Saturday, February 18, 2012

Damaged Areas: "Should I big chop or nurse back to health?"

I've been asked this question several times from those who've reached out to me. This scenario is near and dear to my heart because I have found myself in a crossroads where I've had to make decisions on whether to cut my damaged sections and start all over or go the opposite route and try to somehow nurse my hair back to health.

I want to first start off by saying there is no wrong answer to this question. To some, cutting the hair and starting over seems like the most logical of the two options. And I would agree with this approach to some extent. There have many big and small chops throughout my hair journey. There were also times when I opted to take another route and forced myself to work though the situation by nursing my hair back to health. Which is my preferred method? "I'll take nursing back my hair to health for 200 Alex!"

Yes, my preference whenever I have a damaged section is to choose option 2 and I'll tell you why. Long ago, I would big chop (or a stylist would do it for me) and guess what, sometime later I would find myself with the same signs of damage creeping back up again. This happened because I hadn't addressed the root cause issue creating the damage. It's like putting a bandage on a wound without first stitching up the gaping hole which is the source of the bleeding. When I decided that I would no longer use a major trim as a way out, I caused me to become more thoughtful about what I was doing (or wasn't doing) to my hair.

For instance, once upon a time, my right side was thick and healthy from root to tip, meanwhile, my left side was thin and weak to the touch. Turns out that on wash days I treated the right side of my hair like royalty and the left side like a red-headed step child. Basically, my hands would get tired by the time I reached the left side after spending all the time and effort applying conditioner in teeny sections on my right side. Another thing I realized was that I would play with the left side of my hair as I drove home from work. All this extra manipulation, along with the lack of care on wash days, were essentially the root cause of the damage. I addressed this situation by starting the conditioner application on my left hand side first. Fast forward several months and now this side appears to thrive even more than my right. If I simply cut my healthy side to accommodate the weak areas, I wouldn't have learned from the situation. Now I balance things out by rotating which side I start with first.

Since adopting the "nurse it back to health" philosophy, I've been able to address damage areas in my nape and crown. Now, whenever a section of my hair starts actin' up, I treat it like a crying child who is trying to communicate the only way it can. Simply cutting off the hair without addressing the concerns is like putting a pacifier in the baby's mouth without trying to figure out if she's hungry, thirsty, needs a diaper change, or whatever. What is your hair trying to tell you?

I'm not saying that a big (or mini) chop isn't the right thing to do. In fact, in some cases, it's probably the best to "stop the bleeding." But I wouldn't place all of my faith in a big chop as the "end all be all" to resolve the issue that created the areas of damage in the first place.

So if you are in a place where you are considering your options here are some tips that I think may help:

  • If the damage is widespread and affects most of your hair, a big/mini chop is the best solution. But this option is a temporary one if your regimen still doesn't address the root cause.
  • If the damage is concentrated in certain areas, consider the option of nursing back to health ONLY after you've spent some quality time assessing what contributed to the damage and what you can do to address it.
  • Try to think of at least three factors that may have contributed to damage. In case your first answer doesn't lead to the root cause.
  • If you are concerned about aesthetics (meaning you don't want to walk around with one side of you hair looking healthy and the other looking a chewed up mess) consider wearing protective styles while you nurse.
  • If you choose to nurse, pay VERY close attention the results of your actions to make sure you are making progress. Don't choose the option to nurse your hair if you won't make certain that you are adjusting your actions for the better. Failure to do so can lead to even more damage.
  • If after choosing to nurse your hair, you see the situation is becoming worse, proceed to cut then start over with healthy hair practices and observe your actions going forward to make sure they aren't contributing to the damage reappearing in the future.
  • A major trim(to address damage) is not the same thing as a regular trim (for maintenance and aesthetics). You should still schedule in maintenance trims even if you chose to "nurse it back to health".
Hope this post was helpful to those of you in a place where you feel like you have to make a big cut but you don't want to. Trust me, this isn't the only option you have. As long as you are willing to put in a little bit of work, you may be able to avoid the major trim after all.

  1. as always, you're so on point with your posts. i was just debating this very question.

    i recently damaged two sections of my hair by slacking on my approach to protective styling (switching from buns to french rolls to lessen hair stress). and which 2 areas were damaged? exactly where i placed my topknot & low bun (was switching btw those styles). so i'm re-implementing the low stress, protective styles that helped me achieve APL & am already seeing results!

    thanks again for your insightful posts. the timing is definitely uncanny.

  2. I like this post it reminded me to take better care of my hair. Recently I have decided to not use my straightener for several months kind of a new years resolution but a few weeks late. So I have been wearing my hair in a bun constantly and this reminded me that I need to vary my hair styles because wearing it the same way with a pony tail can damage it as well. Also I have decided to go the route of not cutting my hair. My hair is very damaged from heat I never protected my hair and never put moister back into it.I am biracial and have kind of leaned towards treating my hair like a white girl but that is not how I need to take care of it. I really don't want to do a big chop so I am trying very hard to nurse my hair back to health. It is looking fabulous after a month but I still have breakage. But I am not sure what to do but I really want to see how my hair will do in three months from now then I think I will do a cut.

  3. Arrgh! I should have read this post earlier because I just did a major chop a couple days ago. I also have thinner hair on the left side of my head; I always assumed it was due entirely to circulation problems (which may still be true) but your hypothesis makes sense in my case as well. Anyway, it's a great blog you have here and I won't make the mistake of not keeping up to date with your posts again!

  4. I enjoy reading your post. Although....I decided to cut my hair and start all over. One, it was time for change and two, to address some damaged areas. I feel my hair is alot healthier because of the cut and I addressed the root problem. As you suggested, in either direction you go, make sure you address the root problem. At times, I miss my long hair... but I can always grow it back! No matter what, always practice healthy hair care maintenance.

  5. I completely agree with you! I was natural for three years then Dec 2011 I got my hair relaxed, it was a nice length but needed and got a trim because my hair is thick & coarse and while natural, I didnt realize the importance of moisturizing hence leaving my hair dry and with extreme split ends. I know my hair still needs something due to my hair still having breakage...I'm rambling on but just wanted to say you posted good tips about see where the root of the issue is and paying attn to my "crying baby" (i like that analogy for our hair) ;o)