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Hair Care: My Top 5 First Year Growth Secrets!

1st Year Hair Photo

If you’ve been a long time reader of Good Enough Mother you probably know my hair story. But if you’re one of our new followers – and we’re so pleased to have you on board – you may not know my tale.

In a nutshell after a bout of asthmatic bronchitis in 2008 my chemically treated hair fell out and I made a decision to go completely natural. When I chopped off what was left of my sick, dry, relaxed hair over two years ago, I set out to discover as much as I could about my own natural hair. This was easier said than done because I didn’t even KNOW my own hair, having spent the last 3 decades beating the curl out of it with chemicals. And what the chemicals didn’t do the heat did! I was left with hair that was perpetually dry, terminally thin ends and many questions as what had happened and how I could make it better.

So I started chatting up everyone; friends, relatives, women in stores and airports, anyone who was natural, wherever I found them. I collected a wealth of information by perusing YouTube and stalking women’s Fotki pages. I joined no fewer than three hair care websites, where I stalked even more women’s photos.

Now, over two years later, I’m the one being asked the same questions I was asking. Not that I am an expert, far from it, but here’s my Top 5 lessons I learned that I hope can help you too. So here goes.

*FIND A REGIMEN THAT WORKS FOR YOU! This is the most important one. You may look at people pages/progress and think, “I’m going to do just what she did.” But just because it worked for her, does not mean it will for you. Get to know your own hair’s quirks and needs and then go with it.

*HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: I know when I first cut my hair, I thought about hair 24/7 because I wanted it to grow. Hair, ON AVERAGE, grows about ¼ to ½ and inch per month. It will grow more for some, less for others. Understand that; accept that and already this journey becomes much more fun and far less disappointing.

*LIMIT DIRECT HEAT/USE PROTECTIVE STYLING: I feel like these are the two things that my hair directly benefitted from the most. I stayed away from heat mainly because I did not want to risk permanent heat damage and not have my tresses curl the way nature intended. Also, it was all about length retention and thin dry ends don’t stay attached to the rest of the hair shaft for very long. Protective styling also kept my hair from being damaged by the elements. I usually wear it tied up or braided, unless I am going somewhere.

*USE A NON-SULFATE SHAMPOO OR NONE AT ALL! I know that sounds crazy but I haven’t used shampoo on my hair in over a year. Once I stopped, it’s almost as if my curls thanked me by instantly behaving better! See, sulfate, a common ingredient in shampoo is also the number two ingredient in dish soap. Its primary purpose is to remove oil. Curly hair needs those natural oils so to strip your hair (scalp and shaft) of them leaves it very dry. Remember, dry hair is brittle; brittle hair breaks. So I only “co-wash”; in other words, I use conditioner as I would shampoo as it has enough cleansing properties to get hair clean without stripping it of those oils.

*NO SINGLE GROWTH AID WORKED AS MUCH AS JUST GOOD HAIR CARE! This what I really want to stress. I see women using Monistat, MSM, Mega-Tek, Wild Gro all these things to “help grow hair”. I used them all too. Guess what? Remember the aforementioned ¼ to ½ inch? Even with all of these things, my hair didn’t deviate much from that. What I did notice is that my hair seemed to grow more in some months than others. Right after I BC’d it seemed my hair stayed around the same length for a couple of months. Then all of a sudden, it took off. Now, that was not because I was taking anything (other than a hair vitamin and I continue that today). I was just treating my hair like gold and it responded. Once it became accustomed to that new level of care, it sort of took off.

But what do you say? What hair lessons have you learned over the years? Start sharing everyone…




  1. Pam R

    May 1, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I’ve been natural for almost a year. I have to say that I have had my ups and downs. I have really thick hair and it is HELLA nappy. I can understand why some people make the personal choice to relax their hair. I am still learning how to take care of it and just do what fits me. I was one of those people who tried everything everyone was trying for there hair and ended up with so many products that didn’t give me the results that I was looking for. To be honest I was so frustrated with my hair I had twist put in so that I wouldn’t do anything too drastic.

