical appointments, it’ll be hard not to notice that your strands are in an adjustment phase. The most obvious indication of transitional hair is that pattern of your incoming growth will create contrast against the rest of your smoother, relaxed hair. Depending on your hair type, it may also feel different than the rest of your mane. Whether that be coarser or softer, you’ll have two completely different textures on one strand of hair.
Does transitioning hair break off?
Transitioning or not, the ends of the hair are the oldest part of its growth, so its ends are more fragile, brittle, and susceptible to breakage. This is especially true for processed hair. It’s important to keep up with your trim routine during the transitional period, even if you’re trying to grow out your hair. In addition, incorporating professional strengthening products into your at-home routine can help fortify your weakened ends and prevent excess breakage.
For hair impacted by chemical services, many stylists swear by adding a bond-repairing system into your wash rotation, like Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate line, to help build hair’s strength and resiliency. Made with all hair types and textures in mind, its alpha-hydroxy acid-infused intensive treatment, shampoo, conditioner, leave-in can significantly reduce hair breakage and split ends and leave hair up to 11 times smoother when used as a complete system.
6 Tips for Transitioning into Natural Hair
Care for your new growth.
According to Matias, the best thing you can do for a smoother transition into natural hair is to address hair concerns stemming from new growth rather than the ends that can’t be rehabilitated.
“Focusing on the health and manageability of your new growth will also help to develop better habits for the journey that awaits,” he adds.
If you haven’t already started skinifying your hair care routine with scalp products, now may be a good time to start! Apply a scalp serum like Kérastase Resistance Sérum Extentioniste Scalp & Hair Serum to create visibly stronger hair at the root or Kérastase Initialiste Advanced Scalp & Hair Serum to promote thicker, shinier hair.
Ease out of hot tools.
To ensure your transitional hair grows in as healthy as possible, you’ll need to resist the urge to straighten your locks if your hair has been trained and conditioned to smooth out easily.
“Each scenario is unique, but it’s wise to minimize the amount of heat applied to the hair on a daily or weekly basis,” says Matias. “As much time and energy you’ve spent relaxing, straightening, or smoothing your hair, the more time you’ll need to nurse your locks to natural and healthy. It’s one of the toughest pills to swallow, especially when our natural hair is completely foreign to us.”
The good news is that social media has provided us with endless ways to rock heatless curls, so consider taking one for a spin to play up your natural set of curls or coils.
Switch up your hairstyle.
As hard as it may be to put down your flat iron, now is a good time to change up your look and experiment with protective styles. Braids are often a go-to because they’re more gentle on delicate transitional hair than other styles like tight buns or slicked-back ponytails. Plus, unlike harsh heat, protective styles can help you maintain your length in the long run. When your new hair growth gets to a particularly awkward, outgrown stage, have some fun and experiment (the celebrity way!) with wigs to shake things up.
“You can also inquire at your salon about curly styling methods like twist-outs in which the hair is manipulated into a curl,” notes the texture expert. Check out our guide on protective styles for more inspiration—who knows; you may just find your new favorite look.
Over time, once your relaxed hair has grown out, look for hair care systems designed to play up the gorgeous pattern of your textured hair instead of attempting to smooth it away. We love the Curl Expression line by L’Oréal Professionnel, which features two masks, two conditioners, and four stylers that allow you to cocktail your most flattering curl recipe.
Professional stylists will do their best to keep your hair as healthy and strong as possible during coloring services, but it’s still wise to avoid them while transitioning.
“I would caution away from highlighting until a desired length has been achieved in a natural state,” says Matias. That’s because highlights usually require bleach, which can be inherently damaging to the structure of your strands and counterproductive to your natural hair health journey.
“I understand that not every natural transition means embracing the gray, so guests can opt for a single process retouch for a heavier gray regrowth or a gloss to blend sporadic grays,” he says.
Curly and coily hair needs an abundance of moisture to begin with, but that’s even more essential when they’ve been continually treated with relaxers or texturizers. Using a hair mask once or twice a week can help rejuvenate areas of processed hair while ensuring any new growth is nourished, soft, and supple.
“The Kérastase Curl Manifesto Masque Beurre Haute Nutrition is a staple for most of my curly, coily, and wavy guests,” says Matias. “Use it one to two times a week for added softness and definition.” Infused with ingredients like manuka honey and ceramide, this extra-rich powerhouse mask intensely nourishes and reinforces brittle ringlets to prevent breakage while making detangling a breeze.
For another mask that’s like a tall glass of water for parched transitional hair, pick up Biolage Professional’s Ultra Hydra Source Deep Treatment Pack. Its cupuaçu butter helps hair enjoy 72 hours of moisture retention—which means curls hold their shape, hair stays softer, and shine remains glossy longer.
Tip: Boost the effects of your masking moment by adding an element of low heat into your treatment. Think hooded or bonnet dryers, or a warm towel wrapped around your head. The heat will help your mask’s ingredients penetrate the hair’s cuticle even more deeply. Plus, who doesn’t love feeling like they’re at a spa?
Switch up your hair tool arsenal.
Think of your transitional hair voyage like a season change. Just like swapping out your clothes from winter to spring, you’ll need to switch up the tools you usually rely on to accommodate the changes in your hair. The fine-toothed comb you couldn’t live without may now get easily knotted in your hair (opt for wide-toothed instead), while the claw clips you bought in bulk may not be sturdy enough for your newly-coarser texture.
“If you are working with hair that can be manipulated, foam rollers can be a major life-saver,” says Matias. “And I recommend satin or silk hair ties rather than elastic to preserve the strength and integrity of the hair.”
Investing in a silk pillowcase is also a great idea because its smooth fabric allows hair to glide freely over its surface, limiting the friction that can contribute to damage and breakage.
The bottom line: Transitioning into natural hair will look different for everyone, but working towards your mane’s future health will set you up for success on your hair journey. When in doubt, consult a trusted expert to help guide you in creating a routine and maintenance schedule that works for you. You might love it so much that you’ll wonder why you didn’t embrace your roots sooner.
Searching for more natural hair care tips and products? Hair.com is stocked with everything you need to make your transitional hair journey a smooth one.