Making Waves: Black Girls Can Swim Too!

Kazan_2015_-_Simone_Manuel copy

Olympic Gold Medalist Simone Manuel (By Chan-Fan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

As I’m sure we all can agree, this year’s Olympics in Rio will be a session of the Games that we won’t soon forget! In case you missed it, Simone Manuel made history by becoming the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in an individual event. In doing so, she shattered an age-old belief that Black people- and Black women in particular- don’t swim.  This belief had some validity to it because, for a long time, the notion of #SwimmingwhileBlack was constrained by a number of factors, such as segregated pools, socio-economic status, fear, and of course, hair.

Thanks to the phenomenon of “turning back” or reversion, water was once known as the arch-enemy of kinky-, coily-haired folks (and it still is for some).  A splash of H2O could turn the sleekest press-out back into an afro, and at the very least, crinkle even the finest perm, so many Black girls and women would avoid the pool like the plague.

Although wearing your hair naturally does away with those problems, the chlorine in pool water still presents a threat: chlorinated water can wreak havoc on textured heads because it strips precious oils from our already-prone-to-being-dry hair. As a result, Black hair and the swimming pool have not always been on the best of terms.

After my 1st swimming lesson

My Dad and me in Jamaica after my 1st swimming “lesson”

Though I grew up around Black people who swam (e.g. my parents, aunts, uncles),  it took me a long time to learn how to swim because I was terrified of water.  During my first trip to Jamaica when I was four, my Dad tried to teach me how to swim the same way he learned: by throwing me into the sea.  Sadly, I was not as fast of a learner as he was; I started sinking, and then I panicked, which only led to me inhaling and swallowing a lot of salty sea water.  Needless to say, I left the beach that day traumatized…with a newfound fear…and no desire to learn how to swim.

Luckily for me, I was forced to learn because my middle school had a pool. Eventually, I grew to love swimming, but I hated having to deal with my hair afterward, even though I was a natural teen.   For me, I wasn’t concerned about my hair turning back, but I still had to contend with getting the chlorine out, which meant frequent washing- with shampoos that weren’t made for my hair (i.e. UltraSwimTM)- and constant detangling.  As a result, my hair suffered and I experienced a lot of breakage back in those days.

Fun at the lake

My sister, cousins and me having fun at a lake in Northern Ontario- all armed with our swim caps

Now, as an adult, I really enjoy swimming, and my husband and I often go for a dip at the gym as a full body workout.  I would be lying to you, though, if I said that my hair is no longer a consideration at all.  Sadly, it still is.  If I know I won’t have enough time to invest in proper post-swim maintenance, I just won’t go; but this is something that I’m really working to overcome because I don’t like the idea of feeling trapped because of my hair. (However, I also don’t like the idea of it all breaking off either!)

Black girls can swim too!

Although Black hair may require some extra attention before diving in, it doesn’t mean you have to give up your dreams of becoming an Olympic swimming champion (or simply your aspirations of becoming a regular at your local pool) just yet.  As Simone Manuel has shown the world, It is possible for Black girls to swim- and with a full head of hair too!

Here are some tips for protecting your hair while swimming:

Before your swim:

  • Saturate your hair with coconut oil or leave-in conditioner before diving in– it will serve as protective barrier between your hair and the water
  • If you don’t have coconut oil or conditioner available, at the very least, drench your hair in the shower to minimize the amount of chlorinated water your hair will absorb once you’re in the pool
  • Plait your hair into 2 or more braids to prevent it from getting tangled
  • If you’re not concerned about making a fashion statement, wear a swim cap

After your swim:

  • Wash your hair with a sulfate-free chelating (formulated to remove mineral deposits) shampoo to help cleanse the chlorine from your hair
  • Deep-condition your hair to restore it to its normal moisture levels
  • Moisturize, detangle, and style your hair as normal

For the past couple of years, I have been using these methods whenever I go swimming, and so far, my hair has been faring pretty well.  So, if you have the desire to become the next Simone Manuel, please don’t let your hair get in the way.  Pull it back, slap on a cap, get in the water, and start making some waves– it’s no secret that there are enough obstacles out there, trying to keep us from achieving our dreams- so let’s not make our hair one of them!

Sources: The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, Saja Publishing, 2011

How do you take care of your hair when you go swimming?


Rehydrated, and it feels so good!

20160103_175408It’s been a week now since I completed the Earthtones Naturals’ 7 Day Rehydration Challenge, and I’m pleased to report that my super-hard-dry-breaking hair is now rehydrated, and it feels so good! (For more on my dry hair ordeal, click here) It’s soft and supple again, and almost back to its original state (Thanks, Susan!)

OGX Argan Oil of MoroccoMy regimen began with a pretty involved wash day (well, “pretty involved” for a lazy natural like me, lol), which consisted of:

  1. Pre-pooing my hair with coconut oil, putting on a plastic cap, and then sitting under my hooded dryer for 30 mins (since I couldn’t find my heated cap);
  2. Washing and conditioning my hair with OGX Argan Oil of Morocco Shampoo and Conditioner, (the natural-hair-friendly shampoo/conditioner that I’ve been using lately);

    Curl Condition Deep Conditioner


  3. Deep conditioning with Earthtones Naturals’ Curl Condition Intensive Hydrating Deep Treatment, covering my hair again with a plastic cap, and then sitting under my hooded dryer for 30 mins;
  4. Rinsing out the deep conditioner;
  5. Moisturizing my hair with Earthtones Naturals’ Curl Quench Hair Butter;


    Curl Quench Moisturizer

  6. Detangling sections of my hair and plaiting them;
  7. Putting on a plastic cap again, covering it with my satin headscarf, and then heading to bed.


For the rest of the week, my regimen consisted of undoing my plaits in the morning, and then braiding my hair into two big French braids (my go-to protective style when I’m pressed for time).  At night, I would undo my French braids, spray sections of my hair with a mixture of water and glycerin (4 parts water + 1 part glycerin); plait those sections; put on my plastic cap; tie my headscarf over it; and off to bed I’d go.

In the morning, my hair would be moist and supple from having slept with the plastic cap on- and it managed to stay moisturized for the remainder of the day.

20160103_175208After the 7 days, my hair felt pretty much back to normal.  Mind you, I was still (and still am) experiencing some breakage, but definitely not to the same degree as I was in 2015.  My curl definition is back (during my bout of chronic dryness, no matter what I did, my hair would not keep its definition- my twist-outs/braid-outs would almost immediately frizz-out, and then get matted out of nowhere and turn into fairy-knot central).  And it has not felt this soft in months

If only I had known last year what I know now, I would have saved myself a lot of frustration and anguish (I even shed a few tears one day because I just didn’t know what to do!) Nevertheless, in retrospect, I can say I’m glad that I made those regimen mistakes in 2015 because my problems forced me to do research to try to fix them, which in turn taught me things I didn’t know before about my hair.  For instance, I discovered that I have low porosity hair, which requires some extra attention to keep it satisfied.


I now know that these are a few of my Type-4-low-porosity-hair’s favourite things:

  1. Hydration– my hair needs a lot of water and moisturizer!
  2. Heat– low porosity hair needs heat to help lift the cuticles and let moisture in; so my heated cap is my new best friend!
  3. Deep conditioner– the only time I used to deep condition my hair in the past was if I was experiencing serious breakage; now, I will be incorporating deep conditioning into my regular routine as a preventive measure, rather than a remedial one!

If your hair is suffering from severe dehydration like mine was, take the 7 Day Rehydration Challenge; and if you do, please don’t forget to let me know how it worked on your hair.

For more information on Earthtones Naturals products, visit

What are your secrets for keeping your hair hydrated and happy?

Lessons from 2015: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

20151127_163824As 2015 comes to a close, I’ve been taking the time to reflect on the things that went well, not so well, and overall, the many lessons that I’ve learned this year.  When it comes to my hair, specifically, though, I would say the biggest lesson I learned this year was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”:

As you already know, I love being natural: I love the uniqueness of my hair; how big and fluffy it is; and its gravity-defying properties.  But what you may not know is that I’m a pretty lazy natural.  I mean, I wash and condition my hair regularly; get it trimmed when the ends get bad;  but compared to the extensive healthy hair regimens that I’ve heard that many other naturals undergo on a daily basis, I can’t say that I’ve ever been one to actually “take care” of my hair.