    My only advice is do what is suitable for your hair. There are some things that may work that someone else has done to their hair, but just do what fits your need or overall goal.

    I hate it when people say that someone is fake because they see someone with a relaxer….it’s a personal choice. That’s what people need to realize.

  2. Angelique T.

    May 1, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Hey GEM!
    I was ABSOLUTELY excited when I saw your pix post BC.

    Here’s my hairstory:
    I did my BC in ’96; started locking the following year; landed in DFW in ’98. As you know, there have been only a handful or two of us “on the air” with naturals. (Two in DFW: me & Kristi.)

    14yrs later, I loosened my locs and found myself with hair dying of thirst. (For those who think you have to BC to get undo your locs, THINK AGAIN. I cut 10in of my super long locs–to where my hair seemed most healthy– and spent 34 days patiently picking and combing out 196 coils. I broke about 6 fine tooth combs in the process.)

    My kitchen cupboards & the faucet have provided almost everything my hair needed to be rehydrated. A combination of: Shea Butter, Olive Oil, Honey, Coconut Oil, Vegetable Glycerin, Jojoba Oil, Eggs and Avocados are my staples ALONG WITH co-washing 3xs a week AND a bun as my protective style. I can honestly say it took months to learn what I needed.

    I flat iron for job interviews & have gotten one DBO (Domincan Blow Out)…never EVER again.


  3. jwana

    May 2, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Going natural really is a personal journey for everyone. I am a self-proclaimed product junkie. I am in rehab right now. In the beginning if it “smelled good” and said “it would do something” I bought it. I went to the World Natural Hair Show in Altanta last year and nearly lost my mind and my money. Now here it is a year later and I have either given most of those products away or they are stashed in a plastic container somewhere.
    I am in protective style mode now because It is just easier for the summer and I don’t have to worry about manipulating my hair which will cause some breakage as well.
    So to all the natural ladies out there much love to you and for those of you who still choose to relax I love you all just the same as well!!!! We are all beautiful and there is a place for everone.

  4. Wendy

    May 2, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for sharing. I always love to see the chronicles of your hair Rene! btw…what hair vitamins do you recommend?

  5. Rene Syler

    May 2, 2011 at 10:23 am

    @Wendy: Hey thanks! Well, I use Aphogee but honestly, I ran out and haven’t been back to the store to buy them (I know, I know, why don’t I order them? Now that you mention it, I will be doing that today!) Lately I have been using just plain biotin from the Target which seems to be doing okay. I really need to go back to the Aphogee though. Checking online now 🙂

  6. Bari

    May 2, 2011 at 10:55 am

    I so wish I read this article two hours ago. I think the point of finding a regimen that works for you is key. I was swaping natural hair tips w/ a lady in the dr’s office and kind of made a negative comment about a high priced natural hair product. I know that everyones hair responds to products in their own way but I just was not thinking.
    I agree w/ your tips and follow most of them. I must say I have a hard time w/ protective styling and finding styles that look mature and professional for me. Youtube is a great place to find tips, tutorials, and a stong natural hair community.
    Stefanie Mills said it best when she sang “I never knew love like this before”. I really love my hair as well seeing all the other natural hair out there.

  7. Smarty P. Jones

    May 2, 2011 at 11:36 am

    All these tips are great, GEM and some of the things I would say, too.

    – Something else I’d suggest is to stop watching your hair hoping that it grows over night. It will, but you won’t notice. A watched pot never boils. Your first year of being natural will take a lot of patience. A lot of patience. You’re not alone.

    That brings me to my next tip:

    – Surround yourself with people who will support you. Whether it’s people you know or people you meet online, you will need to talk to people who are either going through it with you or who have been through it. You will need encouragement to continue on when you are on the verge of going back to the creamy crack and you WILL teeter on that line.

    Other than that, take Renee’s five tips with these two and gird your loins. You’ve just made a commitment to yourself. Sometimes those are the hardest to keep but the most rewarding. I tell people often, “I found myself in my hair.” You can, too!

