Natural Star Power

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Switching from relaxed to natural doesn’t have to be fraught with breakage and bad-hair days. Here’s how to keep your hair healthy and stylish during the transition.


Making the Braid

Braids are a longtime favorite of ours because they give hair a rest from the rigors and damaging effects of styling. “With braids, you don’t have to fuss with your hair as it grows out,” says master braider Ellin LaVar of LaVar Hair Designs in New York City. The elegant and versatile updo LaVar created here can seamlessly go from work to play to a dressy affair. If you are considering braids, consult with a reputable braider; she will be able to assess the condition of your hair and suggest looks that complement your face, hair type and lifestyle. Hair is especially fragile during the transition phase from relaxed to natural. To prevent breakage, let your stylist know immediately if she is braiding your hair too tightly.


Carefree Curls

To keep hair from breaking off while growing out a relaxer, natural-hair-care expert Anu Prestonia of Khamit Kinks in New York City recommends wearing do’s that don’t require much combing, brushing and heat styling. The easy-to-wear curls above are a pretty example. “The style is loose and flexible and, depending on your lifestyle, can last from shampoo to shampoo,” Prestonia says. The hair was shampooed and conditioned, and then set on rod curlers. (Straws can also be used.) After the hair was dried for 45 minutes under a hooded dryer, the curlers were removed and hair was finger-combed to separate curls and eliminate parts. “This is a great style for those who prefer wearing their hair loose during the transitional process,” Prestonia says.


The Look of Locks

Soul Food actress Vanessa Williams got her stunning locks the traditional way: She grew them. But you can take a shortcut with lock extensions formed from human or synthetic hair. The hair is sectioned and braided about an inch from the scalp. Then extensions that match the color and texture of your hair are sewn onto the braids. Hair is groomed and styled in the same manner as natural locks. Within a month or so, depending on hair texture, the new growth will mesh with the extensions. It’s at this time that you should begin to have the roots palm-rolled. If permanent locks are not your goal, remove the extensions before they begin to mesh with your natural hair.


Salon Buzz

Artists Jill Scott, Sonia Sanchez, Les Nubians and Vivian Green keep their natural tresses on point with visits to Duafe Holistic Hair Care in Philadelphia, (215) 893-7890. Owner Syreeta Scott brings out the best in natural hair by offering superb styles and strand-pampering treatments.


What are your specialties? “All forms of natural-hair care, including braids, locks and weaves,” Scott says. “We aim to accommodate all hair textures.” Duafe’s intensive conditioning treatments, with nourishing herbs and other natural ingredients, are well worth the visit.


How did you achieve this look? After shampooing and conditioning, Scott created medium-size individual braids using Afro-textured extensions. She then cut the braids into layers, then roller-set and dried them under a hooded dryer. Afterward, Scott finger-styled the braids into this beautiful bob.


Prices: Locks, $65–$140; braids, $200 and up; nonbraided natural styles, $45 and up.