I was 11 when I started relaxing my hair. My family had just moved to Houston, and knowing that the humidity levels would be outrageous, my mom thought relaxing my hair would make it easier to style. Like most black girls, I hated perm days. I sat there patiently, lying to the beautician when she'd ask if my scalp was burning, because I wanted my hair to be straight as possible. Not long after, the irritation and my lack of maintenance knowledge caused my hair to start falling out.
My mom and I wanted to stop, but after several hairstylists told her it'd get better, the cycle continued. Looking back on it, this led to years of some probably not-so-great hair experiments. I'd take a break to wear sew-ins, let my hair grow back, then get a haircut I hated and once again become reliant on weaves until my hair grew back. In college, I once even decided I was well equipped enough to start doing perms myself (inside my dorm room, might I add). Of course, that, too, went terribly wrong. My edges began coming out in clumps in the shower, and it became clear to me that I could no longer continue abusing my hair. It was time to go natural.
Being at Howard University—a historically black school—I was already surrounded by beautiful black women who were no strangers to embracing their natural hair. I began looking to them for advice on how to not only properly transition but also grow my hair back. The one suggestion that kept popping up? Jamaican Black Castor Oil—a product that's been a staple in black households for centuries thanks to its moisturizing and healing properties that help stimulate hair growth. It comes in a variety of brands, but everyone swore by Tropic Isle Living.
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As I resorted back to weaves to conceal my hair loss, I would drench my scalp in JBCO before having my hair braided for a sew-in. Disclaimer: It's not for the faint of heart. I don't even think the word "thick" is an adequate way to describe it. It's heavy (almost tar-like) and leaves your hair somewhat greasy. But desperate times called for desperate measures. Within weeks I began to notice my edges gradually growing back, and after every weave install, the "new growth" I saw was insane.
After two years of transitioning, I had finally gotten rid of my relaxed hair. But my mom and I couldn't stay away from our kitchen beautician ways, and in celebration of my now perfectly transitioned hair, I wanted to go lighter. So we dyed it during one of my breaks at home—two times in one week, to be exact. My finally healthy, curly hair had gone limp in certain parts, and once again I felt like I was at square one.
Since I couldn't wear it in its natural state anymore, I began trying different styles (like perm-rod sets, braid-outs, and the occasional silk-out) and testing new ways to integrate JBCO into those routines. After several greasy fails, I finally landed on my now go-to way to use it: as a pre-shampoo treatment. I apply a generous amount of the oil throughout my wet hair, massaging it into the scalp and the letting it sit for 30 minutes in a plastic hair cap. Although it serves as a pre-'poo, my hair absorbs the moisture of the JBCO more effectively when wet. I then shampoo my hair and condition as normal.
This once-a-week routine has served my hair well. In typical Blake fashion, I can never keep it one way for long, but the years of hair abuse have led me to a deep appreciation and love of my hair no matter what state it's in. Right now? I type this wearing a U-part wig with heavily saturated cornrows underneath. At least now I know they're protected.
Tropic Isle Living Jamaican Black Castor Oil, $15 for an 8-oz. bottle, amazon.com
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