I’m holding my hands up here and confessing that back in the day I barely ever washed my afro. It just didn’t feel necessary. All the effort it entailed - the combing; washing; conditioning; mad detangling; not to mention the challenge of choosing the right products to apply afterwards. It was a chore that I could honestly delay doing for months. My hair is what is officially described as kinky coily, which in real-world-speak is the ‘afro-est’ of the afros - so for most of my adolescence I basically ignored the condition of my hair.
The change came when I began to exercise regularly. You see, I love working out - sweating through all the pores on my scalp feels good, a bit like I’m having an internal cleanse. But I don’t want to spend an hour working out, then two hours tending to my hair. So for a long time, instead of caring for my hair after working out I would just apply too many oils, which actually made my hair feel dry and heavy at the same time. Then I would braid it and forget about it. Most of the time I wouldn’t even bother washing it after a workout session. I just didn’t need the hassle.
Fast forward to today, and like many other black women who like to workout, I’ve had to relearn how to take care of my afro.
Here’s what works for me now:
Use a co-wash (which is a conditioning-wash) - there are loads on the market these days and I don’t even have a favourite - as long as it smells good, doesn’t foam and doesn’t cost the earth, I’ll use it. Every couple of days a co-wash helps wash the sweat off my scalp, unlike shampoos that were so destructive and literally killing my afro - stripping it of all it’s amazing natural oils (Yes oil is amazing - despite what European hair products tell us).
Find something antibacterial and rehydrating that nourishes your hair and scalp after every workout. Sweat makes your hair dry and I needed something to combat dryness between my co-washes to reduce brittleness. 00.3 DFY CURL REFRESH is packed with honey, grapefruit and lavender extract all antimicrobial, plus aloe vera to naturally heal and protect my hair before it turns into a sweaty clumpy mess, keeping it soft and manageable between washes.
Condition BEFORE shampooing. I always thought I had to use shampoo before conditioning. I stopped doing that, and honestly that was the single biggest change that helped my afro. Yep it's crazy, why would I have a deep conditioning oil treatment before I shampoo and not afterwards?! But I swear it works wonders for my afro. I discovered that the best treatments are with oils that penetrate the hair shaft. For me that was castor oil. It feels heavy on my hair, which is why I use it as a treatment. The night before wash day, I apply it to my hair, wrap it up in a shower cap then keep it covered whilst I work out. The sweating actually helps with the treatment.
Finally, I never forget to keep a wash day. I have mine once a month - the last Sunday of every month always works for me. It‘s a proper wash day too, with a good conditioning shampoo not a co-wash.
Honestly, it’s hard finding ways to keep your hair healthy when mainstream media doesn't cater for your type of hair, and all the images you see are of European hair types with a quick wash and go mentality. But thanks to social media - YouTube particularly, I've discovered how to keep my afro hair healthy whilst working out three times a week. I have a much better relationship with my afro and it doesn’t need to be a huge chore, at least it isn’t if you have a system. Which I do have, finally.