Don’t call it a comeback. Going natural is hardly a new phenomenon, but over the past year, we’ve been seeing more women undergo the big chop (aka cutting off most if not all of their length) in an attempt to embrace their natural texture. Just ask Keke Palmer or Tamar Braxton, who both cut their hair in order to grow it back much healthier. But beyond kissing chemical treatments goodbye, part of the challenge of the drastic change is navigating your new texture while feeling confident about your style choices.
To help, we rounded up the best natural hair experts, women who Kerry Washington and Yara Shahidi have on speed dial. Keep scrolling to learn more about choosing the right cut, finding the right products, and everything else you need to know before you make the big chop.
Find Your Fit
Step one (and the most important) is finding a stylist who knows how to work with your texture and understands your hair goals. DevaCurl and DevaChan Salon Academy education manager Cal Ellis is a major proponent of choosing a dry cut when your hair is in its natural, curly state. “The reason you want to look for someone who cuts dry is because when you pull the hair straight, you’re not taking the various curl patterns into account,” he explains. “You can have multiple curl patterns on one head of hair so if it is cut while straight or wet, when it dries naturally the hair will spring up and the cut will look uneven.”
Take Baby Steps
Despite its name, “the big chop” doesn’t have to be super drastic — make it gradual if you need to. “If you want to chop your hair but still have that in-between length, you should always start off by cutting very little at a time,” advises hairstylist Takisha Sturdivant-Drew, whose clients include Kerry Washington and Gabrielle Union.
“Layers would be the key. I would say start with longer layers on top and at the center and then frame your face with longer layers all around. That way it’s chopped, but you get to keep the length in the back and along the sides.”
If you actually don’t want to go super short, you can “fake” it by creating bangs (yes, even if you have curls). “Chopping some long bangs is always fun because it will give you the illusion of the big chop, but in reality it isn’t. However, it’s still a nice change that someone would notice.”
Choose A Muse
When you’re choosing a style, you want to think about your face shape, the silhouette of the cut, and how your hair actually grows. “If you are a low-maintenance person, then having your hair in a short, tapered cut will feel liberating and relatively easy while still being stylish,” explains hairstylist Cynthia Alvarez. “There is no right or wrong cut in this situation because (hopefully) you’re most likely more interested in the health of your hair. I always suggest starting a mood board of all the short cuts you love and the textures that closely resemble yours to work through the process of elimination.”
But remember to be realistic about what you can actually achieve with your God-given texture. “Depending on the hair — certain textures will grow north to south, while others may grow east to west. You may want a cut that enhances or balances this out,” adds Ellis.
Hydrate Like It’s Going Out of Style
Yes, you can still get damage even if you have short hair. “Caring for your hair while short is very important. Keep hair hydrated with a moisturizing conditioner such as Creme of Nature Pure Honey Moisturizing Dry Defense Conditioner or Carol’s Daughter Green Supreme Vitalizing Conditioner,” says hairstylist Tym Wallace.
For a DIY fix, he suggests incorporating coconut and jojoba oils into your leave-in serums or conditioners. “I also recommend using products that enhance your curl pattern and control frizz, especially in the summer,” he adds.
Get Trims Frequently
It sounds high maintenance, but hear us out. A monthly or bimonthly cut can help minimize that super awkward stage. “Make sure you get a haircut every week or two weeks to keep your hair clean and fresh,” confirms Sturdivant-Drew. “If you don’t, short hair tends to grow out of the style very fast.
Not convinced? “You really want to avoid getting a mullet (unless that’s what you are going for). It’s a cute style, but most people dislike it. It’s what happens when the shape changes so drastically in certain areas. [Regular cuts] avoid this.”
Reconsider How You Approach Wash Day
Most naturals will advise you to avoid products that will dehydrate the hair — i.e., products containing silicones and sulfates. “Start with your cleansers and conditioners and choose ones that offer the appropriate amount of moisture for your texture,” recommends Ellis.
“If your hair is curly and you want a mid-moisture level, choose a formula like DevaCurl’s No-Poo and One Condition Original. If your hair is super curly, it’s going to need more intense hydration, so we’d recommend something like No-Poo and One Condition Decadence that deeply hydrates (thanks to chufa milk) and avoids detergent, ”
Another thing to avoid is using traditional terry-cloth towels on the hair, as the fibers can be rough on the cuticle and cause frizz. “Instead, look for an option that has softer fibers that won’t disturb the hair as much — a microfiber towel, like the DevaTowel is a great option,” he adds.
Lean Into The L.O.C. Method
Beyond finding the right products, you’ll have to find a good curly cocktail to truly enhance your texture. Alvarez who works with Shakira, Dascha Polanco, Anika Noni Rose, among others, is a huge fan of the popular L.O.C. method. She explains why it works so well:
“When your hair is short, your natural texture really gets a chance to shine. It’s also a good time to figure out which products will work best with your hair,” she says. “The L.O.C. (Liquid Leave-In, Oil, Cream) method is a good way to seal moisture into your hair and prevent dryness,” she explains. “The ideology behind the L.O.C. method is that layering your products will lock in moisture and create a barrier to protect your curls from drying out.” She recommends detangling with your fingers — not a comb — for the best results.
Press Pause on Hair Color (And Heat)
As tempting as it might be to play around with your new texture, hold off. “The top things to avoid are excessive heat and color as they compromise the curl pattern while it’s growing out,” explains Wallace who works with Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, Zendaya, and Skai Jackson.
“The goal is to have healthy hair as it grows.” If you can’t help but experiment, check out some of this expert insight about how to safely navigate going blonde for natural hair.
Don’t Get Discouraged
Sadly, every day (regardless of hair texture) won’t be an amazing hair day, but consider it part of the process. “It’s hair. It will grow back — it’s not the end of the world,” Wallace explains.
“Go for it. I tell women this all the time, especially black women. It will grow so much better and faster when it’s in its natural state. And if you don’t like the growing-out process, that’s what you have wigs for. Invest in a good one.”
Add An Accessory
Curls need an extra boost? Switch it up with a little pizazz. “You can slightly pin your hair back with a gold barrette or a fun head wrap,” explains Alvarez. “This is also the perfect opportunity to play around with the shape of your hair. Opting for a tapered cut around the sides is always a fun style to experiment with.”
More natural hair tips:
- How Kansas City’s Braid Heaven Perfected the “Bubble Braid” Technique for Natural Hair
- 13 Dope Ways to Style Your Baby Hair
- 27 Amazing Hair-Care Products for Natural Kinks, Curls, and Coils
Now, watch Monét X Change’s drag transformation tutorial: