"I have to be honest with you—I hate the phrase 'big chop,'" Jasmine "Jazzee” Santiago, a New York City-based hairstylist and texture expert, tells me over the phone. "I know it's the phrase that everyone uses, but it sounds so aggressive and intimidating, when all it really is is a healthy haircut, and talking about it from that perspective helps calm things down a bit."
Over the years, Santiago has helped dozens of clients go natural, whether they're transitioning out of relaxers or saying goodbye to heat- and chemical-damaged ends. And while some women turn to experts like Santiago to do their 'big chop,' others (especially now with new COVID-19 salon restrictions) are taking matters into their own hands. That's why I got Santiago to walk through everything you need to know before DIYing your big chop, including the smartest way to prep your hair and the best tools for getting an even cut.
Does the big chop really work?
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Well, that depends on what you're hoping to get out of it. "The main goal with the big chop is to have healthy hair in the end," says Santiago. "Some women are interested in length, others want their hair to look springy and shiny with more elasticity, but no matter your goals, you also just want it to look and feel healthy." Still, the decision to go natural is 100 percent personal, and there's really no right or wrong way to get there.
Does hair grow faster after the big chop?
It's not so much that your hair grows faster after a big haircut—your hair is dead and a haircut isn't going to affect your internal workings—it's that your ends are now much healthier, which means they won't break off or split as quickly. But to maintain that health, you've also gotta be smart about your heat-tool usage.
"A lot of people look at coily or kinky hair and they think it's a resilient, tougher texture—but it's actually the opposite," says Santiago. "It's super fragile, so you have to really protect it before putting heat it on it or you can create damage quickly." Though there's no way to fully prevent damage as long as you're heat-styling, you can help mitigate breakage by investing in things like deep conditioners and hair steamers, since the more hydrated your hair is, the less heat you'll need to style it."Heat damage usually happens when hair is so dry that you need excessive heat to straighten it," Anthony Dickey, hairstylist and founder of Hair Rules, has told Cosmo. These deep-conditioning treatments are a good place to start:
How do you do the big chop?
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Doing a DIY big chop might seem pretty intuitive—and for the most part, it is—but Santiago has a few tips that make it way easier (like, you know, not using your kitchen scissors). Here's what she suggests:
⇝Step 1: Wash your hair
First things first: Kick things off by washing your hair with a gentle, sulfate-free cleanser or co-wash. "A cream cleanser that doesn't have any lather at all is going to keep your hair super soft, so you can see your natural texture come out a little bit more," she explains. Pro tip: Just because a shampoo is sulfate-free, it doesn't mean it won't lather (which, BTW, can end up drying out your hair), so choose your formula wisely. If you don't already have a favorite formula, I highly recommend these cleansing conditioners to start with:
⇝Step 2: Load up on conditioner
Next up? Jump out of the shower and slather on a thick, ultra-moisturizing conditioner—it's going to serve as a roadmap for exactly where you'll cut your hair. "Really smooth the conditioner through your wet hair from root to tip, and you'll be able to see definitively where your curls are against where those straighter, damaged pieces are," says Santiago. Here comes the important part: Once you've saturated your hair and found your line, don't rinse! Just move on to step three. Oh, and these conditioners are, like, crazy hydrating:
⇝Step 3: Chop
Now comes the moment of truth: While your hair is wet and fully conditioned, you can go in for the chop. Just know that a pair of regular-ass scissors won't really ~cut it~ here—Santiago suggests instead buying a pair of hair-cutting shears to help you get a smooth, even finish. DW, you don't need to splurge on something fancy, just something sharp and basic will do the trick.
How you cut your hair is totally up to you (there's a tutorial below, though, if you're freaked), but if you're starting with a longer length, Santiago says you might want to work in sections (alligator clips will be your best friend here).
⇝Step 4: Rinse and leave-in
"Right after rinsing out your conditioner, I suggest smoothing a leave-in conditioner through your hair and styling with a gel or cream," says Santiago. "The leave-in is going to help keep your hair soft, and the styling product is going to hold your curl so it doesn't get frizzy." One thing to keep in mind: Santiago says you may not be happy with the shape of your hair after you've chopped it, so it's always a good idea to book an appointment with someone who can help you style it (more on that in a bit). BTW, if you need a good leave-in conditioner rec, these four do. not. disappoint:
The easiest tutorial for doing the big chop at home:
And since visuals are super helpful when you're giving yourself a DIY haircut, consider watching a tutorial (like the one above) before you get started. It'll help you map out your plan a bit so you're not stressing in the heat of the moment.
So, what do you do after the big chop?
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Here's the thing: Even if you do the big chop at home, Santiago still suggests your next step be finding a hairstylist who can help you (A) shape your haircut and (B) find the right products for your texture. "I have a lot of clients who have been relaxing their hair since they were children, so they've never dealt with their natural hair type as adult women—it's really new for them, and you really do take care of your natural hair completely different than your relaxed hair," she says.
"Just taking pieces of hair and cutting them straight off is probably going to leave you with a kinda funny-looking shape, so you might want to find someone who can give you haircare advice and a nice shape," Santiago adds. At the end of the day, "you want to feel good in your new hair while you're transitioning," she says, and that journey is going to look and feel a bit different for everyone.
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