It Wasn’t The Perm, It Was Me: How I Figured Out My Hair Was A Broken Hot Mess Because Of MY Actions–Or Lack Thereof

December 14, 2012  |  

Me circa 2006

Me and this hair of mine have been on a mighty bumpy ride over the years. As I’ve written about before, I’ve been on a loc journey for almost 10 months and the whole experience has been eye opening, frustrating at times, but definitely worth it. To see what my hair is capable of doing without me meddling in its growth is captivating to me, and after years of doing too much and too little to my hair, I’ve realized that locs are perfect for me. Why? Well, in these early stages, aside from retwisting a few fuzzy locs, when I get up in the morning, I don’t have to do much at all anymore. And that makes me happy, because I can be extremely lazy. And I think it was that laziness that was the downfall of my hair for all these years that it was struggling to grow past my shoulders.

I’ve been natural for almost two years now, and before then, I had put every form of chemical in my head that you could think of: regular relaxers, texturizers, permanent hair color, etc. Tell people that I was using that creamy crack like that these days and they’ll be sure to give me the boo boo face and point out all the negative things it allegedly did to my hair. And by all accounts, while shiny and straight, my hair was struggling. Hair at the nape of my neck was broken, my hair wouldn’t grow past a certain point (once again, my shoulders), it was often dry, and I was shedding like a dog just trying to figure out a hairstyle. But when I look back on the tiring experience of trying to keep a relaxer in my hair consistently and trying to keep my hair in tact after the fact, I honestly believe that the reason my hair was broke, busted and disgusted was because of my own lack of serious maintenance to it.

While having a discussion about hair with my coworkers just this morning, I reminisced about my many bad hair days and I noticed that the ongoing trend in each of my hair stories would be that I was doing too much or too little to my locks. Let me keep it real: After a week of rocking freshly relaxed hair, I would wear a ponytail damn near five days out of the week. The ponytail might have stopped at a different place (higher when I was trying to be cute, lower when I was just trying to get out the house on time, to the side when I was doing THE most), but it was strapped tight on my head and covered in half a tub of Pro Styl brown gel. If I was trying to do something different, I would wet my hair and then put gel on it to play like I had wavy locks. I would have those ponytails in so tight that they would leave a ferocious dent in my hair every night. And even though my mother consistently warned me that the continuous ponytail look would be the death of my hair, I had no time (in my opinion) to try anything more elaborate.

When I did try to jazz things up, I just made things worse. During my early years of high school I was single-handedly trying to bring the flip curl back, so every morning I was in the bathroom, curling iron on FLAME as far as temperature, curling the end of my hair, and throwing some bangs in the front. To top it all off (and break it all off too), I would spray some holding spray on my head and hit the streets. I had every kind of high powered curling iron, flat iron, crinkle iron and more, and every morning I could smell my hair burning as I rolled it around the barrel. Healthy head of hair? Anything but.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, not only were the relaxers I put in my head not done consistently, as in every six weeks (child please, I relaxed my hair three times a year, maybe four if I had some extra money), but I would often do nothing to protect my hair at night. When I wasn’t rolling around with my bare hair falling out on a cotton pillow, I was putting on a gel-stained cotton bandana that was doing just as much damage. I barely knew how to wrap my hair, and when I was feeling really lazy and didn’t want to figure out what direction I would wrap my hair in, I would just put a few rollers on it and hit the sack (of course they wouldn’t stay in).

As you can see people, when it came to my hair, I was living foul.

When I think back on all those years of gel, and spray, and heat, and deadly ponytails, I was doing more damage to my hair than any perm could really do. Half of the battle to healthy hair is maintenance, and mine consisted of Blue Magic and hoping for the best. I was doing length checks for hair I was half -a**ed taking care of, but expecting better and longer results. Honestly, the last time my relaxed hair was done and done well was by the hands of my mother waaay back when, and I can attest to the fact that when she was taking care of it for all those years before I got experimental and then bored, my hair was draping–and healthy. I cared so little about my hair as I grew up that it was no wonder I didn’t mind when I made the decision to cut it all off and start over.

