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Don’t Trim Natural Hair at Home Without Reading this First

Photo by F.J. Jimenez/Getty Images

The secret to keeping your natural hair looking gorgeous? Routine care and maintenance. If you think wash day is time-consuming, try styling your hair with split ends, frizzy strands, and knots. When you find yourself being slowed down by hair damage, that usually means it’s time for a trim—but your stylist may be totally booked, your social calendar full, or your salon currently closed. What can you do? Well, you may not have thought this day would come, but one option is to take matters into your own hands and cut your natural hair at home.

While most hairstylists would advise against giving yourself a hair makeover, attempting the big chop, or trying out a completely new hairstyle, trimming your own natural hair to clean up the ends is totally acceptable (and doable)—especially because it promotes healthy hair growth. We know all too well that heat damage, knots, and split ends slow down the styling process and weigh your hair down, but did you know that the damage actually goes even further? If left alone, your damaged ends will eventually travel up the hair shaft, forcing you to cut more into the length. “It is a chain reaction,” says Stacey Ciceron, ORIBE brand ambassador. “The split ends on curly hair tend to grab onto other strands, causing knots which can lead to breakage,” she says. In order to keep your natural hair free of knots, it’s important to incorporate regular trims into your haircare routine.

If you’re ready for a DIY trim, you’ve come to the right place. We turned to the pros to round up a step-by-step tutorial to make the whole process practically foolproof.

About the Experts:

Stacey Ciceron is a celebrity stylist, textured hair expert, and ORIBE brand ambassador.
Jamila Powell is the owner and founder of Maggie Rose Salon.

Step-by-step guide

1. Make sure you have the right tools.

You wouldn’t head into the SATs without a calculator and a number two pencil and expect to pass, so don’t expect to create a salon-worthy cut if you don’t have the proper tools on hand. Prep for success and get everything you need ahead of time. “You need a sharp set of cutting shears, sectioning clips, and a comb with fine teeth,” says Jamila Powell, owner and founder of Maggie Rose Salon. That brings us to the importance of hair shears. Even if you’re desperate to cut out a knot, you shouldn’t reach for the scissors you keep in your kitchen drawer—if you do, you run the risk of damaging your hair with a tool not meant for your delicate strands. All this to say that getting your hair-cutting supplies ready ahead of time is key to alleviating stress later in the hair-cutting process, especially if this is the first time you’re trimming your own hair at home.

2. Look for split ends.

If you’re unsure of whether or not you have split ends, examine the tips of your hair using the “Y” guide to determine when it’s time for a trim. “Split ends will fork off into two or three different directions,” says Powell. “Usually, they look like a ‘Y,’ or a tree with several branches.” If you have split ends that are long overdue for a trim, your hair usually won’t retain its shape. You might also notice more knots than usual, especially at the ends. “Once knots are formed, [they] can pop out and break when [they are] brushed out or sometimes will need to be cut out,” says Ciceron.

3. Trim hair based on your curl pattern.

A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t apply when you’re styling natural hair, and it definitely doesn’t apply when it comes time to trim, so let your hair texture guide you. 

For curly hair

  1. Start with dry hair: Not only is it much easier to identify your curl pattern and spot split ends once your hair is dry, but working with dry hair also ensures you cut off a length you’re comfortable with, which is more challenging if you try to cut your hair when it’s wet. “For tighter textured hair, you’ll have to take curl shrinkage into account, so dry cutting is usually better in terms of accuracy,” says Powell.

  2. Section your hair into four parts: “Ear to ear, and down the middle from front to back,” says Powell. “Use your clips to keep the sections out your way.”

  3. Create a guide: The first piece of hair you cut should come from the front section. This will serve as a guide as you trim the remainder of that section. “Use your index and middle finger to smooth the hair all the way down to the ends and trim about a quarter-inch to half-inch of hair,” says Powell. 

  4. Trim the back: Just like with the front, start with one section at a time. “Pull out about an inch of hair from the base of your hair,” says Powell. Next, clip up the remainder of that section. “You want to smooth the hair all the way down and snip off any excess hair. Use this piece as a guide to cut the remainder of the section at 45 or 90-degree angles,” says Powell. 

  5. Shake it off: Once you’ve finished your trim, assess your progress. “Let out all of the sections and shake your curls out,” says Powell. “See how the shape looks, and then trim curl by curl to fix any curls that are out of place.”

For coily hair

  1. Start with clean, dry, detangled hair: “For tighter textures, it is best to trim your hair dry, and not brushed or blown out,” says Powell.

  2. Make a pizza: For coily hair or kinky hair, you’ll want to divide it differently compared to the curly hair method. “Section your hair like a pizza with the center being the crown of your hair,” says Powell.

  3. Work back-to-front: Instead of starting at the crown, you’ll want to take a section from the back of your head. “Smooth the hair all the way down, and trim the excess hair, about ¼ inch to ½ an inch,” says Powell. 

  4. Follow the guide: Use the piece you cut in the back as a guide as you continue to trim your natural hair. “Use a small piece of hair from the first section as a guide to cut the remaining sections,” says Powell, who recommends trimming the remainder of the sections at a 45 or 95-degree angle. 

