Different Strand: Cynthia Malingu

“Natural me is sexy sassy with an eclectic style I didn’t think I had. I guess it comes with the territory.” – Cynthia


Meet Cynthia, a beautiful Kenyan woman who lived in Australia for over 10 years and has recently moved back to  Nairobi in 2011. She’s our first featured au natural Curl. We’ve laughed, connected and enjoyed her story and we think you all would too. Enjoy.

When did you become natural? I have gone through natural hair phases on and off over the last ten years.  At each attempt, I would revert back to perming my hair because I didn’t know how to maintain my natural hair. I finally became fully natural in 2011 after moving to Kenya on a work assignment. I met other women with natural hair who shared with me their experiences and tips on how they managed their hair. Understanding the texture of my hair, knowing what products to use and having access to hairdressers who understand natural hair has given me the motivation and confidence to embrace my natural hair. There was no transitioning phase or big chop ceremony for me….I woke up one morning and went to the barber and asked him to cut of my hair. He jumped at the idea and actually gave me hug. He said it was great to see more African women embracing their African hair. I left the barber shop with a short haircut, with hair almost to the scalp. When I walked into the office the following Monday there was a huge silence amongst my colleagues. One of the male staff in my office finally gathered the courage to ask why I had cut my hair. I told him that it was what I wanted to do. “A woman should have long hair he said – if all you women cut off your hair what will we men do. You should wear a wig”……he said! I couldn’t help but smile.


What is your current regimen? I wish it could be a bit more exciting but I am a simplistic person and cannot stand being too bogged down. I tried following some of the natural hair regimens I found online but found that they did not work with my lifestyle. I think I have now developed what I consider a good natural hair regimen that runs like a well-oiled machine on a handful of consistently effective products.

1. Before washing my hair I pre-shampoo it in concoction of coconut oil and natural sheer butter overnight.

(I use organic shampoos to wash my hair. Due to my active lifestyle I wash my hair thrice a week – although sometimes I avoid the shampoo and just rinse of the sweat. I condition my hair once a week and do a thorough detangle after conditioning.)

I use Mizani products for my hair treatments. I get all my hair treatments done at the salon once a month (simple because I enjoy the hair salon experience and the fact that it gives me chance to catch up on all the latest hairstyles/ magazine…..I am still a girly girl in that sense). My hairdresser trims my hair religiously every 6 weeks. Last week I cut of about an inch of my hair – that was quite painful, but the results have been amazing!

2.  For daily maintenance I use a spray mixture of water, olive oil and castor oil.  

3.  Before I go to sleep, I use the good old African “uzi” (thread) method or plait my hair in four big braids. This helps keep my hair stretched and easy to maintain the next day. Now I appreciate why my mama knew more as I can see how some of these more traditional ways of managing hair are suitable to our hair types. Mama knows best!

My hair is quite brittle, so sealing is a crucial part of my routine. I use my favourite mixture of  oils, butters and water to make a sealant for my hair which locks in the moisture in the strands of my hair.

4.  The best form of moisture is water (yes, water! It’s ok to wet your hair lol).

I comb my hair once a week – most days I just run my fingers through my hair after sealing it and play around with it until it forms the style that I want.

You may not see the benefits straight away, but eating a well balanced diet will provide your body and hair the growth-promoting proteins and iron that it needs to get those fabulous locks you crave. I pay attention to my diet and ensure that I eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods and lean proteins like fish (salmon and tuna for omega-3 fatty acids), and beans. I also drink lots of water throughout the day.

Where do you get your products from? I buy my products (conditioner, olive oil, coconut oil and castor oil) from the supermarket . I usually buy my organic shampoo in bulk whenever I travel to South Africa because they are difficult to find in Nairobi. I never really buy treatments as I use salon products (I highly recommend Mizani treatments). I recently came across David Suzuki’s homemade shampoo recipe’s and I am keen to try making my own shampoo one of these fine days..

What is the one product you cannot live without? Olive oil – it moisturises, and softens my hair making it much easier to comb. I have dry, tight curled hair so olive oil has become my new best friend as it prevents it from becoming dry and crunchy.

What difficulties have you faced being natural? Where do I begin! So far I’ve enjoyed wearing my hair natural. The biggest difficulty I have faced is understanding what my hair needs. This takes time for some hair types and there is no quick solution. I have come to the understanding that consistency, not changing products too often and giving my hair a chance to respond to the natural products and regiment that I follow give much better opportunity to grow healthy hair.

I also have a very fine hair line, which breaks easily. THE WORST! I think most readers will agree with me that thinning hairlines is arguably the number one hair complaint among African women. Recently, I walked into a salon and saw a lady whose hair line was so damaged and yet, she was braiding her hair with tight micro-braids- perhaps to cover the problem. I wanted to walk up to her and say “don’t do this to your hair”….but chickened out. I remember thinking “thank God that’s not my hairline!” I am now more gentle with my hairline and avoid hairstyles which cause breakage.

Styling my hair has been quite challenging as my hair is not as versatile and does not mold or hold curls as well as other hair types. I get disappointed when I see hair styles that I like not working on my hair type.  The positive side of this is that I am becoming more creative in creating styles that work for my hair.

The biggest challenge though has been acceptance. I am not talking about accepting my natural African kinky nappy hair but accepting that I have a certain type/texture of natural hair which will never be the soft, curly and bouncy fro that I have so longed for and that hair styles that I love such as twist outs are just not suited to my hair type.

I’ve had days when I’ve just wanted to give up and have been tempted to texturise my hair – just to make it a bit more soft, give it a bit more bounce and curl. But those days are few and far in between nowadays. More of my friends are wearing natural hair, more people including African men are appreciating natural hair….and having natural hair is good on my pocket too!

What is the best thing about being natural? I live an active lifestyle and travel a lot for work so having the freedom to participate in activities/sports that I enjoy without worrying about my hair has been very refreshing.

What I love most about going natural is that it brought out the true me. Relaxed/braided hair me was safe and conforming. Natural me is sexy sassy with an eclectic style I didn’t think I had. I guess it comes with the territory.

I also enjoy receiving compliments from people about my natural hair. It’s great to see more and more people appreciating and embracing African hair.

Also, as I go through this journey, I have become less concerned about the length of my hair  and am more  focused on growing healthy hair!


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