Chinea is one of our awesome New York-based Pretty Bird contributors, with a penchant for knowing what’s hot in beauty and fashion right now. During the recent COVID lockdown, she started experimenting more with protective styles and tried doing her own box braids for the first time. For our series, Our Hair Don’t Care, she gets in-depth about embracing her natural hair, learning what works for her and what products she’s loving right now
Our Hair, Don’t Care: Chinea Rodriguez
I have so many vivid memories of hair growing up, good and bad. I remember wanting braids like Moesha and trying to do Aaliyah’s hairstyle in the “Are You That Somebody” video. I remember sitting under hot dryers or on the floor while my hair was braided or pulled into ponytails with colorful barrettes. I remember relaxer burns and my mother styling my baby hairs with a hard brush.
My mother had done her hair herself most of the time. She’d dye it shades of blue-black or reddish black, she’d blow it out and wrap it up with hairpins. We had a hooded dryer and a basket full of rollers and barrettes, cabinets full of lotions, oils, and grease that my mother would diligently apply to my scalp. She’d buy boxes of “Just for Me” relaxer and wash my hair in the sink, while I covered my ears and complained about the water.
Learning to do my hair myself, which I started in middle school, took a bit of time. I slicked it back into ponytails and buns until I started high school. In high school I figured out how to relax my hair myself, spending Sundays every few weeks scrubbing the relaxer smell out of my hair. Soon after I started straightening my hair, I’d part it to the side and wear it out or pull it into a low ponytail with a side bang or bangs which I always cut impulsively and wear for about a month until I decide I hate managing them.
After years of dyeing and frying, my hair was of course, dry and breaking off. My ends were split and uneven so after much deliberation, I decided it needed to be cut. I took a picture I had saved of Jourdan Dunn on the runway Topshop Unique show to the hair salon. While this is still my favorite haircut, I got sick of the upkeep. It seemed to always grow out too fast or get too frizzy. Around this time I had decided to go natural, I had relaxers in my hair for as long as I can remember and no real idea of what my actual hair texture was. I struggled through the process, I bought new products and tried different styles, Bantu knots and twist outs, but they always seemed to fall flat. I went back to relaxers one more time before officially calling it quits and deciding to stick out the journey.
After a while I could see curls coming through instead of waves, I got it cut again, I swore off heat styling and invested in conditioners and curl enhancers. It took maybe 2-3 years and one bleach mishap that had finally grown out before I was confident enough to wear my natural hair out. It was a mix of textures, curls, waves, kinks, and frizz. I had figured out a routine and products my hair liked. Most mornings I’d wake up and refresh my hair with water and a curl enhancer, finishing off with a gel. I knew that by the middle of the week it would look best and by Friday or Saturday, I’d probably have to wear it up because it wouldn’t look as good. I’d wash it every Sunday which was probably too much but I hated product buildup, I’d detangle and deep condition and coat it in oil. Whenever it was too cold to wet my hair and wear it out I pulled it into a ponytail with a puff or bun. For about two years this was my go-to routine.
Earlier this year I found myself on YouTube, as usual, watching makeup tutorials, natural hair product reviews, and the occasional wig video. More hairstyling videos and tutorials started popping up in my recommendations, the most notable being crochet styles. It seemed so easy, so after doing some research (watching several videos) I bought a few packs of braids from the beauty supply store and decided to try it myself. The first attempt was an attempt, it took most of the night but I managed a style that looked decent and nearly undetectable. One key thing for crochet braid styles is cornrowing your hair to create a base to attach the styles to and I didn’t know how to cornrow but of course, there were solutions on youtube.
I had found a new routine. Eventually, I learned to cornrow, not perfectly but well enough to work. I bought more packs of braids, each time I put them in it took about an hour less. I’d wash and deep condition my hair every 2-3 weeks and put new braids in. I loved not having to wrestle my hair into a ponytail or put a hat to cover up the fact that I didn’t feel like doing it. I didn’t notice any difference in my own hair for a while, I’d wash it and put it into a ponytail until I was ready to braid it again. Occasionally I’d trim it myself since I had put off finding a new hairstylist for so long. One day I noticed it seemed shorter, I panicked, how much had I cut off? Was this all breakage? I applied my usual leave-in and hair oil and let it air dry. It wasn’t long before I realized that after about three months my mix of wavy and coily curls was now one (mostly) uniform curl pattern.
Hair Care Tips and Products
It’s a few months in and I’m still figuring things out, mostly shrinkage. Some of the best hair care tips I’ve implemented into my routine are avoiding heat and manipulation. Knowing how to cornrow also helped a lot, especially through the lockdown. Since I wasn’t regularly styling my hair, I wasn’t moisturizing it enough so protective styles were my go-to. I’ve been trying out different products (mostly from Black-owned brands) to figure out what works, but I like hydrating products that don’t leave any residue. I’m currently using Bread Beauty Supply’s Milky Cleanser and Hair Mask, which I love, they smell really good and don’t leave my hair feeling stripped. I was never too picky about hair care ingredients so I used a lot of products with silicones (the Aussie Moist Mask was my favorite) and sulfates and now I’m adjusting to my hair feeling clean and not stripped instead of that squeaky clean feeling you usually get from these ingredients. Sometimes I’ll use a co-wash from Miss Jessie’s and a conditioner from Design Essentials.
Post wash, I like to add a leave-in right away because my hair dries so fast, I alternate between one from Shea Moisture and one from Miss Jessie’s. I usually follow up with a styling product like Jelly Soft Curls or Honey Curls. Sometimes I’ll add hair oil, I like the one from Bread. When I’m braiding my hair, I’m not as picky about product buildup. I alternate between Maui Moisture’s combing cream and my favorite at the moment the Naturalicious hair mist. I really only detangle my hair with conditioner in it and when I’m braiding it so I’m careful to avoid breakage. I smooth out any frizz with an edge control or a gel so the style looks neater longer.
I live very close to a small beauty supply store so I’m planning to buy some hair soon. I’ve wanted to try jumbo braids and twists for a while and different hair colors, I really love the chunky blonde highlights now but I’m trying not to bleach my hair so I might try it with braids. I’m excited to try new styles and work on getting better at doing my hair myself and I’m thinking about my next haircut, which I will not be doing myself. I’m also excited to try more Black-owned brands and clean haircare brands.