How and When To Trim Hair: Transitioner Edition

Article also available on Black Girl with Long Hair!

There is tons of information out there about how to tell when your natural hair needs a trim. Tapering ends. Rough ends. Breaking ends. Splitting ends. Ends that won't stay twisted or braided (that unravel).

The truth is, for a transitioner, all of that is a part of the daily deal. By virtue of transitioning from damaged hair, transitioner hair is tapered significantly from the newly grown natural hair. Because the hair is damaged by relaxer or heat, they are likely dry, and can be rough. And of course, there is the ever-present breakage, and not the slightest chance that a twist or braid will hold up without something holding it together.

Well, why not just cut it all off then?
I'm sure some of you are thinking that very thing right now. The truth is, not everyone wants to just big chop. I certainly didn't. In fact, I transitioned for 21 long and arduous months. It wasn't always pretty, there were more boring days than glam, but I don't regret the decision one bit. The payoff was worth the sacrifice, for me.

But back to the topic at hand. There is a wealth of information on trimming natural hair, and very little for transitioners. The first step to getting a handle on trimming transitoner hair is understanding the signs of needing a trim:
  • split ends: Regardless of whether you're transitioning or natural, split ends are never good.
  • "lone ends": This is the transitioner equivalent to tapering ends. Naturally, all hair experiences some tapering as it ages, this is a cumulative sign of aging, worn cuticles, breakage, and a general weathering of the hair. For transitioners, this often leads to what I like to call lone ends. Hair is tapered, but in an extreme sense - to the point of only a few hairs in an area reaching a certain length while the others fall behind. In other words, your tapered ends are tapering themselves.
  • super tangled ends: Transitioner detangling is notoriously difficult. The damaged ends (and lifted cuticles) often find themselves ensnared, making raking fingers or combs through a complete challenge. If you notice that your detangling sessions are now more difficult than ususal, it is a sign that a trim is in order.

How Often Should Transitioners Trim?
Inside of your first year of transitioning, barring any major incidences of breakage or hair fall that would suggest a more immediate need, trimming every 3-4 months is sufficient. Of course every head of hair is different, and you should always assess your own hair and hair goals to determine what trimming schedule best suits your needs. If you are looking to get rid of more hair sooner, trim more frequently. If you are more inclined to hold on to length, opt for less frequency.

Long-term transitioners (1 year plus) often find themselves being a little more vigilant about trims, and doing them more frequently. This is because of the one-two-three punch of ends being weathered, damaged, and well, holding on to them past their prime. They tend to wear out, break, and split more often. After about a year and 3 months of transitioning, I found myself trimming away at some ends almost every 2 or 3 weeks. In between trims, I did mini search and destroy missions. Part of this was my ends needing more trimming, because they were breaking more rapidly. The other part was sheer impatience - I was able to see more of my natural hair texture, so I got anxious. Especially when I began wearing wash and go styles.  As I said previously, be sure to assess your own hair and hair goals to determine what trim schedule works for you.

 How Much To Cut?
This is also another one of those things that depends upon your hair's needs, and your own goals. It also depends on how comfortable you are individually with cutting your own hair. Some transitioners start of small, snipping away half an inch or less of hair. This is totally fine. With my less-frequent trims during my first year, I never cut more than an inch of hair at a time. My post 1-year trims were all around half an inch.

There is also the issue of the mini-chop. There are many transitioners who grow impatient and frustrated with their hair, and in an effort to rid themselves of more damage, they chop three or more inches of hair. While this can be incredibly beneficial, I do not advocate doing self mini-chops for a number of reasons. One, it is incredibly difficult to mini-chop accurately - meaning there is an increased likelihood that your cutting will not be consistent, and you will end up with unevenly cut hair. If it is not in your budget to seek a professional for a cut, at least have a trusted friend or family member help you out - especially at the back of the head and in the crown.

How To Cut:
Now that you've determined that you need a cut, and know how much to cut, there is the little matter of how to cut. Many naturals show how they trim their hair to create certain shapes and styles, and this works for them. Trimming transitioning ends is different, because more than style and shape, it is about getting rid of damage in a progressive sense. To trim your hair, you'll need 4 things:
  • Sharp cutting shears. Do not use regular office/paper scissors. You'll just cause more split ends. Same thing with old/dull shears.
  • Dry or damp hair. Don't cut your hair while soaking wet. When our hair is wet, it is more weighed down and elongated. There is a lot of potential to underestimate how much you've cut, and when it shrinks up, you've got much shorter hair than you anticipated. This has happened to me a few times.
  • Hair styled how you normally wear it. If you wear your hair stretched, make sure it is stretched before you trim. If you wear wash and go styles, make sure your wash and go is styled and mostly dry. The idea here is to trim your hair according to how you will achieve the best results. Regardless of your style, make sure hair is detangled as much as possible.
  • A mirror. But you knew that!
Ready? Let's trim!
  • Method 1: In a small section, take your hair and place it between your index and middle fingers, forming a V. Close the V, and at a 90-degree angle, gently smooth your fingers outward along the length of your hair, stopping just before where you would like to trim the ends. Snip the ends from the bottom up. Repeat this process throughout your head, stopping frequently to ensure that you are not cutting unevenly.
  • Method 2: Separate your hair into a number of small or medium sized loose twists. At the end of each twist, snip away the pieces of hair that are left hanging with nothing to twist around. This method does not guarantee the most even trim, but it will certainly rid you of the most damaged hair.
  • Method 3: If you don't trust yourself with methods 1 or 2, the 3rd way is to incorporate scrunchies. Use several ouchless scrunchies to create multiple ponytails across your head. Gently slide each scrunchie down to the point where you would like to trim. By double-checking all the scrunchie end points before cutting, you can practically guarantee yourself an even cut that won't be lopsided.

Of course, you can always use the search and destroy method. Whatever way you choose to trim your transitioning tresses, just be assured that you are one step closer to all natural hair!


  1. great tips! thank you

  2. Thanks for sharing.I found a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more posts like this one.