The Wash-Day Diaries

Six Black women on the trials and triumphs of finding the perfect wash-day routine.

Two months ago, I had an experience at a braiding salon that left me so frustrated that I almost shaved my head. I came with my hair washed, detangled, and ready to be braided — but the hairstylist refused, stating I had oil on my scalp that prevented her from braiding.

I’ve been getting braids my entire life and have never run into this issue. Yet, there I was, suddenly ineligible for a style designed specifically for my hair type. The unfortunate part of this experience is that it’s a thing. Plenty of braiders have gone viral for having unreasonable, anti-Black expectations that simply don’t exist for people with straighter hair. Braids are supposed to be our safe space. I’d rather not have hair than continue to be rejected in the salon chair.

It’s not the first time that my afro-textured hair has been misunderstood by a stylist. While white folks can walk into most salons and be served, the Black experience couldn’t be more different. Many hairdressers haven’t been trained to care for kinky hair in its natural state, and their ignorance can be catastrophic for fine, delicate coils.

In 2020, I taught myself how to do box braids so I could isolate safely. Waist-length, medium sized box braids took two days to install. However, Emme Dabiri, author of Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture, says she’s “reluctant to describe this process as time-consuming.” She points out that braiding is an intergenerational, social tradition that predates capitalist labor demands.

With that in mind, I spoke with six women about how they manage their curls, coils, braids, and locs and what their wash-days mean to them.

Kidd Matthews

A 25-year-old software engineer and artist based in New York, Matthews has type 4A/4B curls and recently got locs for the second time.

What’s your wash day routine?

I wash once or twice every couple of weeks. Last night, I oiled my hair and scalp a bit before bed with argan oil. This morning, I conditioned, washed, and conditioned again with SheaMoisture. Every now and again, I use my girlfriend’s Alaffia Shampoo and Conditioner, which I may formally switch to when my Shea Moisture products run out. I’m still trying to find a daily moisturizer that works for me and it hasn’t been so easy. I struggle with dry scalp and build-up. I also look for something that won’t weigh my hair down because it’s soft and fine.

What inspired your most recent hair journey?

I don’t know that I have so many explicit inspirations. I know anywhere there are Black people, there’s bound to be some folk with locs. It’s the same in Louisiana. Traditional locs are really popular. I remember wanting locs so bad when I was younger, but my family wasn’t always so keen on them.

Once I got to college, I started my first loc journey. Mine looked different than most I’d seen — I didn’t quite realize how my texture would affect the way they came out. But I came to love them. Junglepussy even complimented them once. Even when I cut them off the first time, I knew that I would want to loc up again someday. If I had to point to any person as inspiration, it’s probably Lil Wayne off Tha Carter IV — and my godmother in the seventies because she had a mean lil’ afro.

Matthews’ Wash-Day Wonders

Latashá Alcindor

A 34-year-old artist community lead based in Los Angeles, Alcindor has a combination of 3C curls in the front and 4A coils in the back.

What’s your wash day philosophy?

I try to make my wash day a really important self-care day. I feel like we as Black women always don’t have the time to do a good self-care day. So, I try to give my hair some real love.

What’s your wash day routine?

I wash my hair with Carol’s Daughter’s Goddess line. I use Aussie’s Three Minute Deep Conditioner and it works like a charm. I use another deep conditioner from SheaMoisture, the Manuka Masque. After that, I let my hair air dry because I don’t like to put anything on it. I use a t-shirt [instead of a] towel. Then, I [follow] the leave-in conditioner, oil, and cream (LOC) process. I also put a little conditioner in a water bottle and spray it on. I braid Yaki hair first, then wrap it around [the base of my natural hair for] my bun.

What’s your favorite hair company?

Janet Collection used to always be my favorite. I love Better Length Hair because they have really good afro-textured hair. It matches mine so perfectly that I’m like, this is scary — it’s some of the best hair I’ve ever experienced. The coils come out perfectly.

Alcindor’s Wash-Day Wonders

“I try to make my wash day a really important self-care day. I feel like we as Black women always don’t have the time to do a good self-care day. So, I try to give my hair some real love.”

Sharisse McClure

A 31-year-old new mother and online marketplace brand manager based in New York, McClure’s hair is a self-described “kinky-curly mix of the 4s.” The crown is 4A, the middle is 4C, and the nape is 4B.

What’s your wash day routine?

