I’ve been natural most of my life, usually opting to heat style my hair sparingly and only receiving one perm in high school, but for years, I had no idea how to care for my hair. None of my friends or family really wore their hair natural at the time, so I had no one to go to for advice. This was before the “natural hair revolution” and all of the blogs that cropped up as a result, so I ended up spending a great deal of money and time searching for anything to tame my hair. I was making major haircare mistakes, and I paid for them dearly. Here’s a list of my past mistakes (and some better habits I’ve picked up along the way) so you don’t have to go through what I’ve been through.

Bad habit: Being detached from my own hair care. You cannot leave it all to your stylist! Even if you have been seeing this person all your life you have to be an active participant in your own hair care. I wasn’t, and ended up getting a “kiddie perm” (THERE IS NO SUCH THING!) that I did not want when I was 15. Why? Because she wanted to thin out my hair, so that she wouldn’t have to work as hard to get it straight. And it thinned out, alright. My hair hasn’t been the same since. I start shaking with rage just thinking about it.

Good habit: Grilling my stylist. It may annoy the professionals, but I ask a ton of questions before they do anything new to my hair. I’m the one who has to do deal with the fallout (pun intended) if something goes wrong.

Bad habit: Yanking out knots.  I would spot a knot in my hair and start yanking, resulting in a mess of split, uneven ends, and excessive shedding. When you comb your hair, the dead strands should be attached to the styling instrument. There was usually enough dead hair on my bathroom counter to make a full wig.

Good habitGentle Treatment. Finger combing and using wide tooth combs has made all the difference in the health of my hair. Hello length retention and goodbye pain.

Bad habit: Using cheap products.  Between the $5 shampoos from the grocery store and the heavy, alcohol-based mousse from the beauty supply, I was using the worst possible products in my hair. My follicles and scalp were clogged with gunk and chemicals.

Good habit: I follow the same practice I use when I’m buying packaged foods; if I can’t pronounce or recognize the names in the ingredients, I don’t buy it. It’s also a good idea to remember which alcohols are good and bad for your hair. Online product reviews can also be very helpful, but it’s important to remember that everyone’s hair and hair goals are different.

Bad habit: Wearing my hair out too often. This one hurts, because I love to wear my hair wild and loose, but some of us can’t do that without getting major tangles and split ends.

Good habit: Protective Styling.  This is a must when my hair is feeling damaged, or I’m seeing too many tangles. Generally, I only wear my hair out about three days a week, especially in harsh weather.

Bad habit: Over-conditioning. It may sound like a good idea to condition for as long as possible, but you could over-condition your strands, weakening the shafts and making it more prone to breakage.

Good habit: 30-Minute Conditioning. Now, I rarely exceed 30 minutes when deep conditioning. If it takes longer than that for my hair to get hydrated, that’s where my pre-poos come in. Personally, I’m a fan of coconut oil or olive oil/egg masks. That way, I’m balancing the amount of protein and moisture my hair is getting.

What are some of your bad and good hair habits?