Going to the salon is an event for many black women. The salon is a place of community, therapy, and ritual for a hair strand that is often overlooked and mistreated. On a recent episode of Blackish, youngest daughter Diane has her first experience in the salon where she also receives her first relaxer and is immediately brought into the day-long epic that is common at a black beauty salon. Black Girl Church, a documentary about black women and their relationships to beauty supply stores and the salon experience, treats the experience as a near-religious ceremony and a sanctuary for one of the most marginalized communities. And in late 2016, #BlackSalonProblems began trending on Twitter as women shared their horror stories, which mostly followed the same plot. (Who knew everyone would want a straight look like Beyoncé’s but always ended up looking more like James Brown?)
But when COVID-19 shut down all non-essential businesses—salons and black beauty stores among them—many black women were forced to take matters into their own hands. “Eighteen hours to braid my hair?” Makeup artist and producer Diamond Hawkins said in an email to ELLE.com. “Not a big fan of that!”
To echoe Hawkin’s sentiment: I am also not a big fan of that. I’ve never had to do my own hair before, but the pandemic has forced me to tirelessly learn how to install twists without the help of a stylist, who has the touch that I just don’t possess. For some of the women we spoke to, dealing with their hair amid the crisis has proven to be yet stressor, while others have found joy in spending time with hair masks and curl treatments rather than heat and chemicals.
Below, nine black women share how they are dealing with their hair during a global pandemic—plus offer resources and advice, if you’re struggling at home, too.
“The last time I got my hair done (a blowout) was March 14th, which was right before my birthday and when things were right on the verge of becoming what they are now. Because I get my hair done weekly (yes, it’s my thing), I naturally had another appointment scheduled for March 21st. I ultimately decided to cancel it because I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to go sit at the salon just to get my hair done with everything going on in the world. While sometimes I wish I kept the appointment, I’m okay that I didn’t. My hair stylist has her own amazing product line so I’ve been using it as a way to support her and maintain my hair during this time. It’s definitely hard and such a process, and I miss being able to have my hairstylist take care of my hair.
I still continue to wash my hair once a week and then do a whole detangling process, which I hate. Ever since I’ve been natural, detangling my hair has been my least favorite thing ever. I’m always so scared I’m going to rip my hair out, which is crazy aggressive, but I think that is why I rely on my hairstylist a lot to take care of my natural curls because of my fears of doing something wrong. And while going through all of this stress with being isolated during COVID-19, the last thing I ever want to experience is hair loss. I think the only bright spot for me is that this time has allowed me to let my hair breathe and take a break from the process of blow outs and heat. But when this is all over, I can’t wait to see my hairstylist again and give her a big hug!” —Kia Goobsy, fashion editor, Hearst Fashion Group
“When it comes to my hair, I’ve always been a DIY kind of girl. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hid my hair under a protective style—marley twists, faux locs, passion twists, weaves—because I convinced myself that my natural hair was “too much” handle. Really, I just never devoted any time to actually caring for my natural hair and a protective style seemed like the easy way out. But since I’ve been home for a month now, I’ve used this time in isolation to understand my hair’s wants and needs by testing out a range of products, understanding my hair’s porosity and concocting my own oils to give my hair the love it’s been deprived of. Yes, quarantine forced me to install yet another protective style, but at least by the time all of this ends, my hair will come out healthier and stronger than before.”—Nerisha Penrose, assistant editor, ELLE.com
“During self-isolation, I learned how to braid my own hair through YouTube! Additionally, I make sure I moisturize my hair daily with Girl + Hair products to keep a healthy scalp! I was not able to get an appointment before quarantine, so I had to teach myself! (Took 18 long hours!) My braids are holding up well thanks to weekly washes and daily moisturizing. My scalp loves me right now, it is getting all of the love. Not being able to get my hair done is for sure an additional stressor on my life. 18 hours to braid my hair?! Not a big fan of that! It looks good, but it could be so much better! I think this is a great time to explore but don’t make too many changes that your stylist will have to fix when this is over. But, can we get a black beauty supply store online, with reasonable prices? It’s the time to love yourself and your hair.” —Diamond Hawkins, celebrity makeup artist
“Thankfully, I have had my hair in a protective style for the duration of my social distancing. I am a grad student and I had already planned on putting in spring twists over my spring break. Still, I’m going to need to take them out soon so I’m looking ahead to how I’ll manage my hair in the coming months. I’ve been falling prey to a lot of the Instagram ads & Youtube reviews, so I’ve got products on my wishlist that I want to try, and I’m debating on all sorts of new tools to buy. I think being at home has made me feel like I have a little more latitude to try something new since I’ll have time to correct it before I have to go out into the world again. One thing that I have embraced about my natural hair is not really letting hair stress me out. I’ve come to learn that she will do what she wants to do, often despite my best-laid plans, so I don’t typically trip on my hair. Taking care of your hair is a form of self-care. Wash day is important. Even amidst all this uncertainty, know that it’s okay to give yourself permission to love on yourself via loving on your hair. We all just have to find a way to make it through. (And for some of us, that means leaving quarantine with poppin’ curls!)”—Tiffany N. Hughes, doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin
“I scheduled my appointment the week before SXSW to make sure I was ready for business meetings and catching up with colleagues coming to Austin, and I’m so glad I did. When the conference was canceled and the shelter-in-place order was mandated, I felt lucky that I booked that appointment when I did. I’m focused on protecting my hair from daily damage. I text with my hairdresser if I have questions. I invested in more silk scarves to have more options in my rotation. I also have time to try at-home hair mask recipes. With the changes surrounding us, I’m choosing consistency over new routines when it comes to my hair care.