Prior to this year, my old haphazard regimen (if I could even call it that) consisted of using primarily Creme of Nature products, namely, washing and conditioning my hair with Creme of Nature Ultra Moisturizing Shampoo and their Professional Moisture Extreme Conditioner, respectively.

For styling, I would spray my hair with water and then moisturize it with Creme of Nature Argan Oil Moisturizer and shea butter before (a) setting it in two-strand twists for my twist-outs; OR (b) having my sister cornrow it for me (if I got lucky), OR (c) single-braid it with extension hair (if I really got lucky); OR (d) before I would slick on some Creme of Nature Argan Oil Gloss and Shine Polisher and give myself a blow-out.

However, after reading The Science of Black Hair by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy and then attending The Natural Hair Congress  earlier this year- and being enlightened on a number of things I’ve been doing wrong-  I decided that for the remainder of the year, I was going to make a concerted effort to take care of my hair, to optimize its health and to see whether I could maximize my length retention.

So I taking advantage of a sale at Target, while in the States, I bought myself some Cantu (sulfate-, paraben-, silicone- free) shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, and styling creme; as well as some Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Kids Extra-Moisturizing Detangler Spray; and started on my pathway to my new healthy hair regimen!

Shortly thereafter, my Mom and brother had started using coconut oil, and having heard about its miracle-working properties from numerous sources, I decided to start using it too.

I was so excited about finally treating my hair right…until it started to get hard…but I thought it was just my texture reacting to my not using products with sulfates, parabens, silicones, and all- other-things-that-are-bad-for-Black-hair, anymore.

But then it started to break…I mean, really break.  I would gently touch my hair with my finger tips, and pieces would just come off in my hands; and when I would detangle it with my Tangle Teezer or manipulate it in any way, flurries of little curly-cues would end up covering my floors (which I’m sure my husband was thrilled about).  My hair would be everywhere!

I started freaking out, and immediately stopped using the Cantu products and the Shea Moisture spray.  But it was still hard and still breaking.

I tried going back to my old chemical-filled shampoos and conditioners.  Still hard, still breaking.

Then one day, out of frustration, I Googled “natural hair dry brittle breaking”, and the first hit was an article talking about coconut oil and brittle natural hair.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 5.49.51 PM

The whole time during this ordeal with my hard-and-breaking hair, I was still using coconut oil (along with my favourite product of all, shea butter).

Coconut oil?! How could it be? I thought.  Coconut oil was supposed to be the oil of all oils and every naturalista’s saviour, right?!  Well, for my hair, it definitely wasn’t!

So, I stopped using both.  But my hair has been a mess, ever since! And I still wasn’t sure what exactly it was that had messed it up.

Recently, a friend of mine shared this article on Facebook:

It was then that I realized that it was not just the coconut oil, but rather my combination of coconut oil AND shea butter that had “sealed” my fate, leaving my hair hard, dry, brittle, and filled with fairy knots!

I was this close to cutting it all off, but before doing so, I decided to speak to Dr. Susan Walker of Earthtones Naturals two weeks ago to see if she could help me fix it.  She told me that I had been using coconut oil in the wrong way- that it cannot be used to “seal” your hair and that I should have been using it as a pre-poo treatment instead- so it was no wonder that my hair was super-dry.  (And here I was thinking that you could just use coconut oil for everything- WRONG!)

It also turned out that Susan had just put together a 7-Day Rehydration Challenge for her subscribers (check it out here: 7 Day Rehydration Protocol); and for the past week, that’s what I’ve been doing: trying to re-hydrate my hair.

So far, it’s been working- my hair feels much more supple than it has in months.

Having learned this important lesson in 2015, in 2016, I will:

  • Pay attention to what my hair is telling me– if something is not working for my hair, I will STOP!
  • Do what is right for my own hair– everyone’s hair is different
  • Try new products or methods incrementally– I won’t try a whole bunch of new things all at once
  • Be diligent about taking care of my hair properly

What, if any, are the lessons you learned about your hair in 2015? What will you do differently in 2016?