New growth = breakage?
Is the suggestion that transitioning your hair will equal breakage motivated by true concern for your hair, or more by the potential loss of a client who could be counted on to come in for touchups like clockwork?
The answer to that will vary by the stylist. Perhaps the more useful question is will transitioning break my hair?
The short answer is no; it doesn't have to. The reason why it very often does happen can often be traced to two main reasons; lack of knowledge on the part of the transitioner on how to care for their hair and poor support by haircare professionals.
The portrayal of transitioning hair as inevitably and inherently prone to breakage does unfortunately create a self-fulfilling prophecy for many women.
Often, their own perception of – and thus approach to – their hair can be easily overwhelmed by what they hear from ill-informed stylists, friends and family.
In turn, this is compounded by misinformation in the traditional haircare media, only just beginning to catch up with the natural movement, which has concentrated most of its knowledge base online, rather than in more conventional sources of information (salons, books and magazines) , though that is changing.
Still, every myth has a grain of truth to it. The misconception behind this supposedly inevitable snapping off seems to stem from one fact in particular. It is definitely true that a lot of women do experience breakage exactly at the line of demarcation – the point where the natural and relaxed hair meet. Conventionally, this has been attributed to the hair at the demarcation point being intrinsically weaker than the rest of the hair, due to the clash of textures. However, guess where the weakest point of relaxed hair is? That's right – it's the ends. Just like other hair types, the ends of relaxed hair are the oldest and thus have been subjected to the most wear and tear, and in this case, the most chemicals.
Why transitioning hair can break. . .
So why is it that hair typically snaps off right at that point of demarcation? The answer is more a matter of haircare than an inescapable characteristic of the hair itself.
It starts with a mistaken assumption that the newly emerging curly hair is more resistant and rebellious and thus requires tons of force to comb. This leads many transitioners to exert way too much force when combing their hair.
The result: the stronger, non-chemicalised roots can withstand the pressure but the already weakened relaxed hair cannot. The point at which the two textures meet is the first and only part of the chemically-treated hair to be exposed to that level of force. The force applied tends to lessen as the comb gets closer to the ends, as the transitioner typically sees the relaxed hair as more compliant.
This is why it is the hair at the point of demarcation that breaks – it is not inherently weaker than the rest of the relaxed hair, it's just the bit that takes the brunt of the excessive force which transitioners apply at the root of their hair. This vulnerability lies in how it is treated, not in some inherent tendency to self-destruct, as popularised by many a doomsayer.
Taking the long road. . .
Many women transition for years until they feel ready to cut off their relaxed ends. The upside of this is they are able to slowly familiarise themselves with the care required by the emerging natural hair. As well as insulating themselves from the shock of a double change – shorter hair and a whole new texture, all at once – a change they may not be ready for.
What allows these women to grow their transitioning hair so long is how they build up their skill to competently handle two different textures on the same strand. It takes some plate-spinning capabilities to cater for the two types of hair at once, but it is a masterable skill.
Some elements of that skill? For one, you have to be prepared to wash your hair differently, taking care to avoid the varying types of tangles that tend to occur in each type of hair. Combing must also be done gently; while virgin hair is more resilient than the chemically-treated hair further down the strand, it still needs to be combed in a way that reduces friction and tension. Doing so will in turn shield the more delicate relaxed portion of the hair.
Your transitioning hair will also need more attention in terms of conditioning, favouring rich deep conditioners that provide added smoothing and slip, which can simultaneously provide the level of conditioning the curly roots require without overwhelming the relaxed sections. If you choose to heatstyle during your transition, you also need to be mindful of how much heat to apply to the different sections.
So, it is certainly a myth that transitioning hair is doomed to break off. With the right care, and, specifically by building your knowledge of the divergent needs of each hair type, you can indeed successfully transition without worrying that your relaxed tresses will suddenly snap off all at once.
DHA Hair Care Experts