EDITOR’S NOTE: Aviva Stephens is a Seattle native and financial professional who discovered the benefits and joys of cycling on her challenging work commute between Ballard and the Eastside. Find more of her writing on Medium and follow her on Instagram at @avivarachelle.
I have traversed several obstacles in pursuit of the urban bike commute: Canadian geese on the Burke, road-raged texting drivers, lack of bikeways and Afro friendly headgear. While the first three obstacles are maneuverable thanks to readily available information to help find my way, the Afro challenge was much more difficult because there was no website, FB group, Meetup, or the like that I could find for help.
After deciding that the bike commute was happening in the summer of 2013, the first thing I did was get a sick little pixie cut that would fit neatly under the helmet. It was a great summer style, but was tough to manage once I got to work and the helmet came off. My hair is pretty kinky, super fine and really thirsty, so it requires a plethora of products, or so I thought.
My low point came with the first fall rains. While I was well equipped with my hoodless Showers Pass rain jacket, I passed on the bike cap because even with my short hair a bike cap still did not fit. As I woke up to the sound of the rain on my roof, I thought to myself, “I got this!” and confidently headed out for my five-mile ride to the shuttle stop.
The first leg of the ride was joyful and empowering with typical Seattle sprinkles brushing my face, but the rain intensified as the ride progressed, and I did not anticipate the effect a torrential downpour would have on my hair and visibility. Midway through, the sprinkles turned into sheets, and my trusty hair product proceeded to wash from my hair onto my glasses and face. When I arrived at the shuttle stop dripping wet, my hair product had fully migrated from hair to face. Great.
I showed up to work that day with a seriously dehydrated, shapeless Afro reminiscent of a tumbleweed. For the entire day, my colleagues would stare in confusion at the top of my head during meetings and hallway chats. Some even had gumption to say something. “Did you do something different to your hair?” “Trying out a new style?” Or, my favorite, “Poofy!” Not sure if that’s a compliment.
Productless hair may not seem like a tragedy, but it’s certainly a distraction in the office, as the corporate culture is not accepting of unkept curls. An unnoticed hair day is a good hair day.
After my hair rain incident, I looked for a curly-friendly hairdresser that I could ask for help. Google led me to a salon conveniently located in Ballard, where I met Alia. She offered some very helpful advice on hair maintenance and introduced me to DevaCurl. DevaCurl has great curly-friendly products, and I found their Curly Girl Handbook gave me an understanding of how my hair works. I recommend this book to anyone that struggles with manageable hair. If you frequently find that you are a strong breeze away from a bad hair day, this book is an eye opener.
The major takeaway for me was that my hair needs a lot more moisture than I think it does, and most commercial products work to dehydrate hair even though they claim the opposite. For example, I was using the popular Moroccan Oil products at the time, but it turns out that it’s just argan oil with additives that prevent hair from absorbing moisture. I was better off picking up some argan oil from the grocery store.
It took around a year to get that touchable soft bouncy curls that you see in the Pantene commercials (another falsely-advertised product) that snap back into place after scooting around on the bike all day. I know a year sounds like a long time to accomplish hair goals, but once I got on the right hair path I started to see results in the first few months. It’s well worth it.
Now my hair routine is what it should be, routine, not some delicate master piece that’s falls apart under extreme conditions. And because I use significantly less hair product now, even the most sudden downpour won’t blur my vision or jeopardize my do.
Currently my morning hair routine is short and sweet, with a quick rinse in the shower and a little product I’m off for my morning commute. For the morning ride, I wrap my hair in a bandana (or wool neck warmer for the chilly days) and when I arrive at work all it takes is a few finger strokes through the hair and my curls pop out ready to face the day.
Moisture moisture moisture
The first step in my hair journey was to repair damage from dehydration, which meant throwing out all of the products I was using and starting from scratch. It was tough because that Moroccan Oil was not cheap, but it was an easy decision to make once I learned that it was working against me. Reluctant to dive into another expensive product investment, I headed to the grocery store and stocked my cabinet with only simple hydrating products free of mystery ingredients.
