Niara Jackson, @niaraalexis

Beauty

4 Black Women On Navigating New Natural Hair Routines In Quarantine

From scaling back products to transitioning completely.

Transitioning into quarantine has been tough on most. From limiting human and social contact to dealing with the constant anxiety around the seemingly never-ending pandemic, “normal life” as we know it has gone.

There are many integral parts of normality that may relatively seem unimportant, such as a trip to the salon to get your hair done. But for many women, that change has shifted their perspectives and their relationship with themselves and their hair, and this sentiment rings especially true when it comes to Black women. Whether that means having to do their own hair on a more regular basis, adjust their product lineup, or in many cases, unexpectedly going natural.

Ahead, NYLON spoke to four Black women about their evolving relationship with their natural hair, and how for some, quarantine has flipped their hair care routines upside down.

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Camille Coklow, Digital Producer

How has your relationship with your natural hair evolved over the years and during quarantine?

As someone who feels as though they've been wearing weaves since they were born, going from a standing sew-in appointment once a month to no appointment at all is what forced me to form a relationship with my natural hair. Once they announced that we would be sheltered in place, I found a hair braider who was still taking appointments and had turned her home into a braiding salon. I took my sew-in out and had my hair braided the next day, leaving me less than 24 hours to actually deal with my natural hair. After a month of wearing box braids, it was already time for me to take them down, when one of my best friends asked, "Why don't you just wear your own hair?" I hadn't considered doing that since high school, but the fear of doing it made me want to try it even more. I took my braids down, combed out my hair, and saw that I had the most beautiful afro. I canceled my appointment. I still had some relaxed pieces due to wearing sew-ins so it didn't match the rest of my hair. So I just said "f*ck it" and began cutting my hair down to the point of no relaxer, a little less than an inch off my head. It was wild. To take it a step further, I then asked my roommate to buzz me and once again I loved it even more than the last!

How has your hair care routine changed in quarantine? What are your go-to hair products?

CC: Good. Bye. Hot. Tools. Now that I've gone completely natural, I no longer feel the need to apply heat to my hair. Especially since my hair is so low, I just focus on keeping my hair and scalp conditioned by using products that only promote moisture and healthy hair growth. I use a variety of products, but my holy grails would have to be Mielle's Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil, Jamaican Black Castor Oil (mixed with a little tea tree oil) and As I Am Leave-in Conditioner. These three products have completely transformed my hair. As a former die-hard weave wearer who has suffered from traction alopecia, I can honestly say that with the help of these products, the previous follicle damage that occurred has almost been completely reversed, aka bish has edges again.

Were there certain insecurities or challenges you had to overcome in order to feel the way you do about your hair?

CC: Growing up in predominantly white environments, I always felt discouraged from embracing not just my natural hair, but my natural texture. I didn't have a ponytail that hung down my back or a texture that could label me as racially ambiguous so what's a girl to do besides purchase a few bundles, sit for six-plus hours getting box braids or chemically altering their hair? It wasn't until this year when I began fantasizing with friends about the idea of cutting my hair and picturing myself with those hairstyles that the idea even remotely crossed my mind. But of course those thoughts were quickly disregarded and it was solely out of fear.

By cutting off my access to services that ultimately awarded me a hairstyle that I believed shaped my identity, I was forced into a place of discomfort. But instead of letting that discomfort control me, I took it and made it my own. So here I am. Three months into quarantine and not only am I rocking my natural hair, but I'm wearing it shorter than I ever could've imagined and I feel more beautiful, more confident, and more liberated than ever before.

Sunny Maria, YouTuber and Founder, Well-Read Society

How has the relationship with your natural hair evolved over the years and during quarantine?

SM: As a kid, I had a very complicated relationship with my hair. I was one of the only kids of color in my whole grade and the only one with curly hair which made me the target of bullying and I was called many names. This made me hate my hair so I simply started wearing my hair relaxed, even if it meant burning my scalp with the abrasive and dangerous chemicals present in those products. It wasn't until I was a teen and discovered the natural hair community on YouTube that I realized my hair didn't make me less beautiful and I learned how to care for it. I slowly started wearing my hair with pride. The only problem with getting so into the beauty community is I started getting obsessed with curl definition, shininess, buying a ton of products. It wasn't until lockdown, having no reason to put all that effort and product into my hair, that I started embracing my true natural hair, including the frizziness, the sometimes uncontrollable volume (which I now love) and the texture, which might be different than some other beauty gurus I tried so hard to resemble.

How has your care hair care routine changed in quarantine? What are your go-to hair products?