4. Wash and style

Once you cut your hair, wash and style it as you normally would so you can assess your fresh cut, then incorporate a moisturizing hair mask or leave-in conditioner to seal the hair cuticle. Now that all that hard work is behind you, it’s time to preserve your healthy hair: Give the blowdryer a break and avoid heat styling. “To avoid split ends after a trim, you should do low manipulation, night maintenance (like wearing your hair in a satin cap or pineapple), and wear hair in protective styles,” says Ciceron. If you need some inspo, braids and twist-outs are great protective styles that allow you to switch up your look without damaging your hair. 

5. Moisturize

Want to get the most mileage out of your haircut? In order to preserve your trim, be sure to nourish your hair with hydration—especially on wash day—to prevent hair damage. “Split ends occur when your hair becomes dry and brittle. The split starts traveling up the hair shaft, which leads to weakness, and eventually hair breakage,” says Powell. And don’t worry, preventing breakage and knots is more simple than you might think. “Keep your ends moisturized, hydrated, and protected, which is also important to avoid damage and the need for constant trims in the first place,” says Ciceron.

If you’re all about preserving healthy hair, make hair masks, detangling sprays, and deep conditioners specifically formulated for your hair type the main attraction in your hair regimen. Some easy go-tos are our favorite natural hair products. After applying a hydrating mask in the shower (like the TRISSOLA Intense Hydrating Mask), use a detangling brush to remove any snags while still in the shower before you rinse out the treatment. Doing so will minimize frizz and protect your curls. You can also help make your hair more manageable by spritzing it with a leave-in conditioner—we’re obsessed with the OUAI Leave-In Conditioner—when your hair is damp before putting it in a protective style.

But while focusing on your ends is important to preserve length, don’t forget that healthy hair starts at the scalp. Depending on your wash schedule, you might find that you need to work in a little extra TLC for your scalp. Opt for a soothing, cleansing formula, like the ORIBE HAIR CARE Serene Scalp Soothing Leave-On Treatment, which rebalances the scalp and restores moisture (especially helpful if you’re suffering from dandruff).

Pro Tips

Trimming natural hair can seem daunting, so we’ve rounded up some frequently asked questions to guide you in the process before you start to snip.

1. Work with dry hair.

While you can trim natural hair when it’s dry or damp, we recommend working with your hair when it’s dry: This will give you more control, as you will be able to identify your curl pattern and won’t have to worry about shrinkage.

2. Schedule regular trims.

To promote healthy hair growth, incorporate frequent trims into your schedule. You can aim for three to four times a year, although this number can vary based upon how you wear your hair. “If you are wearing mostly protective styles, I would suggest two to three times a year or less,” says Ciceron. Protective styles will be your BFF, since they give your hair a break from manipulation, heat styling, and damage. The less manipulation, the fewer knots or split ends that need to be removed. “If you are wearing wash-and-go styles or styles that manipulate the hair often, I suggest three to four times per year,” she says. The verdict? Either give up your blowouts or get ready for more frequent trims. 

Speaking of trims, if you often find yourself desperately in need of a cut, you may benefit from setting a schedule. Having a hair-cutting schedule means “You remain consistent,” says Ciceron. “You can also avoid or prevent split ends from happening if you trim the ends consistently,” she says. 

If you’re transitioning your hair and hoping for growth, however, frequent trims could hinder that. “If length is your goal, you may want to do a hybrid of doing a consistent schedule and eyeballing when you see split ends,” says Ciceron.

3. Search and destroy.

Another tool at your disposal on your hair growth journey is the “search and destroy” method. This is where, instead of pulling or trying to detangle single-strand knots, you cut them out of your hair to keep your ends healthy and free of tangles. This minimal method is super easy to execute (OK, it’s also kind of fun, too) and allows you to preserve your hard-earned hair growth.

4. Try a twist-out.

Try the twist-out method, where you style your hair in twist-outs and then remove the dead ends. “The braid/twist technique allows you to collect the hair and easily see the ends that are dry or uneven. Though this method is helpful, it can also lead to an uneven shape if you’re not careful,” says Powell.

5. Leave drastic cuts to the pros.

And if you reach a point where you feel that you’ve mastered the at-home trim, feel free to celebrate—but be cautious about picking up the shears for a more drastic cut. Unless you’re comfortable tasking the risk, it’s best to book an appointment with your hairstylist before giving yourself a huge hair makeover. “There is a lot of technique that goes into cutting hair, so when making a drastic change, seeing a stylist will ensure the cut is even and works well with your face shape,” says Powell. The verdict: Leave the more dramatic styles to the pros.

The idea of taking matters into your own hands and picking up shears may make you nervous, but trimming natural hair at home can be done. Just follow our step-by-step guide if you’re ready to DIY, and remember to stick to the basics.

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About the author
Katrina Mitzeliotis Lanza
Katrina is a freelance writer and on-air correspondent with over a decade of experience covering beauty, fashion, and entertainment. When she isn't freelancing, you can catch her on QVC or chasing after her two-year-old son.
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Article Last Updated November 3, 2020 12:00 AM