So what is my hair's natural state?
To get a picture of how your hair, really, really looks in its most natural form, you need to go completely au naturel. It's not enough just to have relaxer and colour-free hair. You also need to have hair that is relatively undamaged, completely free of all product and other residue – and all traces of manipulation.
Essentially, you need to de-program your hair, and take it back to default – a state in which most hair spends very little time indeed. Here's how:
Start by detangling your hair, then shampoo it, loose, with no sections, no stretching, no braiding. It's imperative that you disturb the curl pattern as little as possible. Massage the shampoo into the scalp and squeeze its lather gently through the hair. Make sure you use a clarifying shampoo, which does not deposit anything onto the surface of your hair.
Skip the conditioner, too, for the very same reason – you don't want anything added to your hair. Rinse thoroughly, trying to touch your hair as little as possible – allow the water to do most of the work.
Then, just allow your hair to drip dry. As it's exposed to the elements, this won't take as long as it otherwise would; there are no layers of conditioners, leave ins and stylers to trap the moisture.
Just put a towel around your neck to catch the drippies and see how your strands react. Most likely, once your hair is dry, you will see a curlier (as in tighter pattern – not necessarily more definition), shorter head of hair.
This is your hair in its most untouched, natural state. So when you see your hair shrinking, it's not actually getting any shorter than the length it naturally is – it is simply returning to its natural shape.
Conversely, if your styling methods tend to include a lot of curl enhancement techniques like scrunching, alongside products designed to keep your hair tighter than it would be otherwise, then expect to see looser, wavier hair. These products and styling methods take advantage of the "beta" state your hair enters when wet; more malleable and also more inclined to curl. Fixative ingredients in curl-enhancing products then lock the hair in this position.
Given the conventional ideas of curly hair as something that must be subdued and constrained, be prepared for your own reaction to allowing your tresses to do their thing. Seeing your hair this loose and free can sometimes trigger a wave of panic, prompting you to "control" it right away.
Oftentimes, however, these attempts at control take the hair far beyond its natural limits. When done without relent (as would be expected if these measures are part of your regular routine), hair care methods that strongly constrain your hair can damage it.
In contrast, accepting your level of shrinkage – whether it is a lot or a little bit – also allows you to work with it, enhancing versatility in the length and styles you can create. Understanding the conditions under which your hair is most inclined to shrink into its natural comfort zone can help you encourage it when this is what you want – and also avoid it when you want something else.
Realising that, eventually, your hair is gonna return to what it knows and loves best, you can have a lot of fun with the other things it can do.
Checking in on your naked hair once in a while also pulls back the covers from any hidden damage or other problems affecting your hair that layers of conditioners, leave ins and stylers might conceal.
For instance, if your hair is extremely tangled without stylers, that might signal there is some damage to your cuticle that you need to attend to. Straight sections could indicate heat damage or damage from other manipulation. And extreme dryness could indicate your hair needs to be moisture trained. Left too long, all of these issues can cause compounding damage to your hair.
Luckily, all of these issues can be improved or fixed completely by taking the steps to moisture train your hair - but you might never know you need it until you've had a good look at your naked hair in all it's shrunken glory.
Helen Adilia Arceyut Frixione
DHA Hair Care Experts