How to care for afro and curly hair in lockdown: the best tricks and products, according to the experts

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Spending time at home is the perfect opportunity to give your hair some extra TLC. Here, we asked the experts about everything you need to know for happy, healthy hair.

Lockdown has given us completely new routines, from our work schedules to how we socialise with friends. But it has also affected how much time we’re giving back to ourselves.

“Everyone is spending more time on beauty and self-care treatments, they help to pass the time,” says Charlotte Mensah, hairstylist, owner and artistic director of the Hair Lounge salon and founder of Charlotte Mensah hair products. “Looking after your hair during lockdown is part of the building blocks of your psychological well-being.”

It’s a particularly good time to care for your natural hair texture and revive your curl pattern. Just look at Gabrielle Union.

Here, Mensah and Winnie Awa, founder of Antidote Street, run through everything you need to know, from the best deep conditioning method to how to care for braids and make them last longer.

How to approach your routine during lockdown

“If your hair is in its natural state maintaining your usual regime is absolutely fine,” says Awa. “As part of your basic care, be sure to keep your hair hydrated on a daily basis as afro hair textures have a tendency to be dry. A moisturising spray is great for thirst relief.

“Alternatively, mixing some water, olive oil and peppermint oil (if you have it) in a water bottle is a great DIY option. Do this every morning or as and when your hair needs it.”

After this, Awa stresses that it’s important to seal in the moisture with a moisturising butter and to provide extra care by using a silk pillowcase when you sleep. “Curly and afro hair tends to knot very easily during sleep and this is exacerbated by traditional cotton pillowcases, which can also sap moisture from the hair,” she explains.

If your hair is dyed, Awa strongly advises against attempting to lighten it at home if you’re not use to doing it. “The potential damage caused can take months to undo,” she says. “I know it is not ideal, especially if light in colour – I am going through the same, we are all in this together – but it’s best to let it grow out for the time being.”

How to add more moisture to afro and curly hair

“Most afro and curly hair soaks up moisture like a sponge,” says Mensah. “So moisturise, moisturise, moisture.”

Awa adds, “For looser curl patterns, hydration mists and leave-in moisturisers on a daily basis should be enough. The amount you use should be measured by the thickness of your hair – so the thicker your hair, the more you will need, but be sure not to weigh your hair down.

“For thicker or coily hair types, opt for a hydrating hair lotion and/or hair butter. This helps seal in the moisture.”

Mensah also recommends washing your hair once a week, avoid using too much heat (“You can air-dry, hood-dry or blow dry with a diffuser”) and to massage the scalp. “Take a few minutes each day to massage your scalp. This simple practice stimulates the secretion of sebaceous oils and stimulates blood circulation.”

You should also “cuddle your hair at night,” says Mensah. “Take five minutes to pamper your hair before bedtime. This means moisturising if necessary, securing the ends and covering your hair at night with a silk scarf to lock in moisture.”

How to maintain braids during lockdown

“Again, hydration is key here and using lightweight formulas is ideal as they can penetrate to the hair encased within the braid,” says Awa. When hair is in braids, it can be difficult to wash it but Awa has a way around this.

“Mix your regular shampoo with a bit of water and spray this on your hair and scalp. Then, gently rinse – it’s a great cleansing method. Just don’t be too rigorous as this will put too much tension on the hair at the roots and may result in breakage.”

Awa recommends keeping your braids for no longer than six weeks. “At this point, you really need to be giving your hair a thorough cleanse,” she explains. “When taking them out do so with patience and care, not tugging on the braids as this weakens your hair follicles.”

Mensah also shares the steps you should follow to maintain braids:

  • “Wrap you left braids at night with a silk scarf.”
  • “Re-braid the front hairline. By removing and braiding the perimeter, your braids will look like you got all of them installed again and you can keep the others in for another month or so before taking the braids down.”
  • “Moisturise with oil-based moisturisers that prevent dryness and flaky scalp.”
  • “Use silk scarfs to protect the hair moisture level.”
  • “Avoid brushing and pulling the braids and allow your scalp time to rest and repair.”
  • “Condition your scalp with leave-in conditioner. This reduces breakage once you remove your braids.”

How to stop yourself from stress-pulling

“During times of anxiety some of us may find ourselves subconsciously adopting habits such as pulling and playing with our hair, which can weaken and create tension on our natural curl pattern,” says Awa. “If your hair tends to be out and you can, try keeping your hair in simple style that limits your ability to play with it. For instance, you could put your hair in cornrows. However, if plaiting is not your forte a slick back bun or pony tail.”

Mensah also recommends make setting yourself small but reasonable goals. “For example, tell yourself, ‘I’m not pulling my hair for the next three hours’. Then keep increasing your time.”

An effective hair wash routine

“Always start by detangling the hair and do this on hair that is slightly damp,” says Awa. “Section your hair into manageable sections and detangle from the tip to root with a wide tooth comb followed by a detangling brush. But take your time and don’t rush, right now is a great opportunity for us to get to know our hair and fall in love with it.”

Once you’ve detangled your hair, you can move onto shampooing. “Look for shampoos that are sulphate-free as sulphates tend to strip hair of its natural oils - something that should be avoided for afro hair particularly,” she explains. “When applying shampoo, those with thicker and fuller hair may want to do it in sections to avoid further knotting.”

“Once hair is cleansed blot-dry with a microfibre towel or old t-shirt to prevent roughening up your curl pattern and then apply your deep conditioner.”

Mensah advises choosing a rich creamy conditioner. “This will fill the porous area on the surface of the hair, keeping it hydrated and super nourished,” she says. “Apply the deep conditioner, focusing on the mid-lengths and ends as this area tends to get drier than the rest of the hair. Then spread any conditioner that remains on your hands from the roots to the ends. Use a paddle brush or wide tooth comb to evenly distribute the conditioner.”

Awa recommends braiding sections of your hair into simple ropes twists and letting the leave-in conditioner nourish hair for as long as you like or need.

For further hydration, Mensah says recommends covering your hair with a plastic cap. “Keep it on for 30 minutes to one hour. You can apply heat as this allows the product to absorb into your hair more easily.”

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