Saturday, 18 January 2014

How to Soften Hard Natural Hair

I get a lot of messages from readers asking for help so I thought I would start answering the most frequently asked questions. This is a question that I am constantly asked and that comes up a lot on many groups and forums.

Q: "Hi, my hair is really hard and difficult to comb no matter how much oil I use.  How do I get it to be soft?'

Source: The Natural Haven

A: I grew up with so-called 'hard' hair so I personally feel a lot of pain when I hear that word used to describe hair. There are three main reasons why your hair would feel hard:

1. Your hair is dry


The most likely reason your hair feels hard is because it is dry. Natural hair needs moisture to retain it's elasticity, without which, it feels dry, looks dull and is prone to breakage.  To keep your hair feeling soft, looking glossy and growing quickly, you need to retain moisture in the hair strand. It is important to remember that oils and pure butters, no matter how wonderful, do not moisturise hair.  The key is in the word moisturise. To moisturise your hair, you need moisture. I.e. Water. BUT, it is not enough to simply apply it to your hair as it will quickly evaporate and you will be back to square one.  You need to help seal in the moisture by applying oil over it. 

How do I moisturise my hair?
Click here to learn how.

2. You are not conditioning enough
Conditioners are vital tool in any natural's arsenal and not using them often enough can leave your hair feeling dry and hard. So what exactly do conditioners do?
  • smooth down your hair cuticles (which prevent tangles and make hair look shiny), 
  • temporarily repair the hair shaft
  • reduce frizz 
  • soften hair. 
How often should I condition my hair?
Conditioning and/or co-washing
If you shampoo hair frequently, it is always important to follow a shampoo with a conditioner.  Alternatively, save the shampoo wash for once in a while and instead use a silicone-free conditioner to wash your hair. Shampoos, especially those with sulphates, strip hair of its natural oils, making it easier for moisture to evaporate. Natural hair needs all the moisture it can get so reducing your shampooing will help you retain moisture and keep your hair soft.

Deep Conditiong (DC)
Even if you co-wash regularly, it is important to deep condition regualrly too, both moisture and protein. Deep Conditioners differ from regular conditioners in that they have a stronger or higher concentration of ingredients that penetrate into the hair cortex, making them more nourishing . They generally require a slightly longer time to work to, 10-15 minutes in comparison to 3-5 minutes of your day-to-day conditioner. If you can't find any good, store-bought DCs, you can boost your boost your conditioner by adding penetrating oils and other ingredients to give it more oomph!  Click here for examples of my homemade DC recipe.

Using a leave-in conditioner
Leave-in conditioners are lighter than regular or deep conditioners and are designed to be left in the hair to  keep the conditioning properties working properly. Many naturals simply dilute their rinse-out conditioner and add oils and/or humectants to make them more effective.

3. You are using too much protein

If you are moisturing and conditioning regularly and your hair still feels hard, you need to examine how much protein you are putting in your hair. 

Protein is important; it helps reinforce your hair strands which keeps them strong and prevents breakage. Using too much protein, however, will make your hair hard and brittle. On the other hand, if you have fine hair, your hair actually NEEDS protein, and overmoisturising hair can, ironically, leave it feeling hard and dry. 

How do I know what products I am using have protein?
Look for the words:
- protein
- keratin
- collagen
- amino acids
-some (plant) extracts are protein based
- cholesterol
- mayonnaise
- in addition, common ingredients used by naturals in their hair that are protein based are: coconut milk, eggs,   yoghurt and mayonnaise. In general, these are not as effective as hydrolized proteins found in processed      products because of the size of the molecules but they are still good for a protein boost.

Click here to learn more about protein.

Balancing your hair's requirements will take time and practice.  Even when you think you have your hair regimen down pat, external factors such as weather, manipulation etc can change the need for one thing or another. Understanding your hair is something that comes with time and experience, but in the meantime, the general rule of thumb should be moisturise often, condition often, do a moisture treatment once a week and a protein treatment once a month. 


  1. Reminds me of those days when, if you had nice hair (read soft or long), the first question would automatically be 'unapakanga mafuta gani?' LOL

  2. Very helpful post. Thanks for the recipes and the tips! Have a great day! :)