7.05.2015

Natural Hair Overseas

September 2012
A couple months after the
big chop, transitioning hair
worn during graduation
(background photo).
After beginning my blog, the top question I've received relates to how I take care of my hair overseas. This may sound vain, but hair care is a very realistic concern for black women who travel and live abroad, especially in countries that lack a black population. Virtually no black people = no beauty products for black people. In fact, this is a phenomenon I have noticed in the States; in predominantly white neighborhoods, there aren't as many hair products for black women in even mainstream stores like Walmart and Target. Not being able to find beauty products suited for you can be frustrating. I mean, what girl doesn't want to look good no matter where she is in the world?

June 2015
A still a sizable afro,
patted down to look even.
Therefore, it's necessary for black women to equip themselves with the products and tools they need to maintain their hair overseas no matter what texture or state it's in. I have thick, coarse, kinky majority type 4c natural hair (aka, the "bad" hair - ha - with no distinct curls or waves that doesn't grow - haha - and only dark-skinned women have - hahaha) mixed in with a few random 4b hairs. It's a little past shoulder length when stretched completely, but it was only about two inches long when I first moved to Taiwan. So, if you have a different hair type or length, the products I mention or advice I give might not help you, but I think some tips I have could be of assistance no matter your hair type or state (relaxed, transitioning, ect). 

Also, I'm no hair guru or stylist; I'm just an everyday girl who had to care for her hair in a country with virtually no products made for her for nearly three years. In other words, I'm no expert! I'm just sharing my experiences in hopes they will help you or someone you know.  

I won't be discussing my "hair journey"; a short summary of that can be found here.

1. Learn some go-to protective styles, especially ones that keep your ends tucked in.

January 2015
Selfie break in Tokyo.
Semi-protective style:
puff with braided bangs.
If you fly frequently - especially long-haul flights - you have probably experienced the harsh affect of cabin air on your skin. It seems to suck the moisture out of every pore, right? I find that cabin air has a similar affect on my hair; it sucks out the moisture leaving it dry and brittle. This is especially frustrating when you have to sit on a plane for upwards of 15 hours. Flying for a long time also influences how you can style your hair. Anything pinned or braided a certain way can be torture when you want to sleep in your already uncomfortable seat (unless you're flying first or business class, lucky you!)

Therefore, I think it's important to learn some protective styles before setting out on your journey. Protective styles not only seal the moisture in your hair, but they tend to remain neat as you sleep on the plane. A good alternative would be to wear a hat when you fly or tie a cute scarf on your head; I've done both several times. It's also good to have a small spray bottle of water and liquid leave-in conditioner that you can spray on your hair to rehydrate it throughout your flight. 

August 2014
First day in Honolulu.
Protective style: Couple week old braids
Another great thing about knowing a few protective styles is that they save time once you reach your destination. When you leave your hair in one style for a few days or even weeks, you have more time to wake up, get ready quickly, then go sightseeing. Or, if you're saying at your destination for a while, especially if it's your new home, a protective style will give you a few days to settle in and scout out where you can possibly buy beauty supplies without having to immediately figure out what you should do with your hair.

December 2014
About to teach a class on metaphor, yay?
Braid extensions at 5 months old.
Additionally, protective styles are useful if you are going to a place with high humidity or a harsh winter. Taiwan is a deathly humid place - most of the time, winters are mild - and sometimes wearing your hair out just doesn't work (I've had several braidouts die the second I walked down the street from my apartment - not a good look). Tucking your hair away ensures you have a good hair day. I went to Japan toward the end of winter, but it was still quite cold. Kinky natural hair like mine tends to be brittle as it is, so it's important to tuck your hair away for the winter if you can. I wore an up-do on the plane so I could go sightseeing on the day of my arrival without messing with hair. Later, I did wear my hair out in puffs a couple of times, but I saturated my ends in essential oils to protect them.

