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Happy Two-Year Nappiversary To Me!

Two years ago today, I did something drastic and knowing what I do now, I wished I had done it much sooner.

In November of 2008 I was hospitalized with asthmatic bronchitis. After being pumped full of medication for three days (and missing the opportunity to vote in a historic election) I got out and, as had been my habit, went right to the beauty shop for a touch-up on my relaxer (for those who don’t know, I was one of the many African American women who used chemicals to straighten her naturally curly hair). I guess the chemicals counteracted badly to the medication that was swirling around in my system and a week later, my hair began falling out by the handful. After the initial panic came some soul searching, wondering why, for so long, I had been beating the life out of my hair. But the true turning point came when Casey asked if she could straighten her beautiful locks. I realized how futile it was for me to tell her to appreciate and care for her hair when I wasn’t doing the same for mine. Then and there I decided to go natural.

I spent countless hours on YouTube, you know why? Because I was a 46-year-old woman with no CLUE about how to care for her own hair. I learned so much there and was so inspired by the women sharing their story in pictures. Today, I am one of them.



Not a single day goes by where someone doesn’t pass me on the street and compliment me on my hair. And everyone has a question. So I’m going to leave you with my top five tips for growing natural hair.

*BE PATIENT! Hair grows on average ½ an inch per month. Taking a ton of vitamins or rubbing Monistat on your scalp won’t help it grow significantly faster (yes I did both of those).

*NO SULFATES! Sulfate is in most shampoos and is the number two ingredient listed in dishwashing soap. Known as a curl killer, its primary goal is to remove oil and it leaves curly hair dry and frizzy. I gave up shampoo altogether about a year ago, instead using ONLY conditioner to co-wash. My curls thank me everyday.

*NO DIRECT HEAT: You know what this is! No directional blow-drying, no flat irons, no hot rollers. If you want a straight style, do a good old-fashioned roller set and sit under the dryer. You will get better at them I promise.

*USE NATURAL OILS: I have been around the horn on this but love Olive, Coconut, Meadow foam Seed and Jamaican Black Castor oils to name a few. When I first BC’d my hair was very dry so I would apply those oils and then a shower cap and sleep all night in a technique called baggying.

*PROTECT YOUR HAIR: This means eat right and exercise, as change will come from within. But the real trick is length retention. Dry hair is hair that breaks. If you are sleeping on a cotton pillow case, steadily rubbing those curls against it as you run from the bandits in your dreams, well, you’re gonna wake up with a head full of dry, broken hair. Do not be too lazy to cover your curls with a satin bonnet or sleep on a silk pillowcase.

That’s about it. As for me, the time went pretty fast. Can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

Happy, healthy hair growing everyone!


  1. america

    March 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

    If you arent using shampoo what are you using. I have a 1/2 inch in the back of perm to go and 1 1/2 on the top and all the perm will be gone from my hair. woohoo. You are rocking the natural look and I love it.

  2. Auntie Lisa

    March 2, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Your hair looks amazing! I finally found a sulfate-free shampoo I like by Organix (cherry blossom and ginseng). Even though I don’t have extreme curls, my waves are already becoming more distinct and shapely after only a couple weeks.

    Any certain conditioner you use for the co-wash? I tried that once but maybe I chose something too rich for my hair, because it felt heavy and oily… and not clean.

  3. Kolleen

    March 2, 2011 at 10:27 am

    I so love the natural look. I can’t wait for the GEM sequel book with the “new you” on the cover!

  4. Sarena

    March 2, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Having finally seen you “hair” in person, I can truthfully say that it (and you) are beautiful!

    Thank you for sharing your behind the hair story, (photos included), as nothing about it now looks like it had ever fallen out!

    Isn’t life just funny that way: The very thing you lost has come back in such natural beauty and now you are known around the globe for your amazing hair!

    Absolutely, I’d buy your hair book!

  5. Smarty P. Jones

    March 2, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Wow, GEM, has it been that long? Funny thing is I remember those pics and it all seems like eons ago. It looks great on you. IDK if you can see it, but it’s like your confidence grew from month to month and you found the fountain of youth. You looked younger and younger. It looks great on you! Goooo, GEM!

  6. Rene Syler

    March 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    @America: Congrats to you! I only use conditioner to cleanse my hair. Conditioner has enough cleansing properties to clean your hair. People think you need suds and foam (which are a brought about by SULFATES!). You can clean your hair with a low-poo or no-poo (conditioner). I use CHEAP VO5 CONDITIONER (not the shampoo) and cleanse my hair. 99 cents at the store and when it’s on sale 69 cents! You do not have to spend a lot of money!

