By Robin Collymore-Henry

During the global pandemic, the regular schedule and convenience of appointments with our hair stylist have drastically changed. For many of Chicago’s finest, the idea of doing their own hair was unimaginable, but we all quickly learned that we had to make some adjustments. One of the most obvious adjustments had to do with our hair maintenance routines. For quite a few, the quarantine has given our hair a chance to rest and restore, but for many others, the time away from society, more specifically, away from the hair salon, has been a huge challenge. Many women with relaxer-free hair have had to embrace their natural texture without the assistance of a professional stylist for the first time in years.

I interviewed several women in different stages of their natural hair journeys. They share a commitment to remaining heat-free and continue to embrace their hair texture.

Alleson Knox (AK) is a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois who is a former Miss Black Illinois and NBA Chicago Luvabull. While always relaxer-free, her journey back to curly from blow-dried hair is impacting her life. Recently, since she could not get to her stylist, she decided to allow her friend to cut her heat damaged ends.

RH: How has the quarantine affected your hair?

AK: “It has given me more time to tend to my hair. I am on a journey of purpose, growth, and becoming more rooted. While staying safe at home, I have learned that being natural caused me to look at myself, my goals and my actions. These thoughts were triggered because I was thinking about what to do with my hair to protect it and encourage it to get healthier.”

RH: So this journey of yours is not just about hair?

AK: “I am learning to accept myself naturally, meaning my hair, my skin, and my talents. In the past, I have allowed my hair to reflect various trends for many reasons. I colored it, highlighted it, and then straightened it when I worked for the NBA. I enjoyed an experience with blond hair and it was fun! I tell others to enjoy each stage. But after leaving that part of my career, when I allowed others to judge me and place me based on my appearance, I finally had to ask myself exactly who am I?”

RH: Some jobs have specific requirements, but what are your requirements now?

AK: “I feel free! I do not have to make other people comfortable with my hair. I am trying new things like a wash and go, a twist-out, and a rod set. The lockdown has been a good time to learn in a more manageable way because hot oil treatments and deep conditioning take a lot of time. Next month, I will celebrate a full year without putting heat on my hair. I am working on it, so I am exactly not sure about my hair maintenance regimen. So I will have questions for my stylist whenever I return to her chair.”

RH: How does your confidence about natural hair affect others?

AK: “I work with younger girls. I hope that they learn to see beyond the excessive makeup, long weaves, exaggerated lashes, and flashy clothes. I know they need role-models who are natural to see their own true natural beauty!”

We had to accept a very difficult fact: we could not go to our hair stylists as often as we had in the past. Our weekly, or bi-monthly or quarterly appointments were canceled with no plans for rescheduling. This shutdown was sudden and without concern for touch-ups, split ends, fresh fades, new highlights, or smoothing edges. The salons were shut down and closed with no respect for our needs! This was a shock for many people, but especially women with specific preferences for their hairstyles.

Rosalind Scaife is a guidance counselor who has worn her hair natural and curly for the past 3 years. Her schedule of working and supervising her child caused her to stop taking care of her hair. She has neglected her hair and is currently dealing with the harm caused.

RH: What has been the biggest impact of the quarantine on your hair care routine?

RS: “I fell off of my regimen. Normally, I washed my hair every 7th day. But trying to work from home while making sure that my young son did his coursework caused me to put off my hair care routine. I felt like there was not enough time to do everything. I had to prioritize my responsibilities and my hair was last on the list.

RH: If you had to identify one problem, what was it?

I stopped using my deep conditioner because I felt it took too much time. Right before the lockdown, my stylist cut off my highlights. Since I thought my hair was stronger without all of that color, I was no longer afraid of breakage. I became lazy and overly confident that my hair could handle some neglect. But I was wrong! My hair started to break off and it suffered because I could not get to my stylist for a good cut.”

RH: What finally happened and what did you learn?”

RS: “I learned that I need to keep a very regular appointment with my stylist and keep doing what she prescribed for my hair. I should have had a cut in March, but I did not set an appointment, and then we were confined during the lockdown. So my already split ends got much worse. By my June appointment, I had to get a major cut instead of a trim! Now that my hair is shorter, I realize that we all must learn to be OK with the hair that grows out of our heads and know that it will grow. I will share the lessons I learned. Curl envy is not a good thing. Keep a hair journal of products and styling tools used to refer to in the future. Take lots of selfies!”

Some women have resorted to cutting their hair by themselves. A few have grabbed a pair of scissors and chopped off their hair, locs or braids. Many have solved the problem of outgrown color by cutting their hair and discovering the freedom of embracing their grey. While many have worn relaxers for years, some have big-chopped and decided to return to natural hair. All of these changes are quickly achieved, but the aftermath is a new challenge.

Angie Hicks Skinner is a recent transplant from Washington, DC. She wears her short tapered cut with pride. She is fearless with her hair maintenance and has recently taken things into her own hands.

RH: How has the quarantine changed the way you handle your natural hair?

AHS: Before the shutdown I had a regular routine of appointments at Spring’s Salon in the south loop area where my stylist, Mimi, cut my natural hair. I want to emphasize that I took the scissors in my own hands to maintain my look, but it was based on a great professional foundational cut. Every 8-10 days I would use scissors and the comb razor to taper the sides of my hair.

RH: What happened that made you realize that you needed to see your stylist?

AHS: Cutting my tapered hair proved to be a challenge, but I tried to do it anyway. That was a problem because I could not see the back of my head to gradually cut less hair closer to my neck and leave more hair closer to my ear level. While it grows fast, it was not exactly the way I wanted it to look. Then I called Mimi for an appointment to get the shape that I love!

RH: Can you share your plans to move forward?

AHS: To date I have only had one visit to the salon to see Mimi for a cut in her new Sola Salon in Hyde Park. My hair looks great and I receive many compliments on the style and maintenance that I executed during the lockdown. I will admit that I will trim it if necessary to keep it tight, but for real shaping, I will see Mimi.

If you are looking for a natural hair stylist, learn from others and heed their advice. Investigate the stylist and look for the styles that you desire on their social media pages. The magic of a natural style is in the hair shaping, not the products. The styles and cuts that we love are usually done by highly qualified professionals. Nothing comes from a bottle to create curls like Tracee, color like Beyonce, braids like Alicia, afro glory like Lupita, sleekness like Jada, and wonderful weaves like so many others. These styles require the right professional. If we must do another lockdown, the best advice is to do a one-to-one virtual consultation with a stylist. Enjoy your journey!