How to Take Care of Your Natural Hair, If You're Newly Natural

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Photo: Ann Marie Fox/HBO

With salons shuttered, it’s become particularly difficult to maintain styling typically done in the salon — whether it be braids, wigs, or otherwise. Many of us have found ourselves suddenly forced to learn (or relearn) how to take care of our natural hair, celebrities included. Everyone from Gabrielle Union to Cardi B to Tia Mowry have given up their typical looks in favor of letting their curls breathe. And while letting your natural hair flourish, and giving it a break from braids and sew-ins, is nice in theory, it can be a lot of work, especially if you’re not used to taking care of it yourself.

Whether natural hair is your new normal or you plan to go back to your normal routine once social distancing ends, Nigella Miller, hairstylist and owner of Nigella Hair Studio, recommends maintaining a simple but effective routine. Lisa Price, founder of natural hair-care brand Carol’s Daughter, agrees. “Trying to become a professional stylist via a YouTube tutorial is probably not the best way to go, but there are a lot of basic, easy things you can do to care for your hair at home.” Her chief recommendation is focusing on keeping hair moisturized and tangle-free, which can be achieved with regular deep-conditioning treatments and sulfate-free shampoos, which helps hair retain moisture. It’s also a good time to reduce or eliminate heat styling entirely, which can damage the hair over time, and instead let your hair air-dry loose or in plaits or twists. Their recommendations, below.

Tools

First things first, you’ll need the right tools to make sure you aren’t causing any additional damage to your hair. Natural hair is fragile and needs to be detangled carefully, which is why Miller recommends having a wide-tooth comb on hand like this one from Ouidad. This makes it easy to glide through hair when it’s wet and detangle without ripping or tearing.

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Alternatively, you can use a brush like the Tangle Teezer to detangle, which I personally prefer to combs or Denman brushes. It detangles without ripping and helps curls clump together, which is ideal for defining and stretching my curls.

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Shampoo

You’ll want to pick a shampoo that doesn’t have sulfates, which strip the hair’s natural moisture. Miller recommends this hydrating shampoo from EDEN BodyWorks, which cleanses without stripping and is safe for color-treated hair too.

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For an even deeper clean, she suggests the SashaPure Healing Shampoo, a cleanser that also strengthens hair. “I like that it really removes buildup,” she says, noting that it’s also safe for color-treated hair. Its star ingredient is sacha inchi oil, which has lots of fatty acids and vitamins A and E, and has enough slip that you can start the detangling process while shampooing.

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Deep Conditioner

Your chief focus when maintaining your natural hair is keeping it moisturized, which is why deep conditioning is so important. Hair treatments help to nourish and revitalize your curls, so even if you already have something of a routine, now is a good time to step it up. “Most people only treat their hair twice a month,” says Miller, “so take advantage of your free time and do deep treatments once a week.” One of her favorite deep conditioners is this one from EDEN BodyWorks, which she says is good for super-dry curls and offers intense hydration. Packed with ingredients like sweet almond oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, and marshmallow root, it offers slip for detangling and helps to soften hair, along with lessening the appearance of split ends.

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An alternative option is this mask from SheaMoisture that Miller calls “very, very moisturizing.” Ideal for curly, thick, and coarse air, this conditioning treatment has manuka honey and mafura oil, which, when combined, offer intense hydration and reduced frizz.

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Miller also likes this deep conditioner from Urban Hydration, which is meant specifically for detangling. It contains honey (for intense moisture) and argan oil, which helps to repair any broken strands from the inside out and controls frizz. It also helps with shine and elasticity and curl definition too.

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For finer hair, Miller recommends the light version of the cultish Moroccan oil treatment because it won’t weigh down fine curls. This also has argan oil, which contains fatty acids and vitamin E to hydrate and nourish your hair. It also has linseed extract, an ingredient that comes from flaxseed and helps improve the overall health of your hair.

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Price recommends the Coco Crème Deep Moisture Mask for deep conditioning, which is specifically formulated for extremely dry hair. To take the treatment to the next level, Price recommends putting plastic wrap on your hair once you apply the mask, and letting it sit for anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. This will trap the heat in your hair, and will enhance the mask’s effects.

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Leave-in Conditioner

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Once you’ve washed out your deep conditioner you’ll want to follow up with a leave-in conditioner like the Afro Sheen Velvet Flow 4-in-1 Leave In, which is lightweight and works well for all textures and curl densities. “It’s a great leave-in for style preparation,” says Miller, and is a good base for layering other products on top. In addition to moisturizing and detangling, it also acts as a heat protectant.

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Miller also likes this daily moisturizer from Urban Hydration, which has a creamy consistency and works well for a wide range of textures too. Using this daily will help your hair to retain its moisture, and reduce tangles and frizz.

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An alternative to leave-in conditioners are curl refreshers, which are ultralight and usually come in a spray. Miller likes this one from TGIN, which helps to extend the life of your curls before your next wash day. “This is great for anyone who doesn’t like too much product,” she says.

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Mousse

Now’s as good a time as any to try simple twists, Bantu knots, and braid-outs, which help to keep your hair separated and reduce knotting and tangling. Miller recommends using a mousse to hold your hair and maintain these style, even if you’re wearing a wash-and-go. “Mousses are perfect for beginners since they’re easy to work with,” she says. More mouse equals more hold, says Miller, although you don’t need a lot to make a hairstyle work. One of her favorite mousse formulas is the EDEN BodyWorks Papaya Castor Foam Conditioner because it’s hydrating and lightweight, and won’t dry out your hair like mousses that contain alcohols.

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