My favorite protective style is braid extensions. Before you leave your home country, if you can find a good hair stylist (in my case, my mom), and your hair type is similar to mine, getting braids is a good idea because you can keep in braid extensions for about 5 months without a problem. Braids offer seemingly endless options, and are easy to maintain. Best of all, they save time! Who doesn't want to take up with cute hair? Don't worry when your braids start getting fuzzy. If you're in a country with virtually no black people, others will not notice the difference between new, "scalpy" braids and old braids. They'll probably compliment them no matter the state! Also, if you have the skills, you can always remove your braids, wash the hair, and redo them while overseas. Can't braid your own hair? Well, use the hair as a fake pony tail or bun! 

People tend to suggest wash-n-gos as a quick styling option. If your hair is similar to the composition of mine and it is over five inches, I would run from the idea of doing a wash-n-go and not look back. Trust me.

My hair shrinks significantly when wet, and if I don't stretch it out with braids or twists (the former is more effective) during and after a wash, it dries into a matted mess. Not cute. Protective styles keep hair nice and stretched, yet another reason I love them.

Furthermore, I find that protective styles helped me retain length. Most of the length I have now was gained during my last period of wearing braids (August 2014 to December 2014).

2. Recognize the affects of hard water on your hair.

In Taiwan, hard water abused my hair! Hard or untreated water, like cabin air, can have a negative affect on your hair. I didn't pay attention to this until over a year (!) after moving to Taiwan. I noticed that my hair felt brittle and weak after my usual conditioning routine, which usually leaves my hair soft. At my parents' house where the water is treated, my hair felt great after a wash and seemed to retain length better. 

When overseas, it's likely that you will not have treated water. However, if you're on vacation, hotels usually have soft water, though this might not always be the case. If you're just passing through, you could simply avoid washing your hair. If you've moved overseas, you could invest in a water filter and use filtered water to wash your hair. Again, protective styles = less washes = less damage to your hair = less hair product used.

3. Bring enough of your favorite products with you.

Organix conditioner.
Expensive (~$7), but highly effective.
You're going to a new country. You've made a list of all the places you want to visit, and you've picked the brains of friends and family that have either lived or visited that place or know someone who has. Your bags are packed...or are they?

Do you have enough left of your Holy Grail products to get you through your vacation? If you are leaving long-term or moving, are you sure the country you're going to will have what you need? If not, when next are you going back to your home country where you can stock up? If you want to buy things online, is the shipping reasonable or insane? These are all important questions to consider.

When I moved to Taiwan, I brought a year's supply of hair products because I knew I wouldn't return home until the following summer. Even if you're confident you can find what you need abroad, bring enough of your favorite products so you don't have to worry in case you can't find them overseas.

I love using Organix conditioner for my co-washes, especially the Moroccan Argan Oil and Awapuhi Ginger. The Moroccan Argan Oil leaves a nice layer of the oil on your hair after you wash it and helps keep in moisture while the Awapuhi Ginger helps greatly when my hair feels damaged. Organix is sold at City Super in the Tianmu (天母) area of Taipei, but I didn't figure this out until months after I moved to Taiwan. Plus, it's noticeably more expensive than it is in the States (where it's already somewhat pricey), and City Super doesn't carry nearly as many Organix lines (there are several!) as Walmart does. Therefore, I was glad I had enough (3 bottles) from the States.

If you are a self-described product junkie, I suggest you change your ways before moving abroad! You will need enough products to tide you over until you can return to your home country, and with luggage restrictions, you are not going to have enough room to bring one to three containers of the 20 products you supposedly need. Below, you can see the products - aside from H2O - that touch my head about once a week, if:

A large hoard of products isn't necessary,
nether are nuts and berries.
Aphogee leave-in conditioner (~$4.95) - This is a great product. I use it everyday to keep my hair moisturized. I put it in a spray bottle, mix it with water, and spray it on. One bottle/year.

Africa's Best Herbal Oil (~$3.50) - With Aphogee, this is a product I use everyday. It contains a variety of essential oils (including jojoba), helps keep my hair soft, and gives it a nice shine. You can also heat the bottle for a hot oil treatment. Tip: occasionally, Walmart sells it for just $1. Two to three bottles/year.

Africa's Best Organics Hair Mayonnaise (~$4.50) - This is a solid deep conditioner that I use about every 10 days or so. I find it recharges my hair and leaves it easier to style. One and a half cans/year.