  8. Rene Syler

    May 2, 2011 at 11:39 am

    @Smarty: Amen! Both of these are crucial. It seems like the moment I stopped wishing for length, my hair took off. And, seein’ as you were one of my first mentors, I totally subscribe tot he “find supportive people” . MUAH!

  9. Miko

    May 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I went natural after I moved to California from NYC because I couldn’t find a hairdresser to relax my hair properly. I got my last relaxer in 2007, but I didn’t BC until Nov. 2009. It’s an on-going struggle for me because I was raised in Texas by a grandmother who was born in 1911. When I first got braids, her statement to me was, “Why you run around looking like some ‘ol Affikan?”

    At this point, I’m finally loving what my 4b curls are doing. Everyday is a new adventure, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. What I’ll say is that a good cut is essential. I just got one a couple of weeks ago, and it’s made a world of difference. Not only is my hair more manageable, it has a shape.

    Thanks for sharing your journey, Rene!

  10. Jayne From Easy hair Care

    May 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Its really important that you find a product line and a regime which will suit your lifestyle and the goals for your hair care. For some of us it takes a long time to properly look after our hair with the products etc that we need to use, however most of the time this can be simplified. Staying natural is the best choice as it can stop so many other problems from arising

  11. Tiffany

    May 20, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Love re-reading your story. I’m about 2 months in after the BC. I’m curious about your routine once you wake up, especially when you had a TWA.

  12. Tashantia

    June 2, 2011 at 8:51 am

    I have been natural almost two years in the south. The problem I have is with older (guys mostly) generation. They don’t like the natural look. The older guys make comments like “when u get married, u will relax”…or “i like ur hair better when u have it twisted”. How can I address their comments without being disrespectful…if you know what i mean.? More importantly, how do i address anyone with derragotory comments about my hair without becoming the “Angry Black Woman?”

  13. Rene Syler

    June 2, 2011 at 9:00 am

    @Tashantia: This is very easy. Do YOU like your hair? If yes, keep it and tell them to move on. Life is too short to try and spend time pleasing others and compromising what you want. BTW, I’m married to an older guy and he loves my hair. They are out there. You just need to find one. In the meantime, be true to you. Good luck!

  14. Chrissy S

    June 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    My shameful story…(6) months ago I put a perm in my head I bought from a yard sale for $1.00..Do I need to say more! My below the shoulder length hair has fianlly stopped falling out. The insides are short and chopped and the ends are long and thin. I cut off the ends every 2 weeks or so. Won’t do a bc cause I want to wear a ponytail. My hair is naturally wavy and the new growth is awesome. I know I need to cut off all those dead permed ends but I can’t bring myself to it. I workout 3-5 times a week and wash my hair just as often since I sweat in my head a lot. I will only co-wash from now on. I really just want to let it go and chop but I’m terrified.

  15. Rene Syler

    June 3, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    @Chrissy S: I tell you what. I know how you feel. But you need to know, long hair only looks good when it’s healthy. If it’s long and straggly, well that ain’t no good. The one thing I have noticed is that my natural hair grows thicker and mUCH faster than when I processed my hair. I don’t know if that helps but it’s the truth. If I were you i’d get on YouTube for some inspiration. Good luck!

  16. sherrae

    June 24, 2011 at 1:24 am

    Being natural for over a decade, it can definitely be a challenge until you find the right routine. Another great article Rene!

  17. Devah

    July 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Hi everyone! I have been on my naturalistia journey from 18 months now. I must say that I have fallen in love with me again!

    I was forced into natural hair when I found out I was 5 months pregnant with my son. I faced ridicule from my boss at the time and was told several times that I needed to “put some heat to my kitchen.” I became extremely uncomfortable and self-conscious about my appearance. When I was relaxed, I based how I felt about myself by how good my hair looked that day.

    Now I base how I feel about myself on how I feel on the inside, my skills as a mother and my accomplishments as a strong woman! I feel so much more comfortable in my own skin! Freeing myself from mainstream expectations has been the best thing I ever could’ve done. I thank God for this chance to fall in love with the wonderful creature He created! I wouldn’t go back to the CREAMY CRACK for anything in this world!

