How to Do a Big Chop and Kickstart Your Natural Hair Journey

It's not as scary as you think.

Albino person with natural hair
Photo: Masego Morulane/Getty Images

Making the decision to go natural is no easy feat. For many of us, relaxed hair is all we know, and the thought of having to learn how to care for a whole new texture can be intimidating. However, the good news is there's more information out there now than ever on how to determine your natural hair type, along with how to take care of your unique curl pattern. The only catch? You're going to have to cut off your relaxed ends to officially make the jump.

That's why we reached out to natural haircare expert Candace Witherspoon of the New York City-based Candace Witherspoon Salon to create a step-by-step guide on how to do your own big chop at home. So grab your cutting tools and get ready to follow along.

How to Prepare

First, you want to ensure that your hair is freshly washed, detangled, air-dried, and free of any styling products that can manipulate your natural texture. This way, you can clearly spot the line of demarcation between your natural curls and the relaxed ends.

You'll also need to check that you have the right cutting tools and hair supplies. "Depending on hair texture and how short you're going, that will determine what tools you'll need," Witherspoon says. If you have a few inches of new growth that you want to keep, the stylist recommends sticking to shears. However, if you prefer to really start fresh, make sure to have a pair of clippers and some guards handy.

The Process

  1. If you want to keep your length, begin by parting your hair into four sections.
  2. Leave one section out and use clips to keep the rest away from the piece you're cutting.
  3. From that one section, take small pieces of hair and cut below the line of demarcation on your first pass. "Always start cutting hair on the longer side," Witherspoon suggests. "Give yourself room to make a mistake." (Note: If you use clippers, apply a guard to maintain some length. You can always go over the hair again with scissors to clip off any extra hair. Alternatively, if you prefer a fresh buzz cut, you can completely omit the guards).
  4. Repeat until your relaxed ends are gone.
  5. To create an even finish, it's all about repetition. "Go over the cut more than once," suggests Witherspoon. "Use a mirror for guidance, and pull at the hair in all directions to check evenness [as you cut.]"

No matter which route you choose, remember to take your time. Going natural likely isn't something you decided on overnight, so you don't want to rush this process.

VIDEO: Taraji P. Henson Just Wore Her Natural Hair Out Again

Post-Cut Maintenance

Be prepared to see a little shrinkage after you cut off your relaxed ends (which inevitably weigh down your hair) and after your first post-big chop wash. If you want to create more volume, use a pick, or do a twist-out to help manipulate your length. If you want more definition, opt for styling creams or gels.

Keep in mind that learning what your natural hair needs is going to be a case of trial and error. And since everyone's tresses are different, there's no one-size-fits-all haircare regimen. In fact, you will more than likely get frustrated with your hair as you figure things out. But if you're willing to be patient, and give your hair a little TLC along the way, you'll leave yourself open to embracing your natural hair journey.

Favorite Products

While it's going to take time to figure out what's right for your unique hair type, Witherspoon encourages experimenting with new products. The general rule of thumb is to use lighter products if you have looser curls, and thicker, richer products if your hair is more coily. Miss Jessie's Pillow Soft Curls are perfect for type 3 styling, while 4C Only's Too Easy Collection is a great system for type 4 kinks.

Miss Jessie's Pillow Soft Curls

To shop: $23;

An assortment of 4C Only hair products

To shop: $78;

This is All Natural. From the kinkiest coils to loose waves, we're celebrating natural hair in its many forms by sharing expert tips for styling, maintenance, and haircare.

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