Loving your natural hair and practicing self-love is the same journey.

Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.

When my birthday was coming up, I decided to treat myself to a professional flat iron and trim after avoiding heat styling for two years. My search for a local hair stylist specializing in afro-textured hair brought me to Dyson Styles, a Dallas-based stylist who once styled Beyoncé’s hair for a 2009 Elle photoshoot.

His luxe menu was filled with healthy hair treatments, impressive client photos — and let’s be honest the Beyoncé tidbit sold me. I immediately booked an appointment for the following month.

I thought I was going to be in store for a 2-inch trim that would give me sleek hair with ample body and movement. To my horror, Dyson told me my ends were fried and my hair was parched like a desert. I needed a 4-inch cut.

I didn’t understand how my hair had gotten in such pitiful condition.

After Dyson made several suggestions to my routine, I left the appointment reflecting on my hair mindset and all the unhealthy hair practices I adhered to for years.

In college, I cut off all my relaxed ends to go natural. My hair became short, dry, and kinky. My family hated it and wasn’t shy about saying so.

Their words, along with the lack of representation and models who looked like me in the media, made me feel my hair was unattractive.

Like many women, I wanted to look beautiful. For years, I felt frustrated with my hair because it didn’t behave or look like what was broadcasted on screens. Societal standards dictate long, straight, or loose-textured hair as the ideal. Black women get prominently featured with a looser curl pattern or wearing hair extensions.

Even YouTube — the almighty resource for natural hair — didn’t have many women with my texture.

Discouraged by my family’s reception and not wanting to feel left out of beauty standards, I wore wigs and weaves to hide my kinks. I justified this practice with the promise that I’d ditch extensions once my hair was long enough.

Hiding my hair for long periods denied me the chance to learn and understand it. Whenever I attempted to go extension-free, I struggled with styling my hair. My hair tangled easily, was crispy even with moisturizing products, and styles lasted for only a day.

Hair styling products and tools overwhelmed my cabinets and rarely worked. Even worse, according to my eBay and Amazon order histories, I spent hundreds of dollars over the years searching for solutions.

Forcing my hair to conform to a standard cost money, time, and confidence. I wanted a low-maintenance, affordable hair routine.

During my first appointment, Dyson gave me game-changing advice. “Deep condition your hair under a hooded dryer with a plastic cap. It’ll help your hair absorb the deep conditioner better.”

All this time, while my conditioning products sat like goop on my strands, I just needed heat. Heat helped open the cuticles to better absorb products.

Learning about hair porosity was one of the first steps that revolutionized my regimen.

Once I started consistently deep conditioning my hair under a hooded dryer, I noticed my hair starting to behave better. Tangles and knots decreased, my hair softened, and my kinks developed a healthy sheen.

My hair regimen also benefited from the increased availability of quality hair care products.

For years, black hair products with low-quality ingredients and hazardous chemicals dominated the shelves. Thanks to the natural hair movement, the market has experienced a shift toward more diverse options for Black hair.

The drop in hair relaxer sales over the years also supports that there’s been a shift in what Black women like me perceive as beautiful, healthy hair.

“The Black hair care market has adjusted to the new natural hair normal. While natural hair is the norm, Black consumers have different attitudes, beauty standards, and motivation behind their style and product choices,” says Toya Mitchell, leading retail and multicultural analyst.

This market shift indicates Black women are more concerned with encouraging their own hair to blossom versus chasing mainstream ideals.

It’s amazing how a healthy mindset and newfound knowledge leads to change. I’ve reduced my use of extensions to a minimum and wear my own hair far more often.

After I visited Dyson a few months after my first appointment, he raved about my hair’s dramatic improvement. Adopting the right regimen transformed my dry, crispy hair to nourished locks. More importantly, embracing my kinks and coils allowed them to flourish and grow.

Negative perceptions don’t lead to the best outcomes.

For many women, growing up with limited product options and media representation conditions us to think a certain hair color, length, or texture is the standard of beauty. Now my idea of beautiful hair is simple.

Regardless of curl pattern or length, healthy hair is beautiful hair.

Before, I would roughly handle my hair out of frustration. Now, I treat my hair with patience and understanding.

With curly hair, the gentler you are with it, the better it behaves. As an extension of the body, hair deserves the same self-care and tender treatment we give other parts of our body. When you prioritize health, beauty tends to follow.

Nikkia Nealey is a certified educator and freelance writer specializing in e-commerce. She writes SEO articles and web copy for businesses that want to see their Google search rankings improve, and blogs about how to use compelling copy to convert potential buyers on her website.