  18. veronicamills1

    July 30, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I agree…the less fuss the more hair. I used to go natural for the summers only. Now I am fully natural and committed. I just can’t be bothered with going to the salon anymore. You can truly wash, oil and go. I can honestly say that not sitting in a beauty salon has made me a happier person. Just one question…where is everyone going to get their naturals cut? Beautician or barber? -_-

  19. SoCalGal

    August 4, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    What a great article! I’ve gone back and forth with my hair for what seems like forever. In fact, it has been forever. In high school, it was the Jheri Curl (I was stylin’!), after that, it was the freeze styles, numerous relaxers and dye jobs. I got my first weave in my early 30s, but it became a tangled mess (if you get a curly weave, USE HUMAN HAIR ONLY!), and I decided I was done.

    So I cut my hair to 2 inches, all natural beauty. That lasted a few years, then I let it grow out, but started texturizing because I have a very tight curl. Then came a couple of different weaves, one awesome, one not so much. But I kept coming back to short and natural, so easy to deal with. This time I just got bored and decided to let it grow out again, but with two-strand twists. Loved them except that they didn’t last very long. So I had twist extensions, then moved to individual braid extensions. However, training for a marathon in the summer heat of L.A. soon put the kibosh on that project and I went chop chop again. I’m currently rocking the short texturized do I love so much, but have recently decided to stop the chemicals (except for the color–not ready to go completely grey yet). I have stopped shampooing and use only conditioner and would like to see how long my own natural curls get. Should be fun and interesting.

  20. SoCalGal

    August 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Quick question about using natural oils for styling: I currently wet my hair each morning to rinse out the product (a leave-in conditioner I use daily) from the day before. Should I stop doing that altogether and only wet my hair when I co-wash it?

  21. Rene Syler

    August 8, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Hey SoCalGal: I would say it depends ultimately on the length of your hair. When my hair was short, I co washed just about everyday and I really needed to because I was “baggying” my hair; applying oils to the scalp and ends and sleeping with plastic bag on. I never had any adverse reaction to co washing everyday and since my hair was short, it dried pretty quickly. Now I do it about 2- 3 times a week. Good luck!

  22. SoCalGal

    August 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks for the response, Rene! When I cut my hair in 2009, it was actually a necessity because I’d damaged it beyond repair by putting hair color on too soon after texturizing it. So my beautiful full halo was reduced to patches of longer strands that you could see through as a result of the breakage (the braids were an attempt at protecting the hair, to no avail). If not for that disaster, my hair would be just where I want it. Since then I’ve just kept cutting it, but I’m ready for this new all natural adventure, this time with no texturizer. And the difference between your 2009, 2010 and 2011 hairstyles is awesome–congratulations!!

  23. ms_tomi

    August 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    I just had my BC two days ago and I still can’t believe it. I can’t wait for my hair to grow, I hope I enjoy the transition.

  24. Angela

    August 23, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    I have been natural for about 18 months. My hair has grown to shoulder length. I co-wash once a week and I only use heat when going on a job interview. I sometimes struggle with frizzy ends, however this is because I do not trim my hair as often as I should. Taking vitamins for hair, skin and nails is a plus. I also use coconut and olive oil for moisture.

  25. Millicent

    September 3, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Beloved Sister Rene, thanks so much for sharing Your hair experience. I really appreciate it! Now, I just need to find the correct products for my hair. I experience lots of shrinkage in the back and I’d like to alleviate that. Between Hair Rules, Ouidad, Carol’s Daughters and Ms. Jess Curly Pudding, I’m NOT sure where to begin…smile. Warm regard and thanks so much, Millicent A.

