Woman with gorgeous afro

It happened so gradually, I didn’t even notice all the hair on my bathroom floor… By Janine Van Throo

My natural hair journey began in 2003. It started when I accidentally stumbled upon some old pictures of myself where my hair was healthy and full. Over the years I had been chemically treating my hair every 3 months. My hair had become thinner and thinner. It did not occur to me as strange – I was used to my hair shedding and being everywhere, but I never realised what that actually meant. After seeing the old pictures and how healthy and full my hair was back then, I decided that I wanted my natural hair back.

I started to search for products to ‘make my hair thick again’, only to find out that this is not possible (at least not the way the products on the market try to make us believe). I started experimenting with natural things like oils, clays, herbs. There was not much information on natural afro hair back then – not in Europe. I searched for education on the subject, only to find out that this was missing as well. I began talking to hairdressing schools, encouraging them to include natural afro hair in their curriculum but they did not see the value of this either.

Self help…

Finding the right products was a real challenge. Over the years many products came on the market. Some of them worked, some did not and lots of them dried out my hair. While I was experiencing my own journey, I had the privilege to share it with others as well – this helped me tremendously.

‘There are many myths surrounding natural and natural afro hair and I am very happy to see that they are getting debunked.’

My journey overall was challenging, but it was also very educational. I discovered that there were many myths surrounding natural afro hair. Two of the biggest are:

Afro hair does not / cannot grow long‘ – There are many examples of this being untrue. I believe that this all comes down to a lack of education on how to treat natural hair.

Afro hair / natural hair does not look professional‘ – I am glad to see that this one is actually loosing ground fast!

As women with natural hair, our self image as well as how other people look at us has changed tremendously over the years. I am thrilled to see that in the USA there are already two states that have banned discrimination on the basis of natural hair. We still have a long way to go, but we are getting there.

‘Lots of woman are embracing their own coily curl pattern and working with what they have got.’ 

I do think that a lot of woman aspire to a looser curl pattern, some have the idea that a looser curl is easier to work with. However, I am very glad to see that lots of woman are embracing their own coily curl pattern, working with what they have got. It is perfectly ok to experiment with your hair and see what you can accomplish with it. If you want a looser curl pattern and it can be reached with simple techniques, why not? The advantage is that you can do a lot with natural and natural afro hair.

Advice for naturals

Know your products and ingredients

There are many products on the market. Knowing the ingredients that your hair needs will make it possible for you to make good decisions about the products you buy. For instance, a lot of natural people dread silicones in products. However, if you are on a beach holiday and you are swimming in salt water on a daily basis, it might actually be good to consider products containing silicones – this will protect your hair from drying out. The trick is to then know how to treat your hair once you are ‘back to normal’.

If your hair lacks moisture and is breaking, your best bet would be to look for products that contain humectants that draw the moisture into your hair. To seal this moisture in, a cationic component such as BTMS would work well for you. Oils will also work to seal the hair, but they are not always ‘heavy’ enough to do the job.

Prevention is better than cure

Heat damage or any other damage is basically not ‘treatable’. Prevention is the key here. Using ingredients in products that coat the hair and make the hair stronger, such as certain proteins and conditioners will help. So when using heat, make sure you use a heat protection product. If you already have damaged hair, there are certain products which will temporarily repair the damage.  A more permanent solution to damaged hair would be to simply cut it off.

From the inside out

You can’t expect to have healthy, strong hair if you do not give your body the building blocks to make healthy, strong hair. Hair growth is something that is regulated by your body from the inside. When supplementing, I would suggest to use a product where multiple ingredients are combined. Vitamins and minerals complement each other. They need each other to do their job properly. You can’t always see on the outside what your body is missing on the inside. For instance, when someone suffers from hair loss, taking Vitamin B pills might or might not work, depending on what is lacking in your body. But if it is iron that you are lacking, iron needs Vitamin C to actually do it’s job. This is why I would recommend to use a complete multi vitamin product and not just one vitamin.

Using probiotics is another way of making your hair look thicker. The increase of healthy bacteria in our gut when we use pro-biotics allows our intestines to then take up more nutrients. This results in more nutrients going to our hair follicles. Hair thickness as in ‘ more hair’ is something that comes from the inside. However, if you are born with a certain number of follicles, there is nothing you can do to increase that number ( you can not grow an extra ear by using castor oil). Some products kickstart dormant follicles. This can be wrongly seen as if it is ‘making the hair thicker’.

Take care of what you have

For increased hair length you need to focus on retention. This means using products and techniques that keep the hair from breaking. Regularly conditioning the hair and using hairstyles that limit breakage work well for hair length.

In short, just remember these three things:

  •  Use a probiotic to balance out your gut
  • Use products and techniques that help with keeping the length in your hair
  • Supplement

Janine Van Throo, founder of Just Natural Consulting and Sisay Cosmetics, is an award winning author, international speaker, natural hair therapist and product formulator. With over 15 years of experience, Janine’s NISH hair care philosophy and certification programme specialises in afro and curly hair education; she trains hair therapists globally on how to cater for natural hair. She also produces natural and organic hair and skin care products.