Almond Oil (~$2) - I use this occasionally before applying deep conditioner when my hair feels damaged or tired. One to two bottles/year.

Dark & Lovely "Au Naturale" leave-in conditioner ($8.50) - Great for styling and locking in moisture. One can/year.

Nexxus Mousse Plus Superior Hold, small can (~$3) - Wonderful for those rare days that I wear my hair out in a specific style. It creates nice definition. One can/year.

Cream of Nature with Argon Oil Perfect Edges gel (~$5) - I hate using gel in my hair because it has the tendency to make course hair feel even rougher, but this one does not give that affect. It's a nice product to have on hand, but I do not use it often. One can/a long friggin time; not a necessity for me.

As you can see, the products I use are not particularly expensive. I don't spend big money on 100% natural products because I simply don't think it's worth it. Yes, I try to take care of my hair and I make sure its healthy, but I don't believe you need a $30 deep conditioner to achieve that. 

You could also be brave and scout out local products and use yourself as a guinea pig to see if they will work for your hair, but I suggest you have your own products to fall back on. I have used the Shiseido Tsubaki Oil Damage Care conditioner and my hair liked it. It's sold in Taiwan (~$7) and naturally, in Japan (I'm not sure about other countries). In my opinion, it's a little pricy on Amazon.  

4. Bring suitable tools for your hair with you.

The fewer tools, the better.
I try to manipulate my hair as little as possible, so I never brush it and I can go weeks without combing it, especially when it's in a protective style. Nonetheless, I consider it important to have the items above. 

Of course, you could find bobby pins and clips in any country (in fact, that clip is part of a pack that I bought in Taiwan!), so it wouldn't be necessary to bring many with you. Metal-less hair-ties - very important if you don't like your hair getting ripped out with every ponytail take-down - should be in any beauty store. However, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an afro pick in Asia, if that's where you're going! I love big hair, so I must have a pick to "lift" my hair and puffs. A wide-toothed comb is also great for quick parting and further detangling hair after finger-detangling, although I usually use my hands for those tasks.

I think it's also important to have a good pair of hair shears. There are only two people in this world that I trust with my hair - me and my mom. As my mother was not living in Taiwan with me, I was tasked with trimming my own hair. I personally don't feel it's important to bring shears from home; I got mine at a little beauty store. Either way, they're important to have when you're taking care of your own hair longterm. Trimming hair regularly = less tangled ends = more length retention over time.

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This post was a bit long and rambling, and by no means comprehensive, but I hope what I mentioned here helps you! Finding clothes and make-up abroad are also important concerns for black women abroad, so perhaps I will address those issues in the future.

What are some tips beauty tips you have regarding traveling abroad?

10 comments:

  1. I remember that hair conditioner. And you are looking beautiful in June!!!

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    Replies
    1. Haha, yes! Me and my need for provisions. And thanks!

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  2. If you're in Korea, Koreans are getting hip to the black hair game. Of course you can by products from honeyhairkorea.com. But if you live in Seoul there are a number of LEGIT beauty supply stores popping up in Itaewon. There are people who braid our hair here, but they have not been the best in terms of the braids lasting or not being harsh on your hair.

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    Replies
    1. That's interesting! It must feel at home to know there's a place you can go to buy things, even if you can't find everything you need. I read somewhere that there are a couple African braiders in Korea, but finding them might be another story!

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    2. Nico...think you might head to Korea next?

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    3. Just go to Japan if you want to get braids...You'll probably find black braiders much more easily in Japan than in Korea.

      Your hair looks great :) I can't have braids for 5 months, I can't help but undo them after 1 month, maybe because I'm not used to it.
      Thanks for the adice!

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    4. There are a A LOT of braiders here, but I will say that they are not as good as what you'd get back home. I've been disappointed many times. They do hair so that they don't last and you keep coming back. So I've been doing my own. BTW I love your regimen.

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  3. Use oils. Every country has them. Coconut oil should be easy to find abroad

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  4. Use oils. Every country has them. Coconut oil should be easy to find abroad

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