  26. Lashell

    November 7, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Hey, GEM! After thinking about it for a LONG time, I have decided to transition from relaxed to natural hair. I have long relaxed hair now and it’s healthy relaxed hair because I’d been using a sensitive scalp relaxer. But I would still base my scalp and use a pre-conditioner creme on my hair before the relaxer was applied to avoid scalp burning and overprocessing my hair. Some think I’m bonkers for making this move because they think my hair is pretty the way it is (the “white girl” hair look I guess). I did the big chop in 2002 when I was 22…I had a brushcut! It’s been growing like a weed since, but I am tired of doing relaxers. As of today, I have 2 months of new growth, but a bunch of healthy relaxed hair (if there is such a term). I am not going to do the big chop for a long, long time because I already did. I have thick hair and even with a relaxer, my hair holds water and can take heat, too. Takes forever to dry! I have been researching going natural just like you did…LOL! Any advice on to style my long hair, having to deal with two hair textures? I work in education, so I have to look professional…you know? But I want to continue looking polished as I am getting ready to embark on a career move. I want to “Gr8ceful-ly” make this transition with chopping off my hair for a long while. I rodded it last night and turned out great when I took the hair rods out this morning. Turned out great. Any suggestions for me on styling, products, and a regimen? I am new to this, but I am excited about this new change in my life; kind of liberating! Hahaha!!! Thanks, Ms Rene! 🙂

  27. Sue

    November 13, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    I’ve been natural for eighteen months. I’ve come to realize that this journey is more about self acceptance than anything else. I really love my hair; however, I am style challenged. I am sick of walking around with my hair in plaits or twists. I like wearing my hair out when my twist outs are successful but a short while later, I’m moisturizing and twisting again. My husband likes my hair out and so do I but I feel like my hair needs to be “protected” all the time. I really miss the freedom I had with relaxers.

  28. Ella

    November 16, 2011 at 5:53 am

    Rene! Co-washing rang so many bells! I am on my way to do it right now. It’s so funny. I’ve been on a search to find conditioners, and oils to make my hair oilier (spell check says that’s a word), and didn’t realize all the time the SHAMPOO was taking all my oil. And funny thing is my mom always said wash your hair a little bit first to “get the oil out” so you can get a good lather on the “repeat” part of shampooing. UGH. My hairdresser had a good handle on things, but I’ve been floundering since I took over. Yeah! New hair advice and it actually makes sense. Thanks.

  29. Hope

    December 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Hi all,
    Last year I decided to go natural, I went to the barber and made him cut off my relaxer with scissors. (I had stopped the relaxer 5 months prior) I loved it and after 6 months of natural I got a body wave curl. I have kept it curly for 8 months, now I am in the process of growing out the curl and this process is much better for me. I am able to press the new growth and now my hair is growing out quite nicely. Thanks for this great web site! I will be following and Renee best wishes to you, I enjoy seeing you on TV.

  30. kiyah

    December 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I went natural about a year ago and i started flat ironing my hair instead of wearing the natural look.. I have so many split ends it is crazy.. My hairdresser tells me it is ok everyone has split ends. I seem to have more than I did before Iwent natural. Is she crazy or am I crazy for continuing to pay her to help me to damage my hair.. What can I do I have started to give myself hot oil treaments every week. Is there any hope for me???

  31. Rene Syler

    December 27, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    @kiyah: STOP THE HEAT! While your hairdresser is right that everyone gets split ends, they should be fewer with less heat and manipulation. I used to trim my hair about every 6 weeks, now I do it every 3-4 months. Listen, it’s all in what you want to accomplish but that heat is a KILLER! Go to you tube, find some low manipulation styles from people who have similar hair texture then put the heat away from a while. I straighten my hair about once every 6 months and I use a roller set and a VERY light flat iron.

    Good luck!

  32. virginia b. smth

    June 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    hi rene

  33. Dee

    July 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Rene
    I was reading minding my own business reading Huffington and came across your article. I thought “what an inpiring story and… she is so beautiful and smart… and OMG look at that amazing hair! I’m fairly newly chopped (6 months). I don’t want to make this a hair story. We are soooo much more. But I wanted to let you know how brave you are; you INSPIRED me tremendously today. I’m so glad that I found your blog.

    Atl GA

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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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