  7. Rene Syler

    March 2, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    @Lisa that’s great! Isn’t it interesting how your hair/waves/curls respond when the products that make it dry and fuzzy are removed? It only took a couple of weeks for me too for my curls to start behaving better once I got rid of the sulfates.With regard to the conditioner I use, I like Devachan but I think you have to order that online. They specialize in curly hair. But you know what else I like and it’s cheap? Aussie Moist conditioner that you can buy anywhere. I don’t like to spend a lot on my conditioners because it takes a lot to cleanse this hair, LOL

  8. Rene Syler

    March 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Me too Kolleen! Thanks honey!

  9. Rene Syler

    March 2, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    @ Sarena: LOL, thanks honey! You made me cry when you said ” The very thing you lost has come back in such natural beauty and now you are known around the globe for your amazing hair!” It’s literally breath-taking that such a wonderful thing could be borne of such horror. I’m so glad I stuck it out 🙂

  10. Rene Syler

    March 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    @Tiffany: I would have to say you are right! Wasn’t it you who, a while back, said I was like Sampson, gaining strength from my hair? I don’t know about strength but without a doubt, confidence. I think the hair was a metaphor for my life. In losing the job/hair and launching GEM/going natural, my external self became completely aligned with who I was inside. I think what you see is the inner glow busting out. I could be wrong tho :). BTW, thank you for all your help in those early days!

  11. indieblogher

    March 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I started my natural journey 8 years ago on Feb. 22, 2003. Nothing drastic happened, I was just tired of being what I call, “At war with my hair.” I’ve never looked back or regretted the choice. I wanted my daughter who was 16 at the time to take the journey with me. But of course being a teenager, she wasn’t about to go along with what her mother wanted. We both have beautiful hair either way, but wouldn’t you know it as of now she is also “going” natural in her own way, in her own time. As she says, I’m just letting my hair be MY hair!” And with that I know she is my daughter.

  12. Auntie Lisa

    March 2, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    I like the Aussie products, too. I’ve been using the 3-Minute Miracle for deep-conditioning for a long time. Hubby tried it and now that’s all he’ll use. Have to give the Moist a try…

  13. thawriter (delmetria millener)

    March 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    First, Nappy B(earth) Day to your hair Rene! I celebrate my 3-year nappiversary this month also!

    You’ve made it clear you love cleansing your hair with conditioners, but just in case you want to try a shampoo and support a local business, master braider, Rayshunda “Ms. Ray” Holt, owner of Deep In the Roots Natural Hair Care Salon in Lancaster and Ft. Worth, Texas, makes and sells Black Soap Shampoo. All natural. All day. You’ll love it!

  14. Ginger Banks

    March 2, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    just went back natural it has been about two months. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  15. Rene Syler

    March 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    @thawriter: I’ll check her out when I go to see my mom next time 🙂 Thanks for the well-wishes and the heads up and congrats to you on your journey!

  16. Auntie Lisa

    March 2, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    BTW, if you don’t mind my asking… what was the Monistat on the scalp supposed to accomplish? Never heard of that one.

  17. Keisa Sharpe

    March 2, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    You are beautiful with your natural hair. I had an opportunity to meet you several years ago, so I know you are just as beautiful inside as out. I know the horror of a chemical relaxer going wrong. My journey too started in ’09 after a chemical relaxer remnants were left on my scalp for a week — I sustained a chemical burn at the crown of my head and had to wear wigs for a year! I don’t think the timing is an accident…too many women are going natural.
    Happy Trails and Rock on Rene!

  18. Theresa Spann

    March 3, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Your hair is lovely! The shape, texture, and form all point to the fact that it is super healthy! It’s amazing what our hair will do when we detox. I have been natural for about 2 years and I study magazines and blogs for tips and ideas. None of them have been as helpful as your article. I now understand why my hair is at a complete halt in the growing process. I still color my own hair (out of the box), and I do blowdry once a week. Serena James is my friend and she knows my plight. We discuss grooming tips for our little ladies concerning their natural curls. I want to thank you for sharing. Rock steady baby!

  19. Hope

    March 6, 2011 at 6:04 am

    Thanks for the information; learned something new & now I am motivated to do something different. One question I have is how do you handle people’s reaction to your new style? I guess one thing that has keep me for embracing my natural hair 110% is maintaining a sense of professionalism when dealing with people at different levels (if that makes sense). I’ll wear a wig to an interview or when working events with high-end (VIP) guests attending

  20. Rene Syler

    March 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Hey Hope: glad you I was able to help. You ask how I handle people’s reactions to my new style? Well I guess I never gave it much thought. I don’t really care what their reaction is to my new style, it’s about me and what I’m comfortable with. So I don’t give it a second thought. I think we need to take a closer look at what defines professionalism. I’m always curious as to where this concept came from that natural hair was not professional and only something to be worn for fun or on the weekends. If I were you I would look on YouTube or do a web search on corporate hairstyling for natural hair and see what you come up with. In the meantime, don’t worry about what people think of you and your hair. Health and happiness is ALWAYS a great look! Best to you..