I could sit here, and others can sit here and bash relaxers for days based on their personal experiences, but sometimes you have to be honest with yourself about the part you actually play in the damage that’s done to your head. It’s very possible to have long and luscious relaxed hair, but it takes more effort than walking out of the salon and hoping the layers and neat-ness of it all will stay in place for more than just a week. The beautician can’t do it all. And at the time, I wasn’t ready nor willing to put in the effort necessary. But after years of watching my hair struggle, I decided to stop hoping my hair would work itself out on its own and actually decided to do right by it. I’m a reformed hair slacker, and while my hair isn’t perfect, it’s in a MUCH better place than it used to be. *whips locs*

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  • JaneJane

    The reasons people go natural are usually personal. In my case, having a serious surgery and seeing what the meds did caused my natural journey but I must admit that I prefer hair color (another chemical) to perm so I went permless. My permed hair was always together, I just decided to try another course. Some naturals treat it like a club of the enlightened ones, which it is not!

  • Candacey Doris

    I have to agree with this, taking care of your hair is so necessary.. When i was in college my friends would ask me why i didn’t flat iron my roots everyday since working out would kill whatever i did to it before. My answer: Look at how your hair breaks and look at mine. My hair may not be down to my knees but it is respectable. Now that i’m transitioning it’s all protective styles.

  • DianaDT

    I am so appreciative of this article. I am tired of the discussion being about hair style, products, YouTube videos by a ton of non-professionals giving bad advice(I am fully aware some do pass on honest and good advice) when it all boils down to taking care of your body and your hair on your own!! No magical natural hair care product or instance chemical intervention!!!

  • IllyPhilly

    It looks perfectly fine now. I’m working on mines.

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  • rita

    Love this article. Relaxed or natural, the most important thing is to do right by your hair and listen to it. People go from bad habits when relaxed, to good habits and paying a lot of attention and doing tons of research when natural, then blame the previous state of their hair on the chemicals. Love your attitude and congrats on rocking your new style!

    • Black wifey

      You have to admit that the chemicals can and will do damage to the hair.
      The active agent is usually a strong alkali, although some formulations are based on ammonium thioglycolate instead. A solution containing ammonium thioglycolate contains a lot of free ammonia, which swells hair, rendering it permeable. The thioglycolic acid in the perm solution reduces the disulfide cystine bonds in the cortex of the hair. In a sense, the thioglycolate removes crosslinks. After washing, the hair is treated with a mild solution of hydrogen peroxide, which oxidizes the cysteines back to cystine.
      These new chemical bonds impart the structural rigidity necessary for a
      successful perm. The rigidification process is akin to the vulcanization
      of rubber, where commonly polysulfide linkages are used to crosslink
      the polymer chains. However, not as many disulfide bonds are reformed as
      there were before the permanent. As a result, the hair is weaker than
      before the permanent was applied and repeated applications over the same
      spot may eventually cause strand breakage.

      • You’re hair can be damaged natural also,stop trying to say that just because people wear perms that their hair is damaged. It depends on how you take care of your hair.

        • Um

          No one said you couldn’t have damaged hair as a natural but scientifically speaking relaxed hair IS DAMAGED….I loved my relaxed hair in all it’s glory but I knew what it was… I took care of it too but it was still chemically altered and not in a good way.

          • Girl bye!!!

          • hidaya

            Where is the article about healthy, shiny, bouncy, thick, relaxed hair? It exists. TRUST! Besides, everything is a chemical… The water u drink, the food u eat, the lotion u put on your skin. Natural hair nazis… Bye!

        • Black wifey

          I am well aware that natural hair can be damaged depending on how it is maintained. My point is the more you apply the relaxer to the hair, over time the hair will become more damaged.

  • Miss Anonymous

    Yes!!!! I wish I could blame being relaxed on why my hair was short during my teen years but I was also doing the most. Everyday flat ironing using a flatiron that my mom had been using for the past 10 years (hey hush! I didnt know any better!) for 5 days a week with the temp set on hades and wondering why it isnt growing. I had the same issue while natural but I was better I only hot combed once a week and deep conditioned too. Nowadays I just braid or bantu knot it while keeping it moisturized and I havent even flat ironed in 8 months.

  • xxdiscoxxheaven

    PREACH! Relaxed or natural you have to care for your hair!