When I reach the point that I’ve overdue for an appointment, I’m sure I’ll feel the stress. The stress to maintain my hair and appearance is less about not having access to my usual stylist but it’s more about the pressure to use every tool available to me to ensure I continue to generate revenue for my company. Black people are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and that stress translates to our relationship with our careers.” —Janice Omadeke, founder and CEO, The Mentor Method
“I was one of the lucky ones. I visited my braider and had ass-length knotless braids installed the first week of March—one week before I left NY for a destination wedding, and two weeks before I returned to a city ordered to stay home. I’ve had them in for a total of six weeks, and am pushing to get through two more. I would have gone in to get the first few rows of braids redone at this point, but I’ve had to enroll in YouTube University for tips on how to keep them looking fresh in the meantime. I’ve actually enjoyed the freedom of not having to “do” my hair each day. I’m appreciating the time away from heat styling and constant manipulation (I have color-treated hair, and often wear my hair straightened, with extensions, so this is a welcome respite). I’m glad to have a style that allows me to use hydrating conditioners, scalp oils, etc., without worry that it’ll weigh my style down.
However, there will come a time when these braids will run their course, and that time will come before NY’s stay home order is lifted. Two weeks before, if we can actually depend on that May 15 date. I’m itching for a salon chair: a good protein treatment, an overdue trim, fresh highlights.
And I’m annoyed that all beauty supply stores in my area—which I, a Black woman, deem essential to my personal care!—are closed. But, I’ve been talking to my hairstylist about heat-free styles I can achieve at home once I take these braids out: how to stretch my hair without heat, which products I can use to maintain balance on my sensitive scalp, and virtual tutorials on how to cornrow my hair, solo—something I’ve never learned how to do.” —Angel Lenise, lead supervising video producer, ELLE.com
“I cut my hair short a few months ago which was already a major adjustment because I never necessarily took care of my own hair, stylists were my go-to girls. Well, the joke was on me when corona came around and shut down the hair stores and salons. As I was already in the process of learning how to properly care for my hair without outside help, it feels like I’m going to have to go to the next step: learning how to braid on YouTube.
So far, I’ve been a heavy bun girl but I cannot lose my edges in this pandemic. Corona is taking everything else but she will not take my edges! I also have ordered some wigs offline just to potentially play around with them and practice because if I mess up the lace, who will see it?
The positive in all of this is I have implemented a weekly deep conditioning treatment which I never had time to do before but always sounded cute and have seen a difference in my hair. So, that’s one plus: moisturized hair.”— Cierra Williams, writer, Philadelphia Magazine
“My hair care routine has been largely the same since I tend to do my own hair. I went natural over 11 years ago because I wanted to cut down on the number of trips to the salon I was making as I’ve never really liked getting my hair done. Everything is mostly the same except I’ve been trying to limit my trips outside and ran out of my usual products. I substituted them for products I had around but rarely use, and my hair was in a pretty bad state for a while. I recently restocked my usual products on a Target run and my hair is back to life!
During COVID-19, I’ve chopped my hair off into a bob! I cut about 8 inches off the back. I’ve been wanting to cut my hair for a while, so this wasn’t a rash quarantine decision. I did think now would be the best time to cut it though because if I messed up, I’d have time to fix it or grow it out a bit. My advice is now is a great time to experiment with your hair. I wouldn’t suggest a major change like a big hair cut or dye if you’ve never done it before, but try that twist out or trim your ends or learn to braid. I learned how to do my hair through experimentation years ago when I first went natural and there weren’t nearly as many online resources as there are now.”— Lauren Washington, co-founder, Black Women Talk Tech and Fundr
“I had a very consistent routine prior to self-isolation, so it’s actually mostly been the same for me. I wash, detangle, deep condition, and style every two weeks without fail. I feel like this is the perfect time for people who have never built their own regimen or had time to learn their own hair to do so! I also think there’s freedom in not doing it if you simply don’t care! That’s what I think is important to remember in this time — not everyone has to develop some new extravagant routine, or learn some new skill. Do whatever feels right and nurturing to you. If you do want to build a routine, start simple and listen to your hair. I think it’s easy to lean into all of the YouTube videos and TikToks and do too many things that all don’t work and then get frustrated.”— Priscilla Quaye, content studio manager, Creative Operations at Glossier