It’s changed so much since having a baby because it takes so much more planning. Either the baby must be in a deep nap — a rarity — or dad, my mom, or girlfriends give me a break and I'll wash my hair then. I first section my hair into six twists to wash, then I apply Hask Argan Oil Deep Conditioner, Mielle Mongongo Oil Thermal & Heat Protectant Spray, and use my Revlon One-Step Blow Dryer. I moisturize with water and [something] like Softsheen Carson Care Free Curl SnapBack Curl Restorer. Lastly, I re-twist my hair to wear under silk-lined turbans or wigs. Easy, quick, tension-free styling matters most to me. I had some new cornrows that were just beautiful. However, with the postpartum shedding, the tension was just too much. They had to go!

What are some of the biggest setbacks you’ve faced along your hair journey?

Retaining length due to split ends and, of course, postpartum shedding. I’m trying to be more diligent with drinking tons of water, still taking my prenatal vitamins, and babying my hair with low-manipulation protective styling. Setting a proper trimming schedule also makes a big difference in retaining length.

McClure’s Wash Day Wonders

Tania Maree Giordani

A 24-year-old founder and director of NourishNYC and student based in New York City, Giordani’s hair is a mixture of tight waves and curls.

What’s your wash day routine?

I wash my hair with shampoo twice a week. My mid-week shampoo is not super intense; it’s just to wash out the build-up from leave-ins. I put it in my hands, lather, and then apply it directly to my scalp; I don’t pour it directly onto my hair. Normally, I don’t condition in the shower for my mid-week wash. I apply either a leave-in or conditioner daily, and I oil my scalp every night.

How has your hair care routine evolved over time?

Now, I’m optimizing for time. I used to optimize for comfort at Barnard. It wasn’t comfortable to be doing my hair around a bunch of white girls who didn’t have hair like mine. It was annoying to be doing something normal and then have to answer questions.

Who’s inspired your most recent hair journey?

I almost feel like baby me is the hair I’m working towards. In Haiti, it’s traditional to make ribbons with leftover dress fabric. When I was younger, I would always wear ribbons in my hair and it’s one of my favorite ways to wear my hair when it’s longer. For graduation, I want to get really nice ribbons made with notes about my journey over the past few years. I’ve had to overcome a lot, and I wanted to honor that journey of mine. School and work are supposed to put me in a position to honor my inner child because that’s who I am. I want to wear my hair how I used to as a kid.

Giordani’s Wash Day Wonders

Fatimah Barrie

A 32-year-old teacher and activist in Brooklyn, Barrie’s hair is a combination of 4B and 4C coils.

What’s your wash day routine?

My pre-poo is a Pantene conditioner, the big white bottle. I’ll sit with a plastic cap on my head, then I shampoo with this brand called Onyx that my mom got for me. Next, I wash that out and put its Rice Water Deep Conditioner on it. I let it sit on my head for an hour to 24 hours. Then, I wash it out and make the Chebe powder. My dad is Fulani. The women of the Fulani tribe put this powder mixture on the ends of their hair when they do braid-outs to lock in the moisture. They’ll leave it there for three to four hours, or longer periods of time. The longest I’ve done it is for three days; the shortest I’ve done is six hours. [After] I wash it out, that’s when I’ll style it. I might put it in a bun, twist-out, or just leave it in an afro and go to work the next day.

What are some of the biggest setbacks you’ve faced along your hair journey?

There are so many challenges. Some days you want to wear a wig knowing you’ll have less issues with a straight hairstyle as opposed to an afro. I’m a teacher. Recently a white colleague said, “Well if you didn’t change your hair, we would’ve known who you were.” I don’t want there to be another incident where they’re talking about my hair and I'm very confused as to why that’s a topic of their concern. Some days I want box braids and then I think about how long they take to put in, take out, the tension, the money. Natural hair is not easy. Still, I want to see how long I can grow my hair.

Barrie’s Wash Day Wonder

Angela Myers

A 26-year-old NAACP President and graduate school student at the University of Minnesota, Myers says she has a mix of type four curls. The top of her head is “coarse and kinky” and the back is more coily.

What’s your go-to hairstyle in-between wash days?

I really like wearing headband wigs from Her Given Hair. All I gotta do is slap it on. People were very complimentary. People thought this was my hair, hair. It does not give 'wig' at all. It's so cute and a really great color for my skin tone.

What’s your opinion on the anti-sulfate debate?

If you're anti-one [sulfate product] ,you do have to be anti all of them. You can't be using Blue Magic and not have sulfates in your shampoo. It's not going to come out. You can't use Blue Magic and then co-wash.

Myers’ Wash Day Wonders