- No shampoo. For the first month I only washed my hair with conditioner. This may seem extreme, but I was using that sulfite rich shampoo for a lifetime and needed to give my hair a break to start generating its natural oils again. Now I shampoo once a week.
- Sulfite free shampoo. Sulfites in shampoos have recently gone out of fashion, but in 2013 the dangers of extra foaming sulfite-rich shampoo weren’t as well known. Luckily my local grocery store carried organic hair care products and had reasonable priced hair wash that worked just fine.
- Organic oils. For that first month I experimented with many hydrating oils, often mixing a few together in kitchen. My favorites were argan oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and shea butter. I would use the oils on there own or whip up a concoction of a couple oils and the shea butter for a lazy Sunday hair-mask treatment. Now that my hair is happy and healthy I’ve retired my arsenal of oils, but keep the coconut oil around for those extra arid days.
- Natural conditioners. Like the sulfite-free shampoo, natural conditioner was available at my local grocery store with simple ingredients, reasonable prices, and available in large quantities. I found most of them a bit thin so added some of the organic oils as needed.
- Hair wraps. Great both on and off the bike, a hair wrap is good for protecting hair from the elements. The conventional wisdom would advise satin scarves to keep in moisture, but they slip around and drive me nuts. I like those cotton bandanas from the drug store. They’re cheap, cute, and stay in place. A bandana is also handy for those lazy hair-mask treatment Sundays!
After a month of drenching my hair in all the moisture possible, I was finally ready for a real professional product so that my hair would no longer smell like a delightful savory dish. Here are the products I tried during my hair journey and what I use now.
- DevaCurl. Since their Curly Girl Handbook was so helpful, I decided to go all in on the product. I used the line for around a year, and my hair looked great with super defined curls and healthy strands. However, this line requires that you drip dry or diffuse your hair (no towel drying) with lots of leave-in conditioner. It was too much of a hassle in the morning to allow time to diffuse or leave the house with dripping wet hair. It’s also on the pricer side, difficult to acquire, and I burned through a lot of product in a short period of time.
- Shea Moisture. This is a great line with lots of variety for any and all hair types. I used the line for the next year and it maintained the healthy glow that I worked so hard to achieve. This product is inexpensive and readily available online or from your local Target store. I tried several combinations of their products, but could never quite find the right balance. This product also required heavy application to maintain the softness.
- Form Beauty. My current product, and I love it! The product line is for all hair types, but the inventory is much more manageable. They even have a handy hair wizard to help find the right product for you. I’ve been using the product for about six months, and it’s served me well. I’ve finally achieved hair that’s soft to the touch even when it’s not wet. I also use significantly less product per day than any other product I’ve tried. I really do use the quarter and dime size amounts as instructed on the bottle. The only downfall is that it is pricy and only available on their site.
Get a haircut
The final step in this hair journey is learning the value of the haircut. With kinky hair, getting haircuts can be frustrating when trying to grow it long (which I am) because often times the hairdresser will cut off all the length that took a year to grow. However, I’ve recently learned the hard way that getting frequent haircuts will prevent dry and split ends that can lead to breakage.
Another downfall of heading to the hair salon is it can be difficult to just get a haircut, especially when my hair was dry and damaged the hairdresser would always try to “style” my hair by applying damaging products and heat, all of which was incredibly time consuming for a style that I would promptly wash out as soon as I reached my house.
Fortunately, I live in a city where a Rudy’s is accessible in most neighborhoods where a skilled barber is usually available for me within the week, and the cut is high quality, simple, quick, and cheap.
Curls on fleek
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. If you are interested in how I continue to maintain the curls on fleek, follow me on the Gram, or ask questions in the comments. I’m happy to offer up any tips I might have🚴🏽