  21. Julia

    March 8, 2011 at 7:48 am


    I would love to know how you style your hair and what styling products you use. Thanks and your hair is gorgeous darling.

  22. De

    March 21, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    you know i think the world of you. i wish you many more years of nappiness!! with all my LOVE!! xoxo

  23. shawn

    March 29, 2011 at 7:07 am

    GEM…dyk my 3 yo daughter, who has beautiful hair that is wonderfully curly & natural asked me to straighten her hair the other day when we were at a store & passed the hair care aisle lined wboxes of perm?! I may have “scared” her…but my response was: 1. No; & w. When she is older i will have her hair naturally straightened. I wear a natural but only after years of HARSH chemical abuse & braiding so there is some damage that is irrepairable. Unfortunately I learned too l8. I am 34 and will say that I have been perming my hair – which was naturally fine to start with – since I was probably 12. And its these boxes of chemicals w-happy gorgeous black women on them & ads that can interfere w-my daughters healthy self image. Fortunately – or not – these same companies are now entering the natural hair care market AND woefully distracting from the authentic hair healthy products bc they now realize they are losing market share. I hope that our dedication to natural chemical free hair maintenance will continue thru generations otherwise we will never overcome todays image of black beauty which is now as antiquated as that of that of “aunt jemima”.

  24. Rene Syler

    March 29, 2011 at 7:13 am

    @Shawn: I echo so much of what you say here. I actually am happy to see some of the larger hair care companies embrace natural hair. For them it may be about the bottom line, for those of us who are natural, it’s a way of life. If they can make products that are beneficial and not horribly expensive, I’m all for it. Thanks for weighing in!

  25. Christina

    March 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I was so happy to see this! I am the mother of a biracial teenage girl with very curly hair. When she was younger I was swayed by her desire to straighten her hair and so she began processing her hair from a pretty young age. We’d spend hours chemically treating and then heat processing it until the curls were gone. (It was literally torture for us both)

    Then, when she was in middle school, I finally convinced her to “Embrace her curls” (funny I used those exact words) and she’s never turned back. Her hair is so beautiful, she gets complimented on it all the time, it is so pretty and looks perfect on her. I hope she never considers straightening her hair again.

    Thank you for being a roll model for her and for your advice, I’ve sent her a link to this site. I hope you two can continue to show other women just how pretty natural hair can be and hopefully they’ll embrace their curls too!

  26. June

    April 7, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Rene, I had permed my hair for so many years I’d forgotten what my natural hair was like. It took my mom to open my eyes. I asked her where’d my brother get all those curls from? Her response, you’d have curls too if you didn’t perm your hair. But I kept perming anyway. Then menopause started up and when I turned 40 I’d had it with perming, dying, blowdrying, curling, the whole nine yards. Sure enough, when I cut the perm out, there were curls!!! That was 14 years ago and I haven’t looked back. As I started to really gray I found that I prefer my hair cut closer to my scalp, so no more curls, but I got some waving going on. LOL! The only other reason I won’t let it grow completely out is because I’m so tender headed and I’m just so used to the very low maintenance. But I’m know longer held hostage by my hair. No worries about rain, fog wearing a hat, swimming, sweating and I’m loving it! Your hair is gorgeous by the way!

  27. Ana Claudia

    May 13, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks !!!!!!!!!!!!!! you bring me the motivation I need. I am Brazilian and here in Brazil is not common women with natural hair, which both have very difficult to find products compatible with my new standard, since most products are for relaxed hair, but do a lot of research in foreign sites, where I find many tips legal, is only hard because I never think reports of people with a type of hair like mine that is super kinky. I was even happier when you mentioned your age because I thought I was too old (I’m 33 years old) to begin to be felt natural and that he would never have a beautiful hair, but I see that was wrong, I must be patient, because after all I only have six months of natural hair. Thank you, you helped me a lot.

  28. PassPorter Mom Sara

    May 16, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Crazy white girl curls here! I use the CVS brand of sulfate free shampoo and conditioner but only shampoo 2 or 3 times per week. The first time I met Rene, the first thing she said was, “You must not use sulfates right? Those are sulfate free curls!” LOL!

  29. Rene Syler

    May 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

    @PassPorter Mom Sara: that’s right, we bonded over curls! LOL Yeah your hair is the BOMB , beautifully hydrated curls.. can’t get that with sulfates 🙂

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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