“I have no idea,” said Delaney, a registered nurse and clinical case manager who has continued to visit three to six patients a day at their homes.
“Of course, I know how to wash my hair, but washing it and being able to style it where I feel I look presentable is going to be complex. And if you don’t normally wear a natural style, it’s not something you can just do overnight.”
Stay-at-home orders have shuttered salons and beauty supply stores, while social distancing has made house visits a risky endeavor for hair braiders and their clients. Black women have had to adjust: Some women are taking the time to go natural and give their hair a break from weaves, chemicals and heat styling; some are continuing to braid their hair or learning to braid for the first time; a few are confronting their natural hair texture after an extended break and panicking.
The salons, beauty supply stores and stylists that cater to black women are also adapting by revamping their digital presence with instructional videos and the sale of products online.
Felicia Leatherwood, a celebrity hairstylist who has worked with Issa Rae of “Insecure” and director Ava DuVernay, said some black women are experiencing “anxiety on top of anxiety” right now.
“They have anxiety about what’s happening, and then they have anxiety about discovering their hair and working with it and realizing that they actually have not liked their hair, never really liked their texture,” she said.
Part of the challenge for women is the mental hurdle of working with their hair on their own, especially for those with denser textures, she said. She plans to launch a video series in which she answers questions submitted by her followers in short clips showcasing their hair.
Leatherwood said women need to channel “Little House on the Prairie” and make do with what they have at home. One woman who contacted her didn’t have any products, not even shampoo or conditioner. But she did have Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile soap, an avocado and an aloe vera plant. Leatherwood said Dr. Bronner’s soap can be used as shampoo in a pinch, and she instructed the woman to make a hair treatment masque out of the avocado and aloe vera to keep her hair soft.
She said women also need to have products on hand to hydrate their hair. She recommends the Curls, Aunt Jackie’s and Maui Moisture brands for all hair textures.
Tallulah Marcelin, owner — an L.A. salon that focuses on natural hairstyling — said people who are concerned about tangles while shampooing their hair can divide it into braided sections, wash it and rinse. “You’re mainly trying to clean your scalp of build-up and sweat and things like that, and then you’re trying to remove product from your hair without stripping it,” she said.
Marcelin recommended women also make an effort to keep their hair moisturized.
“This is the time to really saturate your hair with oils and butters and conditioners and twist it up,” she said. She recommended taking a silk or cloth scarf and making a turban around the braided hair.
Trends in the beauty and hair-care industry show that black women have been shifting away from chemically straightening their hair and focusing more on looks that don’t subject their hair to damage from frequent styling. Between 2015 and 2019, braids with extensions increased in popularity by 64%, wigs increased by 79% and weaves increased by 47%, according to analyst Toya Mitchell of Mintel, a global market research firm.
Delaney, 50, said she’s not uncomfortable with her natural hair but also would be self-conscious about trying out a new hairstyle at work. Before the salon closures, she typically would get her hair washed, blow-dried, straightened and styled in a ponytail or loose curls. She acknowledged it would probably affect her more than her patients.