SM: I use way less products but make sure they're well suited. I do an oil hair treatment every week (coconut oil, castor oil, and jojoba oil). I use Function Of Beauty's Customized Shampoo & Conditioner once a week and detangle with the Thick & Curly Hair Tangle Teezer, a wide-tooth comb or my fingers. I also use the Shea Moisture Black Castor Oil Mask between shampooing. For curl definition/styling, I only use water. I only use styling products for a special occasion.

Were there certain insecurities or challenges you had to overcome in order to feel the way you do about your hair?

SM: A big challenge for me was having to teach myself everything that I know. As a mixed kid, with a white parent not educated enough about Black hair, a Black parent not really big on hair, and Black aunties that weren't in my life for years because they were still living in Africa, I had to learn it through trial and error. I realised that my fear of allowing my hair to thrive with full volume and constantly trying to "tame" them was related to my insecurities about my size. I was scared of being noticed, taking too much space but the more I grew confident, the bigger I let my hair be.

Niara Jackson, YouTuber

How has your relationship with your natural hair evolved over the years and during quarantine?

NJ: I’ve always loved natural hair but was never too sure if it looked on me. My hair was relaxed at a young age so I probably didn’t see my real hair texture until I was about 20-21 years old. During quarantine, I thought if not now then when? During this time I am embracing all of its frizz and texture while transitioning.

How has your hair care routine changed in quarantine? What are your go-to hair products?

NJ: When I decided to transition I was a little relieved; I didn't have to worry about how my hair looked if I didn’t want to. It held me back from going natural in the past. "How will my hair look? Will my hair revert the second I walk outside if I straighten it?" All that was taken out of the equation. My favorite products are Jamaican Black Castor Oil for growth and R&Co Sun Catcher Leave-in Conditioner because it’s so light. Verb has really nice shampoos and conditioners as well for multiple hair types. Length can sometimes be a deal-breaker. Not wanting to cut, you transition and have two different textures; it can be a mess if not cared for. My biggest vice is kinky clip-ins. They blend with my new growth and my relaxed ends so it makes it really easy for me.

Were there certain insecurities or challenges you had to overcome in order to feel the way you do about your hair?

NJ: Since I never saw my natural hair as a child I just always assumed it wasn’t “good hair.” I was hyper-aware as a kid that my hair was relaxed and that this process was to make me look “pretty.” I think the biggest insecurity I overcame was your hair isn’t what makes you pretty. I also want to have children one day and if I have a daughter teach her to love her natural hair as well. How can I do that if I don’t love mine or she can’t see an example of that at home?

Isabella Doelwijt, Artist, Teacher & Researcher

How has the relationship with your natural hair evolved over the years and during quarantine?

ID: I started doing my own hair around the age of 8. Before that my mom, who is a professional hairdresser, always took care of my curls. She'd styled my hair in braids with ribbons, because it was so long and big, she did not want it to tangle up during playtime at school. Often, I came back home with sand in my hair and two ribbons instead of four! She always looked at me with this face like, "How on earth did this happen?" (laughs) I always begged for her to style my hair in ringlets, it was my favorite hairstyle. But she only did it that way for special occasions. I basically learned how to take care of my hair from her. It was never really about appreciating my curls, it was more in the sense of taking care of yourself rather than putting an emphasis on the difference or comparison from my hair to someone else’s. The relationship that I have with my hair did not necessarily change during quarantine. I’ve always took good care of my hair and really love the versatility of my hair.

Sometimes when people say to me, "Oh, it’s so nice that you wear your hair in its natural state…" I think it’s kind of weird actually. But I definitely understand where it comes from.

How has your hair care routine changed in quarantine? What are your go-to hair products?

ID: Over the years I have tried many products to help keep my hair healthy. I also cut the ends of my hair myself every six months. My go-to products at the moment are: Argan Oil (daily), Shea Moisture Intensive Hydration Shampoo and Conditioner (one time a week), Shea Moisture Intensive Hydration Leave-in Milk (for setting my curls or buns) & Eco Style Gel - Black Castor & Flaxseed Oil. Hydration is key! The hairstyles that I wear now are mostly curly styles and sometimes wavy/straight up-dos. I achieve those looks with either a flexi-rod or roller sets, using as little heat as possible, to avoid damaging my curl pattern.

Were there certain insecurities or challenges you had to overcome in order to feel the way you do about your hair?

ID: Once I started doing my own hair growing up, I did have difficulties in finding inspiration or hairstyles that looked like mine in magazines or on TV. Black and POC were and still are definitely underrepresented in beauty standards around the globe. I was lucky enough to have a mom as a hairdresser and three sisters who loved doing hair as well. It is still rare to find inspiration nowadays that fits my personal style, and is not stereotyped in a certain way.