Wash day is a day I both love and loathe. Between the products, accessories, and recommended steps, resetting your style in one day’s work can be overwhelming. I’ve been trying to perfect the ideal routine for years, one that doesn’t involve spending my entire Saturday in the mirror but still keeps my hair on track to looking cute and healthy. However, I’ve found listening to advice from experienced experts as a helpful way to cut through the noise of what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your hair.
I got to catch up with Ursula Stephen, a celebrity stylist with tons of experience with natural hair. Stephen has over 15 years of experience in the beauty industry, creating iconic looks for celebrities like Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Zendaya, Laverne Cox, and more. Stephen is also the owner of her NYC-based salon, where her team of talented stylists serves the crops of a diverse client base. Most recently, Scunci tapped Stephen as its latest celebrity hairstylist ambassador for its new Curl Collective collection, a range of styling tools and accessories made specifically for curls.
Ahead, Stephen shares her top tips to help take the guesswork of wash day to maximize your time and results.
Wash Day Misconceptions
If you’re frustrated with the time and process of washing your natural hair, Stephen says that can be due to not properly managing your expectations. “There is an idea that wash day is supposed to be a quick process—which may be the case for some,” she says. “However, it takes time to care for natural hair properly. You must section, detangle, and put a lot of care into it.”
That said, everyone’s specific routine may be different, but there are a few non-negotiable steps in Stephen’s book, and detangling sits high up on that list. “You should always go into the shower or thoroughly soak your hair before starting your detangling process,” says Stephen. “Detangling is a must with natural hair because you have to loosen buildup and grease, especially if you’ve been sporting a braided style or wash-and-go.”
Stephen says skimping out on the detangling process can do more harm than good, leaving your hair prone to breakage or knots. “The best way to detangle it is to dampen the hair with a spray bottle, section it into four to five parts using your hand or sectioning clips like the Curl Collective Wavy Hair Salon Clips ($7), and detangle it from root to tip,” she says. To help detangle without snagging at your hair, Stephen recommends Scunci Curl Collective Detangling Brush ($12), designed with custom-spaced bristles to move seamlessly through curls.
According to Stephen, one additional misconception making wash day more complicated is skipping out on leave-in conditioners. “Leave-in conditioners are the holy grail of wash days because they help to detangle the hair, add extra protection, and keep curls moisturized,” she says. “You may try to use a styling cream as an alternative, but they shouldn’t substitute a leave-in conditioner, which helps create a protective barrier from the environment, styling tools, and any other products layered on.”
Pick Your Products Wisely
The natural hair care aisle can be fun, overwhelming, and pricey for your pockets. While exploring products is a great way to learn what your hair likes and what it doesn’t, Stephen says don’t underestimate the power of the basics. “Having the right shampoo, conditioner, leave-in conditioner, and styling cream are the basics of a solid routine,” she says.
Knowing your hair and scalp type is beneficial to picking the perfect shampoo to cleanse or treat and the right conditioner to balance. “If you have a dry scalp or thinner hair, you may find a volumizer or scalp treatment beneficial, but overall the items mentioned earlier are the essentials of a functional wash day.”
Post-Wash Care is Important
Cleansing and detangling your hair sets the foundation for the rest of your wash routine, but the styling steps that follow are also important. “Your post-wash day lineup should include a moisturizing styling cream to help maintain the health of the hair,” Stephen explains. “You don’t need to rewet the hair and overcomplicate the process.”
According to Stephen, a good styling cream will help maintain all the work on your wash day by improving shine, moisturizing, or adding definition where needed. “It’s a great way to rejuvenate your hair between washes, but you don’t have to repeat the process from start to finish each time,” she says.
Stephen says you can co-wash (use a no-lather cream cleanser) to detangle or gently cleanse your hair during the days between your shampoos. Still, it shouldn’t replace shampooing to cleanse your scalp. “It’s okay to co-wash depending on how often you regularly wash your hair,” Stephen explains. “For example: If you wash your hair every two weeks, then co-washing every few days between shampooing is fine. However, you shouldn’t rely on co-washing exclusively.”
While it may be tempting to master every step and try every product, that can sometimes make caring for natural hair more complex than it needs to be. Stephen says stripping back to basics—a curated routine and functional tools—and sticking to them is the best way to keep your hair healthy and time on your side.